At a meeting of Catholic pundits in New York, National Review columnist Kate O’Beirne told the story of two old friends, Pat and Mike. When Pat told Mike that he heard that Sean O’Connor, a friend of theirs, had voted Republican, Mike responded with outrage. “That’s a dirty lie!” he said. “I saw him at Mass.”
The political allegiance of Catholics today is a question much disputed, but it wasn’t always so. For decades the alliance of Catholics with the Democratic Party was a given—so much so that the partnership became the subject of innumerable jokes, some of which are still trotted out from time to time.
Jokes like O’Beirne’s, from the rich reservoir of the Irish-Catholic Pat-and-Mike series, are a sharp reminder of how much things have changed. Back in the days of Pat and Mike, Catholics had a comfortable home in a political party. Today, it is often said that Catholics are politically homeless—driven away from the Democratic Party by the polarizing issue of abortion, yet uncomfortable with Republican stances on the free market and the death penalty. Because of their divided loyalties, Catholics are now the ultimate swing voters: Since 1972, the presidential candidate who won the Catholic vote also won the election. (The one exception was Al Gore in 2000, and he won the popular vote.)