When John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon ran for president in 1960, I was too young to vote, but I was old enough to follow the election, especially since Catholicism was an issue.
In October that year, my parents and I went to Birmingham, Ala. Then, every Alabama officeholder, from dogcatcher to governor, was a Democrat. Not one Republican sat in either house of the legislature. Alabama had voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1872.
However, the fury surrounding court-ordered racial desegregation, along with Kennedy's Catholicism, spurred the Democrats to campaign and to advertise to hold their own.
One Democratic television commercial shocked me. The Alabama Democratic Party's logo appeared on the screen, festooned by the slogan:
"White Supremacy -- For the Right." Then a voice said, "On Nov. 8, vote South! Vote Kennedy-Johnson!"
It was code for voting to keep racial segregation intact, thereby keeping blacks subservient.
John Kennedy was no racist, but neither in 1960 did he champion rights for blacks. Subsequent developments in his presidency changed things.
On Election Day, Nixon lost Alabama, although I am sure that many people voted for Kennedy for reasons other than race.
The commercial shocked me because I knew where the Catholic Church stood with regard to race. Popes had demanded respect for the dignity of every human being. So were the American bishops. Tens of thousands of Catholics in this country followed their lead.
However, many other Catholic Americans ignored, or outright opposed, the Church's teachings regarding race. What is new? Catholics often follow one aspect of the Church's teaching, but not another.
That was 1960. This is 2008. Race is not on the front burner anymore, but some polls say that racism is not dead, and that some Americans plan to vote against Sen. Barack Obama solely because he is black.
Catholics should remember that voting for, or against, anyone just on the basis of race -- nothing else considered -- is racist, and racism is sinful.
Sinful? The Church explicitly teaches that racism is sinful (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1934ff).
This teaching stands alongside other Catholic doctrines about many other issues on the fundamental belief that each person has a dignity, because God created each person in his image and likeness.
Accordingly, each person, conception to natural death, has rights, never open to compromise. This is why Church teaching about abortion is so crucial.
Furthermore, and this is basic to Catholic morality regardless of anything else, the end never justifies the means.
As to Catholic principles and this election, the American bishops have carefully applied moral teachings to a series of issues, and they have set these issues in priority (see usccb.org, and the pages of Our Sunday Visitor, too.)
The ancient Hebrew prophets believed this. They also thought that since God created all in his own image and likeness, humans try to force a square peg into a round hole if they ignore God and live contrary to morality. It will not work. Someday, somehow, societies that stray from moral principles reap the whirlwind.
Our democracy allows the people, including you and me, to control the country's destiny. In great measure, we discharge this power by voting.
Before voting, we all also must learn facts and understand the issues. Tomfoolery and hysteria seem to burden every national election.
This is the bottom line. On Election Day or not, we must remember that we are not as wise as we think. We need God's guidance. We all need to think about that ancient notion of the Hebrew prophets.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the OSV associate publisher.