By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 11/05/08
It is reported that George W. Bush plans to become a Catholic when he leaves the White House like his brother Jeb. He can thank Jack Kennedy for opening the gates for him. When Jack Kennedy was running for President Catholic was one of the things you were not supposed to be if you wanted to be President; Jewish was another, black was another, woman was another. As FDR said to Jack’s father Joe, “This is a Protestant country and you Catholics and Jews better get used to it.”
Jack Kennedy was married in my high school parish in Newport, RI. Prior to his election we in his neighborhood thought of ourselves as Irish and Americans. Afterwards we thought of ourselves as Americans. It changed everything for us. Prior to Kennedy we were all Catholic. Two generations later I have nieces and nephews who are Buddhist and Evangelical.
This is the participation mystique; perhaps it is the essence of the American condition. What is the point of being an American if you can’t become a Buddhist monk or join a biker gang? Or take up serpents in the service of the Lord in eastern Kentucky if you damn well please. None of these things you would be allowed in Ireland and if they are today, it is only in imitation of the American condition; the conduit of life and love in the land of the free.
And wasn’t only us Irish in New England who were set free, it was everyone, including the Bushes.
If Barack Obama doesn’t change the world he will at least change America. He will be a gatekeeper. Southern, if you were white, was something else you couldn’t be if you wanted to be President. But after Jimmy Carter no one cared. Carter was gateway to Clinton – it wasn’t given a thought that he and Al Gore were Southern whites. No one cared that Reagan was Irish after Kennedy. No one will care that Jeb Bush is Catholic. And no one will care that Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, is Catholic and from the sub continent of India a short sail from Obama’s ancestral home.
Today, the American metamorphosis is fully inclusive.