Despite Kennedy's Death, Democrats' Ethnic Catholic Tradition Lives On

Does Ted Kennedy's death mark an end for ethnic Catholic Democrats?

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Ted Kennedy's death is an end to several different eras, but Politics Daily's David Gibson warns against seeing it as the end of an era for the socially minded ethnic Catholic tradition in Democratic politics:

It is tempting to view Ted Kennedy's passing as the end of an era, both politically and culturally, but also religiously—the end of a reform-minded, socially oriented Catholicism that entered the mainstream in the 1960s and brought certain liberal values to the public square while remaining anchored, at times tenuously, to the religious (and ethnic) tradition that nurtured those values...

[But] surveys of young adult Catholics over recent years have shown that, in many respects, the younger generation resembles Kennedy's approach to faith and politics, with social justice and equality for women and gays as public markers of their religion, and devotion to the sacraments the lodestar of their private devotion.

Indeed, Barack Obama appears bent on reviving the socially minded ethnic Catholic Democratic tradition embodied by the Kennedy family. Obama's highest-profile personnel selections so far include:

  • Vice President Joe Biden, Irish Catholic
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Latino Catholic
  • Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, Irish Catholic
  • Surgeon general nominee Regina Benjamin, African-American Catholic

Not to mention House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an Italian Catholic. Sure, all these people are over 50 years old. But a younger generation is leading a crop of new, politically progressive faith groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, raising the profile of socially minded Catholicism in Washington. Is the Kennedy socially minded Catholic tradition experiencing a renaissance?