Confessions of a Former Democrat


A Concerned Catholic looks at the Democratic Party

By John Mallon

The Daily Oklahoman, 03/10/2000


Confessions of a Former Democrat

By John Mallon

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said 'Repent! Register Republican' and it made me laugh because years ago I had done just that. In the Boston area, where I grew up, we didn't have 'Yeller Dawg' Democrats like in Oklahoma, where I presently live, we had 'Kennedy Democrats.' The Irish Catholics had to fight and struggle for acceptance in the new country and JFK's election to the presidency was the sign once and for all that they had 'made it.' But the dashing young president and his beautiful, elegant, young First Lady also signaled so much more that went far beyond South Boston to the whole world: youth, promise and dynamism; as he said in his inaugural address, 'A new generation of American, born in this century...' I remember the blizzard that raged outside as I sat, a rapt seven-year-old in front of the TV listening to that speech, and understanding it. It was that clear. I also remember sitting in front of the same TV as an eleven-year-old for an entire weekend, plus Monday as the whole nation was permeated by grief in that terrible November of 1963. The magic of those so-called 'Camelot' years is difficult to explain to the generations that came after. (Yes, that's generations—plural.)

This was our heritage. In my family it simply never occurred to us to vote anything but Democratic.

But then something happened. To me, anyway, in three stages. first as a drug addled 18-year-old, then as sex-worshipping, failed ladies man at 27, and finally as a heartbroken and depressed 30-year-old. In these three stages I rediscovered Jesus Christ in the heart of my Catholic heritage, and my life changed quickly and dramatically. In a little over a year and a half, I went from being a listless ne're-do-well high school dropout to being an enthusiastic, successful college student pursuing a theology degree.

But I soon discovered that the new breeds of liberal, dissenting theology being promoted were endorsing things from which I had just escaped and which had very nearly killed me. I saw something else. I had always considered myself a liberal, and what I was seeing on campus in the name of liberalism was ugly. It was unfair and unjust. And vicious. Up till then I was what I now call a 'default liberal.' I had unquestioningly accepted liberalism as morally superior, more compassionate and self-evidently 'nicer.' My liberalism had been a product of non-thought. Like a computer right out of the box, those were my default settings. In my newly rediscovered Catholicism I discovered something True, not merely (apparently) nice, and the True was contradicting the apparently 'nice.'

I faced a moral dilemma on election day 1984. It was part of my upbringing as a loyal Democrat to dislike Ronald Reagan. But a few years earlier, while I was trying to avoid thinking seriously about abortion, I attended an abortion presentation at my parish. I soon found that my head was spinning, I was dizzy and afraid I was going to faint. Finally, with effort, I launched out to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. The presentation wasn't especially graphic, but on reflection, I realized that my body and spirit had a wisdom and revulsion all their own to this terrible evil that had not yet reached my intellect. My 'default settings' were beginning to break down and I was beginning to question the authority of the 'moral high ground' of the liberalism of the Democratic party.

So in 1984, extremely nervous, I drove to the polling place. I was afraid I would have to break with family tradition and vote for Ronald Reagan, although my default settings said I still didn't like him. But everything in me was telling me I could not vote for a candidate who supported abortion. I was feeling a taste what other friends have since described on their growing but dreadful conviction that they must convert to the Catholic Church and face the anger and rejection of family and friends, and the sense of betrayal of all they have ever known as committed Protestants. The latest phase of my conversion had brought me into the Catholic charismatic renewal, where prayer for direction from God with startling results was fairly common. Sitting in the car outside that polling place at the high school, heart pounding, I prayed, 'Lord, show me what to do. Who do you want me to vote for?' I brought my Bible in case of a moment such as this. Under the dome light I grabbed it and flipped it open. It opened to Ezekiel, Chapter 22. 

Here is what my eyes fell on:

'Thus the word of the LORD came to me: “You, son of man, would you judge, would you judge the bloody city? Then make known all her abominations, and say: Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the city which sheds blood within herself so that her time has come, and which has made idols for her own defilement. By the blood which you shed you have been made guilty, and with the idols you made you have become defiled; you have brought on your day, so that the end of your years has come. Therefore I make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all foreign lands. …”

The entire chapter was frighteningly pertinent and descriptive of the American moral landscape. I slammed the Book shut, leapt out of the car, trembling, yet resolved, stalked in and voted for Reagan. It was done. I stalked out, back to the car and drove home resolved, but hoping no one in my family would ask me who I voted for. But I was at peace with God and my conscience.

Twelve years later in November 1996, as editor of a Catholic archdiocesan newspaper, I reprinted Ezekiel chapter 22 in its entirety on the lower half of my editorial page with the headline, 'A Scripture Meditation for Election Time.' I have thought of it ever since as a Catholic voting guide, applicable to other faiths as well.

The question goes beyond what is being done to the individual unborn child, and the rest of her mother's life, as if that weren't bad enough, but also what this almost three decades of outright denial, intelligence-insulting euphemism and callousness towards tender human life is doing to us as a people. We need only look at what it has already done to the Democratic party or read Ezekiel 22. 

The full story of John Mallon's (religious) conversion alluded to here appears in the book, Spiritual Journeys: Towards the Fullness of Faith (Ed. Robert Baram; Daughters of St. Paul Publications; 1987, 88.) It can be seen on this website here.