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 Washington Notebook

August 25, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 30

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent


"What about the Catholic thing?"

President Lyndon Johnson
discussing the possibility of a Catholic as a vice presidential runningmate in 1964


Hudson reaction; LBJ and the Catholic vote; Back-to-school

By Joe Feuerherd

There's been considerable reaction -- much of it on Internet "blogs" -- to my story on Deal Hudson, the Crisis magazine publisher who last week resigned his post as Chairman of Catholic Outreach for the Republican National Committee. The opinions are, to say the least, varied.

Among the sites which include reactions to the piece are: Beliefnet, Catholic Exchange, Catholic World News,, Daily Kos, Envoy Encore, Magisterial Fidelity, Mark Shea, Open Book, The Revealer, and Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports (TCR).

In addition, the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post covered the controversy.


Every four years, it seems, the "Catholic Vote" is rediscovered. And this year is no exception, especially since the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio contain a disproportionate number of Catholics.

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The issue was very much on President Lyndon Johnson's mind 40 years ago. Republican nominee Barry Goldwater had already selected Rep. William Miller, a Catholic, to be his running mate. And having eliminated Robert Kennedy from contention, Johnson was considering whether another Catholic -- Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy and California Gov. Patrick Brown were among the possibilities - would be a positive presence on the ticket.

Just prior to the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City, Johnson had a conversation with United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther.

LBJ: What about the Catholic thing?
Reuther: I have made a very very careful check on that. In this poverty program we're working with the Catholic church. Msgr. George Higgins is actively involved [as is] Msgr. Gallagher. We had five monsignors at our committee meeting the other day. Very top people.
I've gone to them very confidentially and said …what do you really think? And each of these fellas reflected the editorials that were in the two leading Catholic magazines - in Commonweal and America. America is a Jesuit magazine.
And those two Catholic magazines both said, as did these five monsignors, 'if you picked a Catholic and it looked like he was picked because he was Catholic, it would backfire.' And they said you don't need a Catholic. John Kennedy proved a Catholic can be elected to high office and you don't need to prove that this time.

LBJ: I think that's right.

Earlier that month, Johnson had a similar conversation with James Farley, former postmaster general under Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Party elder statesman.

Farley: I don't like religion brought into it -- that we must have a Catholic, or must have a protestant, or we must have a Jew…
LBJ: That's what [New York Cardinal Francis] Spellman says. He says just what you say.

Johnson, as history records, ultimately selected Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, to be his running mate. The "Johnson Tapes," secretly recorded tapes of Johnson phone conversations from the Oval Office, the White House residence, and his Texas ranch can be listened to at


It's back-to-school time. The oldest is off to college (can I be that old?), the two younger ones tackling the rigors of high school. Which, by the way, seem considerably more rigorous than when I was their age.

We do take such things very seriously these days.

It was a little different back in 1978, at Archbishop Molloy High School, just off Queens Blvd. in Briarwood.

Marist Br. Edward Francis taught algebra and kept a paddle in the room. We called it the "Board of Ed." To my recollection it was never used.

Br. Pius, the guidance counselor, attended all the basketball tryouts and practices (for, next to Catholicism, basketball was Molloy's religion). Br. Pius was a gentle man with kind words for a kid who was the last one cut from both the freshman and JV teams.

Marist Br. Juan Salvador, an exile from Castro's Cuba, was my chemistry teacher. We had delightful chats, he and I, but not about science. He would regale me after class about the evils of Castro and communism, how that still-youthful dictator had persecuted the church and betrayed the revolution. Those lessons I learned, but chemistry was beyond me.

In those days, a student could fail all year long but if he scored well enough on the New York State Regents test the school was obliged to pass him for the year. The exam was hope for the hopeless, a possible academic death bed conversion.

The test was multiple-choice, press the number two pencil hard onto one of the five ovals. I don't recall how many questions there were, but if there were 100, I probably scored about a 20 percent on the exam. A well-trained monkey could have done better, given that I guessed on every single question.

It was a beautiful June day when the 1,200 "Molloy Boys" -- it was an all-male bastion at that point -- gathered to receive their final report cards of the year. On the train that morning I practiced in my head how I was going to tell my parents that the "F" I would receive in chemistry would require me to attend summer school and ruin their plans to spend time at the small cottage on the Long Island Sound.

I opened the report card and saw my final grade. I passed.

But how?

I approached Br. Juan in the cafeteria. "Feuerherd," he told me in his accented English, "you will never be a scientist." I nodded agreement. "So we give you a '70.' Have a wonderful summer."

Today, my children take things like honors chemistry and honors physics and advanced math and advanced geometry and so on and so on. They have terrific teachers and they do well.

But I can't help but feel that they are missing something. Today, a teacher would likely be fired or suspended for arbitrarily passing the worst student in the class. And perhaps they should be. But it's a loss nonetheless.

There's so little slack in the system these days. Expectations are high for this young generation. Compassion, kindness and understanding seem to have less space to operate.

Br. Juan died a few years back. He was remembered as a fine teacher and good man.

And to this day, I have no use for Castro. I'm not rational on the topic. I'm with Br. Juan, a kind man who could have ruined a kid's summer but chose not to.


Next week, Washington Notebook will be filed from New York, site of the Republican National Convention.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is

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