I wish my Irish grandmother were still alive. If she were, I might know who is going to win this year's election. Ellen Guyder was born in 1876 and grew up at a time in which people who were Irish and Catholic were discriminated against. She worked as a seamstress and lived by her wits.
Ellen Guyder was the truest kind of feminist: she thought men were worthless. For some reason, the Almighty, in whom she deeply believed had made men a necessary link in the chain of human extistence but, were it not for this necessity, there would be no real reason to tolerate them. Women were clearly the higher form of the species and, in her mind, this was probably why God had relegated women to second-class citizenship. If equality for women prevailed, men wouldn't have a chance. Besides, women didn't need equality; they were clever people and the really clever person best practices her craft from a secondary position.
My grandmother came from a large family, and having witnessed the grimness with which large families were forced to face the world, it was not her desire to have more children than she was competent to boost up the educational ladder. So she waited until she was 26 and married Patrick Fitzgerald, a man of similar back-ground 13 years her senior. They had two children, one of whom survived and became my motheer.
I am alive today because my Irish grandparents, having worked hard and sacrificed much so their daughter could look forward to a better life, were unwilling to allow this prize to fall into the hands of an Irishman. So James Sears, an Englishman whose family had arrived in this country in 1624 and was far removed in background and experience from the Fitzgerald family, was located , converted to Catholicism and married off to my mother.
Of course, the Fitzgeralds were fierce Democrats and while my father had become a Catholic, he was still a strong Republican. It would have been natural to have political disagreements in our household; but my grandmother, who had come to live with us after her husband's death, was not one to lower herself to debating such matters; she simply waited until Election Day and voted the straight Democratic ticket every time.
The reason I wish my grandmother were around today is not that I am in doubt about which party she would prefer. She was the hardest of the hard core; I don't think she would have voted for me if I had been running on the Republican ticket. But Jimmy Carter just might be too much for her life she might have given serious consideration to being too busy to get to the polls on Election Day.
For many Catholic voters, this election presents the sternest test of their loyalty to the Democratic Party. How can you be loyal to the Democratic Party when its ticket is headed by the enemy? The Democratic Party my grandmother was loyal to would never have nominated a Southern Baptist from Georgia. It would have considered him for vice president if he could help deliver the votes of the South, but it would never have given him any say in things, it would never have trusted him, it would never have tolerated his religious self-assurance. My grandmother would have assumed him to be a bigot the first time she saw him; and while she probably would have voted for him in 1976 for the simple reason that beating the hated Republicans would still have been the superior influence on her decision, by 1980 so sure would she be that Carter was the devil himself that I am not sure she could vote for him again.
Catholic voters less hard-core than my grandmother found Reagan a little interesting for a time. He looked good on paper, said things in an honest, direct fashion; and then there was his attractive, Irish face. But there were doubts about him too, and these doubts were confirmed when he was seen kowtowing to a convention of fundamentalist ministers in Dallas and lending his support to the denial of the theory of evolution. It was not Reagan's scientific beliefs that were so disturbing but rather that he would so earnestly try to please this body of ministers.
Equality is never accomplished by legislation in our society. Technically, the blacks were freed from slavery over 100 years ago, but the process of equalizing them has only recently begun. Catholics are still sensitive to any hint of bigotry and worry that the Bible has been used in the past in this country as an irrefutable basis upon which to practice discrimination and deny freedom to those who where less equal.
Millions of immigrants to this country have learned that political freedom is no guarantee of equality: equality, they found out, could only be achieved by fierce pride in what you were and a willingness to scarifice your own ambitions to catapult your children to a position where they might win acceptance by being better than those who had received their positions more easily. Catholics have great respect for our system of government but have sometimes had difficulty with the men chosen to run it.
Edward Kennedy might be able to solve my grandmother's dilemma. Ellen Guyder Fitzgerald had no love for the Kennedys. She was embarrassed by them and deeply critical of their life style. But she thought she knew them and therefore could predict the extent of their excesses. She also had great regard for their mother and could hope that the helpful seeds sown in them as boys might bear fruit from time to time, even though you couldn't relay on men.
If Jimmy Carter is smart, we'll see a lot more of Edward Kennedy in October than we did in September. This election will probably be decided by what happens in the larger states of the East and Middle West; in these areas, the Democrats must again be able to call upon the loyalty of Catholic voters. If Kennedy asks them to, most of them will vote Democratic one more time, but he must see them and talk to them and tactitly agree to watch this man Carter.
Richard Nixon once accurately observed that it really doesn't matter with what fervor a voter pulls the lever when he votes for you. Each vote counts one and, if you have more than your opponent, you win. Many Catholic voters can't stand Jimmy Carter, but they may vote for him if he will just get the right guy to ask them.