If Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a rosary-carrying Catholic who once wanted to enter the seminary, is elected President of the United States on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (US time), he would become only the second Catholic ever elected to the presidency of his country. The first was John F. Kennedy in 1960, who had to scale a wall of opposition before winning the elections with a reportedly razor thin margin over Republican Richard Nixon.
If Biden, who would be 78 this November, is elected, he would also be the oldest elected US president. In contrast, Kennedy, who was 43, was the youngest ever elected US chief executive. Both seem to be record-breakers.
I was in the US during the 2000 elections between George Bush and Al Gore, during which Al Gore seemed to be the winner, till the fat lady sang. At the end of the day, Bush won the presidency. But there were no riots on the streets, no burning of tires.
And according to historical accounts, when Nixon lost in 1960 even by the slimmest of leads, he graciously accepted defeat and conceded. No protests of “foul play” or what we in the Philippines call, “Daya!”
According to a CNN report Friday, Biden is leading the incumbent Donald Trump, 52 to 42.
“It doesn’t look good for Trump,” says a Washington DC-based diplomat, who admires Trump for his tough stand in the West China Sea. “But let’s see.”
Czarina Ward, a Filipino-American nurse and a “moderate Democrat,” who works in the Bay Area, agrees with the diplomat. “It looks like Biden will win.”
But she says this with “guarded optimism” due to Hillary Clinton’s surprising defeat in 2016. She also wonders, “Will Trump step down peacefully?”
Acclaimed movie director and Sundance Awards winner Ramona Diaz, another Filipino-American like Czarina, is cautious about predicting a Biden victory despite his lead in the polls.
“I still feel the trauma of 2016. Polls favor Joe and Kamala (Harris) but these same polls got it so wrong four years ago. What’s going to determine it is early voter turnout. People have to vote early and in-person if possible. The millennial vote, the suburban women vote, the black women vote, all key. And let’s hope that the Fil-Ams are not the biggest supporters of the incumbent again amongst Asians. That would really be voting against their own self-interest.”
Asked if Biden’s being Catholic would be as much a hurdle as it was during JFK’s time, during which the latter had to assure some conservative Protestant ministers: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic,” Ramona says, “A candidate’s religion is less of a factor now than in the past, especially given this polarizing election when the choice is so stark.”
“Ethnicity also plays into it,” adds Ramona. “About a third of this country’s Catholics identify as Hispanic and American Hispanics and are predisposed to vote ‘blue.’ Biden is pro-choice and a practicing Catolico cerrados may point to that as being ‘not Catholic enough’.”
Ramona, who spent most of her school life in a Catholic school, has no qualms about her choice. “But if that were the one reason that would make you vote for the incumbent — as some Fil-Ams point to — then let me quote David Sedaris who said this in 2008 when (Barack) Obama first ran: I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.’ That’s really what it comes down to.”
According to reports, Joe Biden often makes the sign of the cross and looks toward the sky when saying something he jokingly might need to apologize for, regularly referring to the nuns who taught him during 12 years in Catholic school in Delaware.
“Now, several recent TV ads from Biden’s campaign show him standing with Pope Francis or huddled with a Jesuit priest. He’s reading from a pulpit, bowing his head in prayer, or standing solemnly in front of a church’s stained-glass window.”
In other words, Biden doesn’t think his being Catholic is something to hide.
During an interview with Stephen Colbert, Biden, who was once denied Holy Communion by a priest in South Carolina because he is pro-choice, said that his faith and his Catholic rituals helped him deal with tragedies in his life, such as losing his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in 2015, the Christian Post reported. But according to a report by Christian Today in 2012, Biden had a crisis of faith after his first wife and his daughter were killed in a car wreck in 1972.
Biden’s public stand on abortion rights: “I do not believe we have the right to tell women that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.”
According to Thomas Groome and Richard Gaillardedets in a column written in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing the teaching of Popes Francis and Benedict, makes clear that Catholics should not be single-issue voters. While we may not vote for candidates because they support abortion, we can do so for the totality of their views. This reflects Pope Francis’ statement that ‘equally sacred’ are the lives of those already born.”
They also pointed out that under the Obama-Biden administrations, “Over their eight years, and by improved health care and social services, they reduced the US abortion rate by 27 percent.”
There are millions of Filipino-Americans residing in the US, and a substantial number of them are seeking public office. My mother, a US citizen who is now in the Philippines, has long since mailed her vote for her preferred candidate.
Whatever the outcome of the US election next week, it will have a ripple effect around the world. If a Catholic is elected president 60 years after JFK was, without having to fight for his faith or explain it, it is a good sign that biases and prejudices are no longer turning the tide in elections, wherever they may be.