"I don't feel at home in the political status quo," John Carr said. "My priorities are questions of human life and dignity, and those don't seem to be priorities of either party. I'm politically homeless."
Carr, who worked as a Catholic policy advisor for over three decades, may have been "homeless" in Washington D.C., but this fall as a fellow at the Institute of Politics, he said he feels at home. "The IOP is such a welcoming place from the moment you arrive," he said.
His study group, "The Role of Religion in the 2012 Campaign: Directions and Dangers for Faith and Politics," meets from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays in the IOP's Faculty Dining Room. Each week, Carr brings in a guest to analyze the religious forces at play in the election.
And with a Mormon presidential candidate, two Catholic vice presidential candidates, and an incumbent incorrectly assumed to be a Muslim, religious undertones cannot be underestimated in an analysis of the campaign, Carr contends. "We don't lack for material," he said.
Dubbed the Catholic Karl Rove by what Carr calls a "very flattering article" in the Washington Post, Carr was Director of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I had the most pompous title in my old job," he said with a chuckle.
"Working for Catholic bishops and then coming to Harvard University," John Carr said, spreading his arms wide apart and pausing for dramatic effect, "There's a real difference."
Carr admitted he's accustomed to dry Washington presentations, and engaging with undergrads takes some adjustment. "This is not a 90 minute PowerPoint," he said of his study group. "This is a discussion."
Carr's primary focus is on political inaction regarding issues like poverty and climate change. "We've had three debates and no discussion of how to lift up the poor, or, in biblical terms, no discussion of how we care for God's creation," he said.
He blames the ubiquity of polling and focus groups. "'I'm going to help you' tests better than 'I'm going to ask you to help others,'" he said.
While he worries that issues like gay marriage and abortion shove poverty to the side in the religious discourse in Washington, Carr is hardly unconcerned about them. "The president insists that contraception is the most important part of his healthcare bill," he said. When pressed, he admitted, "Well no, but it's all he talks about—you'd think his running mate was Planned Parenthood!"
As an IOP fellow, Carr is responsible for leading a group of six liaisons, appearing on panels, and organizing his weekly study group. "We're not just sitting around thinking deep thoughts," he said. "They work us here! We sing for our supper."
But Carr said he's made room in his packed schedule for some fun. He and his six liaisons have relaxed over meals at Noch's, a "pilgrimage" to Fenway Park for a baseball game, and a group viewing of the Al Smith Dinner.
"What a blessing," Carr said. "This is one of the best experiences of my life."