Fan Mail

Monday, March 26, AD 2012


We recently got this missive over the transom at The American Catholic which made my day:

It’s really unfortunate to read a Catholic publication so full of hateful speech and uncharitable thought and partisan bigotry. Jimmy Carter is many things but he is not, nor has he ever been, a bigot. To denounce Carter and Obama in these crude ad hominem assaults  doers nothing to advance rational discourse, does nothing to propagate the faith, does nothing but drive deeper wedges into a society already torn by  ideological  zealots.  The editors of the American Catholic are far more Catholic than they are Christlike and far more Republican than they are American.  Your screeds are  reminiscent of the rants from the South in the tragically blind days before the Civil War.  Step back and think of the damage you are doing to the grace and coherence of  what once was known as Christian doctrine. 

I am sincere in my contention that it made my day.  Praise rarely elicits anything other than a brief moment of pleasure.  Criticism, even off the wall bitter criticism, provides an opportunity for thought and for fisking!

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10 Responses to Fan Mail

  • Two demurrals:

    1. Terms like ‘bigot’ and the like are often used improperly. Two questions to ask: is your antagonist immune to contrary arguments and evidence (and in Carter’s case, my guess would be ‘not abnormally so’); and is there so much malicious chaff in an antagonists statement that one cannot have a productive discussion (of which I have a recent example in someone I encountered in a forum like this whose opening salvo was the contention that the Catholic Church had ‘covered up’ ‘pedophilis’ ‘for millenniums [sic]’.

    2. We are riven by programmatic disagreements, but I think you underestimate certain novel aspects of our situation. Robert Bork has said that in his experience there was a sea change in the quality of political discourse around about 1981. I think there was another around about 2001. Consider the public treatment of George W. Bush. I will wager you that a content analysis of his public papers would reveal him to be among the least rhetorically confrontational men in presidential politics in the last 40-odd years. His actually social views might be properly described as ‘Rockefeller Republican ca. 1962’. He belonged to the United Methodist Church. And yet he was occasionally spoken of as if he were a vitriolic Spanish falangist. It was all very strange. The whole Sarah Palin discourse has been downright bizarre. (I am aware that you do have something of a complimentary phenomenon in the use of phrases like ‘the Obama Marxist regime’).

  • We will have to agree to disagree Art on whether Carter is an anti-Catholic bigot. I think the evidence is clear that he is.

    In regard to Bork and a change in the political discourse circa 1981, that simply is not true.
    Consider this gem from Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at his acceptance of the Nobel peace prize in Oslo:

    “Another indication that progress is being made was found in the recent presidential election in the United States. The American people revealed great maturity by overwhelmingly rejecting a presidential candidate who had become identified with extremism, racism, and retrogression. The voters of our nation rendered a telling blow to the radical right. They defeated those elements in our society which seek to pit white against Negro and lead the nation down a dangerous Fascist path.”

    American politics have usually been tough and fairly vituperative at all times. The election of 1800 was probably the worst. Harry Truman, now regarded by most Americans, including myself, as a great president, routinely referred to Republicans as fascists. The difference now is that due to the internet more people read about it, and participate in it. That is a quantitative change, but not a qualitative one. I do agree in regard to Sarah Palin that the gutter quality of the personal ad hominem attacks against her, and the savaging of her family members, is something fairly new, although by no means completely unprecedented, and completely despicable, in American politics.

  • Hmmmm….”so full of hateful speech” as in “hate speech”. I think I see where your latest critic is heading— No speech for thee but only for me.

  • I didn’t even know you were a Republican Donald!

    I’m an independent, but I lean Catholic first, Conservative second.

    Go Santorum!

  • routinely referred to Republicans as fascists.

    Routinely referred to Arthur Vandenberg and Thomas Dewey as fascists? Can you locate an example? I can imagine him referring to Joseph McCarthy or one of his enablers that way; McCarthy’s stock and trade was cynical rabble rousing, smears, and fantasies.

    I think Robert Bork was referring to the disposition and behavior of ‘official Washington’, especially Congress. As a public official of consequence before and after 1981, he does have an informed opinion on the matter. I do not think the King quote demonstrates what you think it does, for the following reasons:

    a. Goldwater was not responsible for the opinions of people who voted for him, but his campaign did corral much of the uglier aspect of political society in this country. His motives were not their motives. King’s statement needs editing. It is not wholly false.

    b. I would refer you to Jody Powell’s reminiscences of his time as press secretary. He was repeatedly purturbed and baffled by the habit of members of the Congressional Black Caucus of meeting with the President at the White House and then issuing a denunciation on the steps of same. Characterisics of rhetoric and an understanding of manners can be subculturally particular. One needs to remember also that King was a wholly extraparliamentary figure. One might also compare King’s public statements with Al Sharpton’s.

    That aside, I was reading newspapers fairly regularly between 1981 and 2001, and, no, I do not think it was like that. A great deal of vitriol was lobbed at Ronald Reagan (Bork was referring to that), but Reagan was a far more challenging figure than George W. Bush. Michael Kinsley wrote a great many snotty columns attacking papa George Bush, but the adolescent class cut-up’s babble was about as bad as it got. (Dan Quayle got a raw deal, though). As for Mr. Clinton, the worst of it was by a crew of imaginative conspiracy-spinners (Vincent Foster was murdered, etc.) who wrote books distributed by obscure (vanity?) presses.

  • Here is a typical example Art of Truman on the stump:

    “The American way of life which most of us have been taking for granted is threatened today by powerful forces of which most people are not even aware.

    Everybody knows about the contemptible Communist minority. We all detest that Communist minority. Everybody knows, too, about the crackpot forces of the extreme right wing. We have a vociferous representative of that force here in Chicago. We are on our guard against them, however.

    The real danger to our democracy does not come only from these extremes. It comes mainly from the powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions.

    I am going to tell you just what these forces are.

    We must not imagine, just because we love freedom, that freedom is safe–that our freedom is safe. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty.

    Other people have also loved freedom, but have lost their liberty with tragic suddenness.

    It happened in Italy 25 years ago. It happened in Germany 15 years ago. It happened in Czechoslovakia just a few months ago. And it could happen here.

    I know that it is hard for Americans to admit this danger. American democracy has very deep roots. But, if the antidemocratic forces in this country continue to work unchecked, this Nation could awaken a few years from now to find that the Bill of Rights had become a scrap of paper.

    My friends, that must never happen! Look back over history, and you will find that wherever ruthless men have destroyed liberty and human rights, certain economic and social forces had paved the way for them.

    What are these forces that threaten our way of life? Who are the men behind them? They are the men who want to see inflation continue unchecked. They are the men who are striving to concentrate great economic power in their own hands. They are the men who are setting up and stirring up racial and religious prejudice against some of our fellow Americans.

    I propose to state in simple, unmistakable language, just exactly how each of these three groups of men–working through the Republican Party, if you please–is a serious threat to the future welfare of this great Nation.”

    Go to the link below for the whole speech:

    Just before the election in 1948 he told an audience of 24,000 in Chicago that a vote for Dewey was a vote for fascism.

  • “but his campaign did corral much of the uglier aspect of political society in this country.”

    As ugly as this Art?

  • “One needs to remember also that King was a wholly extraparliamentary figure. One might also compare King’s public statements with Al Sharpton’s.”

    In this particular case Art, I do not see a lot to choose from. Anyone who thought that Barry Goldwater represented a fascist threat to the country was either engaging in the worst type of partisan diatribe, or not playing with a full deck.

  • I would not defend Lyndon Johnson’s ad campaigns.

    I think Ross Barnett represented something surpassingly ugly about American political life. I would not compare it to Johnson’s ad campaigns; it was on an entirely different register. Barnett’s constituency was ensconced within Goldwater’s larger constituency, not because Goldwater had any interest in maintaining Southern caste regulations, but because Goldwater’s understanding of federal-state relations was more congruent with executing Barnett’s program than was Johnson’s view. What the implications of that would have been had Goldwater been elected in 1964, I cannot imagine.