Rod Dreher

The Collective Ho-Hum on Benghazi

It’s not every day that an American Embassy is attacked and four Americans, including an Ambassador, are murdered. So after the September 11 attacks on the embassy in Benghazi, one would have thought that there would have been widespread outrage. In fact there was a widespread furor in the aftermath of the attacks. First the outrage was aimed at presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his supposedly insensitive and political comments made hours after we learned of what occurred. After the storm died down, the public turned its attention to the individual whose film insulted the Prophet Mohammed and thus instigated the attacks.

In the weeks ahead we would come to learn more details. Even after it became obvious to all that the attacks were planned weeks in advance and had absolutely nothing to do with the film (which no one seemed to even know existed until the September 11 attacks), the narrative had been set. And with the campaign in full force, the media seemed content to let the issue die lest the administration be further embarrassed.

Even with the election in the rearviewmirror, reporting on Benghazi has been sparse. A pair of Congressional hearings have shone light on the issue, but an alliance between the far left and far right have managed to damper the conversation. The first event was now former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance before the Senate, where in response to questioning from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Clinton responded:

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?

The response was hailed by those desperate to bury the issue as a stroke of genius. Hillary Clinton had all but sewn up the 2016 presidential election with her Churchillian wit. Forget that the response was at best callous, and demonstrated a tremendous lack of curiosity from the person in charge of our State Department, not to mention that it sure as hell matters why these attacks were perpetrated. No, it was the line that ended the debate once and for all.

Well, not quite, because the issue came up again in the confirmation hearings from Obama’s choice to replace Leon Panetta at the Department of Defense. Chuck Hagel’s disastrous performance has stalled his nomination. Though anyone watching Hagel’s performance that day should have realized he isn’t qualified to run a frozen banana stand let alone the Defense Department, the “true conservatives” at the American (Paleo)Conservative ran to Hagel’s defense. Over there ideology trumps competence, and they have mounted an all out blitz on those Israel-loving neocons who oppose Hagel, I guess because those Jewish mind rays have distorted our judgment or something.

The most hysterical (in more ways than one) response came from Rod Dreher (h/t Pauli), who seems to think that the Republicans are destroying their credibility by opposing Hagel. According to Dreher and his buddy Daniel Larison, the GOP’s actions over the past couple of months ensure that all of the independents and realists are going to run in horror away from the GOP. As usual there’s no support given to support the thesis that the Republicans are alienating anyone by not behaving exactly as the folks at the American Conservative wish they would, but it makes for some entertaining reading as Rod Dreher of all people chastises Republicans for being shrill. There’s a Yiddish word for that, but I don’t want to further alienate Dreher by using it. Anyway, after referencing another article chock full of genius insights such as “Be more pro-science” as ways that Republicans can lure “independents,” Dreher shrieks:

On the Hagel matter, the Senate GOP seems nothing but obstructionist. Who gives a rat’s ass about Benghazi? Seriously, who?

Yes, that’s right, the true conservative (TM) position on a terrorist attack on an American embassy that leaves four dead is “who gives a rat’s ass?”

So after dismissing any concern over Benghazi, what’s is Rod Dreher’s next piece of trenchant analysis: a post titled “Happy Kale-Day to Me.” So Dreher can’t be bothered about a terrorist attack, but he is sure to make sure everyone knows he had a terrific birthday in which he got to eat plenty of delicious kale. That’s a true conservative ™ for you.

Well at least the true conservatives ™ can sleep well with the knowledge that they are joined by the far left in dismissing Benghazi as a subject worth worrying our little heads over. Oliver Willis, a “fellow” at Media Matters for America, spent his day writing a series of unfunny tweets mocking conservatives for trying to investigate the issue. Aside from demonstrating his complete witlessness – subject matter aside, Willis’s attempts at satire are just cringeworthy – Willis elaborated the left’s position on Benghazi. You see, only crazy conservatives could possibly have any interest in this boooooooorrrrring issue, so let’s mock them. And Dreher and the useful idiots at the American Conservative are too happy to oblige in the mockery. And then they wonder why conservatives can’t make advances in the culture or in the political sphere.

For years I’ve heard countless complaints about how conservatives aren’t serious, and how we really need to start acting like adults in the room. If burying our heads in the sand about an attack on our embassies that killed fellow Americans is “acting like an adult,” then I truly tremble in fear at where our country is headed.

Is John Paul II still great?

I’ve been asking myself that question as I’ve read the discussions about the sex abuse scandal and asked it again while I read Ross Douthat’s editorial at the NYT this morning. The most pertinent part is this:

But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Douthat is not alone here; most have pointed out (including Rod Dreher, who left the Church b/c of his disappointment w/ the abuse scandals) that Benedict has gone to great lengths to clean up the mess that his predecessor made. But does a “great” make that kind of mess?

Now I certainly think that JPII is a saint. I don’t think that’s in question. Interestingly enough, I have not gathered from the media’s coverage that they would disagree with that. In fact, I would say that he probably merits very serious consideration as a doctor of the Church for Fides et Ratio and “man and Woman He Created Them: a theology of the body” Heck, I even have a poster of him in my living room (which is useful for showing to Mormon missionaries when they ask if I’m religious).

But having the title of “the great” means something extra than sainthood, doesn’t it?

Of course, this is difficult b/c “the great” title has no requirements, no set guidelines. This can be a big deal, as often the rules determine the result (for example: the importance you attach to Superbowl wins affects whether you think Manning or Brady is superior. of course this question is irrelevant b/c Brees is better than both of them but I digress).

Adding further difficulty is determining how significant this scandal is. While I’m sure this has profoundly affected those who have suffered from child abuse, I’m not sure if this will be a big deal thirty, fifty, a hundred years down the road. Right now of course it seems huge but how many people will be aware of it in the coming generations?

For JPII to not be determined great, it would have to be that the sex abuse scandal made enough of a dent in his legacy. This is not a minor feat, as JPII deserves significant credit for stabilizing the Church following Vatican II (setting the stage for the current traditonalist revival), excellent contributions to theology (including Fides et Ratio and Theology of the Body), an excellent charismatic approach that changed the nature of the papacy, and-oh yeah-helping to peacefully bring down the Soviet Union.

I tend to think that in the end, he will be deemed great though for the moment I hesitate to use the term. In the end, I think this storm will pass and we’ll be left with the memories of a great man with great accomplishments. But I think it’s possible that in reflecting on the failures of JPII’s papacy that perhaps we’ll choose not to use the term, and that’s not a possibility many were entertaining 5 years ago when JPII came into eternal life.

I would really like to know how other people are approaching this problem. Please leave comments.

Of course, one has to think that if Benedict is doing better than JPII, and JPII is “the great”, ought perhaps Benedict be up for the term? Food for thought.

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