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Time To Move On, But...

As Grant mentions in his post below, the Huffington Post has put up a piece talking about our conversation concerning the Edwards blog controversy. It's entitled "Edwards Decision To Keep Bloggers May Risk Catholic Vote," and links to our thread for support. I have a couple of problems with this way of framing the discussion.

First, it erroneously suggests that there is some monolithic thing out there called the Catholic vote. I think it would be more accurate to talk about Catholic voters, or several Catholic votes. dotCommonweal appeals to one segment of the Catholic community, and in that sense I think our comment thread can be something of an ad hoc focus group, but I also think it would be hard to argue that it's representative of the American Catholic community as a whole. With that caveat, my read of the comments to yesterday's discussion is that Edwards might be at risk of losing some Catholic primary voters to Obama or Clinton, but I don't think there's much basis to talk about him losing the "Catholic vote" as a whole.

Second, the Huffington Post's headline suggests that what matters most is Edwards' decision whether to fire Marcotte for her offensive references to the Virgin Mary. I also think that's something of a red herring. My principal criticism of the way Edwards handled this really doesn't turn on whether he fired her or not, but instead on whether his response to the Donohue attack reflected an awareness or appreciation of how potentially harmful her words were for the relationship between Catholic voters and the secular left. I think Marcotte's non-apology apology and Edwards's statement that he takes her at her word that she didn't mean to malign anyone's faith failed on that score. The way in which this was handled makes me wonder who is advising Edwards on Catholic outreach and whether we can look forward to a replay of the 2004 fiasco when it comes to religious voters.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, this episode points up to a real problem in how the left blogosphere relates to people of faith. There seems to be an emerging consensus among liberal bloggers that this is a nothing story and that only folks in the thralls of Donohue and Malkin's demagoguery would be even remotely troubled by Marcotte's posts, folks who would never vote for Edwards anyway. Hence, they have generally responded by trying to discredit Donohue and Malkin (and, now, the Catholic left). I think that's a childish way to approach this, and one that is utterly out of touch with the reality of the situation.

Look, I can understand that we shouldn't let Donohue set the agenda for our discussion, but it makes no sense to take the reactionary stance that if a charge comes from a hyporcritcal thug like Donohue that it has no merit whatsoever and is not worthy of discussion. You can admit that the blog posts in question gratuituosly evinced overt hostility to Catholics, and were therefore at least problematic for someone attached to a presidential campaign in a communications capacity, without crediting Donohue's idiocy. Reacting as the liberal blogosphere has, by simply closing ranks and denying that there is anything wrong with defaming the religious symbols of the largest (and most Democratic) Christian constituency in the country simply feeds into the stereotypes that keeps people like Donohue in business.

No matter what one thinks of this, I think it's clearly time to move on. Edwards has made his decision, Donohue is going to continue to escalate his rhetoric and theatrics, and people will make of that what they will. There are more important issues to discuss.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the first secular lefty blogger I've seen who seems to get this right. It's heartening after the depressing task of reading through the comments to the Huffington Post story. Also, Tom Donnelly at Faithful Democrats weighs in. Here's a link to Morning's Minion that I meant to post earlier. Are there any progressive Catholic blogs who have come out the other way on this story?

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Eduardo, professional analyses of right and left are in trouble now that the presidential campaign has begun in earnest. Spin has taken over because perception is looked at rather than facts. Like war the first casualty of presidential elections is truth.The Edward's campaign and Donohue know this very well.

I find it quite disheartening. I spend far too much of my time arguing in the Catholic blogosphere with conservatives. It's hard work at the best of times, but something like this comes like a kick in the stomach. http://www.reasons-and-opinions.blogspot.com/

Eduardo,As someone who does not fit the progressive mold, I find your reaction kind of surprising. Certainly, I can shrug off anything Edwards says or does because I wouldnt vote for him unless he was running against Lucifer (which cant happen because she is in the same party as him its a joke people). This is why I find the idea that Bill Donahue should be calling for anyones resignation kind of ridiculous since there may only handful of people who care what he thinks and would be inclined to vote for Edwards anyway.Progressive Catholics, however, I would think should be MORE offended by this situation. It can only indicate either that secular liberals simply dont care what religious liberals think, except when they agree with them, or secular liberals think religious liberals, when faced with the choice, will side with them because they care more about political power than their faith (Conservatives have this same problem). In short, Edwards is taking you for granted and cares not one whit what you think.

Here's something else that's quite disheartening.If you have a moment, take a look at the posts submitted at Huffington Post in response to the Henneberger piece. The reactions are hardly a scientific sampling, but if they are typical of the views of some secular liberals, then there exists a divide between progressive Catholics and some on the secular left that is much wider than I thought it was. Here's a gem from someone named "BushBites":"I find most of what catholics stand for offensive, I'm amazed that the monstrous child abuse inflicted on it's customers isn't reason enough to leave them.Let's not even get into the long destructive history. AND the current CEO having been a brown shirt and former head of what used to be the "holy inquisition" sure does not bode well for an institution's credibility. We'll leave aside for now their complicity with Nazi Germany and other treacherous details, their homophobic views, their outright stupid disregard for the aids victims in Africa, their backward views on sex, and their [expletive deleted] hypocrisy. Oh yeah, I think that they should bother to really express the Christ message and ditch the corporate obsession with profit. That has zero to with "faith", unless your faith is money and power.Banco Ambrosiano anyone?" (I added the [expletive deleted] edit).

William, there's no shorage of stupidity in the comment boxes to Henneberger's post, but there are sane comments, too. You should post some of those.

Grant's right. William's comment is, by a wide margin, the worst of the bunch, and in fact comes in for a great deal of criticism from the other commenters.

Eduardo,I'm grateful for all the time and effort you have put into this issue. and I think your own position is pretty clear.But I keep wondering why Mr. Donohue (I hope that's the spelling -- there seem to be as many variants as Shakespeare) has to take the lead in denouncing what to you and me seems unacceptable and bigoted language and views.What you call the "progressive Catholic blogs" thus need to spend a lot of energy distancing themselves from Donohue, even as they lament the excesses he cites.Suppose the protest had been initiated by the blogs you refer to -- that would be a story that even The Nation could not facilely dismiss (though I may be too optimistic about that).Did anyone raise a cri du coeur before W.D.?

Robert -- If I thought anti-Catholicism were (1) endemic and (2) the most pressing issue, I would think it was worth spending more time trying to find and denounce it. For Donohue, this is a full time, fully funded job. Since I am not a regular reader of the Pandagon blog, I had no idea about the posts in question until Donohue brought them to light. 90% of his accusations of anti-Catholicism are (1) baseless and (2) ideologically motivated, so I guess you can say that, in this case, he served as nothing more than a useful idiot.

Eduardo,Probably nothing is deader than a two-day old post, except perhaps, comments on a two-day old post.But let me converse a tad more.Let's say that you're right that 90% of W.D.'s accusations are "baseless" (I take that as "an unscientific sampling"). That leaves 10%. And though anti-Catholicism may not be "endemic," is it so much a characteristic of certain circles and influential periodicals that it bears being addressed in a serious way?Which leads to the second point. Let me concede that W.D.'s accusations are "ideologically motivated." (Though, given that criterion, who of us stands untainted?) My suggestion was that a criticism of the bloggers' salaciously anti-Catholic postings, coming from what you term "progressive Catholic blogs," would have had much more impact in the very circles that nod and wink at the anti-Catholicism they exhibit.There are quite a number of folks (unscientific sampling) with whom I have contact (parishioners and students) who believe that a double-standard is operative in "progressive" circles regarding which religions or groups may be derided with impunity and which not.Finally, to be frank, were a right-leaning commentator to use rhetoric like "useful idiot," I, among others, would decry it as not the civility we hope for in "dialogue." But perhaps I am being hopelessly Victorian ... or a victim of Cardinal Bernardin's Common Ground fantasy.

Part of the issue here, Bob, is that there in the wide world of Catholic blogs, only a tiny percentage are not of a conservative bent. And of course, it's always important to realize that among most Catholics, blogs, Catholic or otherwise, simply don't appear on the radar.

Bob, I'm having an increasingly difficult time understanding your point.You say, "criticism of the bloggers' salaciously anti-Catholic postings, coming from what you term "progressive Catholic blogs," would have had much more impact in the very circles that nod and wink at the anti-Catholicism they exhibit." Well, as I said, every progressive Catholic blog I can find has done exactly what you suggest. So what exactly is your criticism?Finally, if Donohue is not an idiot, than I don't know that the term has any useful meaning. For the same reason I clearly articulated my problems with the offensive posts by the Edwards staffer, I think one has to condemn the many, many anti-semitic comments by Donohue over the years, and the poisonous impact he has on both public discourse and the public image of the Catholic community.

1) I was taken aback by the useful idiot epithet as applied to Donohue. It's clearly meant to be inflammatory. Is it also accurate? The term has almost universally been used to describe gullible, nave idealists who unwittingly serve the purposes of more sophisticated and cynical political operatives - fellow travelers in the thirties, say. It would be difficult to describe Donohue as either nave or gullible. Is he serving an unseen sinister force, what not so long ago was called a vast, right wing conspiracy? 2) David Bonior is a well known progressive Catholic. Hes also the campaign manager for John Edwards. It would be interesting to hear his response to this incident. Will other anti-Catholics be acceptable to the Edwards campaign if they merely offer regrets that anyone has taken offense? Do no other remedies apply - not even the counseling or diversity workshops so often favored in similar circumstances?

"Part of the issue here, Bob, is that there in the wide world of Catholic blogs, only a tiny percentage are not of a conservative bent."You surely mean "orthodox," right? Or perhaps something like, "not dedicated to iconoclasm towards the Church's moral teachings." To say "conservative" in this context would seem to imply that the overwhelming majority of Catholic blogs are "politically conservative" or even "Republican."

No, I don't, because I don't concede the appelation "orthodox." Neither must it be so that "conservative" hold a political meaning. Maybe you're confusing it with the often lazily deployed "right-wing Catholics" and "left-wing Catholics."

If you're not referring to politics, then why is it relevant to claim that all but a tiny percentage of Catholic blogs are "conservative"? In the context of this discussion, the question was raised as to why more politically liberal*** Catholic bloggers weren't prominent in complaining about the Edwards situation. In that context, for you to assert that most Catholic blogs are politically conservative at least made sense (even if it seems quite an overstatement). But if you're not talking about political conservativism, then -- what? *** Doesn't anyone else think that the term "progressive" is something of an insult, given the racist history of that term?

What are you driving at, Stuart? Do you dispute that most Catholic blogs are politically and theologically conservative?

What are you driving at, Grant? Why do you retreat into personal questions aimed at someone else when asked for a specific explanation of something? In any event, I don't know of any way to quantify whether "most Catholic blogs" are "politically" conservative. I'm sure there are a lot of blogs that I've never read. I'm aware of a few Catholic blogs that often criticize Democrats on the abortion issue. But I've also noticed quite a few that willingly criticize Republicans.

Personal questions? Plural? Don't think so. First, it wasn't a personal question, and second, where else would I aim a question asked in a comment thread? Granted, who could read all the blogs in a given genre? But, just to clarify: you are "aware of a few Catholic blogs that often critize Democrats on the abortion issue" and "quite a few that willingly criticize Republicans"? Are you aware of more of the latter or the former? Or would you say they're about even among the more well-known Catholic blogs?

You've used this tactic before -- i.e., inquiring of people, "Why are you asking this?" As if their internal motivations are the issue up for discussion. In any event, as for my awareness of "Catholic" blogs that criticize Democrats on abortion and criticize Republicans on other issues -- those often seem to be largely overlapping categories to me. Mark Shea strikes me as a good example: He seems quite "conservative" on some issues, but boy does he ever lambaste Republicans on several other issues.

It's not a tactic, Stuart, and I wasn't asking about your motive. I just wanted you to cut to the chase, since so many times you post leading questions that seem designed to elicit a response you've anticipated from your debating partners. I don't think you've taken into account the bent of those who leave comments on Catholic blogs.

Sorry to offend your tender sensibilities, Patrick. I was indeed (knowingly) using the phrase incorrectly, and meant it to be taken quite literally. Donohue is in fact an idiot, but he proved useful in this case by identifying some offensive blog posts most people in the religious community were not aware of. I was not using it in any more sinister way. But I think that's clear from the context.

There are few better ways of sowing confusion than knowingly using phrases incorrectly.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.