Time To Move On, But...
Eduardo Moisés Peñalver February 9, 2007 - 10:13am
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?
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.