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Catholic Liberals Take Note, all others read Ross Douthat

In the usually lame "Sunday Review," the NYTimes has this essay offering the Democrats some excellent advice, "The Power of Political Communion." The author Molly Worthen hits a number of points on the head, and the Democratic party as well.All others: Ross.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Maybe.Ms Worthen makes some valid points, and the essay is good food for thought. Once or twice I couldn't quite figure out if she was criticizing the Dems for not listening to us, or us for not shouting above the din to be heard.On the other hand, maybe a lot of us liberal Catholics are more comfortable active in our parishes and local communities where we believe that we can make a legitimate difference. I could never see myself involved in politics on a national scale. But I could make a difference on city council, perhaps, with my neighbors and friends.It might be that we're not harping in the public square like we were/might have been a generation or two ago because we're disgusted at the similarity between the two major political parties. Both parties are bloated, gas-filled carcasses on life support. They should have each died in the last century.It might be that many of us find more meaning in acknowledging we may well be living in a time of planting, not harvesting. The martyr Alfred Delp said what's on my mind, "This is seedtime, not harvest. God sows the seed and some time or other he will do the reaping. ... If this is the way God has chosen--and everything indicates that it is--then I must willingly and without rancor make it my way."Maybe some of us liberals have moved on. The Catholic Right is about forty years late to the party. So let them have their time to trumpet and crow and make mistakes and fall all over themselves. I for one have no wish to get involved in the lunacy.The president, by the way, has yet to earn a second vote from me, Bill Clinton back-thumping notwithstanding. Swing state talking here, Mr President. Listen up, sir.

"The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making."I wonder whether this is true or not. If you add Commonweal, America magazine and not a few Catholic universities, Catholic progressives are well represented. My big problem with Catholic progressives is that they let Conservatives and the Dolan hierarchy phrase the issues (like abortion) rather than concentrating on helping people "Behind the beautiful forevers."Digressing to the Health Care imbroglio we should remember that there is some confusion in the Catholic population. Even some educated people think the government's policy is to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions rather than to allowe Catholic employees (many of whom are non-Catholic) to avail themselves of covered abortion. Peggy, as far as the Ross article you reference, tell me where the partisanship lies. Seems a balanced piece to me.

Bill: right, Ross has the balance conservatives need on this subject....that's why I recommended they read it instead of the Worthen piece; with that, they's only start frothing at the mouth.

Mr. Flowerday: Curious about what Obama needs to do to get your vote.

If you add Commonweal, America magazine and not a few Catholic universities, Catholic progressives are well represented.--------Commonweal's circulation is 20,000; America's is 45,000. (And the editors of those once-liberal magazines have veered waaaay over to the right. Their anti-Obama editorials and articles hardly represent "progressives".) (What's a progressive?)As to Catholic universities? Any reason to believe their students are Democrats? (Just asking. Imho, Steubenville, Notre Dame, et al. are staunch supporters of the RCC -- Republican Catholic Church.)

Nice piece. Thanks. But neither Democrats nor Republicans are interested in philosophy - or in philosophical consistency, life centered or other. No deep thinking goes in among politicians - deep thinking and political thinking are inimical. Democrats don't care about progressive Catholic intellectuals because there aren't enough of them. And they're aging.

Commonweals circulation is 20,000; Americas is 45,000. (And the editors of those once-liberal magazines have veered waaaay over to the right. Their anti-Obama editorials and articles hardly represent progressives.) (Whats a progressive?)

A progressive is a political believer who holds that truth just keeps getting better.

David Smith... wrong... A Catholic progressive is one who did not flee to the suburbs in 60s 70s. , He/She was not afraid of different colors and did not fear minorities as neighbors, The progressive also did not want to move as close as possible to a GOP golf course as their salary would allow. Catholic Religion/Dogma played absolutely no part of any of these Dem turned GOP flight decisions. Yes, the flight mice elected and re-elected Nixon and how did that work out?

Why use the term "progressive"? What's wrong with being a LIBERAL? The Progressive Movement was a specific era in American history (one of my faves), and it comprised Republicans as well as Democrats. I get the impression that liberals who are too intimidated by Republicans to call themselves liberals have taken to calling themselves progressives, not because they identify with the historical movement, but with the hope of mollifying Ryan/Romney/Rush/etc.

Gerelyn - just a suggestion from a poor history teacher. Progressive has been a label for one specific period of American history but, in reality, historians have used the term *progressive* form many different time periods; specific state movements and even local movements.Thus, most US historians would probably qualify Teddy Roosevelt as a *conservative* progressive - but, that defines *conservative* in a very classical sense. You also had the term progressive applied to populists, to Huey Long, JFK's New Frontier....some of those were liberal (in the usual sense that it is defined today) and others such as Long fit into their own categories. (Teddy brings up a whole other historical analogy since his Republican stance took on big business and the Gilded Age - some wonder if the current Tea Party Republicans even understand that Republican Party history and narrative?)Progressivism can be made up of both classical liberal and conservatives in terms of the political actions they support.

Gerelyn, "liberal" is confusing because in this country until very recently it was used to mean something very different from what it means today. It still means something rather different elsewhere. "Progressive", on the other hand, refers to people who are committed to continual reform. Not a bad idea, at first glance.

Agree, Bill, that today's Republicans could stand a refresher course or two in American history. Agree, David that today's Democrats could stand a refreshed course or two in American history. ----------- L'shanah tovah!~~ 5773 ~~

I attended the Catholic Theological Association meeting in Durham where blogger Fr Tim Finigan held forth, presenting the Catholic blogosphere as a new movement in the Church; I pointed out that there was a well represented liberal wing to the blogosphere, quoting Michael Bayly,, William Lindsay, and Commonweal, America and NCR. The "alternative Catholic media" are of such low quality that they cannot be represented at these more respectable venues. The Tablet dislikes them, as Fr Zuhlsdorf indignantly notes (follow the links to get to Fr Finigan's CTA presentation):

For what it's worth, I really liked the Worthen piece. It would be helpful if the present clerical leadership in the U. S. Catholic community spent some time and energy applauding the contributions that what she calls liberal Catholicism have made to our political history instead of doing a fundamentalist dance on a few chose hot button issues. It may be that the Democratic party leadership would still not take this message to heart. But at least it would have to acknowledge that therre is this strong message.

Ed Gleason ==Interesting housing development in New Orleans. Yes, there was white flight. That left a couple of nice old neighborhoods to decay, including my old one. But now with oil getting more and more expensive, those old neighborhoods which are not far from downtown are starting to be re-gentrified. And what will that do to the suburbs when things (not just gas) get expensive? I expect life will get more expensive because most products require energy to produce, and that will raise the prices of the products. We brought this on ourselves, of course. We refused to invest in alternate energy sources 50 years ago when it was obvious this was coming. (Can't trust those scientists, ya know -- they're those liberal academics.)

There is one politician who reads heavy stuff. See Michael Lewis' biog of Obama in Vanity fair. According to Lewis, St. Augustine, Churchill, Ghandi and Niehbur are among those Obama admires.

Ann Olivier.. what you say is happening to NO with gentrification has already happened in San Francisco. And happening nation wide. SF Median house price is now 700k and climbing quickly. The Far suburbs in the Bay Area that were the landing zones for the 60s 70s white flight are now in steep foreclosure. Being stuck in an underwater mortgage , $5 gas, and your newly adult children re-locating to the inner city, was not part of the GOP agenda for the USA. Now if we can get the youngsters to register and get out to vote we progressive/liberals can keep the ball possession for 12 more years and re-vitalize USA.

I was struck by the use of the words "Catholic liberal" in the title of this post.All in all I think they are probably more accurate, but I expected Ms. Steinfels to define herself a "liberal Catholic." We seem to be still stuck in the situation Augusto Del Noce described in 1969:"In every area a dividing line has been established between traditionalists and progressives, and a progressive from any given background feels closer to a fellow progressive than to a traditionalist from his own group. For instance, nowadays a secular progressive is certainly closer to a Catholic progressive than a Catholic traditionalist is to a Catholic progressive1. Catholic and secular progressives think less about their metaphysical differences than about their agreement in formulating judgments of value regarding the contemporary world."

To make my thought clear: I personally think that a Catholic should firmly refuse to categorize himself/herself as liberal or conservative, because both terms carry too much philosophical baggage from the philosophies of history of the XIX century and from the US political divide.

Ann (7:46), I had to look really hard to find your evidence in that behind-the-scenes article for your assertion that Obama "reads heavy stuff". I think I found it in a single paragraph on page seven:

Obama asked his speechwriters to dig up for him writings about war by people he admired: Saint Augustine, Churchill, Niebuhr, Gandhi, King. He wanted to reconcile the nonviolent doctrines of two of his heroes, King and Gandhi, with his new role in the violent world. These writings came back to the speechwriters with key passages underlined and notes by the president to himself scrawled in the margin. (Beside Reinhold Niebuhrs essay Why the Christian Church Is Not Pacifist, Obama had scribbled Can we analogize al-Qaeda? What level of casualty can we tolerate?) Here it wasnt just that I needed to make a new argument, says Obama. It was that I wanted to make an argument that didnt allow either side to feel too comfortable.

That's it, right? Don't you think every college graduate has read the same stuff?

Hi Bill M. and Peggy,About Douthat's balance: Is "balance" of any value if it misrepresents the case?Here's what I mean. He writes: "There is a cringing way to make this mistake, embodied by the apologetic press release that issued from the American embassy in Cairo on Tuesday as the protests outside gathered steam, by the Obama White Houses decision to lean on YouTube to take the offending video down, and by the various voices (including, heaven help us, a tenured Ivy League professor) suggesting that the videos promoters be arrested for abusing their First Amendment liberties. "What apologetic press release? What cringing? To keep repeating this meme of the Cairo embassy's "apology" (which wasn't an apology) is not to respect the facts.And to complain about President Obama leaning on YouTube to take the offending video down? By all accounts it was a piece of trash and it was the occasion of plenty of offense and trouble. Here's a balance question: Does RD object when Bill Donohue pressures organizations to pull down anti-Catholic ads, slogans, or art exhibits? When the Jewish anti-defamation league pressures groups to withdraw anti-Jewish expressions?

Further, to call for some penalty levied on whoever produced the video isn't cringing. It's aggressive. I wouldn't advocate this, but neither can I deem it a cringing response.In sum, the examples he dumps together into his "cringing" alternative aren't what they seem to be. Their unifying factor instead seems to be that they assume that Muslims have rights and deserve respect.

No, David, I do not think that most college graduates have read those works. You have an exalted notion of American college education.

David R., thanks for the Atlantic article. It names a lot of the policies that fuel rage in the Muslim world, and I am glad to see it. Please note: I didn't say that RD was wrong to point out that there is more to this case than the video. I've said as much myself, here on dotCommonweal. What I am objecting to is the idea that "balance" is achieved by misrepresenting views. Because "balance" is so prized by American journalists, as if it guaranteed fairness, I felt this needed to be said. We've had lots of "both sides" reporting in recent times which has done little to point out that one "side" or another is weak or groundless. Thus talking points get repeated, which is nice for political candidates, but doesn't represent any sort of really balanced view of a situation.

Oops, make that David Smith. Sorry!

Although I suppose I'm a "conservative", I went ahead and read the Worthen piece, and blogged a short response to it, at Mirror of Justice, here: hope the response doesn't seem like "frothing at the mouth"; as I say, Worthen makes some really good and valuable (for "both sides") points, but also (in my view) gets Joe Biden, Roe, and Murray wrong.

Here's where I saw balance:"THE greatest mistake to be made right now, with our embassies under assault and crowds chanting anti-American slogans across North Africa and the Middle East, is to believe that whats happening is a completely genuine popular backlash against a blasphemous anti-Islamic video made right here in the U.S.A."And here: "Todays wave of violence, likewise, owes much more to a bloody-minded realpolitik than to the madness of crowds. As The Washington Posts David Ignatius was among the first to point out, both the Egyptian and Libyan assaults look like premeditated challenges to those countries ruling parties by more extreme Islamist factions: Salafist parties in Egypt and pro-Qaeda groups in Libya. (The fact that both attacks were timed to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks should have been the first clue that this was something other than a spontaneous reaction to an offensive video.)"

Rita,The fact that you don't understand why there is a difference between Bill Donohue calling for removal of offending material and President Obama doing so is "cringing" to anyone who understands the fact that the First Amendement protects against government infringement of speech (even if offensive) and does not apply to private conduct. Are you seriously forgiving the administration ("aggressive, but not cringing") seeking punishment against someone for merely producing a movie because it is offensive to particular religious adherents? Certainly you don't think Martin Scorcese should have arrested and questioned by police for directing "Last Temptation of Christ"? Maybe you think it would be right for President Obama to call on broadway to remove "The Book of Mormon" from theaters?

Mike D,There's no evidence that the Obama administration is seeking punishment, that was a suggestion of some Ivy League professor, remember?And I think you are confusing cringing (fear) with embarrassment. If you are embarrassed by my comment, fine. That's not what RD is talking about. Certainly I understand free speech. Is the president's intervention that of a dictator? No. He has every right to put on pressure whenever an ill-considered action puts American lives at risk and is causing unnecessary turmoil. Crying "fire" in a crowded theater, anyone?

---- A progressive is a political believer who holds that truth just keeps getting better.----"A progressive is someone who keeps making the same mistake, while a conservative is someone who prevents a mistake from ever being corrected." G. K. ChestertonThe modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

There is a cringing way to make this mistake, embodied by the apologetic press release that issued from the American embassy in Cairo on Tuesday as the protests outside gathered steam, by the Obama White Houses decision to lean on YouTube to take the offending video down, and by the various voices (including, heaven help us, a tenured Ivy League professor) suggesting that the videos promoters be arrested for abusing their First Amendment liberties. I wonder if Mr. D has ever been in a situation where there was more than a reasonable expectation of extreme bodily harm up to and possibly including death? If those people in Cairo had reason to believe that their lives were threatened by the rantings of some idiotic person in the US who loves the idea that he can say whatever stupid thing he wants and is defended by people who have been beaten over the head with the idea that almost anything said is fair game and can't be removed after the fact, then I can't blame them for trying to dissociate themselves from this form of idiocy.I'm sure the survivors of the 4 dead in Benghazi might have decided opinions on the untrammeled "freedom of speech" that cost the live of their loved one. I don't mean the public opinions that they might have given; I'm talking about what they say when the recorders and cameras have moved on to the next salaciousness of the day.

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