Edwards vs. Donohue Death Match (UPDATED)

Since we're a blog for Catholics, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least mention the current dust-up between the Edwards campaign and, ahem, William Donohue, self-proclaimed protector of all things Catholic (or at least his version thereof).According to the NY Times:

Two bloggers hired recently by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were criticized Tuesday by a Catholic group for posts they had written elsewhere on the Internet. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, demanded that Edwards fire Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. ''John Edwards is a decent man who has had his campaign tarnished by two anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots,'' Donohue wrote in a statement. ''He has no choice but to fire them immediately.' The Edwards campaign declined to comment. McEwan and Marcotte did not respond to e-mails requesting a response. Donohue cited posts that the women made on blogs in the past several months in which they criticized the pope and the church for its opposition to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, sometimes using profanity.

Sometimes using profanity? Get around the blogosphere much? Lots of interesting things here. First, the headline of the article in the Times is "Catholics Slam Bloggers Hired By Edwards." This is true as far as it goes. Donohue is a Catholic, although I'm not sure the use of the plural to describe his one-man outrage-show is technically correct. Second, it's interesting that Donohue thinks Edwards is a stand-up guy. Let's see if that attitude survives should Edwards win the primary. Third, Donohue is probably not the best guy to be out policing blogs for civility. After all, this is the person who said the following:

"Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. ...Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism."

Not only is he an embarrassment who obviously doesn't hold himself to the same standards he holds for others, but his judgment of what counts as anti-Catholic is, to say the least, seriously suspect, and has a tendency towards, shall we say, ideological selectivity. Finally, as much as it pains me to say it, I think Donohue may have a point in this case. The blog posts mentioned in the story did speak of a deep-seated hostility to the Church as an institution. For example, one post described in the article said the following:

''The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics,'' Marcotte wrote on the blog Pandagon on Dec. 26.

Besides being inaccurate (how many Catholics actually tithe?), I think Marcotte's post goes beyond simply criticizing the Church's positions on contraception, etc. on the merits and attacks the institution as a whole in ways that resonate with traditionally anti-Catholic rhetoric from the bad old days. There are plenty of substantive grounds on which to criticize the Church's position on contraception without resorting to rhetoric that consciously aims to offend. Does this mean that Edwards should fire the bloggers, as Donohue is demanding? I leave that for you to hash out in the comments.UPDATE: Edwards released the following statement on his blog:

The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwen's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.

FWIW, apart from the merits of his decision, I think this way of explaining things is a mistake. The comments on Marcotte's blog (especially on this post) were clearly intended to offend. (Really, what else could be intended by a post comparing the Holy Spirit to semen and talking about Mary taking Plan B to prevent the conception -- or, more accurately, induce the abortion -- of Jesus?) I think the vast majority of Catholic voters see that. For Edwards to take Marcotte at her word -- that she did not intend to offend -- is pretty much to tell those who are offended that there is something wrong with them. If he felt he could not fire her (perhaps because of a fear of being viewed as having caved in to hacks like Donohue and Michelle Malkin), it would have been better for Edwards to draw a different line, saying that he would not hold people responsible for blog posts written before they came to work for him, or something like that. To say that he actually believes that she did not intend to offend Catholics either means he is a sucker (because he believes her, even though she clearly did intend to offend) or he thinks Catholics who were offended are suckers (because he thinks they'll believe that he believed Marcotte did not intend to offend). Alternatively, he may think that Catholics who were so offended that they will now not vote for him were people who would not have voted for him anyway. I think that would be another mistake. Am I wrong? Has this changed anyone's mind about Edwards?UPDATE II: Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good weighs in with a press release:

Washington, D.C. - Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good Executive Director Alexia Kelley issued the following statement today in response to the controversy over the John Edwards campaigns hiring of netroots consultants who had made insensitive remarks regarding Catholicism:

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good condemns these and all religiously intolerant remarks. We accept Senator Edwards' assurances that he too was offended by comments made by recently-hired staffers and that religious intolerance has no place in his campaign. Catholics comprise more than one quarter of the U.S. public, and neither John Edwards nor any other candidate can afford to take this constituency for granted."

"We hope this unfortunate incident will initiate a deeper conversation on the part of all presidential candidates regarding the broad range of issues and values of primary importance to the Catholic community, including the Iraq War, a concern for the poor, human life and dignity, the availability of health care, and a commitment to the common good.

UPDATE III: In response to one of the commenters, I've modified the wording in my first update to make clear that I'm talking primarily about Marcotte's post about the Virgin Mary. I'm just not as familiar with the other blogger's posts to make the same assertions about her intentions.

Eduardo M. Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. The views expressed in the piece are his own, and should not be attributed to Cornell University or Cornell Law School.

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