Paul Baumann is the editor of Commonweal.
By this author
“Apologies for the short notice,” began the e-mail I received late in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 30. It was from the assistant press secretary for foreign affairs at the National Security Council, asking if I could meet with President Barack Obama Thursday morning for a “roundtable” in advance of his meeting with the pope in Rome.
Yes, I replied, yes I can. No apology necessary.
The neoconservative Weekly Standard is best known as former vice president Dick Cheney's favorite humor magazine. And it is funny--truly. Who can forget those satirical pieces warning of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, or the one--written in code!--about demure, heavily mascaraed Iraqi and Al Qaeda secret agents canoodling while passing nuclear secrets over heavy pastry in Vienna? And then there was the wild Monty Python-like script for "democratizing the Middle East at gunpoint." The magazine's limericks are even better.
President-elect Barack Obama's charisma, intelligence, and youth often caused commentators to compare him to John F. Kennedy. The endorsement of Obama by Caroline Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy cemented the comparison, as did the obvious parallel between what Kennedy's election represented for American Catholics and what Obama's means to African Americans.
Early in October, I appeared at St. Theresa’s Parish in Briarcliff Manor, a leafy New York suburb, along with Commonweal contributor (and former columnist) David Carlin, to discuss the question of whether a Catholic can vote for a prochoice candidate.
Commonweal is not very high on the media food chain, and I’m not one of the handful of usual suspects the media rely on to comment on papal announcements, demographic alarms (“Where have all the Catholics gone?”), excommunications, or the sexual-abuse scandal. Still, whenever there is some big papal news—a death, conclave, or visit—my phone starts ringing.
I realize I'm a bit tardy with this comment, but the pace of the blogosphere remains intimidating for those of us still marveling over the immediacy of e-mail. A post last week on Christopher Hitchens by Robert Imbelli provoked a lively exchange about the value of what Imbelli called Hitchens's "devilish knack for pricking the pieties of both left and right."Devilish is right.
Dear Commonweal Reader,
Over the years, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve told you something of the challenges of publishing a small magazine—skyrocketing postal rates, inexorable cost increases, even a tectonic shift of readers away from print media. Seeing a “Letter to Readers” addressed to you, you might be expecting more of the same, perhaps even an ominous message about the outlook for the Commonweal enterprise.
The New York Times ran a brief “Appreciation” titled “‘The Bishop’s Wife’” at the bottom of its column of editorials on Christmas Eve. The author, Verlyn Klinkenborg, regularly appears in that space with a signed feature called “The Rural Life.” His reports from his farm in upstate New York are marvelous.