Monday, March 5, 2007
Personal Asides: Responding to the Critics--Is Cardinal George Jesuitical? To Eric: Is McCains Remarks on Lives Wasted Tolerable? To S.C.A.M., But I Dont Want to Stay Home!
I do not ordinarily answer readers. Reponses shouldnt ordinarily be counter-responded to, but there are a few exceptions. Here goes.
One Patricia Tryon, a reader and blogger, seems to be angrily demanding a correction from my last piece in which I called Francis Cardinal George Jesuitical. She says he is not a Jesuit but is a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. No correction needed: he is a member of that religious order and is indeed Jesuitical. Jesuitical has two meaningsone pertaining to Jesuits or Jesuitism and the otherused more oftenis defined as practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or over-subtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing. It is precisely the second definition that I had in mind. For proof, refer to the example I gave where he equated James G. Blaines anti-Catholicism of 1884 to the great majority of the Democratic party endorsing abortion with the conclusion that one equals another. Only one skilled in over-subtle Jesuitical reasoning would even attempt this sort of thing, to which the proper answer is: oh, please! He was straining at a gnat to equate both parties with soullessness and thus get off the hook.
But let me cite a second example (which I have used earlier) from the same conversation. In the same speech to the City Club of Chicago he parsed his allegation about the Republican party in these words: And it can be argued that the Republican party was born without a soul. When I challenged him on that point, citing the fact that the Republican party was formed for the express purpose of combating slavery and that in no stretch of the imagination would this be construed as being born without a soul, he responded as a true Jesuitical casuist: I didnt say it was born without a soul; I said `it could be argued that the Republican party was born without a soul. Again the proper answer is oh, pleaseonly delivered with an exasperated shout.
Thus I appreciate your loyal defense but it doesnt work. Dont worry, you are not in sin and can still go to the sacraments while acknowledging this human failing from our prelate. He is vastly to be preferred over his predecessor. But dont smite down those who of us who on occasion are led to correct Francis the Corrector when, smug with his two doctorates, he attempts to dazzle the troops with fancy Jesuitical footwork and strays over the mark. And by us I mean the ones who defended him after his appointment from attacks from a wing of the pro-Bernardin clergy, only to be treated dismissively by him for our efforts and who marshaled a rally on the steps of Holy Name cathedral which I organized after his own paid minions tried to re-direct us to hold our rally in a backroom, away from the media. You really should straighten up and acknowledge that everyonebishops includedneed to accept positive criticism. Being a bishop is not a magic cloak that should be used as cover for excessive timidity and the wish to be loved by all sides which are prime George failings.
Reader Lee Gilbert, a kind of fan but who worries I am senile, chides that correcting bishops is not in our Catholic job description. Remember that St. Catherine of Siena told Gregory XI that he ought to pull up his socks, bolster his ecclesiastical courage and move from Avignon back to Rome. He did and was the better Pope for it. I think the Cardinal could become the better man for being told his weakness. And Patricia and Lee, you should be the better people for recognizing it as well. We are indeed sheepas in feed My lambs, feed My sheep but need not be the bleating and mindless kind. Having said this, George is indeed a brilliant philosopher and pillar of theological authenticity.
I do not tap-dance obediently at the snap of Eric Zorns imperious fingers that ordered me to consider John McCains lamentable echo of Barack Obamas wasted lives statement. It did not come to my attention until after the Friday posting but certainly warrants equal attention. There can be no cosmetic-izing what McCain said. On David Letterman where he had a semi-official announcement of candidacy he said, Americans are very frustrated and they have every right to be. Weve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives. It topped another rather undignified impromptu effect earlier when he asked the band leader to play Hail to the Chief. Please. Unfunny and presumptuous.
All the indignity I heaped on Obama for his similar utterance on wasted lives in Iraq should be directed to McCainand more. In my estimation he may very well have seriously imperiled his effectiveness as a presidential candidate with the statement and may have flunked the second qualification I always apply to presidential candidates (is he up to the challenge of the job intellectually?). Rashness could be a disqualifier. Since his political career began, McCain has had to face charges of rashness in expression, headstrongness in judgment and erratic snap-reactions. His assault on the Christian Right was ill-tempered and overreaching; he was angered and swinging wildly with little justification. But he could have been defended since baseless rumors were rife spread about him in South Carolina that caused the blow-up.
But his error here is not just shooting from the lip; it is even more serious than the similar act committed by the neophyte Obama. Obama is very young for this presidential business, with a non-military background who is undergoing his first test at possibly being a national leader in time of war. There is utterly no excuse for a grizzled battle-hardened veteran and former POW and seasoned Senator (hero though he is) to say what McCain did. There are three central reasons why this statement can well diminish McCains effectiveness as a candidate for president.
First, more than anyone else running, he should knowfrom personal experiencethat any loss of life in behalf of country any time spent as hostage or suffering is not a waste but an incalculable payment for the liberties and safety we enjoy. Near my office in the governors office of the Minnesota state capitol where I worked 46 years ago was a 7-foot high glass caseso close to my desk I could reach out and touch itin which captured Confederate divisional battle flags were stored, flags taken by the 5th, 7th, 9th and 10th Minnesota Union regiments. Those Minnesotans suffered over 10% of the Union casualties at Nashville all the while the 8th Minnesota, the famous Indian regiment, endured the most casualties, stopping the attack of Nathan Bedford Forest and preventing him from joining the battle.
A Nathan Bedford Forest battle flag was contained therein. Nathan Bedford Forest was the greatest cavalryman of the warUnion or Confederateattributed as such by Union General William T. Sherman. And Forest had many more battles to fightand win. He was a self-educated get thar fustest with the mostest leader. To say that his life was a waste because he was on the losing side, or the side that history has difficulty justifying, is not only inaccurate but unpatriotic. (As a matter of fact, Forests life can be criticized from only one aspectand it didnt involve the war; he headed the Ku Klux Klan for many years after peace came). Similarly, to say the years of warfare spent by Robert E. Lee were wasted is not only inaccurate but a disservice to history: as it is to the lives of men fighting for what they believed was justice in service of the Confederacy.
If those lives lost were expended in service of an effort to justify secession, a plausible argument--not to perpetuate slaverythere is every reason to honor their sacrifice as valid. There is a case to be madebut I do not make it herethat the states had the right to secede (Virginia, New York and Rhode Island having included a clause in their ratifications of the Constitution to that effect. The list of patriots who averred the right existed to secede included Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, William Lloyd Garrison and Alexis de Tocqueville, the legitimacy of secession having been taken for granted, though not unanimously, in all sections of the country by the dawn of the Civil War. In 1848 Lincoln himself said, Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. The war between the states was fought for this principle more than slavery. Both sides, thus, have a claim on honor in the sacrifice.
Thus if those Confederate lives lost had value to the nation, no one can say that lives lost in service of this country in Iraq in behalf of extension of freedom are wasted since extension of freedom is always right and the battle against oppression is never wrong. There should be no debate on this because to say wasted is invalid.
Second, as one who supports the surge while saying that lives were wasted in Iraq, McCain appears to be in the untenable position of undercutting his own argument. It is a serious self-inflicted blow to the argument that he has so courageously supported. I dont know how you get out of it. Apologizing for a misstatement that was so egregious is not sufficient because the props have been kicked out from under the reinforcing argument. Third, McCain has given Barack Obama an excellent out, to declare that the Senates most senior and honored military veteran has justified Obamas earlier remark. As for me, I will continue the search, not entirely disqualifying McCain (for in my mind he could well be the logical candidate) but re-thinking the proposition.
The fact that the media have underplayed this story means nothing. It is sure to be reincarnated later in the campaign. I have been impressed that McCain of all men may well have the guts to win the war in Iraq as president. I still have that feeling; but I cannot deny that he has seriously maimed his credibility with his statement about lost military lives wasted thus far in Iraq. The beneficiaries are Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani. Time will only tell if McCain should justify himself. Were I working for him, Id advise at the least a major address to correct the record. My presidential choice has yet to be made.
Now, Eric, snap-snap, if you would be good enough to use your investigatory skills to find out why the gag has been put on Obamas mother and discover where in the world she is and what she thinks, you would serve the commonweal. All living mothers of presidential wannabes usually are front and foremost: from Lincolns stepmother who outlived him through FDRs Sara Delano to George W. Bushs. My old neighbor Hillarys Mom was, is well-known. Can you please?
There is elsewhere in Readers Comments a correspondence from an entity aptly known as S.C.A M. which stands for So-called Austin Mayor. I dont know what that designation means any more than do you. Austin is a west side neighborhood in Chicago which has no separate entity or mayor and the so-called is a mysterybut let us not quibble.
S. C.A.M. makes two objections. Well take the reasonable one first. He takes offense because I repeated offhand what has been commonplace for some timeand which has no relevance to the Obama campaign, incidentallythat the Senators pastor has expressed anti-Semitic views. Vestryman Franklin Roosevelts Hyde Park Episcopalian pastor reflected his conservative upstate New York constituency and got press attention for his homilies that varied from the New Deal all the timewhy not here? With black congregations, anti-Semitism isnt all that unusual, unfortunately despite the anomaly that in the early civil rights days, Jewsnot Catholics nor Protestantswere regular supporters of the black community.
Now S.C.A.M. demands to know what Obamas pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ said that was anti-Semitic. All right, Ill reproduce his words but understand I am not criticizing Obama for what his pastor wrote; I have been in parishes where pastors have said outrageous things and I certainly wouldnt want to be held accountable. Ive heard anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism often and do not list them foremost among the Capital Sins. But S. C. A. M. asked for it and here it isfrom A Message from Our Pastor published July, 2005.
After a long exhortation against racism in South Africa, he writes: The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for almost 40 years now. It took a divestment campaign to wake the business community concerning the South Africa issue. Divestment has now hit the table against as a strategy to wake the business community up and to wake Americans up concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism.
The Divestment issue will hit the floor during this months General Synod. Divesting dollars from businesses and banks that do business with Israel is the new strategy being proposed to wake the world up concerning the racism of Zionism. That Divestment issue wont make the press either, however.
Again, the Reverend Doctor may thunder all he wishes about the Israeli occupation but his errors are so replete that they seem not to be born of ignorance but a willful perversitynot anti-Israel but anti-Jewish. Again, no one should hold Obama responsible for what his senior pastor writesand indeed, behaving as all politicians do, Obama last week made the obligatory trek to the AIPAC rostrum to beat his chest about Iran and get hugged for it--as everyone else does. While no one says hes anti-Semitic his senior pastor cannot be let off the hook because his charges are incendiary and outlandishly wrong. And about as astute as Jimmy Carters.
The occupation applies to Gaza and the West Bank. When the Egyptians owned the West Bank nobody charged them with being occupiers nor did people so assail the Jordanians who held the West Bank and much of Jerusalem for the same length of time. After Israel won a war over those who wish to drive it into the sea, they became occupiers. What about us with California and Texasdoes Dr. Wright want us to return these to Mexico? What about France and Alsace-Lorraine, should France return it to Germany?
The speciousness of Dr. Wrights prattling is far from ignorance; it is the same stuff that Minister Louis Farrakhan has been pushing. Farrakhan and Dr. Wright do not acknowledge for a moment that Muslims and many Palestinians are focused on the destruction of Israel. The blatant falsehood and bias of Dr. Wrights message to his flock is destructive, not to Obama who has no responsibility for what is said, but to the congregation by whipping up hate. Wright belongs in the same league as the late Fr. Charles Coughlin of my faith. But Coughlin was denounced by many people and many Catholics. The political correctness mode certifies that you dont criticize a black pastor if he errs because that would seem racist.
Beyond that, Dr. Wright rattles off mere bumper-sticker tirade without the erudition one should expect from someone who, purportedly, has a doctorate in divinity. It ignores the 1992-96 work by the Rabin-Peres governments accord with the PLO, the collapse of the accord which was followed, inexplicably to my way of thinking, by Elhud Baraks withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and the re-start of an attempted settlement with the Palestinian Authority which also failed dismally; the unilateral disengagement policy of Ariel Sharon, the evacuation of Gaza in 2005none of which achieved the breakthroughs that were hoped each leaving Israel worse off than before as per last summers war against Hizballah by Ehud Olmert. So Dr. Wright while not a threat to civil discourse appears to be a garden variety jerk, not vastly different from Carter who has undergone a radical transformation from his Sunday school days when he taught the future of Israel should be guaranteed to safeguard Christianitysor from his Camp David accords. Now hes erratic like Dr. Wright. No offense: We have a lot of them in my church.
The second missive that S.C A M. has sent is in defense of Sheila Simon and her late father Paul. I saidtruthfullythat Paul Simon tried to capitalize on his nerdy looks by adding a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses in an image presentation to play on the view that anybody that nerdy-looking has to be honest. Simons own staff, angered because it was dispossessed and whom he did not help to get relocated when he quit, was on to it. It was an image what shall I say I know: it was an image scam in the same way Lincoln added to his ungainly height by wearing a stove-pipe hat which added to his 6 feet four inches made him 6 feet seven that made him respond to a little girls request he raise a beard to offset the thinness of his face
the reason why Illinois Senator J. Hamilton Lewis, festooned with beard, gave himself an unique identifiability by making his beard look reddish in contrast to his white hairearning the nickname old pink whiskers. Obama often goes out on the trail with open-throated shirt, emphasizing his youth and thinness. FDR emphasized his optimism in the face of Depression by puffing on an extra-long cigarette holder pointed upward at a jaunty angle. These are political image things, common to all politicians. S.C.A.M. should recognize trade-markism for what it is and lighten up. So should Lee Gilbert. Sheila Simon has evidently chosen to stress the same plainnessand she has a lot of plainness to dramatize. Spectacles remind people of her father: there are such things as contact lensesher neglect of them is no accident. Toothiness is a trademark of the Kennedys as, in lesser known degree, of the Simons, her father and mother.
She need not stick with toothiness; there is an industry known as dental cosmetics but she has chosen to. No woman needs to surrender to plainness willingly. Eleanor Roosevelt was told by her mother that she had to offset her plainness with charm and anything else she could muster. She did. She becametake my word for itone of the most charming women alive, wore pearls to offset a long, scrawny neck, had her teeth straightened and pulled inward from outward, her hair done by a highly-paid professional and wore higher heels than normal to emphasize height which gave her great dignity (all of which she had in abundance when I met her). Sheila Simon would be advised to go the Eleanor Roosevelt way. Everybody knows shes Paul Simons kid anyhow; while married, she has chosen to carry the family name.
Now the personal stuff.
S.C.A.M., calling me porcine doesnt even the score with me in Sheila Simons behalf since theres no score to even. Porcine I am but we porcines have a right to live, toobesides which Im not running for anything; never have, never willand I like to go out and about. When he attended his first square dance as a young storekeeper in New Salem, Lincoln was told by a young woman with whom he had chosen to dance that he was the ugliest man she had ever seen. He agreed but said he couldnt help it. She retorted: well, at least you could stay home! He said, well, I dont want to stay at home! Similarly, calling me a swine doesnt hurt meit hurts you. Slugging me around for being homely doesnt hurt my feelings. Those whom I love, love me. Who can ask for anything more? Have a good day, sir.
Dont get the idea that your reply to my counter-response to your response will launch a colloquy to go on and on. From now on with few exceptions, Readers Responses will be presented unalloyed.