Monday, March 5, 2007

Personal Asides: Responding to the Critics--Is Cardinal George Jesuitical? To Eric: Is McCain’s Remarks on “Lives Wasted” Tolerable? To S.C.A.M., But I Don’t Want to Stay Home!



I do not ordinarily answer readers. Reponses shouldn’t 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 meanings—one pertaining to Jesuits or Jesuitism and the other—used more often—is 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. Blaine’s 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 didn’t 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, please”—only delivered with an exasperated shout.

Thus I appreciate your loyal defense but it doesn’t work. Don’t 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 don’t 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 everyone—bishops included—need 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 sheep—as 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 Zorn’s imperious fingers that ordered me to consider John McCain’s lamentable echo of Barack Obama’s “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. We’ve 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 McCain—and 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 McCain’s effectiveness as a candidate for president.

First, more than anyone else running, he should know—from personal experience—that 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 governor’s office of the Minnesota state capitol where I worked 46 years ago was a 7-foot high glass case—so close to my desk I could reach out and touch it—in 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 war—Union or Confederate—attributed as such by Union General William T. Sherman. And Forest had many more battles to fight—and 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, Forest’s life can be criticized from only one aspect—and it didn’t 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 slavery—there is every reason to honor their sacrifice as valid. There is a case to be made—but I do not make it here—that 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 don’t 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 Senate’s most senior and honored military veteran has justified Obama’s 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, I’d 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 Obama’s 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 Lincoln’s stepmother who outlived him through FDR’s Sara Delano to George W. Bush’s. My old neighbor Hillary’s Mom was, is well-known. Can you please?


There is elsewhere in Reader’s Comments a correspondence from an entity aptly known as S.C.A M. which stands for “So-called Austin Mayor.” I don’t 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 mystery—but let us not quibble.

S. C.A.M. makes two objections. We’ll take the reasonable one first. He takes offense because I repeated offhand what has been commonplace for some time—and which has no relevance to the Obama campaign, incidentally—that the Senator’s pastor has expressed anti-Semitic views. Vestryman Franklin Roosevelt’s 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 time—why not here? With black congregations, anti-Semitism isn’t all that unusual, unfortunately…despite the anomaly that in the early civil rights days, Jews—not Catholics nor Protestants—were regular supporters of the black community.

Now S.C.A.M. demands to know what Obama’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ said that was anti-Semitic. All right, I’ll 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 wouldn’t want to be held accountable. I’ve 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 is—from “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 month’s 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 won’t 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 perversity—not anti-Israel but anti-Jewish. Again, no one should hold Obama responsible for what his senior pastor writes—and 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 he’s 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 Carter’s.

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 Texas—does 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. Wright’s 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. Wright’s 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 don’t 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 government’s accord with the PLO, the collapse of the accord which was followed, inexplicably to my way of thinking, by Elhud Barak’s 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 2005—none of which achieved the breakthroughs that were hoped…each leaving Israel worse off than before as per last summer’s 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 Christianity’s—or from his Camp David accords. Now he’s 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 said—truthfully—that 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. Simon’s 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 girl’s 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 hair—earning 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 plainness—and she has a lot of plainness to dramatize. Spectacles remind people of her father: there are such things as contact lenses—her 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 became—take my word for it—one 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 she’s Paul Simon’s kid anyhow; while married, she has chosen to carry the family name.

Now the personal stuff.

S.C.A.M., calling me porcine doesn’t even the score with me in Sheila Simon’s behalf since there’s no score to even. Porcine I am but we porcines have a right to live, too—besides which I’m not running for anything; never have, never will—and 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 couldn’t help it. She retorted: “well, at least you could stay home!” He said, “well, I don’t want to stay at home!” Similarly, calling me a swine doesn’t hurt me—it hurts you. Slugging me around for being homely doesn’t hurt my feelings. Those whom I love, love me. Who can ask for anything more? Have a good day, sir.

Don’t 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, Reader’s Responses will be presented unalloyed.


  1. SCAM/ZORN - one never sees them together . . .?

    The Progressive has got nothing on the Scotists - no where near polished to be termed jesuitical, but for sheer hair-splitting the Maggie Sanger Heart-tuggers are no end of good at countin'them dancin' angels on pinheads - or pencil necks.

    Now, what you mentioned is no different than saying that Jimmy Carter has huge buckers; or the Newt Gingrich has head on him like boulder in a Roy Rogers' movie; Hillary Clinton could scare the balls off a poll table.

    Tom, it's not like you said that the dear girl could bite a pig's butt through a picket-fence.

    I mean after all SCAM . . .

  2. Tom,
    I admire your consistency in tearing apart McCain for his apt choice of words.
    By the way "Austin Mayor" is a real fellow -- I've met him and I know who he is and why he remains pseudonymous. I have no need for a sock puppet and no time time to write yet another blog.
    I have done your bidding on Obama's mother and posted it here:
    The short answer, though, is that Obama's mother has been dead for 12 years.

  3. You seem to think a lot rides on your judgments, so let me make an additional correction: it isn't up to you to say whether I may worthily receive the Sacraments.

    As far as who's angry here, well... looks like burned a lot more daylight than I did on this :-)

  4. Kid Alias - A.K.A. - The Alias KidMarch 5, 2007 at 6:54 AM

    There are plenty of people in this world who find Tom Roeser to be "brutish and contemptible", that Zorn and SCAM need not be the same person. Trust me I meet people every day, that, if they've given T.R. any thought at all, it is not in a part of their brain filed with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

    Also in response to SCAM I don't think being contemptible is part of T.R.s actual personality, but is merely an affectation like Paul Simon's bow tie and Lincoln's hat to accentuate his brutishness.

  5. So little is written or known about Obama's background, other than what is in his biography.

    I'm sure it's a surprise to a lot of us that his mother is long dead. We sure know a lot about his father - also dead. But Obama's father is the link to Barak's black heritage, and without Barak's father, there would be no "first black President".

    Barak speaks little to nothing about his mother. She was white. She raised him in her culture.

    Does he owe any success to her? Apparently yes. He has achieved a lot more than most of the people his age who were raised by two parents. Who can argue that Barak's white mother did a fantastic job in raising him into a very responsible, successful, articulate young man?

    Does no one, the media or the candidate, want to talk about his white upbringing? The answer is that neither thinks it's important.

  6. Tom-
    I am no great fan of Nathan Bedford Forrest, but I agree with you that he was self-educated, ruthless, brave, and the best of the best cavalry generals on either side. However he neither founded, nor was a member of the KKK for more than two years. From Wikipedia:

    By 1868, only two years after the Klan's creation, its activity was already beginning to decrease[14] and, as Gordon's proclamation shows, to become less political and more simply a way of avoiding prosecution for violence. Many influential southern Democrats were beginning to see it as a liability, an excuse for the federal government to retain its power over the South.[15] Georgian B.H. Hill went so far as to claim "that some of these outrages were actually perpetrated by the political friends of the parties slain."[16]

    In an 1868 newspaper interview,[17] Forrest boasted that the Klan was a nationwide organization of 550,000 men, and that although he was not a member, he was "in sympathy" and would "cooperate" with them, and he could muster 40,000 Klansmen with five days' notice.

    The Second Klan was created in 1915, and that is what we mostly remember today.

  7. Its Iraq, Its Osama, Its the islamo- fachists, etc. etc. etc.

    Sorry.... our REAL worry should be CHINA...... RED CHINA.... COMMUNIST CHINA and its massive buildup in its military. A buildup WE are funding with our trade policies and deindustrialization.


    Why? Simple Mr. Zorn, There are no "Pet" minorities with powerful congressional constituancies being persecuited there! AND There are all those mega markups on slave wage products to be made! Ignore the human rights violations of China. Ignore that massive miltary buildup. Ignore the fact that the Red Government of China has said that WE are their enemy.. Ignore the research of Bill Gertz and his books that have warned us.

    Kiss up to China and their cheap goods under the damnable NEOCON globalist cannard of "constructive engagement". I ask you neocons if you would have had "constructive engagement" with Hitler's Germany or with Apartheid South Africa? Of course not! But then kissing up to the Red Chinese while destroying the manufacturing base of the USA is OK as long as you can pump the big profits into your pocket!

    But then you greedy intellectual ones stop and read Warren Buffett's annual report about the danger of the the massive trade deficit and what it means to our future! Then tell me why Iraq or Iran is more important?

    We have WASTED ourselves in IRAQ and elsewhere in the Middle East while ignoring what dear sweet RED CHINA is up to! They ARE building the ROPE to hang us!

  8. Louise RosenbergMarch 6, 2007 at 6:44 AM

    Eric linked you from his blog!