Friday, March 07, 2008

Puzzling Evidence

Well I hope you're happy with what you've made
(Puzzling Evidence)
In the land of the free and the home of the brave
(Puzzling Evidence)

I'm seeing
Puzzling Evidence
Puzzling Evidence
Puzzling (sometimes) evidence
Done hardened in your heart
Hardened in your heart.

Yep, that's right: there's a Talking Heads song for every occasion. Yesterday, according to the Catholic League, John McCain had this to say about John Hagee's endorsement of his candidacy:
Pastor Hagee endorsed me. That does not mean I endorse everything Pastor Hagee said. All I can say is lots and lots of people endorse me. That means they embrace my ideas and positions. It does not mean I endorse them.
To which Bill Donohue replied:
Ordinarily, what McCain said would be true enough. What makes the Hagee matter different is threefold: (a) McCain actively solicited the endorsement, appearing with the minister to accept it (b) Hagee is not simply guilty of a few throw-away lines—he has a long history of demonizing Catholicism, and (c) McCain blasted then presidential candidate George W. Bush in 2000 for not condemning Bob Jones University because of the school’s anti-Catholicism (Bush eventually did), thus he has already dropped anchor on this issue.
OK, so why doesn't McCain just bite the bullet and say explicitly that he rejects Hagee's anti-Catholicism? Frankly, the evidence here is not really all that puzzling. It's one thing when you're criticizing somebody else for not being more sensitive to voting Catholics, and that's why McCain was quick to jump all over Bush back in 2000. When it's a matter of apologizing for one's own insensitivity, well, that's often another matter altogether. However, McCain is well known for his integrity, and I don't think he would hesitate to apologize for this if it were only a matter of admitting that he himself has been insensitive to Catholics. The problem here runs a little deeper. Hagee represents many unsavory things, but his anti-Catholicism is probably among the most unsavory and it is, furthermore, a rather significant element in his world view. If McCain were to say something like

(a) "I reject everything about Hagee other than his endorsement of me"

well, that would just sound weird. However, if he were to say

(b) "I reject Hagee's anti-Catholicism"

well, that's tantamount to saying (a) anyway, so why bother? In short, McCain is stuck here, because he really needs to court the favor of conservatives, and for some reason his camp has gotten it into their heads that the sort of evangelical Christians who listen to Hagee are the folks who form the base for a significant portion of conservative voters. In other words, his camp isn't interested in my kind of conservative voter, but I'm rather used to that by now.

So I'm a little less puzzled than some as to why McCain isn't doing the right thing here. Is it a huge issue for me? Should it be a huge issue for other Catholic voters? Other conservative voters? Here, I think, there may be a puzzle. On the one hand, McCain is the only candidate still in the race who stands any chance of doing anything good for (a) the economy, (b) our security, and (c) social justice issues including abortion, immigration, and the future direction of the federal bench. These are the central issues for any Catholic conservative and, while McCain is not as conservative on some of these issues as I would like, he is certain far better than the possible alternatives. On the other hand, given that his candidacy will not stand or fall on the basis of my vote, I don't see that I have to vote for him simply in order to avoid the greater evil. If I thought that there were a decent chance of him losing as a consequence of my not voting for him, then to withhold my vote, even for a principled reason, would implicate me, even if only indirectly, in something happening far worse than if I had voted. Since that is not the case, however, then there are grounds for withholding my vote, if I have a (sound) principled reason for doing so.

Does the present case count as a (sound) principled reason? I think that it does, for reasons I have already pursued in other posts. Anti-Catholicism, at least as it is manifested in this country among those who have more than just a goofy, inherited suspicion of "all that 'high church' stuff", is a noxious form of bigotry grounded, ultimately, in a kind of race hatred and sheer ignorance. Neither race hatred, nor ignorance, are properties that ought to be promoted in any way, nor need they be tolerated, even in a pluralistic democracy. They are not the sorts of things that we can hope to eradicate, of course, but to admit that we cannot (or perhaps even ought not) eradicate is not to say that we need to tolerate them.

It is perplexing that more folks haven't picked up on this point. Things may be changing now that Nancy Pelosi has criticized McCain, but it's interesting that the Catholic League, which often gets results pretty quickly, has been largely ignored on this issue. Politics at work. As Bruce Wilson notes:
The question then becomes one of "prominence." Is Bill Donohue from the Catholic League a "prominent political figure"? When he attacked John Edwards last year, the media seemed to think so, covering his criticisms in great detail. Now that he's attacking McCain, however, Donohue's concerns no longer seem to matter. Hmm.
I might add that, as I've tried to get to the bottom of this, I've noticed that most of the folks who are actively criticizing McCain right now are liberals. Conservatives, who ought to care more about stuff like this, are either largely silent or else they are making excuses for McCain. Those who are critical are rather tepid about it. Here's what Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online had to say:
CNN was playing up the John McCain John Hagee embrace last night (John Hagee is the anti-Catholic pastor whose church Mike Huckabee spoke to back in December, to some protest here and elsewhere.) Suffice it to say, the Brent Bozell in me assumes the mainstream media loves, loves, loves a story like this because it portrays religious conservatives in a bad light. On the Right, meanwhile, it's not much of an issue, though I do think it should be a moment for reflection. I understand the politics, of course, of John McCain embracing a well-known evangelical pastor. But at what cost? Especially in a year where the conservative coalition has been strained, where the pastor in the race has done his share of dividing (think Lucifer and the Mormons as an example), John McCain could have done without courting this pastor with his anti-Catholic baggage. You know he only did it to help himself with evangelicals, and to any Catholic conservatives paying attention, it only antagonizes. I don't think it does him any real longterm damage, but I'd respect him more if he hadn't. I can't be alone — and I bet that's a view I share with more than R.C. right-wingers.
Perhaps, but Lopez's short (that quote is the whole thing) notice is the only other place I've been able to find anything about it. Nor do I think that only "R.C. right-wingers" should be upset by this issue. Obviously any Roman Catholic should be upset, but I think that any conservative would be distressed by the attempt to curry favor with someone who stands so squarely against conservative values in just about every domain. It's rather simplistic and banal to say that Hagee is a "conservative" just because he claims to be pro-Israel or fiscally conservative or because he endorses John McCain or president. I very much hope that John McCain is quite wrong to assert that Hagee embraces him and his positions, because one hopes that McCain's positions are grounded in a rational morality that does not objectify persons and treat them as means to a sinister end. Let's hope that racism, anti-semitism, hatred of the Other, misogyny, and the various other unsavory aspects of Hagee's sick world view are not among the items that Hagee embraces from McCain's campaign. That would mean that there can be no legitimate reason to vote for McCain.

A number of people, including both Bill Donohue and Nancy Pelosi, have expressed the opinion that McCain will, sooner or later, make explicit his rejection of Hagee's ugly bigotries. Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.


moti said...


I think there are two reasons why McCain has thus far been hesitant to repudiate Hagee, one of which you mention in your post--he needs (or believes he needs) the kind of support from those members of the religious right who helped Bush become president. Given that James Dobson recently announced that he would not under any circumstances vote for McCain (because of McCain's views on e.g., gay marriage, stem cell research), McCain needed an endorsement from what Rove has been saying for years is the conservative "base".
But I think the second reason is just as important. If you look at McCain's foreign policy advisers, you'll notice that a fair number of them are the very same "neoconservatives" who have shaped U.S. foreign policy over the last seven years. The policies they advocate with respect to U.S. involvement in the Middle East fit very nicely with Hagee's "theology". Needless to say, this is merely a marriage of convenience, but it is a rather powerful union nonetheless. Both parties advocate strong military action against Iran and unflinching support of the current Israeli government, construction of new settlements in the West Bank, etc. And as you've seen, AIPAC loves Hagee. From their perspective, I suspect Hagee's anti-Catholic filth is unfortunate, but presumably if McCain can shake off or simply wait out the negative publicity (which, as you say, has been coming mainly from the left and is therefore strategically irrelevant from McCain's point of view) he'll make gains, on balance, or at least preserve that percentage of voters for whom staying in Iraq indefinitely and bombing Iran is a priority.
So I would not hold my breath in anticipation of mainstream conservative criticism of McCain. The Republicans have an uphill battle to fight as it is, given McCain's own admission that he is ignorant on economics and his continued support of an unpopular military adventure.
The way I see it, McCain has little to lose in simply waiting this thing out. It goes without saying that I'm not taking into account quaint notions like "morality" or "principle" here. I'm speaking purely of strategic political prudential reasoning (otherwise none of this would make sense at all). Of course some people who might otherwise have been planning to vote for him may not as a result of the Hagee endorsement, but plenty of them will in any case because they believe, as you suggested one might, that he's the lesser of evils.
Ultimately, unless powerful voices on the right pressure McCain (as they have yet to do), I wouldn't expect any apologies. And criticizing McCain is not something powerful conservatives are going to want to do now that he's their man. Then again, predictions in areas like this are just about worthless, especially mine.

Scott Carson said...


I fear you may be right about powerful voices on the right standing up to McCain on this, though given the way the Democratic ticket fight may play out over the summer it's just this side of possible that some will feel comfortable enough about the general disposition of things to make a minor flap over it, if not a stink. Even if that happens, though (and I rather doubt that it will), I don't imagine there will be anything like a consensus on how to handle the thing.

moti said...

As I said at the end of my original post, my predictions are particularly worthless. And I was right about that! McCain just "repudiated" Hagee's anti-Catholicism. He claims this was in response to Pelosi's comments, though I don't doubt that he's been getting an earful from Catholic groups as well.
But we are still left wondering which views of Hagee's McCain does endorse, and vice versa.

Scott Carson said...

Yes indeed, that truly is puzzlin'! As I suggest in my post, I think that the chain of irrationality in Hagee runs deep--one really wants to know whether there is any other skeleton in that closet that we should know about, and why McCain picked this guy, out of all the possible sane-evangelicals out there--to court. But at least he's taken the right first step (in my view--I know you're not going to vote for him!).

moti said...


No disagreement there. McCain did take the right first step, irrespective of who votes for him. Of course, in order to get my vote he'd have to take a lot of much bigger steps...but of course that takes us beyond the scope of the current topic (courting the vote of a racist who lusts for nuclear war). A nice first baby step, though.

Scott Carson said...

No worries--I'll make it a point to blog on all of your other pet topics, and you can trash me all you like! It's great to be hearing from you.