In the land of the free and the home of the brave
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.