God is so good to me. While I pray to have no enemies, private or public, I also pray that if I must have an enemy, it be someone like Patrick Reilly, the President of the Cardinal Newman Society. Yesterday, I called attention to an interview he gave NPR in which he compared President Obama to Adolph Hitler. I make it a point not to reply to comments on my blog posts but seeing as he has accused me of libel – I mean, of LIBEL (Mr. Reilly’s comment begins in all caps) – a response is required.
Libel involves three requirements. A statement must be printed, it must be malicious and it must be false. My charge was certainly printed, if the web counts as printed. Was it malicious? I do not wish any personal ill on Mr. Reilly, but I do wish him political ill, I wish to expose his positions as those of a Catholic Ayatollah (as the National Catholic Reporter recently characterized Mr. Reilly), and to see that people of good sense shun those positions. If that be malice, I plead guilty.
But the crux of the matter is whether or not the charge was false. Mr. Reilly pleads that he said, twice no less, that he did not intend to compare Mr. Obama and Mr. Hitler. Reilly writes, "I stated clearly that I was offering extreme examples of how Notre Dame's position could apply to a KKK member or a Hitler, assuming they have certain qualities worthy of admiration. I know -- big mistake ever to mention Hitler, it was certainly an extreme example and perhaps a less volatile figure could have made the point without getting slammed by deceitful people like Winters." So, it was a mistake, but only because he got caught? I note the absence of any apology to Mr. Obama in Reilly’s comments. And, the fact that he hedged his comparison between denials that he was making a comparison does not alter the fact of that comparison one iota.
I recall a "Law & Order" episode where the police catch a suspect fleeing from them. The suspect says, "I didn’t do anything." The policeman says to his partner, "That’s what they always say when they are running." In the event, I provided a link to the interview and readers can judge for themselves.
Mr. Reilly contends he was merely trying to point out that Notre Dame’s position, that the honor to the President implies no endorsement of his views on abortion, is "ludicrous," that you cannot separate a public figure from the totality of their acts. Alas, that is not how politics works. As Mayor Koch used to say, "if you agree with me eighty percent of the time, vote for me. If you agree with me one hundred percent of the time, go see your shrink." For example, President Bush supported abortion in cases of rape and incest, and approved embryonic stem cell research for some stem cells that President Obama’s policy will prohibit. Politics lives on the slippery slope, especially in a diverse society like ours where not everyone accepts Catholic teachings and few study what we Catholics call "natural law." Besides, this emphasis on "totality" is always fraught with danger, as anyone who lived in the tweniteth century can attest; used in this way, it contains something of the integralist, of the witch hunt, especially when employed by one such as Mr. Reilly whose career seems to consist of calling others heterodox.
But, if Mr. Reilly’s aim was only to make an admittedly complicated point, why not compare President Obama to, say, Richard Nixon. "You can’t applaud Nixon for the Clean Air Act and forget about Watergate," he might have said. After all, comparisons achieve moral clarity when comparing apples to apples, or presidents to presidents. Or, he might have said, "You can’t forget the dropping of atomic bombs on the i