In his book The Future of Liberalism Alan Wolfe posits that in addition to philosophic and procedural liberalism, there is such a thing as a liberal temperament, an openness to debate, an inquisitiveness and curiosity about the world, a horror of bigotry and an optimistic appraisal of human possibilities. He argues that many who consider themselves political conservatives share this temperament, and indeed they do. But, yesterday, at two events sponsored by the Catholic University of America, it was the absence of this temperament that was striking.

CUA had an all day symposium marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and the Holy See. Later, the University sponsored a discussion on life issues and the Obama administration at the National Press Club. At both events, Princeton Professor Robert George was a principal and at both events he provided a series of assertions, unsupported by argument, some of which were simply wrong, some arguable, but all presented as if his chair at Princeton, not the Chair of Peter, has the promise of infallibility. He claimed Obama is the most pro-abortion president in history, but did not really explain why that is so. He asserted Obama will relentlessly pursue federal funding for abortions but the President has indicated no such thing. The bishops have competence to address abortion that they lack with virtually every other issue, he demonstrated failing to note that it is not the morality of abortion but the political approach to the issue that is the heart of the matter.

Professor Patrick Brennan of Villanova gave a somewhat bizarre presentation on how the Church as Church should have certain constitutional protections different from that enumerated in the First Amendment. At least I think that is what he was arguing. There is, no doubt, some truth to the belief that contemporary jurisprudence on religious freedom is almost a subset of the jurisprudence on free speech and free association. But, there is also no doubt that there are no guards at the airport so it is not like the Church is oppressed in America either. His speech was so strident, the first question asked of him was whether his demand for such guarantees would be extended to other churches or just to Catholics. I had intended to ask his thoughts on Lepanto, but we ran out of time. For good measure, Brennan launched a gratuitous attack on Notre Dame for its decision to invite President Obama to its commencement.

These are smart men. Yet spending a day with them and their rantings, I wondered if there was a rabid dog that had gotten loose. It is one thing to encounter such attitudes on EWTN but quite another to hear it from a university rostrum. Others at the sessions were balanced, thoughtful, and temperamentally liberal, such as the three former Ambassadors to the Holy See- all Republican appointees. Archbishop Dolan was positively funny as well as incisive in his recounting of the history of US-Vatican relations before 1984.

But, there is a group of conservative thinkers for whom Obama’s win has made them unhinged. I heard jaws drop when Archbishop Sambi extend his congratulations to Miguel Diaz and there were audible moans of disgust when former State Department official Nicholas Burns said he held out great promise for US-Holy See bi-lateral relations in the next few years. The good news for those of us who generally support the President is that these unhinged conservatives do not even try and persuade anyone of the truth of their positions. It is all "my way or the highway." That is not really how democracy works.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 6/1/2009 - 6:34pm
"I take it to heart that 'conservative' posters are calling for more respectful use of language in the postings. That would be exactly  my position if like them I was on the losing side of the presidential and congressional elections, Notre Dame squabble, Sotomayor confirmation; So I go to 'conservative' blogs for examples of Christian language and all I find is they want me and mine out of the Catholic faith.. They want civil law backing on all their issues, foregoing the Tradition, scriptures, preaching, efficacy of example, and grace" Ed, why would you think my viewpoint is because I am a "conservative".  Asking for respectful language and valid points rather than ad hominem name calling isn't a conservative or liberal idea.  It's a very human, and indeed, Christian idea.  As to your other contention of political disappointment driving this, you are wrong.  My "side" neither won nor lost the elections, Notre Dame, or the SC nomination. Those things belong to the City of Man and I wonder how much in defense of that city, we run ramshod over the City of God.  As to your last contention of 'conservative' blogs, indeed some of those seem beholden to the same puzzling rhethoric as that of MSW and should be challenged.  But what was that thing my mother used to say, "If Johnny jumped of a bridge, would you too?:.  
Anonymous | 6/1/2009 - 2:39pm
Obama not pro-abortion?  "The first thing I will do as president is to sign the Freedom of Choice Act."   Not fix the economy? Not make sure America is safe?  Not shore up our floundering educational system?  Not work hard to shore up a failing SS system and medicare system?  The first thing he said he would do would be to sign FOCA, to reinstate partial birth abortion, to eliminate parental notification and to force US tax payers to fund even more abortions!  "On this fundamental issue I will not yield and Planned Parenthood will not yield."  in fact the very first thing he did was to reverse the Mexico City Policy which forced US tax payers to fund international abortions.  Wake up!
Anonymous | 6/1/2009 - 2:00pm
"His speech was so strident, the first question asked of him was whether his demand for such guarantees would be extended to other churches or just to Catholics." Please don't leave us hanging-what was his answer? Please let us know!
Anonymous | 5/31/2009 - 4:06pm
RE: President Obama being "pro abortion."  Even L'Osservatore Romano, the center of the Vatican's communication office,  has categorically denied that President Obama is "pro abortion" (see my blog www.jesuitjottings.blogspot.com). Prof. George's categorizing President Obama as "pro abortion is a disservice to the pro life movement, a slander against Barack Obama as a person, and out of line with the Vatican's views on the issue.
Anonymous | 5/30/2009 - 6:19pm
So Catholics who applaud Professor George's recap of the Church's teaching on the life issues and long for a political coalition willing to support legal protection for the most vulnerable among us are just sore losers who need to get over it?   That's not just an anonymous comment here; it seems to be the position of America magazine as well.  Just this morning in Atlanta, Fr. Ho Lung of Jamaica's Missionaries of the Poor was lamenting the efforts of powerful international interests to impose legal abortion on unwilling countries in the developing world.  If he had remained a Jesuit, would be be singing a different tune?
Anonymous | 5/30/2009 - 8:54am
Mr. Winters' comments significantly mischaracterize Professor George's statements, as I noted in detail in response to Mr. Winters' blog on ncronline.  But don't take my word for it - watch the George/Kmiec discussion yourself.  It is available for download on c-span.org.  I would invite Mr. Winters to watch the discussion and correct the factual inaccuracies in his postings.  Either Mr. Winters misunderstood Professor George or has some ulterior motive to misrepresent Professor George's comments.  I sincerely hope that the former is true, and trust that Mr. Winters will correct his postings if it is. With respect to Mr. Winters' use of attacks like "rabid dog," I agree with other readers that we should engage in spirited discussion, as Professors George and Kmiec did, with the utmost respect and charity for each other.  I invite Mr. Winters to do so as well.
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 9:11pm
"It's equally troubling when that lack of charity comes from one of his own blogmates." I'd say it's more troubling.  I'm sorry to see the tone reduced to this level in such a fine magazine. I was horrified recently to see its editor in chief resort to chiding a poster; what is America coming to?   
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 8:09pm
Not having been at the symposium I can't comment on the speeches either way. Michael Sean Winters is definitely onto to something when he points out, as he did in a previous post on Sonia Sotomayor, that the Pro Life movement on the whole is still pretty hopeless when it comes to addressing issues such as single-parenthood. But look, it's no good leaping to Obama's defence everytime someone mentions his atrocious record on abortion. These criticisms are grounded in fact. And one of those facts, sorry to keep banging on about it but someone really must, is Obama's funding of UNFPA. UNFPA is at this very moment working with the Chinese government on implementing its one-child policy. This involves the coercive steriisation of Chinese women and forced abortions up to 9 months gestation. If that's not pro-abortion, I don't know what is.  Incidentally, I will take this opportunity to remind readers that the blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng who was planning to launch a class-action lawsuit against the Chinese government for human rights abuses perpetrated in the course of its one-child policy when he seized, beaten up, subjected to a show trial and imprisoned, recently marked his 1000th day in prison. 
Anonymous | 5/30/2009 - 12:52pm

I take it to heart that 'conservative' posters are calling for more respectful use of language in the postings. That would be exactly  my position if like them I was on the losing side of the presidential and congressional elections, Notre Dame squabble, Sotomayor confirmation; So I go to 'conservative' blogs for examples of Christian language and all I find is they want me and mine out of the Catholic faith.. They want civil law backing on all their issues, foregoing the Tradition, scriptures, preaching, efficacy of example, and grace.  

Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 5:13pm
I second Dan McGrath's third-party suggestion. I'm a member of the DFLA, but that well-intentioned branch of the DP has little clout within the party hierarchy. ''[A] centrist party that Catholic progressives can vote for in good conscience'' would likely rattle the DP much more than would increased rumblings by the DFLA, which occasionally gets thrown a few bones by DP leaders to keep DFLA members thinking they are having at least some influence on the pro-choice platform of the party. DP leaders know full well that it's unlikely DFLA members would defect to the RP no matter how estranged they feel from the DP. I won't defect to the RP, but neither could I vote for Obama in the recent presidential election. Instead, I wrote in a pro-life Democrat I know as a conscience vote. I'd of course much rather cast my vote for a third-party candidate who could rally significant numbers of disaffected pro-life Democrats and others who do not feel at home in either major party.  Where do I sign up?  
Anonymous | 5/30/2009 - 11:10am
When moderation and civility trump truth and righteousness, name-calling necessarily transcends honest exchange. Winters fails to grasp that many of his objections to George have already been answered for those following Obama’s short career. Jesus and Lincoln, even Neuhaus could have had so much more had they only been centrists.  Such radicals. When Jesus dined in Matthew’s house, the intemperate right were outside gnashing their teeth, failing to realize that the wealthy libs inside were beating their breasts. I thought the only options were ‘red pill or blue pill?’
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 3:15pm
Mr. Winters: Scattinato is not an Italian word, scatenato is, meaning unchained or unhinged. This name calling of Catholics as right wing and left wing should not grace the pages of America. I did not know we were members of two churches in communion with Rome.  
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 12:49pm
Rabid dog?  Unhinged?  Now that's clever argument, Mr. Winters. What was it that Fr. Martin wrote a few days ago reflecting on the lack of charity in the comboxes of the Catholic blogosphere?  It's equally troubling when that lack of charity comes from one of his own blogmates.
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 12:37pm
Will these apparently extreme papers be posted online?
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 12:00pm
"I am shocked, absolutely shocked to find out that there is Catholicism being practiced here." Really, Michael? How do you muster shock over the fact that abortion pushes otherwise sane, reasonable people to ridiculous levels of hyperbole?  Your writing often seems pitched toward the goal of healing the rift between Catholics and the post-Roe v Wade Democratic Party. Get over it. This is the single issue that prevents the Democratic party from attaining permanent majority status in Washington. With the Republican party in shambles, I humbly submit that the opportunity for Catholics and liberal evangelicals is to jettison the left and create a centrist party that Catholic progressives can vote for in good conscience. Why don't you use your considerable talents to help make that happen? 
Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 11:02am
"These unhinged conservatives" are Right-Wing Authoritarian followers, Social Dominators and/or, worse, Double Highs.  [See "The Authoritarians" by Bob Altemeyer, PhD, available free online - a 264-page reader-friendly summary of Altemeyer's 40 years of research on the Right-Wing Authoritarian personality (disorder).] Hallmarks of the RWA: illogical thinking, highly compartmentalized minds, double standards, hypocrisy, blindness to themselves, a profound ethnocentrism, dogmatism. RWAs house a lot of FEAR within themselves AND are very highly SELF-RIGHTEOUS which results in their extreme ("unhinged") AGGRESSION towards threats against the authorities they follow. Google "authoritarians" and you'll find the PDF.  I have no association with Altemeyer or his work.  I found it will I was trying to answer the question, "Why do so many people blindly follow failed ideologies long after their leaders are discredited and the ideologies proven harmful to the followers?"