Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

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John Paul II and What Samuel Huntington Knew – Derek Jeter

May 7, 2014
Samuel Phillips Huntington (April 18, 1927 – December 24, 2008) was an influential conservative political scientist from the United States of America whose works covered multiple sub-fields of political science. He gained wider prominence through his Clash of Civilizations thesis of a post-Cold War new world order.

Samuel Phillips Huntington (April 18, 1927 – December 24, 2008) was an influential conservative political scientist from the United States of America whose works covered multiple sub-fields of political science. He gained wider prominence through his Clash of Civilizations thesis of a post-Cold War new world order.

Samuel Huntington was a highly controversial conservative political commentator who died in 2008. He wrote many thought provoking, outrageous-but-true observations, here is a bullet collection of some of the prescient observations that he wrote:

  • It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation-states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
  • The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 51.
  • Hypocrisy, double standards, and “but nots” are the price of universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 184.
  • In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous . . . Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism — The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 310.
  • In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations, from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders
  • Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power — Huntington’s 1998 text The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.
  • Cultural America is under siege. And as the Soviet experience illustrates, ideology is a weak glue to hold together people otherwise lacking racial, ethnic, and cultural sources of community — Who Are We? America’s Great Debate, p. 12.
  • The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups. — Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission
  • A government which lacks authority will have little ability short of cataclysmic crisis to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be necessary… We have come to recognize that there are potential desirable limits to economic growth. There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.
  • Such a transformation would not only revolutionize the United States, but it would also have serious consequences for Hispanics, who will be in the United States but not of it. Sosa ends his book, The Americano Dream, with encouragement for aspiring Hispanic entrepreneurs. “The Americano dream?” he asks. “It exists, it is realistic, and it is there for all of us to share.” Sosa is wrong. There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English. — “The Hispanic Challenge” from Foreign Policy, p. 45.
  • A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world. — “Why International Primacy Matters,” International Security (Spring 1993):83.
  • The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate. — American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, p. 75.
  • In Western Europe, anti-Semitism directed against Arabs has largely replaced Anti-Semitism against Jews, p. 200.

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The following is a reader’s juxtaposition of two WSJ articles, the first a remembrance of the late Pope John Paul II by his biographer George Weigel and the second a recollection in an article by Brett Stephens of a brilliant Harvard political scientist who posed one of those “unthinkable thoughts” on the eve of the West’s greatest triumphs, the end of the Cold War in 1991. I close with some thoughts by Peggy Noonan.

The unthinkable thought on the eve of the triumph of the Reagan/Bush ending the Cold War was: “What would happen, if the American model no longer embodied strength and success, no longer seemed to be the winning model?” The question, posed by Samuel Huntington, was farfetched then, but now 23 years later in the shadow of Barack Obama’s weakness as a leader and an economy that after five years continues to stagger under the weight of two entitlements which at their current rates of existence we can no longer afford or manage: Social Security and MediCare. ObamaCare has complicated the latter and not solved anything.

“The Cold War was won, the Soviet Union was about to vanish. History was at an end. All over the world, people seemed to want the same things in the same way: democracy, capitalism, free trade, free speech, freedom of conscience, freedom for women. “The day of the dictator is over,” George H.W. Bush had said in his 1989 inaugural address. “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right.”

But Huntington warned: “Sustained inability to provide welfare, prosperity, equity, justice, domestic order, or external security could over time undermine the legitimacy of even democratic governments. … As the memories of authoritarian failures fade, irritation with democratic failures is likely to increase.” The passage quoted there comes from “The Third Wave,” the book Huntington wrote just before his famous essay on the clash of civilizations:

“The “wave” was a reference to the 30 or so authoritarian states that, between 1974 and 1990, adopted democratic institutions. The two previous waves referred to the rise of mass-suffrage democracy in the 1830s and the post-Wilsonian wave of the 1920s. In each previous case, revolution succumbed to reaction; Weimar gave way to Hitler.

Huntington knew that the third wave, too, would crest, crash and recede. It’s happening now. The real question is how hard it will crash, on whom, for how long.

A West that prefers debt-subsidized welfarism over economic growth will not offer much in the way of an attractive model for countries in a hurry to modernize. A West that consistently sacrifices efficiency on the altars of regulation, litigation and political consensus will lose the dynamism that makes the risks inherent in free societies seem worthwhile. A West that shrinks from maintaining global order because doing so is difficult or discomfiting will invite challenges from nimble adversaries willing to take geopolitical gambles.”
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations

At some point, Stephens reminds us, the momentum will shift back: “That, too, is inevitable. The dictators will err; their corruption will become excessive; their cynicism will become transparent to their own rank-and-file. A new democratic wave will begin to build. Whether that takes five years or 50 depends on what the West does now. Five years is a blip. Fifty is the tragedy of a lifetime.”

Not so much on what the West does, but the visions of its leaders and here is the juxtaposition I found so jarring. It is the 9th anniversary of John Paul II’s death and he will be canonized this April 27. John Paul was a leader who discerned possibilities when others saw only barriers:

“John Paul II embodied the human drama of the second half of the 20th century in a singular way, and whose witness to the truth of humanity’s noblest aspirations bent the curve of history toward freedom, can only be understood from inside out. Or, if you prefer, soul first. His was a many-textured soul. Some of its multiple facets help explain his extraordinary accomplishments in the Catholic Church and on the world stage.”
George Weigel

Contrast the familiar bio of the community organizer who seized the moment and 18 months from his time as an Illinois state senator was chosen to run for the Senate and then began his campaign for the presidency. Granted it’s an amazing story but the product that has emerged is a man totally unsuited for office if not overwhelmed by the office itself, something that never happened with John Paul II. Who was John Paul II? Why was he not overwhelmed by his office?

“He had a Polish soul, formed by a distinctive experience of history. Vivisected in the Third Polish Partition of 1795, his country was not restored to the map of Europe until 1918. But during those 123 years of political humiliation, the Polish nation survived the demise of the Polish state through its language, its literature and its faith, with the Catholic Church acting as the safe-deposit box of national identity.

Learning about that hard experience as a boy, Karol Wojtyla was permanently inoculated against the twin heresies that had beset the West for centuries: the Jacobin heresy that the political quest for power runs history, and the Marxist heresy that history is simply the exhaust fumes of economic processes.

Knowing in his Polish soul that culture, not politics or economics, drives history over the long haul, John Paul II could ignite a revolution of conscience during his first papal visit to Poland in 1979. He summoned his people to live the truth about themselves, to reject the communist culture of the lie, and to find in that restored national identity irresistible tools of resistance to oppression.

This son of Poland was, at the same time, a man of global vision with a deeply humanistic soul, forged by what he regarded as the crisis of modernity: a crisis in the very idea of the human person. That crisis, he believed, was not confined to communism’s materialist reduction of the human condition, which he tenaciously fought as a university chaplain, a professor of ethics, a charismatic priest and a dynamic bishop. The crisis could also be found in those Western systems that were tempted to measure men and women by their commercial utility rather than by the innate and inalienable dignity that was their birthright.”
George Weigel

And what of Barack’s philosophy of life that he brought with him to office? His foul acceptance of abortion at any cost? His progressive view of the world where we are all just folks: “Everyone is just like me,” he seems to say — what Charles Krauthammer called a “plural solecism.” How’s that working out for the “folks” in Eastern Ukraine or in Syria one wonders).

And how does that contrast with the recently canonized Saint of the son of Poland? What did he fight for? Why was his fight the fight for the human person above all others?

John Paul II’s conviction, biblically rooted and philosophically refined, was that every human life is of infinite value, at every stage and in every condition. This was the basis of his priestly ministry for almost six decades it was the conviction that forged his unique moral analysis of world politics; and it was the ground from which he could inspire men and women from a staggering variety of cultures.

He could also touch those lives because of his dramatic soul. As a young man, he confessed in a memoir later in life, he was “obsessed” with the theater. And while he took some useful skills from those experiences on stage — John Gielgud once commented on John Paul II’s “perfect” sense of timing, as Alec Guinness marveled at the resonance of his voice — he also developed a dramatic view of the human condition. We all live, he believed, in a quotidian, yet deeply consequential, moral drama. Every day of our lives is lived in the dramatic tension between who we are and who we should be.

John Paul II intuited this on stage; he refined that intuition as a philosopher. And it was deepened by his Christian conviction that the drama of every human life is playing within a cosmic drama in which the God of the Bible is producer, director, scriptwriter and protagonist. That Christian conviction, in turn, was what allowed him to say, a year after he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, “In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences.”

A man whose soul is formed by the conviction that “coincidence” is merely a facet of providence that he has not yet grasped is a man impervious to the tyranny of the possible. And here, too, the soul of John Paul II helps explain his accomplishment.

When he was elected pope in 1978, some observers, fixated on what they imagined to be possible, saw in the Catholic Church only contention and possible ruin. He saw seeds of reform and renewal, leading to what he would call a “New Evangelization,” a new missionary dynamic in Catholicism that would offer the divine mercy to a broken and wounded humanity. Others, fixated on what seemed settled in world affairs, believed that the Yalta division of Europe after World War II was permanent. But after June 1979 and the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, he saw possibilities for dramatic cultural, social and eventually political change in Eastern Europe — and then helped effect them.

We may have failed in his new evangelization, we may not have followed through on his promises. But we sit on a cusp now, one that will lead us either to a fifty year trough of broken lives for a generation or a five year dip that will keep us primed for the next rise in our Catholic faithful’s march toward a new evangelization and fulfilling our promises to our Lord in another springtime of the human spirit; a refusal to fall to the tyranny of the secular state’s diminished expectations, both personal and political that embodies the leadership of a Barack Obama. May the Lord bless us and keep us.

Great leaders are clear, honest, suffer for their stands and are brave. They conduct a constant dialogue. At the end, when they are gone, the crowd declares what they heard. When John Paul died, they issued their judgment: He was a saint.

Popes aren’t presidents, and presidents aren’t saints. Both operate within wildly different realities and have wholly different obligations, so to compare the two isn’t quite just. And yet I couldn’t help think the past week of President Obama, whom I started to think of as poor Obama — whose failings as a leader are now so apparent, and seem so irremediable, partly because they spring from not only his nature and personality but his misunderstanding of what leaders do.

Does he stand for something? I suppose he stands for many things, but you can’t quite narrow it down and sum it up. A problem with his leadership is that there’s always the sense that he’s not quite telling you his core and motivating beliefs. There are a lot of rounded banalities. There are sentiments and impulses. But he isn’t stark, doesn’t vividly cut through. There’s a sense he’s telling people as much as he feels he can within the parameters of political safety, and no more.

As for speaking truthfully, well, he speaks, in many venues and sometimes at great length. But rather than persuade the other side, he knocks down a lot of straw men and deploys no affection or regard for those who disagree with him. He says the great signature program of his presidency will do one thing and it turns out to do another. He is evasive about Benghazi and the other scandals. He winds up with polls showing Americans do not see him as a truth teller. That’s treacherous for a leader. People give politicians a lot of leeway because they think so little of them. But they don’t like it when they’re being played.
Peggy Noonan, Apathy in the Executive

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Barack Obama and the Catholic Church’s Rights of Conscience

April 10, 2012

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York,

A version of this article appeared March 31, 2012, on page A11 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: When the Archbishop Met the President. The writer is James Taranto, a member of the Journal’s editorial board who also writes the Best of the Web Today column for OpinionJournal.com.

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Cardinal Dolan thought he heard Barack Obama pledge respect for the Catholic Church’s rights of conscience. Then came the contraception coverage mandate.

The president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops is careful to show due respect for the president of the United States. “I was deeply honored that he would call me and discuss these things with me,” says the newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. But when Archbishop Dolan tells me his account of their discussions of the ObamaCare birth-control mandate, Barack Obama sounds imperious and deceitful to me.

Mr. Obama knew that the mandate would pose difficulties for the Catholic Church, so he invited Archbishop Dolan to the Oval Office last November, shortly before the bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore. At the end of their 45-minute discussion, the archbishop summed up what he understood as the president’s message:

“I said, ‘I’ve heard you say, first of all, that you have immense regard for the work of the Catholic Church in the United States in health care, education and charity. . . . I have heard you say that you are not going to let the administration do anything to impede that work and . . . that you take the protection of the rights of conscience with the utmost seriousness. . . . Does that accurately sum up our conversation?’ [Mr. Obama] said, ‘You bet it does.’”

The archbishop asked for permission to relay the message to the other bishops. “You don’t have my permission, you’ve got my request,” the president replied.

“So you can imagine the chagrin,” Archbishop Dolan continues, “when he called me at the end of January to say that the mandates remain in place and that there would be no substantive change, and that the only thing that he could offer me was that we would have until August. . . . I said, ‘Mr. President, I appreciate the call. Are you saying now that we have until August to introduce to you continual concerns that might trigger a substantive mitigation in these mandates?’ He said, ‘No, the mandates remain. We’re more or less giving you this time to find out how you’re going to be able to comply.’ I said, ‘Well, sir, we don’t need the [extra time]. I can tell you now we’re unable to comply.’”

The administration went ahead and announced the mandate. A public backlash ensued, and the archbishop got another call from the president on Feb. 10. “He said, ‘You will be happy to hear religious institutions do not have to pay for this, that the burden will be on insurers.’” Archbishop Dolan asked if the president was seeking his input and was told the modified policy was a fait accompli. The call came at 9:30 a.m. The president announced the purported accommodation at 12:15 p.m.

Sister Carol Keehan of the pro-ObamaCare Catholic Health Association immediately pronounced herself satisfied with the change, and the bishops felt pressure to say something. “We wanted to avoid two headlines. Headline 1 was ‘Bishops Celebrate . . . Accommodations.’ . . . The other headline we wanted to avoid is ‘Bishops Obstinate.’” They rushed out a “circumspect” statement, which Archbishop Dolan sums up as follows: “We welcome this initiative, we look forward to studying it, we hope that it’s a decent first step, but we still have very weighty questions.”

Within hours, “it dawned on us that there’s not much here, and that’s when we put out the more substantive [statement] by the end of the day, saying, ‘Whoa, now we’ve had time to hear what was said at the announcement and to read the substance of it, and this just doesn’t do it.’”

Having rushed to conciliate, they got the “Bishops Obstinate” headlines anyway.

Archbishop Dolan explains that the “accommodation” solves nothing, since most church-affiliated organizations either are self-insured or purchase coverage from Catholic insurance companies like Christian Brothers Services and Catholic Mutual Group, which also see the mandate as “morally toxic.” He argues that the mandate also infringes on the religious liberty of non-ministerial organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Catholic-oriented businesses such as publishing houses, not to mention individuals, Catholic or not, who conscientiously object.

“We’ve grown hoarse saying this is not about contraception, this is about religious freedom,” he says. What rankles him the most is the government’s narrow definition of a religious institution. Your local Catholic parish, for instance, is exempt from the birth-control mandate. Not exempt are institutions such as hospitals, grade schools, universities and soup kitchens that employ or serve significant numbers of people from other faiths and whose main purpose is something other than proselytization.

“We find it completely unswallowable, both as Catholics and mostly as Americans, that a bureau of the American government would take it upon itself to define ‘ministry,’” Archbishop Dolan says. “We would find that to be — we’ve used the words ‘radical,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dramatically intrusive.’”

It also amounts to penalizing the church for not discriminating in its good works: “We don’t ask people for their baptismal certificate, nor do we ask people for their U.S. passport, before we can serve them, OK? . . . We don’t serve people because they’re Catholic, we serve them because we are, and it’s a moral imperative for us to do so.”

To be sure, not all Catholics see it that way. Archbishop Dolan makes an argument — which he prefaces with the admission that “I find this a little uncomfortable” — that federal intrusion bolsters those who are more selfishly inclined: “Some Catholics . . . are now saying, ‘Fine, we’ll get out of all that. It’s dragging us down anyway. Rather than be supporting 50 Catholic schools in the inner city where most of the kids are not Catholic, and using a big chunk of diocesan money to do that, we’ll just use it for the schools that have all Catholics, and it’ll serve us a lot better.’ . . .

“I find that, by the way, to be rather un-Catholic,” he continues. “I don’t know what that would say to the gospel mandate to be ‘light to the world’ and ‘salt of the earth.’ It’s part of our religion to be right out there in the forefront, right there in the nitty-gritty.”

An insular attitude, Archbishop Dolan suggests, plays into the hands of ideologues who favor an ever-more-powerful secular government: “I get this all the time: I would have some people say, ‘Cardinal Dolan, you need to go to Albany and say, “If we don’t get state aid by September, I’m going to close all my schools.”‘ I say to them, ‘You don’t think there’d be somersaults up and down the corridors?’”

Another story comes from the nation’s capital: “The Archdiocese of Washington, in a very courteous way, went to the City Council and said, ‘We just want to be upfront with you. If this goes through that we have to place children up for adoption with same-sex couples, we’ll have to get out of the adoption enterprise, which everybody admits we probably do better than anybody else.’ And one of the City Council members said, ‘Good. We’ve been trying to get you out of it forever. And besides, we’re paying you to do it. So get out!’”

What about the argument that vast numbers of Catholics ignore the church’s teachings about sexuality? Doesn’t the church have a problem conveying its moral principles to its own flock? “Do we ever!” the archbishop replies with a hearty laugh. “I’m not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge — a towering one — in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. That’s a biggie.”

For this he faults the church leadership. “We have gotten gun-shy . . . in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality.” He dates this diffidence to “the mid- and late ’60s, when the whole world seemed to be caving in, and where Catholics in general got the impression that what the Second Vatican Council taught, first and foremost, is that we should be chums with the world, and that the best thing the church can do is become more and more like everybody else.”

The “flash point,” the archbishop says, was “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reasserting the church’s teachings on sex, marriage and reproduction, including its opposition to artificial contraception. It “brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the church that I think most of us — and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself — kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle.’ We forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day.”

Without my having raised the subject, he adds that the church’s sex-abuse scandal “intensified our laryngitis over speaking about issues of chastity and sexual morality, because we almost thought, ‘I’ll blush if I do. . . . After what some priests and some bishops, albeit a tiny minority, have done, how will I have any credibility in speaking on that?’”

Yet the archbishop says he sees a hunger, especially among young adults, for a more authoritative church voice on sexuality. “They will be quick to say, ‘By the way, we want you to know that we might not be able to obey it. . . . But we want to hear it. And in justice, you as our pastors need to tell us, and you need to challenge us.’”

As we talk about sex, Archbishop Dolan makes a point of reiterating that his central objection to the ObamaCare mandate is that it violates religious liberty. In their views on that subject, and their role in politics more generally, American Catholics have in fact become “more like everybody else.” When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, he found it necessary to reassure Protestants that, in the archbishop’s paraphrase, “my Catholic faith will not inspire my decisions in the White House.”

“That’s worrisome,” Archbishop Dolan says. “That’s a severe cleavage between one’s moral convictions and the judgments one is called upon to make. . . . It’s bothersome to us as Catholics, because that’s the kind of apologia that we expect of no other religion.” But times have changed. Today devout Catholic Rick Santorum is running on the promise that his faith will inform his decisions — and his greatest support comes from evangelical Protestants.

The archbishop sees a parallel irony in his dispute with Mr. Obama: “This is a strange turn of the table, that here a Catholic cardinal is defending religious freedom, the great proposition of the American republic, and the president of the United States seems to be saying that this is a less-than-important issue.”

Religious freedom has received a more sympathetic hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court — which, coincidentally, has had a Catholic majority since 2006. In January, in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the court ruled unanimously in favor of an evangelical Lutheran church’s right to classify teachers as ministers and therefore not subject to federal employment law. Archbishop Dolan sums up the decision: “Nowhere, no how, no way can the federal government seek to intrude upon the internal identity of a religion in defining its ministers.”

But whether the government has the authority to define a ministry — excluding, as the ObamaCare mandate does, church-affiliated institutions like hospitals and schools — is a separate legal question, one that may be resolved in litigation over the birth-control mandate.

It’s possible that the Supreme Court or a new president will render the issue moot. After our interview, the archbishop has a question for me: If the high court rules against ObamaCare, will that be the end of the birth-control mandate? Probably not, I tell him — though such an outcome seems much likelier now than it did early in the week when we met. The justices could end up striking a blow for religious liberty without the question even having reached their docket.

And more here:

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Obama and Notre Dame

June 1, 2009
Fr. Jenkins and Ironic New Friend For Life

Fr. Jenkins and Ironic New Friend For Life

…a topic that is eating up the Catholic forums. As a recent convert (2006) to the Catholic Church and motivated in no way by political or cultural concerns, it came as somewhat of a surprise to see the range of political views that currently exist in the Catholic Church.

In fact my first attempts to locate an RCIA program proved instructive as the first Church I went to in Boston informed me that their Church tended to be more “liberal” in outlook and that I would probably prefer to attend the Church in my neighborhood parish. I admit to looking like a right wing extremist but was quite frankly surprised (and a little put-off) by the RCIA director’s overt political approach to what I thought was going to be a spiritual or soulful activity (locating a Church to join). Well this is three years later and I’ve come to see how messy things really are. Happily it in no way affects my faith or commitment to my Church.

Joseph Bottum is an editor at First Things and the Books & Arts editor of The Weekly Standard. A native of South Dakota, he is a graduate of Georgetown University, with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston College. His essays, reviews, and poetry have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, Nineteenth-Century Literature, First Things, Commentary, National Review, Philosophy & Literature, and elsewhere. He is a host of Book Talk, a nationally syndicated radio program. This is a selection from a spot on commentary on the Obama/ND dust up:

“The role of culture — American Catholic culture, in particular — is what Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame, and John DeGioia at Georgetown, and many other presidents of Catholic colleges seem not to understand. Indeed, their lack of Catholic culture is what makes them appear so un-Catholic to the people they antagonize, and it is what so befuddles these college presidents when the charge is made. They know they are Catholics: They go to Mass, and they pray, and their faith is real, and their theology is sophisticated, and what right has a bunch of other Catholics to run around accusing them of failing to be Catholic?

But, in fact, they live in a distant world, attenuated and alone. Opposition to abortion doesn’t belong at the absolute center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t belong at the perfect center of Catholic faith. It exists, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Yes, that culture is thinner than many that Catholics have known before, and yes, it seems in some ways an unpromising foundation for establishing a broad Catholic identity. For that matter, the pro-life core has only in the past twenty years begun to spread to the more distant reaches of the Church in America.

Still, opposition to abortion is hard and real, the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who — by inclination, or politics, or class distinction — fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that antagonism must derive from politics or the class envy of their lesser-educated social inferiors. But it doesn’t. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of Catholics that, however far they themselves may have wandered, the Church ought to stand for something in public life — and that something is opposition to abortion.  

They do not necessarily have bad theology — although the bishops have argued that they do — when they equate the life issues with other concerns. They do not have bad faith just because they see the war and capital punishment as matters of equal weight with the million babies killed every year in this country by abortion. But they lack the cultural marker that would make them distinctively Catholic in the minds of other Catholics. Abortion is not the only life issue, but it is the one that bears most directly on the lives of ordinary Catholics as they fight against the current to preserve family life. And until Catholic universities get this, they will not be Catholic — in a very real, existentially important sense.

What’s more, they will not be politically effective. Notre Dame and President Obama created the present situation by attempting to use each other in the normal political way, but Notre Dame has gained nothing from the exercise. If anything, Notre Dame has lost ground. What political capital has it earned with the White House from the embarrassment of Mary Ann Glendon’s withdrawal and the open sniping of the bishops and the protesters camped outside the college gates? Nothing that will do the school any good.

From the White House, the situation looks different. John Kerry managed only 47 percent of the Catholic vote in 2004. Barack Obama brought home much more in 2008, and the Democratic party wants to keep those hard-gained votes. The bad economy may have turned some Catholics against the Republicans, but it hasn’t necessarily bound Catholics back to the Democrats. The sticking point remains abortion: Catholics are against it, Democrats are for it, and nothing on either side looks likely to budge. Enter the Catholic universities and colleges. In recent years, the bishops have proved generally unwilling to downplay the life issues, and, as a result, they have been systematically shut out by the Obama administration and the new Congress. No one in power in Washington feels the need to give in to the bishops about anything — or to compromise with the bishops, or even to consult the bishops. Much as Republicans over the past eight years never bothered with the National Organization for Women, considering it a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic party, so the Democrats now do not bother much with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which they imagine mostly as a partisan opponent on the life issues and a sideshow on everything else.

Still, the Democrats need to keep their Catholic voters. They need Catholic cover — and they are seeking it among the Catholic schools: Georgetown and Xavier and Sacred Heart and, yes, Notre Dame. The people at these institutions do not all approve of legalized abortion; some do, some don’t, and the percentages vary, with Georgetown probably high toward approval and Notre Dame certainly high toward disapproval. But, in general, the Catholic colleges have proved themselves willing to set aside the question of abortion when giving honors to politicians they otherwise support, while the bishops have gradually settled on refusing to grant those honors.

As the Democrats try what all political parties try —  to turn a single electoral victory into a long-lasting majority — the lures they offer the Catholic colleges will grow larger and larger. Politics, taken all by itself, offers some explanation for how President Obama’s honorary law degree from Notre Dame grew to become the central scene of a power struggle between the bishops and the Catholic colleges.”

I imagine Fr. Jenkins has scored all kinds of federal funding for his institution over the next few years – would love to read a follow-up article that follows the money on these things.  The cover he has offered Obama is huge but how this plays out to the Catholic base is the real issue here. I agree with Bottum that ND has gained nothing here and when the American electorate wakes up to how cynically the Pelosi/Reid/Democratic Party/White House has played the country’s economic problems to their own advantage, the mood for a third party will dramatically escalate. These are serious times we are in and in need of a serious political response. I think Americans will come up with one.

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