Collin: Early in his administration we were treated to depictions of Obama as FDR. Obama as Lincoln is an association the president himself works assiduously to cultivate, as Rich Lowry has noted. Using MLK in the same fashion is flattering to the president’s image, but the result is a misleading picture of MLK, one in which his conservative features have been photoshopped out.
Conservatives admire MLK for a couple of attributes that the left tends to overlook. His message that skin color is as nothing compared with content of character was both an affirmation of equality for blacks and an olive branch to whites worried about the possibility of reverse racism. A man of the cloth, he preached a political theology that was both high-minded and effective, a difficult combination; he learned from Gandhi. Richard John Neuhaus, a young associate, went on to devote his life to defending the role of religion in “the public square,” as he called it.
About both of those dimensions of MLK’s legacy, the acceptance of post-racialism and the exercise of religion in public life, the left is ambivalent at best. When it implies that if MLK had another son he would look like Barack Obama, it confirms the right’s impression that the left refuses to understand MLK on his own terms.
In a meeting with Latin American members of religious orders on June 6, Pope Francis reportedly spoke of a “gay lobby” in the Roman curia. Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See, has declined to comment, explaining that the meeting was private.
The source for the pope’s striking acknowledgment that a network of gay Vatican officials impairs the functioning of the curia is complicated. Some of the Latin American religious who met with him paraphrased his remarks in notes that they wrote up in Spanish. Those notes were posted Sunday at the Chilean Catholic website Reflexión y Liberación, which has since taken them down, although they can still be found in Google cache. An English translation was posted on Monday at Rorate Caeli. Within twenty-four hours, several leading English-language news organizations began to run stories on the whole business, under punchy headlines that included the words “gay lobby” and “Vatican.”
On Tuesday, the Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean Religious (CLAR), the organization that those who met with Francis represented, issued an apology for the publication of the notes, stressing that they don’t necessarily reflect his choice of words (las expresiones singulars), only the “general sense” (su sentido general) of his comments. On Wednesday, the Catholic News Agency got it backward when it reported that CLAR was now asserting that the substance of the pope’s comments as reflected in the notes taken by CLAR members “cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father.” The substance of those comments is what CLAR does stand by.
It’s tempting to interpret Fr. Lombardi’s “no comment” as a non-confirmation confirmation, especially in light of the statement from the Vatican secretariat of state, in February, before Francis’ election, that the distribution of “unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories” was “deplorable.” (The reference was vague—it could have been to reports that a gay lobby forced Pope Benedict’s decision to step down, not to the broader speculation that a gay lobby in the Vatican was brought to his attention. What was clear, in any case, was the willingness of a leading dicastery to shake its head “No” in the general direction of the gay-lobby story.) Sandro Magister thinks there’s no doubt “on the foundation of the phrases attributed to him [Pope Francis]. Otherwise they would have denied it.”
If Magister is right, at least two other remarks that the pope made in the meeting should be noted. He spoke disapprovingly of Catholic traditionalism and approvingly of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who created a stir in May 2002 with his interview in the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni, where he argued that the media exaggerated the clerical sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church to divert attention from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He later apologized for the suggestion that Jews in the media were retaliating against the Catholic Church for the Church’s pro-Palestinian position, as he characterized it with some enthusiasm.
The perception that the Church tilts toward Palestine and away from Israel is widespread, not unfounded, and a cause of concern for many, including many Catholics. Francis named Rodríguez Maradiaga to his advisory council of eight cardinals to assist in curial reform. According to the notes of the meeting between Francis and CLAR, he spoke highly of Rodríguez Maradiaga’s administrative skills, not his views on Israel, but the selection of the cardinal nonetheless leaves those who care about Israel to conclude either that he shares the cardinal’s views on the Jewish state or that he doesn’t consider the Church’s relationship with Israel to be a high priority.
In the great battle between word and image, readers of First Things, an unabashedly text-centric publication, probably tend to side with the word. I know I do, although around this time of year I’m reminded how sometimes words are not my friend and pictures are.
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade here in late January, we read a lot about abortion rights, abortion foes, abortion this, anti-abortion that. The speech rules pertaining to this issue are well established by now. In their style guides, mainstream news organizations disallow the terms pro-life and pro-choice, having concluded, rightly, that they’re biased. Their alternative, as you have probably noticed, is to call me anti-abortion and to call those who disagree with me supporters of abortion rights—that is, to identify me in terms of what I’m against and to identify the other party in terms of what they’re for, to describe what they’re for as rights, and to ignore that those rights conflict with the right that I’m for, which is the right to survive gestation.
The idea behind that right is plain enough, but reporters writing for national newspapers and wire services are helpless to name it. The official vocabulary available to them leaves them hamstrung in their effort to explain the cause that motivates tens of thousands of us to march on Washington every year in the dead of winter.
Laws that protect you from being aborted are laws that restrict you from having an abortion. So what are they? Protective? Or restrictive? In reality, obviously, they’re both. In newspeak, however, they can be only restrictive, as in this recent, entirely unexceptional example from the front page of Saturday’s New York Times.
David Mills sees in Santa Claus a confusion of two things “that ought never to be confused or blended,” Christmas as a secular holiday and Christmas as a Christian holy day. To honor that distinction, he would abandon to the secular side of Christmas what amounts to the most famous icon of Saint Nicholas, because the secular side has defaced it. It has painted over his features to make them over into something more in its own image, the figure we now know as Santa Claus. Even the name has been painted over, although thinly. Is there anyone who really needs to be reminded what the etymology of Santa Claus is?
I say let’s scrape the paint off and take the icon back. Let’s restore it.
Maybe my loyalty to my patron saint predisposes me to see him in Santa Claus when other people no longer do. I love Saint Nicholas. He used to be venerated more than he is. It’s been said that in medieval art he shows up more often than any other saint except Mary.
Where did he go? Think about it. In our time, is there a saint whose image is more common than that of Santa Claus? Mary again, as in the Middle Ages, is the only one you could plausibly argue outranks him in that category.
You could say that Eunice Kennedy Shriver was well positioned to side with justice over fashion, which she may have had too much of to value too highly. The outcast are outcast because most of us shun them, fearing contagion; she acted as if she was above contagion. What she was really above was the fear of it. She seemed to just assume that she could help people more than they could harm her. Few Americans have ever represented such a powerful combination of social authority and moral authority.
Her moral authority she earned, as a social worker and an advocate for the mentally disabled. Her social authority she mostly inherited—and applied to noble ends, at least one of which never promised much of a return on her investment. She must have known that signing up with the National Right to Life Committee, Feminists for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List was likely to furrow brows among some of her family and friends—and to win her some new friends whom some old friends of hers would think (though perhaps never come right out and say) were beneath her.
In letters to the editor in the New York Times and in the Washington Post, she wrote gracefully in defense of “infants in the womb,” as she called them, and must have known that such language was unlikely to win the admiration of many readers in Manhattan, Georgetown, or Beacon Hill. So she spent some of her social capital. Of that she had a lot, and she could afford to spend some of it on this—to make a donation of it to the pro-life cause. It was a form of philanthropy. And in the process she set an example that like-minded Americans found attractive.
Surely the fuel to the smoldering fire that is the abortion controversy is a concoction of some highly charged ingredients—emotions relating to sex and the sexes, to children and childlessness, to youth and the bittersweet business of giving it up so as to bequeath it to the succeeding generation. Mixed in with all that deep, primal material, though, is some superficial middle-class anxiety that discourages us from approaching the problem head-on and fully engaging it. From movies and TV and the choice of words in newspaper articles, we gather that to be against abortion is to be poor, poorly educated, and in general poorly turned out—someone whom only a mother could love. We dread being cast in that role. We dread losing whatever respect others already have for us more than we actually respect ourselves and our right not to have been aborted. And so we mumble something about highly personal this and no easy answers that as we meditate on the Planned Parenthood fundraiser in the tony suburb and wonder whether that isn’t a club we’d like to belong to.
Against all that, Eunice Kennedy Shriver stood up and spoke truth to snobbery, making it easier for the socially anxious to declare themselves pro-life. Those who had been embarrassed of the company they would have to keep if they were pro-life could now nod in the direction of Mrs. Shriver and say, “I’m with her.”
If in the mainstream media they’re “anti-abortionists,” shouldn’t their opposite number be designated “pro-abortionists”? So asks Ryan Sayre Patrico in a recent post. But I can already hear the demurral: It would be inaccurate to call proponents of abortion rights pro-abortion, because they don’t necessarily support abortion They only support your right to choose it. Analogies abound. You’re against smoking, gambling, refined sugar–but you still think that adults should have access to them.
Counter-analogies also abound, the classic one being slavery. OK, Mister Sanctimonious Abolitionist, you won’t sully your hands with anything having to do with the slave trade. Fine. But I have a plantation to run. It’s a business. And it’s my business, not yours. So butt out.
To return to Ryan’s point about unbalanced language in news coverage of abortion: I’m fine with being called anti-abortion. What I find curious is this: Note that, in the article Ryan links to, pro-lifers are called opponents not of abortion but of “abortion rights.” Across mainstream media outlets, that’s the formulaic phrase, “opposition to abortion rights.” The problem with that phrasing is that it’s too narrow to capture the exact nature of organized opposition to abortion. Pro-lifers are against not just the right to abortion. They’re against abortion, end of sentence. They’re against legal abortion, and they’re against illegal abortion.
Journalists are supposed to strive to say it in fewer words, so why don’t they stop at “opposition to abortion”? Why tack on the word “rights”? It has two counts against it–it’s another word, and it restricts the definition of what it means to be against abortion, narrowing that definition so much that, to make it fit the facts on the ground, you have to take a mental chisel to the anti-abortion cause and chip away at it until you’re left with a fiction that, though convenient to the abortion-rights side, is still a fiction.
By now you have either seen or heard about the cover of the latest issue of the New Yorker. Barack Obama is depicted in Middle Eastern dress, and his wife Michelle carries an automatic rifle. From all quarters, including the Obama campaign, objections that the whole thing is scurrilous have been loudly raised. Everyone is indignant. The magazine’s response is that we don’t get it. As a caricature of what goes on in the supposedly fevered imagination of those of us who probably won’t vote for Obama, the cover art is aimed at us, not him.
I wonder. Another thing you’ve probably seen a lot of in your life is projection that takes the convoluted form of someone exaggerating a flaw or fault in order to demonstrate that he’s not fazed by your thinking he’s flawed in that particular respect or guilty of that particular wrongdoing. And, we are meant to infer, he’s not fazed because it isn’t true—he’s not really overweight or unaware or slow, and really he’s innocent. And, if we hadn’t really been thinking about him in those terms, well, we do now.
To be fair, we have to recognize that, just because he thinks we think he’s a monster doesn’t necessarily mean he thinks he is. Maybe it just means that he thinks we think he is. When William F. Buckley in 1955 wrote that National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop,” he was articulating, in order to expose, the liberal prejudice that to be conservative is to be reactionary. He was employing something of the same rhetorical device on display this week at the New Yorker, so why do those words of his continue to charm, whereas this cartoon grates?
Buckley snuck in an inside pitch and we backed off the plate a little. You tip your hat to him for his finesse. The New Yorker, by contrast, is throwing it at our heads, and the umpire in us recognizes the difference.
That much, evidently, the Obama campaign appreciates. In showing us what it thinks we think, the New Yorker feeds our suspicion that the culture represented by the Obama campaign has contempt for us—that it thinks we have questions about Obama not because of his positions on Israel (a “contiguous” Palestinian state?) or abortion, but because we are blinded by ignorance, bigotry, bad taste.
Under William Shawn’s long editorship, the magazine was famously courteous about politics. You got the sense that most of the writers and editors were left of center but that they would never make fun of you if you weren’t. The tacit understanding was that, besides being wrong, any attempt to taunt or bully you into accepting fashionable opinion would have degraded them more than you.