Deal Hudson, the force behind InsideCatholic.com, has attacked my colleague and friend John Allen for his use of the term "Taliban Catholics" to describe certain conservative Catholics. And, he also attacks Chris Matthews, whom I also consider a friend, for drawing an analogy between the Tea Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Allen and Matthews are employing strong terms to be sure, but a bit of history would help Hudson understand better why the designations fit.
The Republican landslide last November resulted from two distinct political waves. The GOP base was riled up and turned out. And, independent voters fled the Democrats. These two waves can easily crash into each other, not least because the base cares more about taking principled stances no matter what the outcome and independent voters tend to eschew ideological arguments and advance a kind of pragmatism. (Alas, that pragmatism often contains a boatload of ideological assumptions, but that is another story for another time.) The first principle of that pragmatism is competence: Independent voters expect people to be competent at their jobs.
But, twice in as many days, the new House GOP leadership has brought a bill to the floor for passage and then, surprise, they have not had the votes to pass it. Neither of the bills was especially controversial either.
Combined with the somewhat bizarre controversy and resignation of Cong. Christopher Lee, apparently for flirting, the GOP is not off to a good start.
It will be curious to see how long it takes for their standing among Independent voters to sink.
The Conservative Political Action Conference opens in Washington today and the meeting is not only a stage for controversy this year, the meeting is itself controversial, largely because of a decision to allow the pro-gay rights Republican group, GOProud, to attend and have a booth.
When CPAC first convened 38 years ago, conservatism in America was adrift. Nixon was not their man. Hardcore conservatives had no stomach for the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, or détente with the Soviet Union. And, lest anyone forgot, Nixon proposed universal health insurance reforms too! But, there is a difference between being adrift and being at war, and today there is a brewing, three-sided war within the GOP between social conservatives and libertarians and old-style Chamber of Commerce Republicans.
For my light reading these days, I am working my way through Richard Jenkyns book about Westminster Abbey. Among the more interesting architectural features in the Abbey is the Cosmati floor in the sanctuary. The intricate pattern of stones puts one in mind of San Clemente in Rome. The reason shows one of the ancient links between the Abbey and Rome. In 1222, the abbey was put under the direct authority of the Pope, freeing it from any interference by either the Bishop of London or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Even then, people prefered a boss who was far away. Upon his election as abbot in 1258, Richard Ware went to Rome to receive his official commission and he brought back with him both the stones and the Italian masons who performed the work, the only Cosmati floor of its kind in Britain.
The American Principles Project, founded by Princeton Professor Robert george, has launched a new initiative called "Get Conservative." The goal seems to be to keep the GOP steadfast on social issues, specifically opposition to gay marriage. Of course, the APP does not have much influence to begin with, and it is difficult to see how this new "initiative" will garner them much more. In the counsels of the GOP, the first principles that matter remain the principles of profit and the market, and the market looks at gays and it sees high levels of disposable income.
In fact, I suspect that this new initiative is not aimed at garnering influence. It is a fundraising device. Ever since Anita Bryant, it has been a truism of conservative fundraising that nothing gets those checkbooks out faster than a little gay-bashing. Maybe someone on the staff at the APP wants a new pool.
Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has announced he will not be running for re-election in 2012. The GOP candidate is likely to be former Governor and Senator George Allen, whom Webb defeated in 2006. We don't know who the Democratic candidate will be, but I suspect we know his religion. Either former Governor Tim Kaine or former Congressman Tom Perriello are the two obvious choices to contest Allen and both are Roman Catholics.
Webb's announcement also permits us a window into the way washington political operatives think. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement begging for the Democrats to nominate Tim Kaine, whom it identifies as "President Obama's number one cheerleader in Washington." Funny, that is not how most Virginians think of the popular former Governor.
My friends at The New Republic ran an unfortunate review of a recent book about the Vatican's dealings with the Third Reich. I do not come to praise Pius XII and there is no need to bury him, as he already lies interred in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica. But, the review suffers from some claims that show a woeful lack of historical accuracy.
For example, when the reviewer, John Connelly, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, writes that, "Pius XI watched as storm troopers arrested priests and nuns for offenses to “morality,” and wondered whether to condemn Nazism—but neither he nor Pacelli found the right words, and a pattern of reticent neutrality set in," he is evidently unaware of Pope Pius XI's encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, written in 1937 and smuggled into Germany, with the help of the future Cardinal Spellman, which clearly denounced Nazism.
My colleague Rich Heffern posted yesterday about the Obama administration's request for $63 billion in new funding for high-speed rail and light-rail projects.
Last night on "Hardball," Chris Matthews asked why America is the only place you can't get on a high speed rail for travel between major cities, as he and his wife Kathleen recently did while traveling from Rome to Florence. China and Japan are way ahead of the U.S. in this area also.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on Rep. Chris Smith’s “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” The hearing was contentious, as political discussions of abortion policy usually are, and has earned plenty of media coverage. The Washington Post wrote about it here and Politico has an article here. But, the debate over abortion is not just contentious, it is also curious because of the way it exposes the intellectual and philosophic inconsistencies of both parties.
Michael Gerson was one of the champions of the "compassionate conservatism" that George W. Bush ran on in 2000 and, as a Post columnist, Gerson continues to give voice to a morally serious understanding of politics. It is curious that this non-Catholic seems more interested in the Catholic intellectual tradition than many Catholic politicians!
Today, he has an interesting essay that echoes some of the issues I have rasied in these pages, specifically, how the libertarian instincts of some in the GOP base is at cross purposes with Catholic social teachings. Gerson is right to instruct his Republican friends to consult the Catholic tradition and to allow it to serve as a check on some of the Tea Party hyper-individualism. Gerson is also correct in his admonition to some Democrats to allow the Catholic intellectual tradition to put a check on their, very different, hyper-individualism. Alas, I suspect that at the national level, political orthodoxies will continue to trump religious orthodoxies.