no offense taken: the edwards bloggers

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 10, 2007

The flash of pure hatred in his face, but hatred, as it were, crystallised so that it was no longer a passion, was like touching metal in the Arctic where metal burns.
-- C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength.

Bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan have long luxuriated in anti-Catholic invective (OTR gave you a quick tour of the terrain in 2005; Dawn Eden has been keeping track more methodically). Now that Marcotte and McEwan have been hired as staffers for John Edwards's presidential campaign, their writings have become an embarrassment to his supporters -- not that those supporters don't share the convictions expressed, but the perfunctory apologies tendered in consequence of the outcry put the Edwards campaign "off message" for a day or two.

For a sampling of the thought of Marcotte and McEwan, go here and here. Pretty much standard liberal vocabulary when the conversation is in-house and cor ad cor loquitur.

Two aspects of the controversy stand out for your Uncle Di. First, the laughably supine harlotry of the prestige media in their coverage of the story. Below are the sole specimens of the bloggers' bliggotry cited in yesterday's New York Times article:

In some of their online writings, Ms. Marcotte and Ms. McEwan used vulgar language to characterize religious conservatives and Roman Catholic teachings on birth control, homosexuality and the virgin birth.

On her personal blog, Shakespeare's Sister, Ms. McEwan had referred to conservative Christians as "Christofascists." On the Pandagon blog site, Ms. Marcotte had said that the Catholic Church's prohibition on the use of birth control forced women to bear "more tithing Catholics."
True, of course, but benign to the point of distortion. It's wryly amusing that the Times should adopt such Victorian primness toward piarum auribus offensiva when the party that stands to lose by accurate transcription are left-liberals. A dutiful shill, reporter John Broder helpfully floats the vast-right-wing-conspiracy balloon: "Some bloggers saw the controversy as manufactured by conservative groups." Manufactured?

Good puppy, Jack.

The second and more intriguing aspect of the flap is the nature of Marcotte and McEwan's anti-Catholicism. To call it "offensive" misses the point. It's the hatred behind the offensiveness that's the interesting phenomenon. After all, ridicule -- even ridicule intended to offend -- need not proceed from hatred. But Marcotte and McEwan's does. Nor is their antipathy "anti-Catholicism" of the old fashioned tribal variety. Their language about the Catholics they hate differs in no respect from Bishop Reggie Cawcutt's language about the Catholics he hates; tidy up the spelling, and you can't tell them apart. Whom do they hate? Anyone that professes orthodox Christian doctrine. McEwan, in fact, inadvertently concedes the point in her gloriously naive protestation that she can't be anti-Catholic because she voted for John Kerry:

I'm not going to say a lot about this right now, but suffice it to say that the fact I cast a vote, without hesitation, for a Catholic during the last presidential election might suggest I'm not anti-Catholic. My degree from Loyola University might also suggest the same.

With precisely the same justice Sid Blumenthal and Anna Quindlen might object that they're not ill-disposed toward the Baptist Church because, after all, they voted for Bill Clinton. The shell-game of identity politics works such that the stigma attached to racial bigotry can be extended, when expedient, to rational preferences as well; and conversely, detestation of religious believers can be exonerated, when expedient, by pointing to good-will toward persons who lay claim to the religion but reject the belief (the Jesuit universities, in large measure, and the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, in essentia, exist to facilitate this glissade).

To understand what's going on here it's vital to grasp that left-liberals are incapable a priori, on axiomatic grounds, of acknowledging their own hatred. It may be said that, performatively, they define and distinguish themselves from their adversaries precisely in virtue of their being preserved free from this sin. There is simply no such thing as a "left-wing hate group," as a Nexis-search will attest. That conservatives have a monopoly on this vice is dogma -- perhaps their only dogma. This means that the hatred that exists within left-liberal breasts must be accounted for as something other than what it is. In the case of in-house antipathy, of leftist versus leftist, malice is reflexively attributed to a recrudescence of right-wing politics (sexism, racism, hetero-centrism, etc.). When their hatred is directed toward non-leftists, it is explained as some variety of righteous indignation.

Because universities tend to be kindergartens of leftist catechetics, this double standard is particularly evident there. Think for example of the asymmetrical treatment accorded the Nazi swastika and the Communist hammer-and-sickle. To display either is to make implicit reference to millions of victims of ideological murder and say, "I'm glad you're dead." But only one counts as symbol of hate, and, at a university today, a faculty member wearing a swastika t-shirt will be charged with a hate crime, while a faculty member wearing a hammer-and-sickle t-shirt will be defended against objectors (if any) on the grounds of academic freedom. Sure, the latter academic is announcing to Christians, "I wish you were dead," but this desire, no matter how fervid it may be, does not qualify as hatred, and if you protested to a university administrator your complaint would bewilder him utterly. (Were he the kind of person capable of taking your point, he almost certainly wouldn't be a university administrator.)

In spite of their hatred, it's a mistake to call Marcotte and McEwan bigots in the strong sense. True bigotry involves irrationality, i.e., blurring of distinctions that the bigot himself deems important, whence bigots treat all Jews or all blacks under the same description of opprobrium, whether a given individual exhibits the despised quality or not. Further, the bigot will cheerfully indulge his bigotry even if his own interests suffer therefrom, as when the anti-Semite hires a less-competent gentile salesman in preference to a more competent Jew. There's no indication that the Edwards bloggers succumb to either sort of irrationality (as McEwan says, she voted for Kerry -- unquestionably her kind of Catholic). My sense is that if these gals and I were conducting a prisoner exchange, they would place the correct tags on the correct people and assign to each the proper level of utility or harm: "Ratzinger's your guy; Cawcutt is ours; Sam Brownback's your guy; Nancy Pelosi is ours." Like the hatred C.S. Lewis describes in the quote above, Marcotte and McEwan's is not hot and diffuse but cold and well-targeted -- too cold to arraign them for bigotry.

For these reasons the usual exchange of complaint and concession disguises the key factors in this controversy. Those Catholics for whom extracting an apology is important can only get one by playing along with the identity politics game, and that means feigning (or exaggerating the centrality of) hurt feelings -- feelings, that's to say, that libs are willing to concede Marcotte and McEwan may have wounded. But to my thinking this ploy is largely disingenuous. A man's feelings are hurt not by injury simply, but by injury where good will is expected. Five minutes' browsing on the damsels' blogs suffices to show there's no good will to abuse. And, paradoxically, when one belligerent openly declares war on another, it can thereafter hurt everything pertaining to its enemy except its feelings. Marcotte and McEwan may be "offensive" in the military sense of aggressive, but for Catholics to complain of being offended by their antipathy is to imply a human bond that isn't there. In sum, it's to pay them a compliment they don't deserve.

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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jun. 03, 2010 9:45 PM ET USA

    The archpriest of Sta. Maria Maggiore ought to have a spare bedroom in his palazzo right across the street. And should be a fitting companion to his brother Cardinal.