Friday, February 09, 2007

Mark continues to impress ...

Thankfully, a number of his commenters seem to have done my job of answering him for me, so I will quote them on this one. A number of his remarks seem to basically indicate that he either has not read my recent posts or does not understand my positions on them and his tendency to shift back and forth like a drunk driver between Catholic morality and the actions of the Bush administration aren't helping. The fact that the closest thing resembling his willingness to engage the Akin argument on Gaudium et Spes and Veritas Splendor was done so that he could declare "Even if this is true, the administration is still against Catholic doctrine!" might lead a more cynical mind to the conclusion that his only interest in even discussing the issue is to use it as rhetorical club against the Bush administration.

First of all, as to the issue of embryonic stem cell research, posts like this lead me to the bizarre situation to the point of thinking that he has been absent from the entire debate over embyronic stem cell research in the United States with regard to the Bush administration. As Josiah notes, Mark has basically transformed a major pro-life victory in the public sphere into a justification for abandoning the GOP in favor of a third party. My own view on the matter, for those who are curious, is that the media has been entirely too successful about selling embryonic stem cell research as a veritable fountain of youth and cure for all diseases known to man. My guess long-term is that it is going to end up as being more or less analogous to cold fusion, which was touted as an equally perposterous solution to all energy problems and now ranks just slightly higher than astrology as an acceptable solution.

Incidentally, I would note that the kind of zero-sum mentality that Mark is now expressing with regard to abortion is rather unsuited to actual democratic politics. What the pro-life movement has actually understood from the beginning as John J. Reilly discusses in his review of Active Faith regarding the formation of the Christian Coalition:
What the Republican Party did have was a great need for new members. Therefore, when evangelicals and some conservative Catholics began drifting into the party as the Democrats became stranger and stranger, the newcomers were more than welcome. After all, in the beginning, they did not act as a self-conscious faction within the party. All you had to do to win their support was buy them off with a few token phrases about the defense of the traditional family and opposition to abortion. They rarely showed up at meetings, but they would vote Republican like clockwork, at least for president. Poor, ignorant and easily led, so the party's traditional leaders thought, they made the perfect electoral cannon fodder for high-visibility races.

The problem with this strategy was that it succeeded. When Ronald Reagan was elected Emperor of the Last Days in 1980, his devoted followers among the cultural conservatives thought they were owed something. Jobs in the new administration would have been nice, but more than cursory attention to their agenda would have been better. As it happened, they got nearly nothing. Reagan would not even address the annual anti-abortion rallies in Washington in person. They had not just been slighted, they had been deprived of access to the only political institutions they could consider using. They therefore began to build their own institutions. At first, they did this badly.

Evangelicals and conservative Catholics had no permanent local political organizations. Politics for them was largely something that happened on television. Thus, while they might be important for presidential politics, they were much less important in deciding who sat in Congress or on local school boards. (Most important, they had little say about who would be nominated to run.) There are two general strategies for mobilizing an inchoate voting block, a "rally" strategy or a "grassroots" strategy. The first is a strategy of mailing lists and television. It is the sort of politics for which the term "hot button" was coined, meaning any issue that is certain to attract the attention of easily defined constituencies and, hopefully, provoke them to donate money. A "grassroots" strategy sounds like it should be something homey and neighborly, but in fact it simply means political organization as it has been traditionally understood. It means building permanent local organizations of volunteer workers and precinct captains, people who may pay regular dues but who, much more importantly, can be counted on to donate some of their own labor to a campaign. It has long been known that the best way to maintain such an organization is as a collateral activity of some other institution. Labor unions are very good frames to hang a political party on. The Christian Coalition would eventually show that local churches are, too.

Before the evangelicals proved the power of organized religion in politics, however, they first tried a rally strategy. This is what the Moral Majority organization was all about. It was certainly conspicuous enough. The press loved it, like vampires love young women who neglect to wear crucifixes around their necks. It lived and died by its own knack for publicity. It was a remarkably clerical organization: at one point, all but one of its board of directors were ordained ministers. Since the televangelists of the 1980s could claim an audience in the tens of millions, ignorant reporters translated these figures into millions of political followers. The problem with the Moral Majority was that there was really nothing to it. Being a member simply required writing a check, so it had little control over what the prominent people associated with it did. More to the point, it had no troops on the ground. After a while even reporters began to notice that the only actual representative of the Moral Majority in a state where it claimed hundreds of thousands of members might be a single pastor with no staff. It was not a "majority" by any reasonable construction of the word. Then the garish downfalls of the great '80s television preachers amidst charges of embezzlement and sexual scandal suggested that it wasn't particularly moral, either. By the end of the Reagan Administration, it appeared that the era of the evangelical in politics was over.

The Reverend Pat Robertson thought otherwise. His experience during his run for the presidency in 1988 gave him some notion of what actual politics was like. If he conceived the "long march" of the Christian Coalition by himself, then he must be a very smart man indeed. But even if, as Reed suggests, Robertson was at first uncertain about whether to continue with the rally strategy or try the grassroots method, then he at least deserves credit for continuing to support what at first must have seemed like a doubtful enterprise. He is also, perhaps, to be given credit for having the good sense to limit his public association with the Coalition as much as possible. Everyone knows, of course, that Robertson provided the inspiration and backing to get the Coalition off the ground. Indeed, Reed began work in a warehouse amidst the old posters, office furniture and mailing lists of Robertson's 1988 campaign. However, the Coalition was never just a branch of Robertson's ministry, nor indeed a particularly clerical organization at all. Its board of directors, says Reed, contains only a single ordained minister. I do not think it is being cynical to suspect that Reed is exaggerating the independence of the Coalition from Reverend Robertson. Nevertheless, the Coalition has benefited immensely from not being structured as a preacher's fan club.

Unlike the Moral Majority, its has a professional lobbying presence in Washington that does not go away. This means that it can exert pressure, not just on the sort of hot button issues that were sometimes manufactured in the past to keep evangelicals placated, but on day-to-day legislation affecting welfare and education, or for that matter on things like telecommunications reform, which might seem to be peripheral to the Coalition's concerns. Even more important, legislators hear about the Coalition's positions not just from lobbyists, but from their own constituents. The Coalition is adept at organizing letter-writing and telephone call-in campaigns, as well as delivering live bodies to party caucuses and other meetings.

... The Christian Coalition makes no claims to be a "majority" (it has 1.7 million members). An well-organized minority is important enough. There is nothing about its demographics which suggests that it could become the dominant force in American politics. Nevertheless, it is seven years old and a force that must be reckoned with. One can easily imagine it and organizations like it becoming as important as the unions were in their heyday. The problem with this picture, however, is that the unions knew more or less what they wanted. Because they had some vision of how society as a whole should work, they were able to advance beyond their original concern with wages and hours to present coherent policies on everything from foreign affairs to the structure of the health care system. The Christian Coalition, as Reed himself recognizes, is in contrast characterized mostly by what it is against.

In other words, the Christian Coalition learned over time how to fight and how to win in Washington in order to obtain the practical policy incentives it wanted. Mark, it seems to me, is currently inclined to throw all of that practical effort and the victories that came with it away and cede all practical political ground to the cultural left. The end-result of such a measure would be that he will feel more self-righteous and vindicated when issuing his jeremiads against American culture but that those of us who actually care about doing anything more than rhetorical condemnation of these issues are going to be in dire straights indeed. He might be willing to play Russian Roulette on the cultural (and indeed existential) fate of Western civilization, but I'm not.

As for Mark's sneer against Jonah Goldberg, I think it's an extremely sad state of affairs given that he once respected the man. I don't know whether it was ever reciprocated or not, but it's still cheap shot. There are a lot of possible replies to this, not the least of which among them being that Mark might not want to be so eager to blast someone for claims like Jonah's given his own willingness to repeatedly and loudly declare his certainty that Osama bin Laden was dead from 2002-2004, even to the point of arguing that we had images of him on horseback right before carpet-bombing Tora Bora, that all of his audiotapes since were all old or fake, and that the administration was actually aware of bin Laden's demise but were covering it up to keep the Democrats from declaring an end to the war on terrorism. This was a right-wing conspiracy theory that was circulated almost exclusively on talk radio and the internet. So if Mark wants to criticize Jonah Goldberg because his predictions didn't pan out, someone might want to point out to him that there is ample grist on his end.

Furthermore, as was noted in the comments, Goldberg has publicly stated that he now considers the Iraq war a mistake. Perhaps Mark would prefer a public shaming or a Maoist-style self-criticism session, but that's usually been enough for most people given that upwards of 70% of the country initially supported the Iraq war, Mark reluctantly among them. And as for the idea that Juan Cole is kind of great prophet of our times because Iraq has gone to hell, I would note from the work of Tony Badran and Martin Kramer that the good Yale professor isn't exactly the Oracle of Delphi when it comes to Iraq. Indeed, as Niall Ferguson noted some time ago and I doubt Mark will concede, even if the arguments in favor of the Iraq war were all wrong, this does not mean that the anti-war movement is correct. If anything, the reverse is true. And I'm much just going to note the passing the combox claims that the neocons are the same as the communists or the Nazis for the next time Mark wants to argue that the Coalition is so completely tainted beyond the pale because we, like Jimmy Akin, allow Joe D'Hippolito to post here incumbered of Mark's vendetta against him.

Also, might I suggest that Mark's decision to go after people like Jonah Goldberg so that:
It's just that, as with Michael Ledeen's lying pretense that he did not support the war in Iraq, I'd like to see the people who beat the drums for this war take some responsibility for it.

Might well go after some larger targets. So far Mark has mainly focused on Ledeen, Derbyshire, and Goldberg, three people who have probably the least to do with the decision to go to war with Iraq. I realized that he's defined Ledeen as pure evil (with evil emanations to boot!) and what not, but anyone who is even remotely familiar with the man's writing (i.e. not Mark, who still gets his position on Iraq wrong and is still welcome to a free copy of War Against the Terror Masters to set him straight) would recognize that his primary focus is Iran, not Iraq. Then again, Mark engaging far larger and more important targets like Kristol, Perle, Gerecht, Pollack, et al (many of whom have said they were wrong) would involve him actually understanding their arguments, which I have repeatedly noted he has thus far simply refused to do.

If only that flaw were limited to his understanding of Iraq.

In response to reader criticism that he is now heavily motivated by his Bush Derangement Syndrome, Mark writes:
Once again, I urge folk who believe this to go read the blogs of *real* Bush-haters. Your imagination is running away with you. I've actually confined my criticism of Bush to pretty narrow bandwidths: torture, his tepid support for the prolife movement, his conduct of the war. That's about it. No "smirking chimp" talk. No speculations on Halliburton's plans to rule the world. Not even any insults about his mangled syntax. No comparisons to Hitler. No speculations about the Coming Bush Declaration of Martial Law and Subsequent Dictatorship. No blather about the Drunk in the White House. No chatter about his daughters.

All I've done here is point out the bare minumum of where Bush does not measure up to Catholic teaching. And even *that*--even torture!--is too much for many Kool-Aid drinkers on the right to stand.

Except, as Josiah notes, things are a little more complicated than that:
I seem to recall you saying a couple of months ago that Bush had done more than any other President in your lifetime to screw up this country. Combine this with some of the more hyperbolic statements you made during the debate on the Military Commission's Act, as well as your frequent references to Bush and Cheney in totalitarian terms (Glorious Leader, the Fatherland, etc.), and it's easy to see why people might get the impression you're doing more than merely pointing out where the Bush administration doesn't come up to the bare minimum of Catholic teaching.

To which I would add that Mark goes back and forth in his denunciations about Bush as to whether or not Dick Cheney really runs the US government, which is a leftist trope if I ever heard. His refusal to retract regarding his more hyperbolic claims on Cheney also comes to mind as someone could maybe, just maybe argue that he's moving beyond the "bare minimum" of criticism of the Bush administration.

Mark writes:
The reality is this: Bush and the GOP *RAN THINGS* for the most part for the past eight years. That means they are responsible. The next reality is this: not a few of my readers are conservatives who are (judging from the torture discussions) fantastically willing to overlook the most egregious blunders and sins of Their Guys, just as Clinton Kool-Aid drinkers were willing to overlook the blunders and sins of Their Guy. I am a political agnostic who thinks that no prince is worth that. I suspect the majority of my readers agree, but you don't hear much from most of my readers in the comboxes. Instead you hear from a small and vocial minority. However, outside St. Blogs I think it's a different story. I think most conservatives in America have no problem at all with the administration's conduct of this war.

I think it really matters that this Administration has chosen to make the United States embrace torture as a matter of policy because I think the Church's teaching really matters. It *bothers* me that the GOP has been able to get so many Christians to overlook this with prolife promises that maintain the US at Carthaginian levels of practice while *increasing* our utilitarian contempt for the dignity of human life on the battlefield.

This is counter-factual on a number of levels, but let me address the most basic ones. The idea that there has been no criticism of the administration from the Right is well ... where have I heard that before? And if Mark believes that most conservatives have no problem with the administration's conduct of the war, he might well want to take note that it is the neocons he so demonizes in publications like the Weekly Standard who in many cases have been at the forefront of such criticism because they still care the most about winning the war.

Finally, on the issue of Veritas Splendor and Gaudium et Spes, I have already written a ton about this in the last week and quoted far more material. Mark either hasn't read this, doesn't understand it, or is willfully distorting the positions of people like myself and Chris Fotos when he writes things like:
What lies behind it is nothing less than the belief that there are basically two Churches (generally known as the pre and post-Vatican II churches). The pre-Vatican II Church taught one thing infallibly. The post-Vatican II teaches another (and often the opposite) thing infallibly. Our task is to choose between them. According to this scenario, simplistic idiots like me choose the 30 year old teaching of the post V2 Church and reject everything the Church has ever said before that if it inconvenience some Vatican II novelty. If the most recent encyclical of the Church says that torture is intrinsically immoral we are being fundamentalist proof texters if we take the encyclical at its word. We are (allegedly) canceling all the dogmatic teaching that has gone before, and declaring "the last encyclical wins!"

In contrast, according to this scenario, Truly Deep Catholic Thinkers[TM] realize they are doing nothing less than "protecting the defectibility of the Church" when they refuse to believe that Veritatis Splendor means what it actually says. Because they know that Veritatis Splendor is actually in *competition* with previous Church teaching and they know that Veritatis Splendor actually *loses* that competition.

Myself, I gather that a combination of the first and second explanations are the case because no one here has ever argued that there is a discontinuity between recent encyclicals and those of prior popes. Rather, we have argued that Mark has created such a scenario through his exegesis and refused to budge when confronted with alternate and far more reasonable explanations or even engage the argument, instead appealing to "clear meaning" despite the numerous logical problems (among them deportation) involved in doing so.

I've already written a lot on this that I would really recommend Mark go back, re-read my posts because he clearly doesn't understand my or Chris's positions. Thankfully, some of his readers recognize this in the combox and I will quote their responses.

First, Josiah says:
This is horribly unfair. Chris Fotos doesn't believe in a "hermaneutic of discontinuity." Just the opposite. He doesn't reject Veritatis Splendor. He simply believes that it needs to be read in light of previous statements on the matter.

I don't want to try and pit you against Jimmy Akin, but I think the following post provides the best exposition of the problems with your interpretation of Veritatis Splendor 80: def...nta_corpor.html

The conclusion of Mr. Akin's analysis is that "one cannot assert as fact the idea that Veritatis Splendor says torture is intrinsically evil."

... If Jimmy Akin has retracted anything in the post I've cited, I'm not aware of it. He's said that his conclusions are tentative (which is not the same as saying that they are wrong). In any event, point of citing the post was not simply to say "see, Jimmy agrees with me." The post in question contains several arguments about why Mark's reading of Veritatis Splendor is incorrect. I've never seen Mark offer any response to these arguments, or offer any support for his position other than repetition.

Also, it's important to distinguish here between (a) the moral status of torture, and (b) what Veritatis Splendor says about the moral status of torture. A person might condemn torture without thinking that VS 80 is dispositive on the point (this is my position). Alternatively, a person might think that VS 80 does unambiguously condemn torture, but reject the document (this is the position Mark falsely attributes to Chris Fotos and others).

... Perhaps an analogy will help here. Suppose someone says that because the Bible says "thou shalt not kill" the only acceptable position for a Christian is pacifism. You respond by pointing out that the Hebrew word the Bible uses is better translated as 'murder' that other portions of the Bible making clear that there is no absolute prohibition on killing, and that there is a long Christian tradition accepting killing in self-defense and other such circumstances. Instead of answering any of these arguments, the guy simply repeats "the Bible says thou shalt not kill. If you want to reject Christianity, that's your call."

This is similar, IMHO, to your handling of Veritatis Splendor. It's not that you reject the arguments in favor of different interpretations of Veritatis Splendor so much as that you refuse to acknowledge that there could even *be* any differing interpretations. The meaning of the document is obvious, and if you reject that then you reject the document. This, I believe, is what the Fogstsers mean when they refer to your treatment of Veritatis Splendor as fundamentalist proof-texting.

I think that Josiah accurately represents my view (and I believe Victor's) correctly. I have repeatedly stated that I have no problem with Mark opposing torture, but that it is his extremely bad argumentation and poor theology on the subject. His usual rebuttal to this is to claim bad faith, which usually precedes or follows a long string of hyperbole.

Seamus writes in the same combox:
This quote speaks volumes about a person's ecclesiology. What lies behind it is nothing less than the belief that there are basically two Churches (generally known as the pre and post-Vatican II churches).

Uh, no, actually he's accusing *you* of adhering to a hermeneutic of discontinuity. He cites Fr. Harrison as an attempt to take both pre- and post-Vatican II magisterial statements seriously and read them so as not to contradict one another. I may or may not agree with how Fr. Harrison comes out on that issue, but I have yet to see a comparable effort on this site.

... Except that I don't believe there is any previous Church doctrine that Veritatis Splendor "defeats". I think there are prudential judgements and previous praxis that document implies were wrong, but I don't think it's a question of "win" or "lose".

Then presumably you have a way of reconciling Veritatis splendor with Exsurge Domine, when the latter states that it is an error to state "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." If not, it's hard to avoid the implication that the working principle is: given two magisterial statements (and the condemnation of propositions in Exsurge Domine *is* a magisterial statement, not simply a "prudential judgement[]" or a statement about "previous praxis") that appear to contradict one another, pay attention to the later one and ignore the earlier one.

Seamus is correct here as to my view. Mark's usual response is to dismiss such things with a rhetorical slight-of-hand and a reference to prudential judgements. If he ever offered anything more substantive, I have yet to see it.

-- From Torquemada, despite the sig below (he's apparently having some kind of posting issue)


Christopher Fotos said...

Juan Cole! It's official, the ship has sailed.

roger h. said...

Add this to what Josiah noted in response to Mark's claim that his bandwidth of criticism of Bush has been limited to three areas.

Christopher Fotos said...

Yes, agreed, Roger. By the way, the American Enterprise Institute has defended itself very actively, and here's just one example at The Volokh Conspiracy, pointing to AEI in The Weekly Standard:

On February 2, an AEI research project on climate change policy that we have been organizing was the target of a journalistic hit piece in Britain's largest left-wing newspaper, the Guardian. The article's allegation--that we tried to bribe scientists to criticize the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--is easy to refute. More troubling is the growing worldwide effort to silence anyone with doubts about the catastrophic warming scenario that Al Gore and other climate extremists are putting forth.

"Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today," read the Guardian's lead. The byline was Ian Sample, the paper's science correspondent, and his story ran under the headline "Scientists Offered Cash to Dispute Climate Study."

Sample spoke to one of us for five minutes to gather a perfunctory quotation to round out his copy, but he clearly was not interested in learning the full story. He found time, however, to canvass critics for colorful denunciations of the American Enterprise Institute as "the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra," with nothing but "a suitcase full of cash."

Every claim in the story was false or grossly distorted, starting with the description of the American Enterprise Institute as a "lobby group"--AEI engages in no lobbying--funded by the world's largest oil company. The Guardian reports that "AEI has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil." Yes--over the last seven years, a sum that represents less than 1 percent of AEI's total revenue during that period....

Last summer we decided to commission essays from scientists, economists, and public policy experts in the hope of launching a fresh round of discussion and perhaps holding a conference or publishing a book. Among the nine scholars we wrote to in July were Gerald North and Steve Schroeder of Texas A&M, who have done scrupulous and detailed work on some key aspects of climate modeling, and we were confident that their work would be seen as authoritative by all sides. (North chaired the recent National Academy of Sciences review of the controversial "hockey stick" temperature reconstruction.) We couched our query in the context of wanting to make sure the next IPCC report received serious scrutiny and criticism.

Our offer of an honorarium of up to $10,000 to busy scientists to review several thousand pages of material and write an original analysis in the range of 7,500 to 10,000 words is entirely in line with honoraria AEI and similar organizations pay to distinguished economists and legal scholars for commissioned work. (Our letter to North and Schroeder can be found readily on AEI's website.)

North declined our invitation on account of an already full schedule. Schroeder shared our letter with one of his Texas A&M colleagues, atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler. Dessler posted our complete letter on his blog in late July, along with some critical but largely fair-minded comments, including: "While one might be skeptical that the AEI will give the [IPCC Fourth Assessment Report] a fair hearing, the fact that they have solicited input from a credible and mainstream scientist like Jerry North suggests to me that I should not prejudge their effort....

There is much more and it's worth reading. It is an illustration of what has happened at CAEI that Mark can so casually throw around words like "bribe" about respected figures he doesn't know and in an environment (pun alert!) about which he is painfully uninformed. And the skepticism he would normally attach to a media report--the Guardian, in this case--about Catholic issues goes right out the window when he thinks he can use it as a cudgel against "The Administration."


Anonymous said...


Mark's fundamental problem is that he equates anger for correct thinking and analysis. He equates providential outcomes that few could predict accurately with a "told ya so" certainly (hence, the sneer toward Goldberg) -- especially when it comes to the late pope's views of the Iraq invasion (though he conveniently ignores the fact that those views had little to do with "just war" theory and far more to do with the late pope's tendency to appease Islam and Arab dictators).

In a way, Mark is one of our latest great philosophers, a la a 17th century Frenchman:

Voltaire: "I think; therefore, I am."

Shea: "I sneer and shout; therefore, I am (right)."

Sheer genius, actually, sheer genius.