I still don’t understand how ANYONE was fooled by John Edwards, at any point in time

Here is an explanation by one accomplished professional (Walter Shapiro) who was completely taken in. Excerpts:

About three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, my wife, Meryl Gordon, and I had an off-the-record dinner with John and Elizabeth Edwards at the Washington restaurant Olives. The dinner was at the blurry intersection of Washington life—ostensibly social (Meryl had bonded with Elizabeth after writing an Elle magazine profile of her husband in 2001) but at its core professional (I was a columnist for USA Today and Edwards had White House dreams). Everyone was in a shell-shocked daze after the terrorist attacks, but my only clear memory of that dinner was Edwards’ palpable dislike for John Kerry, an obvious rival for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

That was the beginning of a political-journalistic courtship that now makes me cringe. With Edwards on trial in North Carolina on charges of violating federal campaign-finance laws—after the disgrace of being caught with a mistress and denying being the father of her baby—I wish I had befriended a comparatively more honorable political figure like Eliot Spitzer or Mark Sanford…

In hindsight, I feel like the jaded city slicker, bristling with self-confidence that he can never be fooled, who ends up hoodwinked by the smiling rural Southern confidence man. Please understand: I did not deliberately put a thumb on the scale when I wrote about Edwards. It was more that I was convinced by Edwards’ sincerity when he talked passionately about poverty and the Two Americas. And I especially believed (because I spent so much time with Elizabeth) the romantic myth of the Edwards marriage.

Many Edwards insiders from the 2004 campaign say the vice-presidential nomination (bestowed by, yes, John Kerry) changed him. The entourage, the plane, the Secret Service detail and the frenzy of a fall campaign all supposedly fueled Edwards’ self-importance and sense of entitlement. But as I struggle to understand my own entanglement with a scandal-scarred presidential contender, I wonder if this arbitrary division between pre-veep Edwards and post-veep Edwards is too glib.

The danger signs and character flaws were always there, and I failed to notice them. I was certainly not alone in my blindness. David Axelrod, for example, was Edwards’ first media consultant during the 2004 primary campaign. Even after Axelrod drifted away to concentrate on a long-shot Senate race for a candidate named Barack Obama in Illinois, he returned for Edwards’ last stand in the Wisconsin primary. I recall running into Axelrod in the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee on primary day and hearing him say of Edwards, “He’ll be president someday.”…

Yes, the “danger signs and character flaws WERE always there,” and they stuck out a mile. While I hadn’t reached the point of completely dismissing him in print as a phony, you can see my uneasiness with him in this column from 2003:

… There are few things more unbecoming than a millionaire trial lawyer presenting himself to a crowd as the ultimate populist. Huey Long could pull it off; he had the common touch. So did George Wallace. But John Edwards is one of those “sleek-headed” men that Shakespeare wrote of in “Julius Caesar.” He may be lean, but he hath not the hungry look. Mr. Edwards is decidedly lacking in rough edges. Not even age can stick to him.
His entrance was predictably corny. Other speakers had unobtrusively climbed the back steps onto the platform. Mr. Edwards snuck around to the back of the crowd, then leaped out of his hiding place with a huge grin and his hand out, looking for all the world like he was surprised to find himself among all these supporters. He hand-shook his way through the audience to the podium, a la Bill Clinton , thereby signifying that he comes “from the people.” Watch for that shot in upcoming TV commercials.
His speech was laced with populist non-sequiturs. For instance, he went way over the top exhibiting his incredulity at Bush’s “jobless recovery,” chuckling with his audience at such an oxymoron – as though the current administration had invented the term. (A computer scan found the phrase 641 times in major news sources during calendar year 1993 ; so much for novelty.)…

(The point of the column was to say that some protesters who were there to picket Edwards were even worse than he was. But first I had to establish what I’d thought of him. This incident formed part of my better-known “phony” column in 2007, in which I particularly concentrated on a detail I had not used in this piece — because it involved such a subjective impression that I didn’t have the confidence to attach importance to it until I’d had more experience with him.)

I’m not smug for having been put off, from the first time I saw him in person, by what seems to have taken in others. I’m just surprised that they didn’t see it, too.

127 thoughts on “I still don’t understand how ANYONE was fooled by John Edwards, at any point in time

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    I liked him and he was the only candidate talking about the poor. Elizabeth seemed pretty awesome, too.

  2. Phillip

    Shapiro’s column was interesting. Interesting to see him echo your oft-stated credo that character trumps policy positions. But I see you didn’t quote this part: “Aside from Edwards, the presidential contender in recent years whom I thought I knew the best was John McCain….And guess what? From the moment that McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate until long after the 2008 election, I did not recognize a single thing about the Arizona senator whom I thought I knew well. All those hours of talking—just the two of us—in the Senate Dining Room led to only fleeting bits of insight about McCain. As with Edwards, my certainty that my theories about McCain were true prevented me from seeing the abundant contrary evidence.”

  3. Silence

    Maybe as a Southern journalist you weren’t quite as susceptible to being “hoodwinked by the smiling rural Southern confidence man”?

    The tight circle between DC politicians, media, lobbyists, businesses, etc. has always bothered me. It’s as if at the end of the day, they wink and nod at each other and go off to party together, having successfully fooled all of us who live outside the Beltway and support their lavish lifestyles.

  4. bud

    Me thinks Brad is gloating a bit too much on this topic. Yes, I was fooled by Edwards, although I did find the huge house and overly styled haircut a bit offputing. Still, Edwards had some great, populist ideas that I could embrace. But before you get too carried away with gloating Mr. Editorial Page Editor remember the people DID reject Mr. Edwards BEFORE the Reile Hunter scandal broke. So maybe the people did see through him after all.

  5. Brad

    Actually, Bud, I was worried people might think I was gloating. But my reason for dwelling on it is that this myopia that people sometimes have is “problematic” — now that I know it’s OK to use that word that way.

    Here’s how it affected my life, for instance. In 2004, there was a distinct possibility that at least a plurality of my editorial board would insist on our endorsing Edwards. These were people I greatly respected, people I’d hired or recruited from news. And yet they were taken in.

    We found ourselves in a tight spot on that endorsement decision. The endorsement was running that Sunday. The only time Kerry said he could meet with us was late morning on that Friday — at a time when the endorsement, and my column about it, should already have been on the page. We also met with Howard Dean, earlier that morning, for the second time (at his request).

    As y’all will recall, I wanted to endorse Lieberman. I saw him as clearly the best candidate in the field. But going into that way-after-deadline meeting to make our decision, I was just as concerned that we NOT endorse Edwards. Or Kerry, either, but he wasn’t my concern going in. There hadn’t been any real support for him on the board before we met with him, and I could tell he hadn’t made much of an impression that morning.

    I spent three hours talking, arguing, haranguing. I talked myself hoarse (I got quite sick that weekend; I had so depleted my energy.). And the whole time, I had before me the prospect of The State endorsing Edwards, which utterly appalled me.

    I wore everyone down on Edwards. Then, late in the meeting, there was a shift toward Kerry, but I managed to talk that down. (The concern on the board was that we KNEW Lieberman was probably going to be in single digits in the primary. But I was adamant that our decision embody our oft-stated principle that endorsements aren’t about who will win; they’re about who SHOULD win, even if they have no chance. And they were like, “Yeah, but…” and I was like “Yeah, but nothing.”)

    In the end, I got my way — which meant several hours of frantic writing and editing.

    And yeah, I’d do it again. Just that way. Except I wouldn’t have to, because my colleagues wouldn’t have been pushing for Edwards.

    In retrospect, no one would have blamed us for going along with the SC Democratic electorate and picking Edwards. But I would have. I couldn’t have stood it.

  6. bud

    Knowing everything that I know now I would have had it:

    1. Howard Dean
    2. John Kerry
    3. John Edwards
    4. Joe Lieberman

    Anyone who supported that damn war in 2004 was completely discredited in my eyes.

  7. Brad

    And speaking of Lieberman, let me address Phillip’s comment about McCain.

    Actually, I skimmed the piece so quickly I missed the McCain part (I was just looking for why he was taken in, and what he had learned). But if I hadn’t, it would not have been relevant to me.

    If McCain had picked Lieberman as his running mate — as HE wanted to do, and as I definitely wanted him to do, and continue to believe he should have done (although he still probably would have lost, with the economic meltdown of September) — we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And you know what? He’d still be the same guy. Picking Sarah Palin was a rare case of McCain going along with what other people wanted (in this case, the extreme right of his party, which never liked him). That in itself was a very unMcCain thing to do. He shouldn’t have made that concession. But that’s what it was — a concession — and not about what you normally get with McCain. He was trying for once to show he wasn’t that bullheaded guy who always went his own way. And see where it got him.

    Funny, I was thinking about this this morning, from another angle…

    I was thinking about how even when you pick a good candidate, if that candidate wins, you get his party, and all that comes with it.

    In McCain and Obama, we had two nominees in 2008 who defied typical expectations about what their parties produce — two men with proven (much more proven, in McCain’s case) tendencies to think for themselves and not be slaves to partisan ideology.

    The problem is that either one of whom we got, Obama or McCain, their parties would have come along with them and DEMANDED to have their ideological way with some things.

    With McCain, we got a foretaste of that, when the “maverick” uncharacteristically bowed to the ideologues by picking Palin. With Obama — well, I think he has largely defied the ideologues of his party, particularly on national security. But then you see him do completely unnecessary things like initiating a completely unnecessary culture war over requiring the Church to cover birth control.

    A president isn’t an absolute ruler, and must sometimes do what others want him to do. Generally, we regard that as a very GOOD thing. And we should. But I really hate it when you think you’ve got a guy who is largely above the pedantic ideological fray do something like that — or like picking Sarah Palin.

    Which I guess, in the end, argues that the UnParty should start putting up presidential candidates…

  8. Brad

    And of course, people who get angry at Obama for not always kowtowing to the Left, seeing him as some sort of sellout (that’s not the change I voted for!), are the very first to say McCain wasn’t the man they thought HE was because he actually went along with the expectations of the people in his party for once…

  9. bud

    But then you see him do completely unnecessary things like initiating a completely unnecessary culture war over requiring the Church to cover birth control.

    You almost had me and then you say this nonsense. Pleez. This should be a settled issue along with the communist witch hunt of the 50s now rearing its ugly head with Alan West’s new claim of 80+ communists in congress. Even Bill O’Reilly accussed Robert Reich of being a communist. Seriously with the birth control issue and now the communist witch hunts can’t we declare the Republican Party brain dead and move on?

  10. Brad

    Re the last thing Bud said… and of course, for me it was the opposite. Anyone who wanted to yank us out of Iraq precipitously, such as Howard Dean (whom I otherwise liked) was completely out of the question. And in the end, the fact that I didn’t trust Kerry on his promise NOT to do that was THE main reason not to endorse him. With that consideration, I didn’t have to get into the intangibles, such as the fact that to me he came across as a pompous, supercilious… never mind. (And that negative-vibe impression was in no way changed by meeting him in person — he was easily the least-likable person we met with that cycle. Including Edwards, who was at least was the sort of con man who went out of his way to be agreeable.)

  11. bud

    And by the way the so-called “un-necessary culture war on birth control”, whoever started it, is proving to be a huge thorn in the side of the Republicans. So even if Obama did start that one it is working out nicely for him.

  12. bud

    Yank the troops out precipitously was the problem to Brad but the solution to me. In the end we waited 6 long, angonizing years and ended up yanking the troops precipitously anyway. And nothing bad has happened to us. Too bad the same can’t be said for the poor Iraqi people.

  13. Brad

    My preferences would have been:

    1. Lieberman
    2. Gephardt (if he hadn’t dropped out a month or so earlier). I was really impressed when he met with us, early on.
    3. Dean (if not for the fact that he based his support on his Iraq position — as I say, other than that, I liked him).

    And I’ll say I even preferred the one “fringe” candidate we met with (Carol Moseley Braun) to Edwards. Or Kerry, at least on the purely personal level. (I liked Kerry more on a policy level, except for my lack of trust on the Iraq issue.)

  14. Brad

    No, Bud, we didn’t (withdraw precipitously). We did the Surge and turned the situation around from near chaos (thanks to the Bush administration’s inexcusable mismanagement of the war up to that point) to a point where we could have a peaceful transfer of power with some hope at least of future stability. Which was rather amazing, really.

    You just don’t get to argue on the basis of made-up facts. Such as the “Bush lied” meme, which I ALMOST let go by, out of sheer weariness. But if we let people assert such things as though true, out of ennui or any other cause, the unfortunate fact is that some people who otherwise might know better may come to accept it.

  15. Brad

    And Bud, it’s not a “birth control” issue. It’s a private conscience issue. It’s about what an individual, or a group of freely associating individuals, are forced to do that is contrary to their beliefs.

    And on that score, it’s such an open-and-shut case that the administration went the wrong way that it’s astounding that people are still able to talk themselves into believing otherwise.

  16. Tim

    you call it a Culture War, capitalizing Church, which, we know means your Church. You have not yet addressed how many other religions likewise would have religious exemptions for any manner of treatments and protocols to the point that any national health care system, which you support, would end up being Swiss Cheese.

    What else does ‘private conscious’ allow you to get out of, paying any number of taxes to things that you, individually, do not subscribe to, but for which you got a voice and a vote in the decision process, not a choice and a veto. Can Bud get his money back on the Iraq War?

  17. Brad

    No, he can’t. Nor should he. He got to vote, and sometimes his candidates won and sometimes they didn’t, but in our system of representative democracy the elected representatives are the ones who decide the spending priorities of GOVERNMENT. And it can’t work any other way. Individual taxpayers can’t say “I’ll pay for this and not for that;” a republic won’t work when every citizen has a line-item veto.

    Likewise, with a single-payer health care system, our elected representatives (or their designees) would decide what was covered and what was not, and no individual citizen would have standing to say that what he paid into the system should be used for this and not for that — although obviously if you have something deeply offensive to a significant segment of the electorate (say, paying for abortions for gender selection), the policymakers will not be paying for that. But it couldn’t possibly be a by-the-individual thing.

    Of course, we’re talking about an entirely different thing here. Obama didn’t advocate a single-payer plan, he and his allies passed something far short of that, so that private groups and individuals are still significant implementers of policy.

    So what we have here is something more akin to being a conscientious objector in circumstances where you have a draft. No, the individual draftee doesn’t get to choose the war he’ll fight in (that would get you into that every individual having a line-item veto thing), but he does get to opt out if he can demonstrate consistently that he’s opposed to war, period.

    This is like that. Catholic institutions are being required to implement insurance plans that would cover things they are clearly on record as being conscientiously opposed to.

    You see the huge qualitative difference?

  18. Brad

    And in case I didn’t spell it out clearly enough, that difference is between decisions that naturally and necessarily accrue to the government (deciding how much to spend on what, initiating military action here and not there), and those that involve the INDIVIDUAL or private entity having to do something that may or may not violate conscience.

  19. Phillip

    As Kathryn pointed out, Edwards was talking about the poor (and 2 Americas) back at a time when Iraq was dominating all political discourse. He deserves credit for being several years ahead of the curve in speaking about things like increasing inequality in America, things that since the financial meltdown have become front-and-center topics of discussion, such as the Buffett rule. Now that the so-called War on Terror is being re-calibrated into a more rational, less hysterical context, we are beginning to put at the center of this election the very issues Edwards focused his campaigns on. His personal shortcomings notwithstanding, I have no reason to think he didn’t believe at some level in helping ameliorate those problem in America. That’s like saying that Mark Sanford didn’t really believe in libertarianism because he left his wife for another woman, or that Eliot Spitzer was not really a strong progressive just because he liked to visit expensive prostitutes.

    There was something about Edwards’ youth, looks, and focus on poverty at the center of his campaign that (possibly deliberately) evoked memories (real or passed from the earlier generation) of Bobby Kennedy. I think some of that fakey stagecraft that you wrote about in your column was designed to evoke the RFK-esque vibe. That’s a powerful talisman to liberals whether or not they really personally remembered “the best Kennedy.”

  20. Karen McLeod

    Does that mean that a workplace funded by Jehovah’s Witnesses can refuse to cover blood transfusions?

  21. Pat

    It’s a waste of money, time, and resources to go after Edwards just like it was a waste of money, time, and resources to go after Martha Stewart.

  22. tavis micklash

    “This is like that. Catholic institutions are being required to implement insurance plans that would cover things they are clearly on record as being conscientiously opposed to.”

    Cardinal Timothy Dolan has had many good interviews on this. When the debate first came up it was all about religous freedom. Cardinal Dolan in an interview said he had a sit down with President Obama about this very issue. Mr. Obama was quoted to say that the church would be “happy with the outcome.”

    There were rumors leaking out that VP Biden lobbied against the mandate as well. I can’t verify that of course.

    Regardless the Dems did a wonderful job of turning the Republicans on their heels by moving the discussion from religious freedom to women’s rights. They controlled the message and the Repulican party still hasn’t recovered. They also got totally off by pushing the all man hearings an attacking the student from GW university. They poorly handled the entire issue.

    As a Catholic myself (I go to my wifes protestant church though) I understand the deep seeded belief to avoid birth control. I’ll expand more later when I have more time.

  23. bud

    The birth control issue really should be a part of the 2012 election cycle no matter who brought it up or how. It’s very important. And the Democrats are right on this and should not let it go.

    The Catholic Church (or at least the Bishops) is engaging in a bit of prosyletising when it pushes hard to get around the healthcare law. By virtue of it’s involvement in non-religious activities such as schools and hospitals it has become a de-facto public entity and should no longer be entitled to religious exemptions from the law. Hence it should comply, in the spirit of communitarianism, with a public service that benefits the community. That public service, in this case birth control, has been deemed a valuable asset to the communtity. It’s no different from war. No entity is exempt from supporting a war that congress declares. And no entity should be exempt from supporting a public health program either.

    The fact that a the government bent over backwards to exempt the Church itself from the regulation is, in my opinion, un-necessary. No one should be allowed to thwart the intersts of public health in the name of religion. Nevertheless they were granted that exemption and they should consider that a compromise and let it go.

  24. bud

    On this blog and elsewhere I have been openly critical of the Catholic Church and its reactionary policies. Perhaps I’ve used too broad a brush in this criticism. Apparently the Catholic Nuns are a fairly progressive group that is increasingly at odds with the Bishops and even the Pope on many issues. Given their second-class status within the Church it is not likely that they will prevail in their greivances any time soon. But at least they’re fighting the good fight. Here’s an article from The Nation that explains what I’m talking about. As for the nuns, all I can say is you go girls.


  25. Tim

    Do the catholic institutions cover divorced re-marrieds?

    Frankly, you only addressed the issue that a catholic has. Not about a Jewish employer not covering implantation of pig valves, or scientologists not covering psychiatric care, or a christian scientist employer not covering anything, because they don’t believe in it, or, well, I don’t know how to more clearly make the point. Single payer was not going to happen, so we implemented something as close as possible, but if you keep finding exemptions and exceptions, you have nothing, since you have crafted a means for any employer to use a conscious objection to provide less and less coverage. The conscientious objector analogy is not the correct one, anyway, since its objecting the the war, equivalent of government run single payer war. You are citing a situation where an employer can elect to not send any of his employees to a war that he objects to.

  26. Silence

    Why are we still arguing about contraception 40 years after Roe and 50+ years after the pill?

  27. Lynn T

    Some were deceived by John Edwards, and some were not (never cared for him myself), but people tend to project onto politicians (especially those who have no substantial public record to define them) what they want to see. Since people want to see different things, the projections and the people that they attach them to are different.

    For example, there are quite a few in SC who say that they initially thought Haley, and before her Sanford, were quite different than they turned out to be. From your writings, Brad, I think you are in that group. Others would say that they can’t see how anyone could have overlooked obvious characteristics. Politicians may deceive us, but most of the time they need our cooperation to do it.

  28. Brad

    Tavis, I don’t see how you can say that “the Dems did a wonderful job of turning the Republicans on their heels by moving the discussion from religious freedom to women’s rights.”

    You talking about the utterly absurd “War on Women” rhetoric? I mean, everytime I see another iteration of that, such as in this email today from the DCCC…

    “First right-wing extremists took aim at women’s healthcare.”

    … I just get deeply embarrassed for the whole human race.

    The very idea that any member of the species to which I belong could conceive of a misrepresentation so false and outrageous is appalling. To have that same person expect anyone, anywhere, to respond positively to such nonsense is worse. But worst of all is that there exist people who DO respond sympathetically to something so patently unfounded in reality. It’s the sort of thing that, as Tom Wolfe would have it, “would have made the Fool Killer lower his club and shake his head and walk away, frustrated by the magnitude of the opportunity.”

  29. Silence

    @ Lynn T – mark me down as someone who thought (hoped) that Haley would be different than she’s turned out to be. I bought the whole transparency thing and the pushing for government reform thing hook, line and sinker.
    Of course we’ll really never get true state government reform without reforming the State Senate/new state constitution.

  30. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I’ve seen plenty of argument from you and others defending religious rights, but I’ve seen none defending it assert that other faiths/denominations (eg. those listed in Tim’s post above) have similar rights. Until I see a vigorous defense of those “rights,” it looks very selective indeed, and very tied to women’s rights.

  31. `Kathryn Fenner

    “The very idea that any member of the species to which I belong could conceive of a misrepresentation so false and outrageous is appalling. To have that same person expect anyone, anywhere, to respond positively to such nonsense is worse. But worst of all is that there exist people who DO respond sympathetically to something so patently unfounded in reality. ”

    Sorry to appall you. I agree with Tavis.

  32. Tim

    As I recall, the only transparency she actually advocated was increasing the number of roll call votes.

  33. Brad


    There’s no question that Nikki TOTALLY fooled me for several years. As I’ve said, she makes a great first, second and third impression. It takes a while to catch on. It did me, anyway.

    Part of it is probably that I didn’t look as hard at her until she totally shocked me by running for governor. And, to be fair to me, she did change. She went from earnest young freshman to “By God I am the Tea Party’s annointed one, and I will CRUSH my enemies, and smile as I hear the lamentations of their women.” Or something like that.

  34. Brad

    As for Mark Sanford, that’s easy to explain.

    He was running against Jim Hodges, with whom we had no end of disagreements, and he had literally taken my playbook on government restructuring (a reprint of the Power Failure series that I had shared with him) and made it his platform to run on, just lifting great chunks of it practically verbatim.

    All the really crazy stuff was there, but it was sotto voce at that time — very peripheral to what he was saying, if not what he was thinking.

    It took me a little while to fully go into “hey, wait a minute” mode, but by then I had resolved not to be fooled by him again.

  35. Brad

    So, bottom line, I’m not infallible. Which makes it even more surprising that other people were taken in by Edwards. Even I wasn’t, so why were they?

    And I think it was indeed an ideology thing. He stroked the right receptors on liberals, and they went for it. Just as I went for a candidate who would finally implement MY programs…

  36. bud

    This contraception issue is huge and should be a central issue in the campaign. The GOP can couch this in terms of religious freedom (falsely) but what this really is is a health issue. And even more importantly its an issue that could define our future. Do we want to continue with the successful campaign to address runaway population growth or do we want to allow extremists to thwart those efforts? A lot at stake here folks. Don’t get fooled by the claim that this issue is a matter of consciousness. No. Women can and should be allowed the hormonal birth control option. And yes it should be free. I just hope everyone keeps this battle in mind come November. For if this is not resolved now in favor of what is right then we’ll have to fight it again another day. Better now than later before any further damage is done to erode our freedoms.

  37. bud

    Brad, did anyone really have enough evidence to predict the Reille Hunter fiasco? I’m not sure how anyone could have reasonbly seen something that disgusting coming.

    As for Sanford. He had a long voting record as a United States congressman. To dismiss that voting record (which clearly showed him as staunch libertarian) as “sotto voce” seems astonishly naive.

  38. Brad

    1. I didn’t care about the mistress fiasco. I didn’t need that to completely dismiss the guy, he was so bogus.

    2. First, Sanford had done almost nothing in Congress. And I had little interest in his attitudes on federal issues. You have to understand, back then, there was no precedent for projecting Washington ideological battles onto SC policy. I had never yet encountered a governor who cared NOTHING about governing the state, and only wanted to advance ideological rhetoric. Truly. I wasn’t naive; I had vast experience that did not prepare me for the existence of such a person. In my long career up to that point, I had never seen it. Now, we’ve had two governors in a row like that.

    3. See why I was so appalled when I first saw these cultural issues being pushed to the fore several months ago? I find it excruciatingly painful to try to engage in dialogue with people, and it always devolves into calling black white, and white black. (Such as calling the bishops’ entirely sincere moral problem “false,” and insisting that something that is not a health issue IS a health issue. No, excuse me, a “women’s health issue,” because injecting Identity Politics just stirs up raw emotion so much more outrageously.)

    And we get nowhere, because I’m not going to persuade you, and you’re not going to persuade me.

    At least we can agree on our admiration of Sister Carol Keehan and all those others who labor in the vineyards of Catholic health care. For what that’s worth.

    Here’s the thing that is so painful about this to me. Obamacare, deeply flawed as it is, is the ONLY chance we have in this country to move toward a semi-rational way of providing health care in this country. So of course I want it to succeed.

    So imagine my complete dismay when the administration went out of its way to pick this entirely unnecessary fight, and suddenly cause everyone to start shouting at each other in yet another Kulturkampf, distracting us from having any kind of productive conversation.

    Wasn’t it bad enough that the Republicans were grossly distorting things with all their stupid “socialism” ranting, and their acting like Obamacare was the end of the world, or at least the end of all our “freedoms”?

    No, we had to provoke another entirely unnecessary conflict, and get the DEMOCRATS to start spouting specious nonsense from THEIR ideological lexicon, trying to outdo the Republicans in their flight from reality, with “contraceptives could become contraband,” “War on Women” and other emotional claptrap.

    It’s just sickening. The whole spectacle.

    The need for a rational healthcare system is so dire, and we SO badly need to have a grownup conversation about it.

    But all we get is this garbage…

  39. Silence

    @bud – “And yes it should be free”

    Seriously. I don’t mind anyone having a REALLY good time. I chased a lot of dames myself back in the day.

    But why do I gotta pay for everyone else’s cow’s if I can’t drink the milk?

    Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time. People should man up, erm, woman up and pay for their own fun.

    Next thing you’ll be telling me is that I should be paying their fraternity dues and buying the beer for parties that I’m not invited to.

  40. Karen McLeod

    Still talking only about contraception coverage being about religious freedom…someone needs to defend other beliefs’ freedom to refuse various things (blood transfusions, valve replacement surgery, etc) or “methinks he doth protest too much.”

  41. Lynn T

    “And I think it was indeed an ideology thing. He stroked the right receptors on liberals, and they went for it. Just as I went for a candidate who would finally implement MY programs…”

    Yup, that is how it works, although sometimes in reverse. People on the far left saw in Obama a liberal like themselves because they wanted to see it. People on the far right saw a liberal who upset them because that is what they feared. In reality, his campaign and his behavior in office have been reasonably consistent, and not nearly as liberal as those folks wanted or feared.

  42. Brad

    Karen, I hope you’ll forgive me, but you’re inviting me down another digression that will lead nowhere. I know you’re sincere, but I find those “what about the religious freedoms of peyote-eating Indians; isn’t that exactly the same as the Eucharist?” arguments tedious and unproductive.

    The Obama administration didn’t pick a fight with the… whatever group was mentioned above. They picked it with the Catholic Church, and they probably did so because some of the ideologues in the administration see the Church as some sort of boogeyman and relished defying it. (In support of that supposition, I present as Exhibit A some of the delight expressed by many Democrats over getting to fulminate on this topic, and see it go front and center in this election year. They don’t care how it alienates us in the middle; they just love to see the way it excites their base.) I’m just deeply dismayed that Obama went along with it. It was SO completely unnecessary.

    Here I am, cheering for Obamacare, and I have to sit and watch it be used as a battlefield for something else as irrelevant as all the Republicans ranting about their supposed “freedoms” being lost (and ironically echoing Bud in so doing).

  43. Brad

    In case you didn’t follow that last point, I was referring to Bud saying above, “Better now than later before any further damage is done to erode our freedoms.”

    That could have been lifted verbatim from a GOP diatribe on Obamacare. It’s also identical in its emotionalism, and its irrelevance to the subject under discussion.

  44. bud

    Silence you’re using the same bogus logic that Rush Limbaugh used. And where did that get him? About 100 fewer sponsors, that’s where.

    This is most assuredly not about kids running around wild screwing everything in sight. Birth control pills don’t increase a woman’s sex drive. It doesn’t make women more promiscuous. But it does prevent pregnancy. And fewer unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortions. And the health risks associated with pregnancy. Plus the cost to the overburdened healthcare system is greatly reduced. The pill is also effective in alleviating ailments not associated with pregnancy.

    Come on folks lets move into the 21st century on this. The genie is long ago out of the bottle on the sexual frontier. We need to cope using safe and effective methods to provide a healthy society without the huge burden of unwanted pregnancy. As many have suggested why are we still having this conversation in 2012? Just pass out the pills in vending machines for free and lets move on. Otherwise we become the laughing stock of the world. Then again with one major political party already returning to the days of communist witch hunts maybe that genie is out of the bottle as well.

  45. bud

    They don’t care how it alienates us in the middle;

    Are you kidding? You are waaaaaaaaaaay out on the fringe on this issue. Even 99% of all Catholic women use birth control. Don’t even pretend you’re in the middle on this issue. OMG you crack me up sometimes.

  46. bud

    Brad, problem is the conservatives are wrong when they say Obamacare takes away freedom but I’m 100% correct to defend this issue so ardently. It IS that important to me. What I don’t understand is why this even has to be fought do stridently. It is just mind boggling.

  47. Brad

    Lynn, and let me add to your formula (“People on the far left saw in Obama a liberal like themselves because they wanted to see it. People on the far right saw a liberal who upset them because that is what they feared.”).

    My addition: And people in the middle, like me, saw a smart, pragmatic guy who would lead us away from all the ideological nonsense and partisan fighting.

    And he’s delivered on that in a lot of ways. I reject the right’s characterization of him as a divisive figure. By and large, I don’t see it. Which is why it dismays me so much when he slips and — contrary to his usual pattern — acts exactly the way they describe, provoking this useless fight with the bishops.

    To me, this was a departure for Obama. And a really unfortunate one.

  48. Silence

    @bud – I didn’t call anyone a “slut” and that’s what cost Mr. Limbaugh several advertisers.

    I don’t believe I said that birth control increases anyone’s sex drive. Teenagers’ and college students’ sex drives do fine on their own. I just shouldn’t have to pay for it.

    I totally agree that fewer unwanted pregancies and fewer unwanted crotch-fruit are a good thing. Once again, I shouldn’t be paying for any of it. unwanted kids, the pill, rubbers, abortions, French ticklers or whatever. If people want ’em, they should go out and BUY them with their own money, not public funds. If their private health plan provides them – more power to them, but there should be limits on what I’m expected to pay for.

    At some point a reasonable amount of personal responsibility comes into play. I didn’t take them to raise. I have my own, whom I pay for, along with my own health insurance, which I also PAY for.

  49. Silence

    I particularly liked my keg party analogy.
    I’m not a pledge – If I wasn’t invited to the party, why do I have to buy the supplies and come mop up the basement afterwards?

  50. Tim

    When exactly was the fight picked? Your term, btw, not mine, and not the tone I have written in. First issue I heard of this was this year during the primary debates. Obamacare passed in 2009. I am pretty sure everyone who really cared had someone with a brain read through it then. And “picking a fight” on an area of health care that is pretty much universally acknowledged in the Western World as being meretorious is not picking a fight. Its common sense. European countries offer full or partial subsidies, as does the world’s most populous Catholic nation – Brazil.

    Also, you come across as ‘wave of the hand’, dismissive at any other faith traditions’ potential health care objections. Peyote. Really? BTW, the Supremes held that Peyote could not be used legally in a religious context.

  51. Brad

    And Bud, I was just about to address Silence’s flippant remarks on the subject.

    Whatever you say about contraception, whatever you believe, it’s a serious matter. Which is why we shouldn’t dismiss it as people having their “fun” — or even with Bud’s description of it as an element of the sexual revolution, which says the same thing.

    Women’s reasons for wanting access to contraception are more deserving of serious consideration than that.

    That sort of flippant dismissal would be appropriate in talking about Viagra. Any plan that covers that should be amended so that it does not. That is unquestionably not a health issue.

    Nor is contraception a health issue (except when the pills are used sort of “off-label” for hormone therapy — but that’s not contraception; that’s using the same chemical for a different purpose). It’s something else. But it’s a serious issue; it’s not like Viagra.

    A serious issue. But not, except peripherally, a health issue.

    As we know, it’s a self-determination issue, more economic really than medical. Like so much else that is critical to feminism, it’s about liberating women from their wombs so that they don’t have a liability in economic competition with men.

    That is certainly a topic worthy of serious discussion. It just isn’t a HEALTH issue, in the sense of being covered for breast cancer.

  52. `Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, what bud said!
    People have sex. They are going to have sex, for the most part, whether or not they have effective contraception. This is about whether a health plan should be required to cover oral contraceptives on par with other drugs–not necessarily free, but on a par.
    From a cost perspective, plans save money in the long run because not getting pregnant is cheaper, but also because oral contraceptives correlate with much lower rates of many cancers, especially ovarian, for which there is no effective screen and which is usually caught when it is very advanced and very expensive to treat.

    So yes, it IS a women’s health issue.

  53. bud

    Brad, I’m just stunned. Your view of the contraception on this issue is so radical I just can’t even formulate a response that would make sense to you, given that you DONT regard it as a health issue. Shocking, just shocking.

  54. Karen McLeod

    Brad, The Holy Roman Church was not attacked. If one wants universal health care it needs to be universal and address women’s needs as well as men’s (no coverage of Viagra?–Unamerican!). If you make exception for the HRC re: birth control, you must be ready to make the same exception for any other faith who wishes exceptions based on their faith. BTW, if I were an Orthodox Jew or a JW, I’d be incensed that you placed my faith beliefs on the same level as “Peyote eating Indians.” (I wouldn’t be happy if I were said Indian, either). And if I were a member of either of those faiths who had a school or an NPO, and the administration had granted the HRC a pass, I’d be at the administration’s door, claiming the same right. I suspect that these folks haven’t complained before because they know that they don’t have the power of the HRC, and they also know that their prohibitions cut across both sexes, thereby making it possible for men to consider the possibility that it might affect them.

  55. Doug Ross

    ” it’s about liberating women from their wombs so that they don’t have a liability in economic competition with men”

    How does that apply to the millions of women who do not work outside the home yet do not want any (or any more) kids?

    A woman can compete in the marketplace without taking birth control pills.

  56. bud

    Brad says: I didn’t care about the mistress fiasco. I didn’t need that to completely dismiss the guy, he was so bogus.

    That WAS the issue. Without that John Edwards is a good family man with a host of great ideas for America. How can you not care about it?

  57. Brad

    This is an elephant we’re talking about, right?

    I’m just trying to infer from all these different descriptions from the proverbial blind men….

    No offense to peyote-eating Indians. I’m a big fan of Carlos Castaneda.

    And yes, the word is “Indians.” If you disagree, I urge you to read the appendix of Charles Mann’s “1491,” in which he hashes out fully the arguments regarding what to call the people that his book was about. He makes the case for “Indian” quite well.

    I agree with him, and to some extent with Indian activist (and actor) Russell Means, who says “I abhor the term Native American.”

  58. Brad

    Oh, but wait! A mere five comments up, Bud brought us back to the subject… Thanks, Bud.

    No, he was always a phony. That was always my point. When a patently, obviously insincere person says things I agree with, I’m still creeped out. And that’s the vibe I always got from Edwards.

    His gross personal misconduct was perfectly consistent with what I saw in him. But I saw it without that.

    I can be fooled as easily as the next guy (Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford), but I saw this so clearly that it surprised (and alarmed) me that others, including really smart people, did not.

    It takes all kinds to make up a world. And if we could only harness the different ways we see things and work together so that those different cognitive styles and abilities complement each other — rather than becoming the basis of pointless conflict — there’s nothing we can’t achieve.

    But that too seldom happens.

    20 years or so ago, when The State’s editors went on a planning retreat, we were all tested and Myers-Briggs typed, and then we looked at how it came out for everyone (I was the newsroom’s only INTP). The theory was that if we all understood that each person simply had different cognitive strengths — and weren’t just trying to be insufferable pains in the arses — we could find a way to use those different skill sets to make the overall team stronger.

    I DID get insights into why certain people got on my nerves, and I on theirs (the S people REALLY couldn’t stand the way I did things). But I don’t think it made us work together noticeably more effectively.

  59. Brad

    For instance, the executive editor — then my boss — was an INTJ. And it turns out that the huge conflicts he and I used to have lay almost entirely within the described differences between a Perceiver and a Judger.

    Knowing that didn’t stop us from having conflicts.

  60. Silence

    Drugs cure or treat a illness/disease. Diabetes, cancer, endometriosis – all medical illnesses.

    A fetus or baby (though preventable) isn’t a illness, really. So why treat it as one for insurance purposes?

    Next you’ll want us to supply everyone with sunscreen because it’s cheaper than treating their skin cancer.

    To some extent I’m playing devil’s advocate here, because I totally support slower population growth, in hormonal birth control, and I have no problem with abortions for anyone who chooses to get one. I just don’t want to pay for anyone else’s.

    We’ve got a much bigger problem as a society if we view additional people as a “cost” or a debit on the national balance sheet. In general, every able bodied/minded person should be an asset or a credit to the nation.

  61. Silence

    It’s a short hop from viewing new people as a “cost” to taking steps to reduce that “cost”. Now you are going down the eugenics road. Of course eugenics got a bum rap, though. Prior to Hitler it was all the rage.

  62. Brad

    Now, now. Don’t go bringing up Planned Parenthood, or we’ll be here all night.

    One quibble, Silence: You say “I totally support slower population growth,” and then seem to argue against that position. Did I miss something?

  63. Brad

    Drat! Bud had brought us back to Edwards, and I just participated in a move away from the topic, back into the Culture Wars.

    I blame myself! Excuse me while I whip myself bloody. You know, like the mad monk in “The Da Vinci Code.” Because, of course, we Catholics are like that…

  64. kc

    I’m with Kathryn; Edwards, more than anyone else, was talking about the issues poor Americans face. Yes, it’s too bad he turned out to be such a schmuck (thank goodness he lost the primary). But still, I think he drew attention to matters that need attention.

    Are you saying, Mr. W, that a rich person can not be legitimately concerned about issues that affect low income people, and genuinely want to effect public policy that will help them?

  65. kc

    I think for every post you slap up bragging about how you were right about Edwards, you should put one up acknowledging how abysmally WRONG you were about Sanford.

  66. kc

    And look … you’re STILL wrong about McCain!

    Let’s face it, you just got lucky on Edwards.

  67. kc

    A serious issue. But not, except peripherally, a health issue

    Yes, pregnancy has no health issues for a woman. None whatsoever.

  68. Brad

    Tim, I’m sorry… I meant to answer your question, “When exactly was the fight picked?” earlier, but got distracted with all the cross-conversations…

    It was picked by the Obama administration in January. As the New York Times explained in a situationer on Jan. 29, “This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.”

  69. Silence

    @Brad – I do support slower population growth. I just don’t support the government (city/state/US/UN) picking who gets “slowed” and who doesn’t.

    I hope you are enjoying your cilice, since you are mad-monking it today.

  70. tavis micklash

    “Tavis, I don’t see how you can say that “the Dems did a wonderful job of turning the Republicans on their heels by moving the discussion from religious freedom to women’s rights.”

    You talking about the utterly absurd “War on Women” rhetoric? I mean, everytime I see another iteration of that, such as in this email today from the DCCC…

    “First right-wing extremists took aim at women’s healthcare.”

    … I just get deeply embarrassed for the whole human race.”

    Ohh i agree the entire discussion is ludacris. I dont buy into the war on women at all. Its a seperate issue entirely.

    What I was refering too was more the political spin job that was wove around it. In many ways im enthralled by the entire process of how the news gets crafted.

    I was simply amazed by how the dems turned an issues I thought was a huge liability for them and somehow turned it into a percieved positive and used it to shore up the womens vote.

    Its amazing how the entire discussion of religion has gotten lost in the process and has turned completly to the war on women.

    ” Even 99% of all Catholic women use birth control. Don’t even pretend you’re in the middle on this issue. OMG you crack me up sometimes.”

    We use birth control but I understand the churchs teachings on it. I know I am in the wrong in accordance with 2000 years of tradition. Though I have made a decision to use it on a personal level on a religous level I will be responsible for that later.

    I fully support the church decision not to want to fund something that they find objectional on a religious basis.

    FYI its not like the church made this up as a basis to buck a health care madate. This is a very long term position of the church.

  71. bud

    Chicken and egg argument. If the “Catholic” institutions had simply obeyed the law in the first place then the Obama administration would not have had to make “a politically charged decision”. I’m not even sure all “Catholic organizations” resisted the rule. The nuns organization seemed fine with the compromise that emerged. There are some fights worth fighting and this is one of them.

  72. bud

    Actually I think Silence’s sunscreen analogy makes sense. Why not have some sort of program to allow poor folks cheaper access to sunscreen? Afterall we’re trying to keep health care costs down. Seems like a pretty good use of taxpayer dollars.

  73. Tim

    Sorry, but that isn’t “picking a fight.” It was put into a position of having to make a decision that affects a lot of people, not just the sensitivities of the Bishops. Most Catholics favor the Administration position. I guess they could have done the politically expediant thing, which from everything I have read from you is a bad thing to do in almost any other situation. Looking at the article the administration based their decision on the best medical evidence and long-standing precedence. The Catholic organizations are essentially businesses and should have to follow the same business rules that everyone else has to follow. They can kick up a fuss, which they have, and they can try to get the law changed, but if you look at the positions of the Bishops and their public statements, they are have sharply veered away from the principled stand, towards blatant support for the Republican party, which, as you are well aware, wants the entire law scrapped, doing away with all mandates. This is essentially equal the the Bishops supporting repeal of one of the central public policy tenets they supposedly support, namely widely available, affordable health care.

  74. Silence

    @bud – Thank you for agreeing about the sunscreen! It does make sense, going by the health care cost logic. Also get everyone a floppy hat.

    While we are at it, we should also provide everyone with an ADA-Approved dentifrice and some toothbrushes.

  75. bud

    Silence, I get your point, we have to draw the line somewhere. But I would maintain the birth contlol issue is both a public good (by keeping birth rates low) AND a healthcare issue. For me it’s easy to justify public support for that. The numerous other health-related issues, like sunscreen, could probably be handled best with public education efforts and possibly some type of public assistance for the poor. Perhaps including sunscreen as an eligible item in the food stamp program.

  76. Brad

    Bud and Tim,

    The bishops aren’t an arm of the GOP, although there’s no question that since the death of Cardinal Bernardin (Columbia’s native son!) and since Ratzinger became pope, the U.S. Conference of Bishops is much more conservative than it was, say, in the 80s. Of course, we’re talking doctrinally and liturgically conservative rather than politically, but more conservative nonetheless. If this makes any sense, they are more conservative the way I am, rather than the way Republicans are. (Although frankly, I find the conflicts in the church between liberals and conservatives to be largely as pointless and destructive as I do that between Democrats and Republicans.)

    And you find relatively small things acting as the small end of the wedge leading to wider fissures. For instance, you will recall that Sister Carol and the nuns (including our own Sisters of Charity who run Providence) were so eager to embrace health care reform that they managed to persuade themselves that the legislation was acceptable. The bishops, despite having the same ideals about ministering to the sick, could not. If you’ll remember, I sided with the nuns on that, and disagreed with my friend Kevin Hall, who resigned from their foundation board over the issue.

    But the differences that put them on opposite sides of the issue were fairly small. Both groups have the same larger ideals. Frankly, I think it’s sort of a matter of whether you have to run a hospital or not. The nuns do so, and therefore every day have to deal with the stark need for health care reform. They’re more likely to let a small point go. The bishops have the same ideals as the nuns, but for them it’s more of an abstraction, therefore they are more likely to reject the whole thing based on a detail that sticks in their craw. (Forgive me, Father, because I’m grossly oversimplifying, but I’m trying to paint a discernible picture here.)

    When the administration started this fight back in January, the bishops weren’t the only ones who had a problem with it — the nuns did too. It’s just that the nuns breathed a sigh of relief and embraced the offered compromise, whereas the bishops thought examined it closely and decided that no, the compromise didn’t fix the essential problem.

    So basically, you have two groups of people who are just as Catholic, and with similar goals, but they have parted at a couple of critical moments, and ended up going in different directions.

  77. Brad

    Of course, another way in which I oversimplified there was by speaking of “the bishops” and “the nuns” as monolithic groups. But it’s not too far off. The bishops have their conference which enables them to act as a group (even though each bishop in his own diocese is a very independent power). And the other group, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, is at least run by a nun — Sr. Carol Keehan — and of course nuns run Providence and so many other hospitals. Even though not everyone involved with that organization is a nun. Here’s their board. You see that the executive committee is Sr. Carol and three men (laymen). Of the 22 others on the board, only 3 seem to be nuns. And there are two bishops.

  78. bud

    When the administration started this fight back in January …

    That’s like fingernails on the chalkboard. EEEEEEEEEEk. I stridently disagree with that portrayal.

  79. bud

    I gotta hand it to you Brad, the more you explain the Catholic Church the less appealing it is to me. It just comes across as a bunch of 15th century nuts. Why can’t women be Priests and Bishops? That makes zero sense in the 21st century. It’s just an appalling organization with blattant sexism and radical outdated tenants. If Providence is run by Nuns and the Nuns organization is ok with the compromise then why on earth isn’t this issue settled? Why do the Bishops hold sway on that? Absolutely ridiculous.

  80. Brad

    You’re a very American guy, Bud. You remind me of one of my favorite courses I took in college, “U.S. Social and Intellectual History before 1865.” Most of the course was about the development of various religious movements in U.S. history, and how they interacted with what was developing as the American character.

    You have an American, democratic, up-from-below, modernist notion of what a religion should be. I do not.

    I believe that in terms of eternal truths — which is what religion is about — what was true and right in the 15th century (A.D. or B.C, take your pick) is true and right in the 21st, and will be in the 30th, if we’re still around then. And even if we’re not.

    You can argue all you like whether a teaching or precept or practice is sound or not, but if it is sound, it is ALWAYS sound, regardless of what century you live in.

    Hence we have this enormous impatience on the part of protestants and secularists and others — golly, a majority of people in our society have believed X for decades now; why does the church still cling to position Y? Because the church’s version of truth is independent of fashion.

    You read all these reports about how 90-something percent of Catholics have at some point used artificial birth control, and you can almost see the person writing that report shaking his or her head, marveling that the church doesn’t “get it.” When actually, it’s the modern world that doesn’t get it.

    Let’s suppose artificial birth control is a fine and morally unassailable thing. If so, then it always was — even if 90 percent of the population disagrees.

    There is objective truth. It exists. (This is a related thought to saying God exists.) The church’s job is to try to discern what it is, and then teach that, without checking polls to see what is popular. The church, being made up of human beings, can make mistakes. Theoretically. But there is a tendency to trust doctrines that have developed over the centuries, which many thousands of theologians and others examining them and refining them, and giving more weight to that process of discernment than to what happens to be popular this week, this decade or even this century.

    The church’s interpretation of truth does evolve over time. The TRUTH is unchanging, but the human, collective process of revelation and discernment develops over time. (One of the sad effects of the Reformation is that the process of change froze in place for several centuries, as the church defined itself as the entity that didn’t change, while the Protestants just started a new church every time they saw a need for change. The church shook off that lethargy with Vatican II — but given the majestic pace of such developments, we’re still debating what the changes of that Council mean.)

    If I had wanted to belong to a church that constantly voted on things and changed its mind more readily, I would have remained a Baptist — or a vaguely ecumenical protestant, which is what I was.

    But I preferred to be part of a 2,000-year faith tradition that, while its interpretations may evolve (just not quickly enough to suit you), at least believes that truth IS, regardless of whether it’s popular or fashionable.

  81. `Kathryn Fenner

    I agree with bud on everything, except that a tenant is someone who rents property, and a tenet is a principle upon which a belief is based.

    I find it odd that the proponent of the UnParty is not a proponent of the UnDenomination. Ecumenism builds communities. Rigid dogmatism that is so sure it knows The Truth builds walls.

  82. Brad

    And the fact that you just characterized what I said as “Rigid dogmatism that is so sure it knows The Truth” means that I completely wasted the minutes I spent typing it. Because you didn’t get anything I just said.

    Let me try once more, but not spend quite as much time doing it this time…

    Truth IS. It is what it is, no matter what you or I OR the Church think it is. Any of us, being human, can be wrong. But whether any of us happens to be hip to it, it is what it is.

    Now… if the Church could be relied upon to always get the Truth absolutely right, without any deviations in meaning, then yeah, I’d stick up for “Rigid dogmatism that is so sure it knows The Truth.” But it isn’t.

    What the church IS is an institution that exists to grasp the truth as well as it possibly can, using the most careful, long-term, prayerful, faithful efforts at discernment — efforts that should never have anything to do with what is popular, or fashionable, or (least of all) what the people doing the discerning, over the course of the centures, WANT the truth to be.

    I consider that process to fall short of perfect. But I place a good deal more trust in it than I do in the popular whims of the moment, and I therefore respect it in keeping with that trust.

    The church’s job, while it may indeed fall short, is to do its best, and set forth faithful teachings based upon that best effort.

    All an individual, or a church, can do is sort things out to the best of his or her ability. And once you’ve done that, you try to live according to that best-effort discernment.

    (And I should add parenthetically, for Bud’s benefit, that since this is NOT, as he says, the 15th century, and the church does not wield temporal power — and the fact that it doesn’t is a good thing for both the church and the larger society — at no point is this about what so many confused critics of the church seem to think it’s about. It’s NOT the church dictating to the larger society. The issue here is actually the opposite. It’s simply about the church following its own best determinations of what IT should do, and what IT should teach to adherents. And of course the immediate argument we’ve been having is about the church being required by civil authority to DO something that is contrary to its discerned code of right and wrong.)

    OK, I’m starting to get long again. Do you follow what I’m saying at all, or is there still a communications barrier here?

  83. Brad

    To put it another way. If the church had a teaching in the 15th century, and that teaching was wrong, it would still be wrong now.

    If the church had a teaching in the 15 century and it was right, then it would be right now.

    To be Catholic is to believe generally that those enduring principles have been arrived at correctly. Just as to be a Democrat is to generally believe in the tenets (take note of the spelling) of that party. I do not, which is why I am not a Democrat or a Republican.

    Among Catholics, it’s a little more complicated than that. We’re a sacramental institution, so we see people as Catholic whatever they think. That’s where it really gets confusing. If they’re baptized and confirmed, they’re in — even if they go around living their lives and holding views at odds with the Church’s teachings. Because one thing we know for sure is that nobody’s perfect — hence the sacrament of reconciliation (old word: confession).

    But if we are to be intellectually consistent and have a respect for language, at some point that becomes problematic. If you’re all about the interests of capital and say to hell with the workers, then you’re not a communist (nor are you a Catholic, the way I see it). If you don’t believe in personal property and think all wealth should be redistributed evenly through the population regardless of merit, then you’re not a capitalist.

    So at some point, if language is to have meaning and beliefs are to have integrity, at some point — if your beliefs diverge too much from Catholic teaching — then it gets sort of ridiculous to call you Catholic.

    But as I say, it’s complicated.

  84. Mark Stewart

    The truth IS (or are), yes. Those are the cores that everything hangs from. But it is hard to see how the human ability to relate to those truths is smililarly fixed. We evolve through time; so should our understanding of these truths.

    Birth control, priests and whatever else cannot really be core truths. These are side issues; and therefore ought to be subject to revision as humanity continues to evolve.

  85. `Kathryn Fenner

    The Catholic Church basically has a “My way or the highway” approach–eschewing cafeteria-style belief. The mainline Protestant churches I am familiar with–especially the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church are less certain they have the absolute truth and far less rigid about all manner of things. There’s a humility with these churches that i just don’t see with the Roman Catholic church (or many fundamentalist churches)–an understanding that while there is. most likely, an objective absolute truth, we poor benighted humans see through the glass but darkly.

    Of course, Episcopalians, in particular, are quite precise about what can be known, like liturgical correctness. I mean, no alleluias in Lent for them!

  86. bud

    One last positive comment. The Catholic Church is on the right side of the ghastly Ryan Budget proposal. They certainly do understand the needs of the poor and sick.

  87. Tim

    “You can argue all you like whether a teaching or precept or practice is sound or not, but if it is sound, it is ALWAYS sound, regardless of what century you live in.”


  88. Brad

    Good example, Tim. Slavery is an example of something that was always wrong, no matter how popular it was, or how energetically people went about rationalizing it.

  89. Silence

    “You can argue all you like whether a teaching or precept or practice is sound or not, but if it is sound, it is ALWAYS sound, regardless of what century you live in.”


  90. Brad

    Mark says,

    “But it is hard to see how the human ability to relate to those truths is smililarly fixed. We evolve through time; so should our understanding of these truths.”

    Indeed. OUR understanding of truth is a work in progress. We engage with God in an unfolding process of revelation.

    You ever read “The Gifts of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill? One of those gifts was the notion of linear, rather than circular, time. Or rather than “time,” maybe I should said a linear development of man in relation to God.

    Before Abraham, there was nothing new under the sun. Everything was cycles — the year, the day, human lives as pointless rides on the merry-go-round. Then Abraham heard God’s command to go forth into the unknown, on faith — and history was born. From then on, an individual might do something that made life better (or worse, of course), for those yet born.

    Suddenly, human existence wasn’t futile. Or not suddenly, exactly, but rather as the Abraham way of looking at life took hold in the ages to come.

    So it is that, by building on what’s been left us, our understanding can advance. That works in faith just as it does in science. A mathematical proof is constructed on principles already established.

    At no time above did I mean to say that humanity’s understanding of God’s will can’t advance. What I was rejecting was the idea that because “Hey, it’s the 21st century,” we should jettison teachings on the basis of their being old-fashioned.

    If one follows God’s will (and of course, you can only do so to the best of your ability, being a mere human), one will always be countercultural, whatever the age.

  91. Tim

    If it was always wrong (my belief, and dare I say that of every rational being), why did so few authorities think so until the 1700s? Nearly every law code, nearly every religious text (including both old and new testaments) held it to be a given, if not a good. I think our sensibilities on this evolve, which is why my skepticism with faith claiming eternal moral authority. It changes with the lens of the day. In an era when we quite literally have more slaves than anytime in history, it would seem to me to be at least as high a moral crusade as birth control.

    Also, Kathryn, I believe Brad will back me on this: There are just as many cafeteria conservative catholics as liberal. Its just a term conservatives coined to chide the liberals for not picking chocolate pudding over tapioca. How many of them support sensible immigration policies, universal health care, extremely limited or eliminated death penalty, or support for the poor, etc. Catholics are no different than other faiths: Complete consistency is impossible, almost definitionally.

  92. Brad

    That’s an intriguing idea, if I’m following you… are you saying that there was a time when slavery was morally defensible, based in objective truth?

    One quibble: “Birth control” is not a moral crusade. It’s simply a teaching for Catholics. Despite the hysteria of the left on this point, no one is trying to deny contraceptives to the public. The church is just asking not to be forced to be involved.

  93. Tim

    I am saying that the supposed received moral codes established slavery as no different morally, than animal ownership, except for the cannibalism aspect. You could certainly love your slaves and treat them nicely, but in the end, Abraham could have his way, then toss them out, buy, sell, trade, etc. Justice for slaves was different than justice for others. You could beat your slave. Jesus offers numerous parables referring to how to treat “servants”, which most reputable scholars will aver as “slaves”. Apostle Paul, likewise, says to treat the slave well, as a brother; not that the slavery itself is bad. There are a few examples from the ancient world where it is perceived as evil, such as, oddly, the Stoics (odd, because they are the ones who also said you should just accept your lot in life), and a Chinese emperor who freed slaves(forget which). Pope Paul III condemned slavery of the Indians, but turned around and justified slavery of moors and black africans. I am trying to discern what you mean by “objective truth” when history and the authorities who crafted religion, and supposedly talked directly to God in ways we claim to be unequaled in authority don’t see it as objectively bad. We do; they don’t.

  94. Brad

    Jesus wasn’t into political change. In his day, that simply wasn’t in the hands of the people, and therefore there could be no moral imperative for changing one’s society. He taught people how they should live their lives in the world as they found it.

    If slavery was a fact of life, then you were instructed how a moral person should act within that framework. You weren’t expected to change the framework, because you couldn’t. That was up to Caesar. Or the Senate. Or perhaps, at that particular point, the Tetrarch or Pilate.

    One of the tough things about applying moral teachings from the Bible to our own time and place is that for the first time in human history most people (in Western countries, at least) now have a moral responsibility for the world around them — the laws and leaders that govern them. That was unthinkable in Jesus’ day.

    Jesus had a live-and-let-live attitude toward government. Unlike his apostle the Zealot, he wasn’t interested in revolution. And if you tried to engage him discussing the morality of taxation, he said render unto Caesar — that was Caesar’s business, not his.

    The challenge that Christians have today is what to in in a world in which they have a say in the government. But they don’t get all that much guidance from the Bible, which is why Christians run the gamut from left to right on the political spectrum.

  95. `Kathryn Fenner

    @tim– The “cafeteria” concept came from a Catholic priest–Catholics are not supposed to pick and choose, according to the Church, as opposed to the Episcopalians. I asked Canon Susan Heath, a very learned, technical sort of priest, in an Inquirers class, what Episcopalians believed about transubstantiation.She replied, “Ask a few.” She meant that there were many viewpoints, and all were considered valid by the Church. Pretty cafeteria to me–officially sanctioned.

    Most American Catholics, indeed almost all, do not believe the Church is right about birth control, if polls are to be believed

  96. bud

    Since there are many interpretations of what (or who) the correct God is then it ultimately comes down to whatever the individual chooses. The notion of moral absolutism is in itself what the individual chooses since the individual chooses what God to beleive in. Perhaps one of the many Gods is the correct one. Perhaps there is no God at all. Or perhaps there is a God that has chosen not to reveal herself to humanity.

    In the end it is best to subscribe to a code of morality that is based on cultural norms. That may change over time but makes the most sense given the rather unhelpful nature of organized religion in such matters. It is commonly accepted that certain acts are immoral – murder, rape, pedophilia, theivery, etc, and those acts are by societal definition immoral. We also add to the list, slavery for exmple, or take away from it, homosexuality, as societal norms evolve. Of course, as with religious believers, one may choose to accept or reject this paradigm and strike out on ones own. But ultimately it seems a just as useful approach than to rely on the vageries of religious doctrine. After all most religions have at one time or another endorsed certain cruelties that we would abhor today so what possible guidance can we expect from that realm? Not sure much of the 15th century world as espoused by any religion of that era would be useful moral guidance today.

  97. Brad

    You’d better watch out, badmouthing the 15th Century, Bud… No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! 🙂

    But seriously, folks…

    Bud is actually invoking some pretty profound themes here. And to bring it back to our original point…

    Bud writes, “Perhaps one of the many Gods is the correct one. Perhaps there is no God at all. Or perhaps there is a God that has chosen not to reveal herself to humanity.”

    Indeed. But whichever one of those statements is true, it IS true, regardless of what you or I think about it. That’s what I’m on about.

    Again, Bud is the modernist. It sounds quite reasonable, in a modern context, to say, “it is best to subscribe to a code of morality that is based on cultural norms.” A statement that frankly makes me shudder. You see, I live in a world in which “cultural norms” includes reality TV. Sorry, but I’m going to insist that something loftier than “Jersey Shore” be my guide on ultimate questions.

  98. Brad

    … which, in a way, sort of brings us back to the NASCAR prayer, doesn’t it.

    Which was, at least, sincere. I believe the faithful there assembled were truly grateful for R07 engines. And Lord bless the Little E’s…

  99. Mark Stewart

    Bud’s point makes my skin crawl … the same could be said for our Constitution, etc. as well.

    I think the real issue is that in religion, as in politics, people are always trying to either uphold the accepted order or rail against it. It seems to me that the issue is mostly that people just can’t be content with the idea that there are certain worthy ideals that are central to human expression. Instead, everyone is always trying to press a little here or a little there to either stop someone else from doing something they personally don’t like, or to give themselves some room to do what they themselves would like to do. That’s were every ideal gets messy; in both religion and politics.

    So it seems best if we could all respect the “bright lines” of a universal set of bedrock moral/ethical/civic ideals and then accept that the rest is subject to the tides of human evolution.

  100. Brad

    Oh, and in answer to Bud’s question…

    If there is no God, then it doesn’t matter. Then, the world is as libertarians see it. Each individual decides right and wrong for him, and there is no way he can be wrong.

    A pro-choice sort of world, if you will. And whatever the individual chooses is by definition right.

  101. Tim

    you can’t seriously say that the people had no impact on Government decisions in the ancient world, when it was the people to whom Pilate put the question of who should die. That wasn’t a whimsy. He had a small garrison of Roman Soldiers at best. Most of the Roman empire was ruled through a very small army, and by working with local leaders to come up with solutions that worked pretty well to avoid revolution. Remember the scene from Life of Brian?


    Its utter nonsense. What is different about that time that says there is no political recourse. We hear the same today, that one little guy can’t do a doggone thing in Washington. No difference, but now you are pleading for a circumstantial position on moral action. That was then; this is now, so the time changes and the situations change, so your ethics change. Jesus didn’t say “Slavery is a bad thing. I mean. Really really bad. You know, folks, it’s about as bad as anything else in the 10 commandments, and probably worse than adultery. Or lying. But hey, everyone is doing it, so go along to get along”. No. He said nothing. God incarnate said nothing on this supposedly universal evil for all time. Divorce, yeah. Money lending. Yeah. Peacemaking. Yeah. Frankly, the beatitudes is a political statement about standing your ground on moral issues, “as did the prophets”, who were deeply involved in politics.

  102. Doug Ross

    “Then, the world is as libertarians see it. Each individual decides right and wrong for him, and there is no way he can be wrong.”

    Total b.s.

    Libertarianism is based on not doing harm to others and not having others do harm to them. I would hazard a guess that the closer one is to libertarianism, the less likely one would commit crimes.

    It’s a whole lot better than feeling the need to tell other people what to do based on a self-identified moral superiority.

  103. Brad

    Now you’re pointing to an eternal political verity, Tim.

    Government has ALWAYS derived its power from the consent of the governed. That just wasn’t the organizing principle. Yes, Pilate put it to the mob. But he did so first, to wash his own hands, and also because he thought the crowd would go the other way. And in the end, it was his decision. He just didn’t want to make it.

    Similarly, the caesars kept the plebeians in line with “bread and circuses.” And emperors played the mob against the Senate. (And of course, they did have a republican past to invoke.)

    But I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that the average resident of Palestine had a say in his government the way we do today. I don’t think those who died at Masada would agree with that assertion. Of course, that was a somewhat different political situation from that which existed at the time of Jesus’ trial, when the Empire was trying to allow a bit more local autonomy.

  104. Tim

    I agree that the Church should remain out of politics. Frankly the worst part about church is the internal politics; adding in external politics is nauseating. My own church (Episcopal) had a schism when it began having women clergy. Then gay bishop shifted others to split. Not gay members, mind you. Or really even gay priests. It was the gay bishop thing. All out war. Subsequently, I had people tell me their priest even bragged about firing an employee because he was gay. They left that parrish, instead having ours bring them private communion (where we talked), so I tend to think the two folks in a situation of sanctity were relating the truth. Passed that on to my priest, which wasn’t fun.

  105. `Kathryn Fenner

    Spit take!!–The church goes out of its way to avoid politics? Right. We’re done here.

  106. bud

    Doug if libertarians would stick to that kind of thinking I could still support the movement in earnest. Its when they get all nutso on common sense stuff like private banks issuing currency and rejection of global warming science that they lose me.

  107. Brad

    Tim, in answer to your question… the church goes out of its way to avoid politics. Which, of course, brings us back to who started the fight over contraceptive mandate. It wasn’t the church.

    Actually… this is something I’m sort of torn about. In the church as I experience it, there is a real, shall we say, agnosticism toward politics. What the general public reads about are the areas where church and state clash in one way or another. But in my experience, politics is pretty much never referred to from the pulpit.

    And I’m torn about that. On the one hand, I want the church involved in support of my public causes, but I don’t want it involved when it goes the other way — which I suppose makes me a typical hyprocrite.

    There are two instances of this I can point to…

    Back when SC was fighting over whether to establish a state lottery, I tried to pull my own church into it on the anti- side. Some churches — of the evangelical variety — were very much in the fray (I recall being present for a moving rendition of “We Shall Overcome” at an anti-lottery gathering at Bethel AME church during that period).

    So I spoke a couple of times to my bishop. He didn’t want to touch it. I think part of his reluctance — apart from the fact that the church tends to shun politics anyway — was that people still associated Catholicism with bingo. All the more reason to fight this, said I. I had long been a staunch opponent of church bingo (ever since the days when I was required, as a parent with kids in a Catholic school in Tennessee, to work the bingo games periodically) as deeply inimical to what the church was about (we always had a bigger turnout on the days after Social Security checks came). And I had the gratification of seeing our bishop in that diocese ban the games. My angle was, “Hey, we Catholics know how problematic it is to support ourselves through gambling,” and so forth. He didn’t go for it.

    Later, I tried to get my church to back out of a political issue. I wrote about this at the time. I was horrified when the diocese weighed in on behalf of the pro-voucher people. To me, for the church to advocate for something that undermined public schools was a grotesque denial of its social justice mission.

    I protested to the bishop, who appeared to be caught in the middle. His diocesan education person (I think that’s who it was) had persuaded him to sign a letter of support, and I got the impression that the bishop simply hadn’t thought it through before signing. I think he was just thinking it was a pro-Catholic education thing, so what’s the harm?

    The bishop ended up inviting me to dinner with his person who had advocated the letter. I think he thought maybe we could work out our differences on the issue. Dinner was predictably inconclusive.

    In each case, the bishop’s discomfort with committing himself on a political issue was palpable. Which perhaps is as it should be.

  108. Brad

    Kathryn, I tell you truth. I can’t help it that the rest of the world keeps trying to drag the church into politics… such as the recent case with the contraceptive MANDATE (which, just to be clear, was a government mandate placed on the church, not vice versa).

    I’m telling you what I see as a Catholic. What I see is what is said from the pulpit and in our parishes, where frankly you would think we don’t live in a world that contains politics. These things that other people go on about when they talk about the church are NOT the things that we talk about within the church.

    The Church that people who read and hear about it through mass media see is no more the actual church than an elephant is a wall, even though the blind man feeling its side may assume that’s what it is.

    You DO see an interaction between the church and politics on the national level, as politicians seek an interface with the church. You see that with such national organizations as the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Health Association of the U.S. The president spoke with Cardinal Timothy Dolan before the mandate came out.

    But that public, national, political face is seldom seen on the parish level. And when it IS, it really sticks out.

    In fact, this mandate is the one instance I can think of in all my years as a Catholic that politics actually touched parish life directly. A letter from the bishop on the subject was actually read to the congregation at the end of mass one week. Which made me go “Wow.” Because I can’t remember another time when that happened.

  109. bud

    Seems like someone in the Catholic hierarchy wanted to have John Kerry punished (I forget exactly how) because he advocated pro-choice. Seems pretty political to me.

  110. Brad

    Actually, it’s neither nice nor not nice.

    What are you supposed to do, really, if you are a leader in an organization that devotes itself to certain beliefs, and the most visible, best-known public figures who allegedly subscribe to those beliefs overtly embrace policies that stand 180 degrees from the group’s position?

    The logical thing to do is say, No, these guys do NOT represent us. You disassociate yourself. Which is what denying communion is. You say, No, you’re NOT Catholic…

    I could argue that call both ways. And apparently, bishops did. If I recall correctly, that happened in some dioceses but not in others.

    And once again, it points to how rare it is to see anything like that happen. In my 31 years as a Catholic, I’ve never seen anyone come up for the Eucharist and be denied. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it just wasn’t noticeable to me.

    And as a Eucharistic minister myself, I can tell you for sure that I’ve never denied communion to anyone. Nor has anyone asked me to do so.

    But it happens a couple of times involving public figures (and let’s face it, public figures who really do flaunt their defiance of church teaching), and suddenly it’s the big, mean ol’ Catholic Church picking on people for no good reason…

  111. Brad

    There was a time, of course, when the Church had at its disposal less… subtle… means of encouraging orthodoxy.

    To follow up on the point raised earlier by Silence:

    “Our chief weapon is surprise!… Surprise and fear… fear and surprise… Our two weapons are fear and surprise… and ruthless efficiency! Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency… and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope… Our four… no… Amongst our weapons… Hmf… Amongst our weaponry… are such elements as fear, surpr… I’ll come in again.”

  112. `Kathryn Fenner

    So, as you say, they don’t deny communion to a whole lot of other people–just those who are public on hot button issues. Political issues…

  113. Silence

    @Tim – My vewwy gweat fwiend in Wome, Bigus Dickus, will be intewested in your comment…

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