Monday, May 18, 2009

Dionne on Obama's Notre Dame address

E. J. Dionne is what he is - a doctrinaire liberal whose commentary appeals to other doctrinaire liberals by praising those that are doctrinaire liberals and criticizing those that aren't. In other words, he's a standard-issue, central-casting mainstream columnists for the mainstream media. He demonstrates competence at pounding out those tedious and stultifying bits of prose which festoon the editorial pages of the liberal-left "mainstream" newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times. And I never seek him out, but see him occasionally and virtually never agree with him. That said, his piece today,
Conciliatory Fighting Words, is either profoundly ignorant or staggeringly dishonest.

It should go without saying that Dionne is a fan and supporter of President Obama. Anything this President says or does is likely to get praise, and any criticisms of him from his right (and most of the country is to his right) are going to be dismissed as dishonest or cruel or racist or wrong.
Facing down protesters who didn't want him at Notre Dame, President Obama fought back not with harsh words but with the most devastating weapons in his political arsenal: a call for "open hearts," "open minds," "fair-minded words" and a search for "common ground."

Woo-hoo. Standard rhetorical jibber-jabber. Gosh, I didn't realize he called for "open hearts," "open minds," and "common ground." I must have been wrong about him!

Give me a break. The President can call for whatever he wants, but words have meanings. In this case, what those words all mean is, "I'm going to do it my way, and you should agree with me."

There were many messages sent from South Bend. Obama's opponents seek to reignite the culture wars. He doesn't.

If you've ever wondered how much ignorance and/or dishonesty could be crammed in to ten words, that last bit should provide an answer. It is roughly akin to a commentator looking at the D-Day invasion and saying, "Hitler's opponents seek to re-ignite the war in Europe. He doesn't."

In words that even a doctrinaire liberal like E. J. Dionne should be able to understand:
  1. In order for there to be a "war," culture or otherwise, there must be (at least) two different sides.

  2. The (at least) two different sides must be fighting over some idea, or ground, or philosophy.

  3. The (at least) two different sides must want different results, different actions or ownerships or laws.

  4. The "culture warriors" with regards to abortion range from those who want abortion illegal in all situations to those who support not only abortion, but government funding of it.

  5. The vast majority of Americans are somewhere between those two extremes.

  6. The President, in his days in the Illinois legislature, voted against a law that would have required that children born alive during the performance of an abortion be protected as a live baby.

  7. President Obama is as far from, if not further from, the political center on this issue as any previous President of the United States.

  8. In his first weeks in office, the President issued an executive order allowing foreign organizations which provide abortions to receive funding from US taxpayers.

  9. In his first weeks in office, the President issued an executive order allowing federal funds to be used for the purpose of scientific and medical experiments which destroy human embryos.

  10. Those actions, taken by President Barack Obama, "re-ignite[d] the culture wars."

Now Dionne could weasel out by saying that "he doesn't" refers to "seek[ing] to reignite the culture wars," and that's conceivably (though certainly not self-evidently) true. He doesn't "seek to re-ignite," merely to win. But, of course, one should extend the same courtesy to the opponents of those policies, who also don't "seek to re-ignite," merely to win. If one grants that Obama is acting the way he acts on principle, then one should grant that those on the other side are also acting on principle. The pro-life opposition that Dionne so casually slanders here isn't interested in fighting "culture wars" - it believes that abortion is murder, and wants to protect unborn children.
They would reduce religious faith to a narrow set of issues.

Whatever the hell this statement means is apparently self-evident to Dionne. It is not to me. As I read it, he seems to be saying that "they" (Obama's opponents) "would reduce religious faith" (have an idea of the ideals of religion and religious faith) "to a narrow set of issues" (in which there are some issues which are actually important). How unreasonable of them!
He refused to join them. They often see theological arguments as leading to certainty. He opted for humility.

Mr. Dionne, this President does not ever opt for humility1. He does, on occasion, claim for himself a humility which he does not feel, because he intellectually understands that it would be appropriate. But one doesn't ever demonstrate humility by claiming it as a virtue. And he doesn't need "theological arguments...leading to certainty" because he's so certain of his own moral superiority.
He did all this without skirting the abortion question and without flinching from the "controversy surrounding my visit here."

Just because he mentioned the "controversy surrounding [his] visit here," doesn't mean that he addressed the "controversy surrounding [his] visit here." And he absolutely skirted the abortion question. When a politician with Barack Obama's history and policy positions says "let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available. Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women." well, he's skirting the issue. He's fudging. He hasn't the slightest interesting in "reduc[ing] the number of women seeking abortion" because he doesn't have any problem with abortion.
The thunderous and repeated applause that greeted Obama and the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president who took enormous grief for asking him to appear, stood as a rebuke to those who said the president should not have been invited.

That may be true. But people are as frequently and as passionately rebuked for being correct in a minority position as for being wrong.

By facing their arguments head-on

Which he didn't.
and by demonstrating his attentiveness to Catholic concerns,

Lip service and attentiveness are not the same thing.
Obama strengthened moderate and liberal forces inside the church itself.

That's a conjecture, not a fact. It could just as easily end up strengthening conservative and traditional forces inside the church itself. The address was given yesterday. To claim to know today what the long term effects of the invitation and the acceptance are is to claim nonsense. (Well within E.J.'s capabilities...)
He also struck a forceful blow against those who would keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end.

Notice that Dionne loved the speech but can't even follow it in paying lip service to the intentions of those with whom he disagrees. Those pro-life people aren't sincere in their beliefs, they just want to "keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end."
Obama's opponents on the Catholic right placed a large bet on his Notre Dame visit. And they lost.

What were the terms of this bet? Who placed it? How? What did they lose? What would have had to happen for them to win? The answers to any of these questions are not to be found within. Sadly, the questions themselves aren't found within, either, because Dionne is so convinced of his rightness that it apparently hasn't occurred to him that there's any question whatsoever about what took place.

Altogether, just a vile little piece of drivel.

1 - If you think I'm wrong, or overstating, go ahead and read the address. Do you find any evidence of genuine humility there? I don't. Consider this passage:
A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an e-mail from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life -- but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website -- an entry that said I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.”

The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person, he supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.” Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor’s letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn’t change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website.

And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

"I didn't change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website." In other words, "I was right, but it might cost me votes." And he's clearly not confessing here - he's boasting. "Let me demonstrate my openness by changing the language on my website in such a way as to fool some people into thinking I'm not what I have, in the past, been open about being." He considers it a virtue that he still "would fight 'right-wing idealogues'" ("I didn't change my underlying position") but he'll no longer call them "right-wing idealogues" on his website. What a guy...

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