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E.J. Dionne’s Civility

His view of commencement speaker John Boehner.

By 5.26.11

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Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne is upset that the media didn't devote enough attention to the charge made by some Catholic professors that John Boehner disregards the poor. The media's inattention to the charge, if that's even true (many news outlets covered it), probably derived in part from its flimsiness and staleness, but for Dionne the explanation is that Boehner's critics were "civil and respectful," which he says doesn't fit the media's inflammatory mood.

Dionne doesn't explain what is civil and respectful about saying that Boehner's support for a debt-conscious limited federal government means that he disregards the poor, the assumption on which the charge rests. (The group of Catholic academics claimed that his "record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress.") Untroubled by that specious equation, Dionne instead focuses on what he sees as the civility of the professors, who, despite considering Boehner an enemy of the poor, didn't boycott his invitation to speak. That apparently was very big of them.

But surely that decision was strategic, not sincere. Left to their own devices, they would never have given the Catholic John Boehner the honor of delivering the commencement address at the Catholic University of America this year. They pretended, however, to support that decision in an attempt to somehow show up the boycotters of Barack Obama's 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame. It is a measure of the Catholic left's loss of power that it now has to play such games.

"We congratulate you on the occasion of your commencement address to The Catholic University of America," they wrote to Boehner. "It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching."  

Many of the signatories of the letter are notorious dissenters themselves who have made careers out of failing to recognize "important aspects of Catholic teaching." Nevertheless, they are sure that Boehner's support for specific budgetary cuts violates the "Magisterium of the Church," a phrase which they don't typically invoke with respect. The letter absurdly treats the "Magisterium" and current budgetary levels as one and same.

Dionne thinks that this disingenuous non-protest protest should have received more coverage but didn't because it was "civil"  and "broke from the stereotypical narrative the media like to impose on Christians in general, and Catholics in particular." The Obama boycott at Notre Dame fit the media's template, he said, but not this one: "when the headline is 'Catholic Progressives Challenge Conservative Politician on Social Justice,' this is something new and complicated."

New and complicated? It is an old and crude attempt to identify left-wing politics with Catholic "Social Justice," a claim in a time of massive deficits that most people don't find terribly convincing anymore. The letter to Boehner is an obvious abuse of the concept of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church by academics who normally pride themselves on violating it. And these self-proclaimed champions of the poor aren't doing them any favors by trying to pressure Catholic lawmakers into clinging to policies that will eventually bankrupt government programs. As the poor in Spain are finding out, where welfare programs are being severely scaled back after years of prodigal spending, socialists take a knife to the safety net once they start to go bankrupt.

For Dionne, the controversy shows that "Catholicism has a lot to say, not just about abortion, but also about justice and compassion." What it shows if anything is that for a fading generation of Catholic academics "Catholicism" remains a euphemism for the agenda of the Democratic Party, and that perhaps even some in the dominant media are tuning this propaganda out.

     

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.