There’s something about eastern Ohio. It’s hard to stay in Steubenville – Traci Lords left, as did Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, as did Dean Martin. And they didn’t go to the sister city on the other side of the murky Ohio River – Weirton, West Virginia – or a bit further east, to Pittsburgh, or a bit further north, to Youngstown. That part of America has long been slowly dying. You know why. Visit Steubenville – at the corner of Highway 22 and Highway 7 (Dean Martin Boulevard) you’ll find the “Ohio Valley Steelworker” statue – the long-handled dipping ladle, the hooded fire-proof suit worn in the steel mills. Those days are long gone. It’s best to leave.
Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti) ended up out here – splitting his time between Hollywood and Las Vegas, hanging with the Rat Pack – Sinatra, Sammy Davis and the others – and making his mark as a very cool singer, a rather good actor, finally, as an amiable guy who was always slightly buzzed. He cultivated a curious persona – smart, self-confident and, above all else, relaxed and tolerant. He was laid to rest not far from Marilyn Monroe, at that odd memorial park on Wilshire, and he was also a certain American type – loose and happy, and not one to bust anyone’s chops. If anyone had a cause or a mission in life – and was full of zeal and self-righteousness – he’d smile at the audience and take another sip of scotch. You’d get the joke. The sanctimonious were amusing, but they weren’t cool. He might cut a check to their charity on the sly, but he’d not tell anyone. You don’t go around doing that holier-than-thou crap. The claim is always absurd.
Of course he had no use for another singer of those times, Pat Boone. Once a teen idol, of sorts, Boone managed to get born again and turned into a motivational speaker, a conservative political commentator, and a Christian activist, writer and preacher. Boone attends The Church on the Way over the hill in Van Nuys and has hosted Christian television programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. He doesn’t drink scotch, or anything else, and his smile is a bit creepy. And even before the conversion, or whatever it was, Dean Martin had him nailed – “I once shook hands with Pat Boone and my whole right side sobered up.”
Consider them two American types – the loose and happy nice guy, and the pious scold. The conflict between the two plays out over and over. You remember Inherit the Wind – Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) versus Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) at the Scopes Monkey Trial. It could have been Dean Martin versus Pat Boone.
Martin is long gone, but don’t you want to know what Pat Boone thinks about the current controversy about Obama ending our official policy of state-sanctioned torture? Boone does have a column about that at the WorldNetDaily, and he directly addresses the president:
May I tell you that my own mama inflicted more actual physical pain on me and my brother Nick – raising welts on our butts with a sewing machine belt when we got really out of line – than any of the techniques, including “waterboarding,” that detainees of the U.S. military have endured. Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured it supposedly 183 times, experiencing no lasting damage, but divulging information that has saved thousands of American lives. How can you compare his gasping feeling of drowning with the actual torture John McCain suffered in North Vietnam, breaking his bones and impairing him permanently?
Andrew Sullivan explains how:
Some facts: John McCain disagrees with Boone that waterboarding isn’t torture. And McCain broke his bones before captivity. The torture McCain suffered was the Vietnamese refusing to offer medical treatment for his injuries – something George W. Bush directly wanted to do with respect to the wounds of Abu Zubaydah. McCain was beaten repeatedly, also routine for prisoners under George W. Bush. McCain was also subject to solitary confinement – check – and roped stress positions. The stress positions Bush authorized were mainly not ropes, although prisoners were stretched from shackles preventing them from resting. President Bush refrained in his speech backing McCain’s nomination in 2008 from describing McCain’s treatment as “torture.” He couldn’t. He used the term “beatings and isolation.” If he had used the term “torture,” he would have been conceding that he believes the US committed torture under his command.
And Sullivan, less relaxed than Dean Martin, adds this:
I do not know the details of Boone’s childhood. But my best guess is that he was not stripped naked by strangers, thrown into a dark and cold cell for weeks, shackled so he could never rest, kept awake by insistent deafening noise, doused in water to induce hypothermia, told no one would ever see him again, and strapped to a waterboard and near-drowned scores of times.
And the passion of the resistance to believing the truth is directly related to the gravity of the truth. I understand why Boone is distressed that America is now deemed a country that practiced torture as one of its core values, and that its former vice-president regards this as something of which to be proud. But Boone’s issue is not with Obama, who merely has to inherit this disgrace and try to keep fighting a war while ending it. It is with Bush and Cheney, who violated the law of man and the law of God in disgracing this country for ever.
And so it goes. Pious scolds are a pain in the ass.
And that leads to South Bend, Indiana on Sunday, May 17, 2009:
President Barack Obama urged both sides in the abortion debate on Sunday to pursue a “fair-minded” discussion as he sought to quell a firestorm over his invitation to speak at Notre Dame, a premier U.S. Catholic university.
Notre Dame’s decision to confer an honorary degree on Obama and invite him to be the keynote speaker for the commencement sparked petitions and several days of protests. Some students vowed to boycott the commencement.
But the speech itself drew mostly cheers, applause and standing ovations.
Dean Martin would have smiled. The idea was that Obama’s support for abortion rights violated Catholic Church doctrine – the invitation should have been rescinded. But the university refused, apparently deciding they were more of a university (open inquiry and all that) than a church (a source for and enforcer of moral doctrine). The Vatican had nothing to say – maybe they don’t want to rump core of what’s left of the Republican Party to claim the Pope is on their side in all matters.
Of course there were hecklers, but Obama told them to relax:
Obama said he recognized the strong emotions stirred up by the abortion debate but he urged the two sides to try to find common ground, such as preventing unintended pregnancies.
“I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” Obama said. “Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”
“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 child to term,” Obama told the crowd of 12,000 at a huge athletic facility.
But it was a curious scene. One heckler shouted, “Abortion is murder!” – and then got booed. Some of the graduating class had a print of a cross and two baby feet on their caps, while others wore caps that said “Viva Obama.” A good time was had by all. Not so outside the ceremonies – there were the signs that read “Notre Dame supports violence” and “Thou shall not kill” – and chants of “One, two, three, four – throw Obama out the door.” Inside there were standing ovations. It was all very curious. You had all the people saying they’d burned all their Notre Dame memorabilia, and no one else all that worked up about this:
Fifty percent of those in the poll agreed with the university’s invitation to Obama while 28 percent opposed it. The rest were undecided or had no opinion.
But the pious scolds do make noise. As does Joseph Bottum, the editor of First Things, in the Weekly Standard:
There’s not much use in pretending that Obama doesn’t support legalized abortion. This is the man, after all, who voted against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act when it was in the Illinois state legislature – the man who, by rescinding the Mexico City policy three days after he took office, now has American tax dollars paying for abortions in foreign countries, and the man who used a televised campaign appearance at an evangelical church to dismiss the moral question of abortion as “above my pay grade.” Who was he kidding? He told the world flat out where he stands when he said he wouldn’t want any daughter of his who made a mistake to be “punished” with a child.
For that matter, there’s not much use in pretending that Catholic legal analysis isn’t opposed to abortion. Do all the casuistry you want. Bring in the sharpest canon lawyers from Marquette, and the cleverest Catholic ward-heelers from Chicago, and the slipperiest Jesuits from Georgetown. Sit them all down and show them again the tape of Mario Cuomo’s 1984 speech about abortion at Notre Dame – you remember, the famous “personally opposed, but publicly supportive” speech that has provided Catholic politicians with talking points for 25 years – and let them spin the president’s May 17 visit to campus as hard as they can. Still, there’s something peculiar about the honoring of Barack Obama with a Catholic law degree. Couldn’t they have made it a degree in sociology or something?
Ah, well, an honorary doctorate of law it is, and now the Catholic faithful are up in arms across the nation.
The polls don’t show that, but that may depend on how you define faithful – your mileage may vary. At the New Republic, Damon Linker calls out the nonsense:
Despite what they would like to believe, it is Bottum and his theoconservative allies who stand on the margins of American Catholic life, rallying an embattled, belligerent faction of the Church – a faction so obsessed with abortion that it has become indifferent to other moral issues and incapable of making the elementary distinctions that most of their fellow Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, treat as the commonsense starting-point and touchstone of moral reasoning. Like, for example, the distinctions separating those who perform abortions, those who procure abortions for themselves or others, those who encourage women to have abortions, and those (like the president and many millions of American Catholics) who merely believe abortion should not be prosecuted as a crime.
But the pious scolds are always reductionists – it’s either murder, all of it, or a celebration of life, and there’s nothing in-between. Well, that does make things easier.
But what did Obama say? That would be the simple facts of the matter:
Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.
Is he allowed to say that – that there may be no way to reconcile the two sides of this? Now what? The argument is that saying one side is right and the other wrong is not the only option here:
In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse.
But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.
This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.
That message may be far too subtle for these times, but there is a way to reduce it to the essential. Don’t be so damned sure of yourself. None of us should be. And the key word is “damned” – as self-righteousness pride in what you think you know of God’s plans, step by step, and exactly what He wants, leads nowhere good, for any of us.
The devoutly Catholic and strongly anti-abortion Andrew Sullivan gets it:
I believe that these sentiments will resonate with all Catholics of good will and serious purpose. When we are called by God to oppose the evils of abortion or torture or terror, we need to remain civil and fair and attuned to the calm that comes from knowing that we fight the good fight. I have not always succeeded in this. But I do know that if we do not try to do better, in the passionate and righteous pursuit of peace and justice, we will advance neither one nor the other.
Of course Pat Boone wouldn’t get it. But Dean Martin would. And see “Unfogged” here:
This whole Notre Dame Commencement thing pushes a lot of my buttons. I’m sorry for the graduates that the day that is supposed to celebrate their accomplishments is being turned into a sideshow and pissed that most of the controversy is being whipped up by people not associated with the university. It also bothers me that Catholicism, the religion I most closely identify with, is being boiled down to one issue and politicized.
I know this isn’t new. In a way, I witnessed this shift first hand. When I entered Catholic school, many of our religion classes were about human rights and standing up for things like ending torture and the persecution of women but, by my senior year, there were announcements on the loudspeaker in the mornings asking for us to pray for the election of politicians who would preserve the sanctity of life.
I guess this doesn’t bother me as much with evangelicals because so many are proud anti-intellectuals. Modern Catholics, as I always saw them, believe in education and the exploration of ideas so shutting someone out and rejecting what they have to offer because of one belief seems like a big step back for the religion.
Yeah, well, it happens. But even the university and the Vatican knew better.
But religion has become politically useful. There’s Robert Draper, the fellow who wrote Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush – that’s the Bush-endorsed biography written after receiving cooperation from the Bush and his top aides – now with an a new analysis in GQ. This is about Donald Rumsfeld, and Frank Rich discussed it in his New York Times column – the Sunday column, the day of Obama at Notre Dame. Rich says that it adds “new details to the ample dossier on how Donald Rumsfeld’s corrupt and incompetent Defense Department cost American lives and compromised national security.”
It is what they call a blockbuster, and Rich explains why:
Draper reports that Rumsfeld’s monomaniacal determination to protect his Pentagon turf led him to hobble and antagonize America’s most willing allies in Iraq, Britain and Australia, and even to undermine his own soldiers. But Draper’s biggest find is a collection of daily cover sheets that Rumsfeld approved for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a highly classified digest prepared for a tiny audience, including the president, and often delivered by hand to the White House by the defense secretary himself. These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations. GQ is posting 11 of them, and they are seriously creepy.
Yep, they are here. And they are creepy:
Take the one dated April 3, 2003, two weeks into the invasion, just as Shock and Awe hit its first potholes. Two days earlier, on April 1, a panicky Pentagon had begun spreading its hyped, fictional account of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch to distract from troubling news of setbacks. On April 2, Gen. Joseph Hoar, the commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1991-94, had declared on the Times Op-Ed page that Rumsfeld had sent too few troops to Iraq. And so the Worldwide Intelligence Update for April 3 bullied Bush with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Including, as it happened, into a quagmire.)
What’s up with that? As Draper writes, Rumsfeld is not known for ostentatious displays of piety. He was cynically playing the religious angle to seduce and manipulate a president who frequently quoted the Bible. But the secretary’s actions were not just oily; he was also taking a risk with national security. If these official daily collages of Crusade-like messaging and war imagery had been leaked, they would have reinforced the Muslim world’s apocalyptic fear that America was waging a religious war. As one alarmed Pentagon hand told Draper, the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”
Steve Benen comments:
The cover-sheets are not only creepy, they point to Rumsfeld’s belief – which was probably accurate – that then-President Bush was easily manipulated. Accompanying a photo of US tanks rolling into an Iraqi city, Rumsfeld included this scriptural reference: “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith.”
It’s good no one in the Arab world saw those, and now that they will see them, good that Rumsfeld is long gone. But somehow this ties back to the folks screaming in the streets outside the Notre Dame Commencement, and to Pat Boone. We have some serious issues with people who take themselves far too seriously, or know how to jerk around those who take themselves far too seriously, to achieve their own ends. Where’s Dean Martin when you need him?