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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Campaign Staffers’ Offensive Opinions

If you are a regular reader of political blogs, you are probably aware of the burgeoning kerfuffle over certain remarks about the Catholic Church expressed in the past by two bloggers recently hired by the John Edwards presidential campaign. The story has been percolating for a while, but blew up yesterday when National Review’s Kathyrn Jean Lopez served up some choice quotes from one of the staffers, Amanda Marcotte (formerly of the Pandagon blog), suggesting that women’s rights might be safer if the Virgin Mary had been able to get hold of Plan B contraceptives.As of this writing, it’s not clear whether reports that the Edwards campaign was about to fire the duo are accurate or not. It is clear the campaign is a bit between a rock and a hard place, the rock being fear of association with anti-Catholic opinions, and the hard place being the progressive blogosphere’s increasingly angry demands that Edwards stand up to right-wing intimidation or forfeit his previously strong Left Netroots support.Complicating the story is the fact that the notorious right-wing political operative Bill Donahue of the conservative factional Catholic League (best known for his demands that the Church excommunicate pro-choice politicians like John Kerry) has massively piled onto the dispute, running around the MSM today expressing outrage at the bloggers’ offensive opinions. Thus, any Edwards effort to discipline or dismiss the bloggers is inevitably being interpreted as a cave-in to the Right-Wing Noise Machine on the order of Kerry’s alleged refusal to counter the Swift Boat Veterans’ smear of 2004.The person being most obviously victimized in the furor is the second Edwards staffer in question, Melissa McEwan (a.k.a. Shakespeare’s Sister), who apparently did nothing more than use some profanity in rejecting anti-abortionist efforts to control women’s reproductive systems. Big deal; I feel the same way myself on occasion, and I’m so Anglo-Catholic that I tend to catch a cold when the Pope sneezes.The underlying question, nicely framed by Ezra Klein at TAPPED, is whether we are henceforth going to be treated to endless oppo-research examinations of the published utterances of campaign staffers on topics other than, well, campaign staffing. Ezra thinks this would set a terrible precedent, and I tend to agree, though it’s hardly a novelty; way back in 1972, George McGovern got flack for a pro-Palestinian manifesto that a campaign staffer, Rick Stearns, had signed years earlier as a college student (leading Hunter Thompson to facetiously refer to Stearns as “that devious Arab bastard” in his famous book on the campaign).Since Edwards’ bloggers were not exactly hired to be back-room operators, perhaps the press release on their hiring should have included a disclaimer that read: “All our previously expressed opinions have now been subsumed in the transcendent cause of electing John Edwards president, to which we henceforth slavishly submit.” That might have headed off a world of trouble.The deeper question, when it comes to Marcotte’s more provocative quotes, is whether Catholics specifically, or Christians generally, ought to take offense at this sort of blasphemous nonsense, and play the victim. The simple reality is that the central mystery of Christianity, the Incarnation, is inevitably, to unbelievers, a standing invitation to sophomoric jibes about the Virgin Birth and the whole idea of God Made Human. That’s hardly news, and hardly grounds for believers to get self-righteously huffy, particularly if some of their co-religionists insist on politicizing their faith as hacks like Donohue perpetually do.The whole dispute reminds me of the forgotten incident in 1971, when Patricia Buckley Bozell (yes, that Buckley’s sister, and that Bozell’s wife) assaulted feminist icon Ti-Grace Atkinson at a Catholic University podium after Atkinson made some smarmy remarks about the Virgin Mary “getting knocked up.”Soon after, this letter appeared in Time Magazine:

As a Roman Catholic, as a supporter of the free expression of ideas, and as a believer in the virginity of Mary, I offer Ti-Grace Atkinson my apologies for the outlandish behavior of Patricia Buckley Bozell [March 22]. Never before has the Virgin Mary required the use of arms—or hands—to defend her. Mrs. Bozell was rather presumptuous to think that Mary now needed her intercession.

That’s as true today as it was more than thirty-five years ago.

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