The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, March 31, 2012

John Donne's Day, 2012

John Donne is a poet whose life and evolution on the spiritual path (courtier,lawyer, and then--wha?--priest, as well as poet) inspire me.

His consciousness of the many dimensions in which we all fall short of our best selves, his trust in God, and his ability to articulate these in verse rightly earned him a feast day in the Anglican cycle, and, in the Episcopal Church, that day is today.

In celebration of Holy Week falling right on the heels of that feast day this year, a Lenten poem by Donne:
A Hymn To God The Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.
A blessed Holy Week, everyone!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Let Them Die?

In Tuesday's oral argument in DHS v. Florida, the challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the transcript reflects this exchange:
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It's because you're going -- in the health care market, you're going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow -- that -- to which we've obligated ourselves so that people get health care.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don't obligate yourself to that. Why -- you know?
(Tr. at 20).

Remember Alan Grayson, who on the House floor, described the GOP health care plan as "don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly?:

Nino seems on board with this.

Incidentally, overstrained emergency rooms really aren't a good answer to the problem; as the tragic, fatal misdiagnosis of Anna Brown exemplifies, over-reliance on emergency rooms can lead to patently avoidable loss of life. Instead of receiving the care she needed, Ms. Brown was arrested for trespassing in the hospital, and died in a holding cell. The video of her arrest is harrowing:

She had no drugs in her system, according to toxicology. She was angry, frustrated, and frightened. She died.

Scalia's flip answer is that of a man who has been too long in the cloister, who has forgotten that his decisions impact the lives of many. (As a good conservative friend of mine pointed out, the same charge could be (and has been) fairly leveled at Oliver Wendell Holmes). Anna Brown was not an abstract counter in a game, and Scalia, and all of the participants in this debate, owe her and those without meaningful access to health care, more respect.

On the merits, the Commerce Clause question is, based on precedent, quite simple, really. The Commerce Clause has long been held to encompass activity
even if [the regulated person's] activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.. We have never required Congress to legislate with scientific exactitude. When Congress decides that the “ ‘total incidence’ ” of a practice poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the entire class.
Gonzales v. Raich (2005); quoting Wickard v. Filburn (1942). Moreover, in Wickard,the Court rejected a claim that:
forcing some farmers into the market to buy what they could provide for themselves, is an unfair promotion of the markets and prices of specializing wheat growers. It is of the essence of regulation that it lays a restraining hand on the self-interest of the regulated, and that advantages from the regulation commonly fall to others. The conflicts of economic interest between the regulated and those who advantage by it are wisely left under our system to resolution by the Congress under its more flexible and responsible legislative process. [n29] Such conflicts rarely lend themselves to judicial determination. And with the wisdom, workability, or fairness, of the plan of regulation, we have nothing to do.
In so ruling, the Court noted that the broadest definition of the scope of the Commerce Clause was that of Chief Justice John Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), who after expressly refusing to apply "strict construction" to enumerated powers (such as the Commerce Clause) stated that
the sovereignty of Congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, is vested in Congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its Constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the Constitution of the United States. The wisdom and the discretion of Congress, their identity with the people, and the influence which their constituents possess at elections are, in this, as in many other instances, as that, for example, of declaring war, the sole restraints on which they have relied, to secure them from its abuse.
So all of Justice Kennedy's searching for a limiting principle that can establish a bright line beyond which Congress may not go--why, that requires the overturning of not just the New Deal Court, but of the Founders.

[Edited to remove a grammatical error that was plaguing me.]

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Which Antonin Scalia Finally Forfeits His Intellectual Pretensions

Seriously, you can't make this up; Justice Scalia on actually reading the Affordable care act, under review by the Supreme Court (on which, the good Justice might note, he is sits and is paid handsomely to do so):
JUSTICE SCALIA: You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?
JUSTICE SCALIA: And do you really expect the Court to do that? Or do you expect us to give this function to our law clerks?
JUSTICE SCALIA: Is this not totally unrealistic? That we’re going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?
Yes, Nino. We expect you to do your job. Sorry; but you will have health care no matter how you rule.

Edited to add: As a great conservative used to hold, the first three steps task in interpreting a statute (necessary to determine if it conflicts with the Constitution) is to "read the statute, Read the Statute, READ THE STATUTE." No more, apparently. How far we've come!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Doctor Davies Tells the Tale

An interesting wide ranging 1972 interview with Robertson Davies. Submitted for your approval:

(Just get past the wild lapels on the interviewer's suit jacket, if you can!)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

To the Sword!

I admit, I've loved a good sword fight since I was a boy. The clash of blades, the elegance of swordplay, it's got a real magic to it.:

Hollywood fencing is one thing, but the real thing can be amazing. Although, don't sneer at all Hollywood fencing--Basil Rathbone had real skill:

Of course, the point of the whole exercise is to kill someone, which takes some of the fun out of the whole thing. Still, fencing without lethal consequences is pretty much the only athletic activity I've ever really enjoyed. (Golf is mildly amusing, until I realize highest score is only winning! in the Charlie Sheen sense of the word.)

I am a beginner, recommencing after an over 10 year layoff, when I was, well, still a beginner. I take lessons and bout at Brooklyn Fencing Center, where, fortunately for me, the lessons are not done this style:

Ah, my saber coach is fortunately more patient than this.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

End of a Line

Well, sometimes things work out better than we fear:
The Church of England cannot sign up to a plan aimed at preventing the global Anglican Church from splitting up after half its 44 dioceses voted against it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury backed the Anglican Covenant in a bid to ensure divisive issues - such as gay bishops - did not cause the Communion to split.

A vote by the diocesan synod of Lincoln meant 22 dioceses had opposed the plan.
I have long been opposed to the proposed Covenant, dating back to September 2010; as I wrote then, there were two flaws with the Covenant. First, it was promulgated in order to create a disciplinary procedure against erring provinces. As the great debate of that time centered around claims the the Episcopal Church was an erring product, against which, alas, no penal sanction existed to bring to bear, the Episcopal Church would be pretty damn foolish to submit to a document that, after a string of platitudes created such a penal sanction, savvy?

More fundamentally, it just wasn't Anglican:
True though all of these objections are, the Covenant is more fundamentally an affront to Anglicanism's foundational ethos as formulated in both the 39 Articles and in the writings of Richard Hooker. Briefly, the Covenant reflects Canterbury's effort to "ride the tiger" of American far-right and Global South hostility to the decision of TEC to honor the ministry of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to reify a new creation: An international Anglican Church, rather than a loose confederation of churches, creating a Magisterium. More here.

The problem with all this is that, as Hooker makes clear in his Preface to the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the evolution of churches in their places of planting reflects the needs of those among whom the church grows up and that even the means of organization may properly vary from place to place. Moreover, the foibles as well as the virtues of great figures (such as Calvin, in Hooker's time) may be reflected in not only their own churches, but those which adopt their teaching. Institutionally, local control and autonomy is a way of allowing for the correction of error, as discerned over time.

And that, not simple anti-Roman Catholic spite, is the justification for Article 37, stating that "The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction."

Simply put, the Anglican understanding has held, in delicate balance, the values catholicity and autonomy. Autonomy is necessary to prevent the handing down from on high of bulls which, as Hooker cautions, may result from the universalizing of an insight appropriate to one time and one place, or the over-veneration of a great leader, and simply force a solution to one locale's problem onto a different place and situation, creating a new problem.

The Anglican Covenant upsets that balance, and is indeed intended to do so, reducing the local scope of autonomy. Worst of all, it has no inherent limitation. As Hooker described the mounting demands of the Puritans from respect for conscience, to conformity, to the overthrow of all social institutions which would not conform to their will, the Covenant replaces the delicate balance of communion with a limitless perpetual synod with coercive power whose only limit is its own moderation. We may be expelled from the Communion, no doubt; but we should not sign our own death warrant.
Sorry for the long quote, and from myself, no less. But I stand by this analysis. Rowan Williams, admirable academic though he was made the same mistake that both the Tractarians (especially Newman) did: he holds too high a vision of church unity and authority. The craving for a Magisterium is an understandable escape from the muddle of conflicting imperatives; but we Anglicans have not accepted one and should not now.

The Church of England's rejection of the Covenant should take much of the wind out of the sails of its proponents. (Or, you know, not, but this sounds to me like whistling past the graveyard.) It's hard to envision an Anglican Covenant without the mother province of Anglicanism as a first tier member, with the Archbishop barred from leadership roles due to his province's "second tier" status. So I suspect--and hope--that this is the end of the line for it.

It is perhaps premature to "shroud" the Covenant, but that moment may be at hand.

Friday, March 23, 2012


This is how it's done:

That is all.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rowan Williams and the Problem of Passivity

In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, the Quest for the Holy Grail requires the knights to show their worthiness by renouncing violence. Sir Bors is tested by his brother Sir Lionel's rage at him (rather than kill Lionel's attacker, Bors leaves Lionel to die). When Lionel later draws his sword on Bors, Bors refuses to defend himself. Lionel is about to kill his brother, when a hermit interposes himself between the brothers. Lionel, in his passion, kills the hermit. Sir Colgrevance, another knight, sees Lionel about to recommence his attack on Bors, and interposes. Lionel quickly "had him on the run," leading Colegrevance to cry out to Bors, "Why are you letting me be killed for you?" As Lionel tells his story to Arthur, after Lionel kills Colgrevance:
Then I came back to Bors, to finish the matter. He held his shield over his head, but would not struggle."
"What happened?"
"God came," said the boy [Lionel] solemnly. He came between us and dazzled us, and made our shields burn. . . .Bors will find the Grail if anybody does find it, an that is the end of my story. "
They sat silent, finding it difficult to talk about spiritual matters, until finally Sir Lionel spoke for the last time.
"It is all very well for Bors," he said complainingly, "but what about the hermit? What about Sir Colgrevance? Why didn't God save them?"
(The Once and Future King, at 471-472).

I thought of this story when I read that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is resigning as of the end of 2012. I have long found Williams a puzzling, and disturbing figure--one whose appointment heralded great hope, but whose performance seemed bizarrely lacking. After a brilliant academic career, including writing containing an exciting fusion of Anglo-Catholic spirituality and openness to the world reminiscent of Charles Gore, Williams has persistently favored the reactionary elements in the Anglican Communion over those whose words and acts drew inspiration from his own writings. As I have previously noted, indeed, repeatedly noted, Williams has effectively stigmatized the Episcopal Church for advancing the equality and recognizing the ministry of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, while remaining silent on the affirmative endorsement of human rights violations against them by provinces such as Uganda and Nigeria.

Giles Fraser writes that "[t]he fact Williams attempted such an impossible mediation was, for some, the very essence of sacrificial Christianity," but ultimately concludes that for Williams, church "[i]s where the individual moral choices of its members have to be subsumed to the will of the whole," and that in his effort to preserve the broadest possible community, "his increasing appreciation that the African church was dead against any accommodation with homosexuality made him side with the conservatives."

I think that's both correct, and what galls me about Williams as archbishop, ultimately. He believes that sacrifice is warranted to preserve unity, but is not one of those whose interests, rights or needs is sacrificed--it's Jeffrey John, or V. Gene Robinson, or the Americans, or Davis Mac-Iyalla, or the unknown GLBT Nigerians and Ugandans against whom the Anglican churches in their countries are urging the states to enact draconian laws. Bors could plead in his defense that the hermit and Sir Colgrevance chose to risk their lives to protect him; Archbishop Williams has chosen institutional unity over the needs of the vulnerable who look to him for leadership.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SNAP to attention

This is just wrong:
Turning the tables on an advocacy group that has long supported victims of pedophile priests, lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have gone to court to compel the group to disclose more than two decades of e-mails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists.

The group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the litigation. But the group has been subpoenaed five times in recent months in Kansas City and St. Louis, and its national director, David Clohessy, was questioned by a battery of lawyers for more than six hours this year. A judge in Kansas City ruled that the network must comply because it “almost certainly” had information relevant to the case.
The article goes on to detail that the subpoena was much broader than the issue in the litigation, to which SNAP is not a party, and that "in the 215-page transcript, made public on March 2, most of the questions were not about the case but about the network — its budget, board of directors, staff members, donors and operating procedures." The Times further reports that the second subpoena was almost identical to the first one, and elicited materials regarding "suppressed memory," an issue in the first case, but not the second. From this, SNAP contends that "the legal action is part of a campaign by the church to cripple an organization that has been the most visible defender of victims, and a relentless adversary, for more than two decades." The unfortunately ubiquitous William Donohue is quoted as agreeing, saying that "targeting the network was justified because 'SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.'” Donohue went onto say:
The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but there’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys.”
Well, not, at any rate, if they're going to speak up for themselves.

You can find SNAP's website here. Its resource pages are meticulous, well organized, and a font of information about this crisis which has been roiling the Catholic community for 4 decades now. In addition to its direct advocacy and counseling of victims, SNAP has preserved and archived primary and secondary sources, and made them readily and freely available to the public. Silencing critics by inflicting litigation costs and public exposure is a dirty trick when performed by secular corporations; when done by a Christian denomination, it is shameful. After you visit SNAP's archives, you may want to consider visiting the "donate" page to help preserve this record, if for no other reason.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Case of Limbaugh and the Serious Case

There have been a handful of commenters claiming that pressuring Rush Limbaugh's sponsors to stop advertising with him violates not the legal strictures of the First Amendment, but the culture of free speech, by not responding with counter speech, but with economic duress. Now, this is an argument I can see some reason in, in the abstract--you aren't winning the debate, it goes, by reason, but rather by communicating your disapproval of the idea and threatening loss of revenue on those who pay to associate themselves with the speaker. It's certainly been effective in the case of Limbaugh, who is down nearly 100 sponsors.

But is it fair play? Does it cut, rather than untie the Gordian knot? Does it refute Limbaugh, or leave him unrefuted, merely punished?

And here we come to a distinction drawn by C.P. Snow in his response to a particularly vitriolic and personal attack on him by literary critic F.R. Leavis:
If I enter into discussion on any topic, intellectual, moral, practical, or whatever combination you like, it matters very little what I feel for my opponent, or what he feels for me. But I am entitled to require--or if I am not so entitled then I have to beg to be excused--that he and I will observe some basic and simple rules. If he refers to words that I have said or written, he will quote them accurately. He will not attribute to me attitudes and opinions which I do not hold, and if he makes any such attributions, he will check them against the documentary evidence. He will be careful when referring to incidents in my biography, and he will be scrupulous about getting his facts right. Naturally, I have a duty to obey the same rules in return. Nothing could be much more prosaic or straightforward; but without these ground-rules, any kind of serious human exchange becomes impossible.
--C.P. Snow, "The Case of Leavis and the Serious Case," in Snow, Public Affairs (1971) at 81.

This cuts to the heart of why counterspeech in the purest, most deliberative sense is ineffective with respect to Rush Limbaugh. By boldly, and repeatedly slandering Ms Fluke over a three day period on the subject of (1) what her testimony was about (answer: the scope of coverage for which she pays) ; (2) the reasons she advanced for including contraception within the mandate (primarily, the harm suffered by some of her fellow students who needed contraceptive drugs for other medical reasons; and (3) the very nature of contraception itself (the required dosage does not increase with the amount of sex the woman has), Limbaugh inflicted a significant personal cost on her (watch his comments here).

As Snow notes, counterspeech is completely ineffective here; you spend all your time seeking to correct the false factual statements, and never get to the main issues. Indeed, because you are defending Sandra Fluke, who was not testifying about wanting to use birth control to limit the risks posed by for sexual intercourse, you may be seen as implicitly accepting Limbaugh's unspoken premise that such in a somehow illegitimate use of the drug, and an abuse of the insurance In other words, you may be seen as conceding the very issue up for the debate, which Limbaugh's barrage of lies has prevented being addressed. So reasoned debate is just not possible.

Also, why did Limabugh single out for shaming and degrading this law student, if not to silence other women who agree with her? Professor Bonnie J. Morris writes that "an attack on any young woman’s reputation feels like a personal attack on all women who are, in this bizarre historical moment, once again being forced to stand before the judgment of Great Men." In the context of Limbaugh's repetitive, irrelevant and unprovoked attack, I couldn't agree more--it's an effort to cow women into silence.

Limbaugh does not respect the basic rules of Madisonian, Millian debate, preferring those of the playground. How do you reply to a bully? You take away his power. Isolate him. Let his "friends" (advertisers) know that you won't play with them if he's part of the package. And when Limbaugh cries "Foul!" don't feel a whit of sympathy for him; he chose the forum and the rules.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Wife...

Even as I write this, my North Carolina-born, former ballerina wife, is cavorting around my kitchen, singing and dancing to this fetid drivel in an elaborate display of mockery not seen since Tina Fey did her impression of Palin doing the Pageant Walk.

This almost beats her "Macavity". Almost.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Unexpected Reminders

I saw this production on my last trip to England (far too long ago, now). What a pleasure it was to see Judi Dench, Patricia Hodge and the rest of the remarkable cast. A little taste, stumbled on by surprise, courtesy of the tubes:

Limbaugh's Lachrymose Limping

So, Rush Limbaugh's defenders have been claiming that a double standard is at play in the reaction to his vicious tirades against Sandra Fluke, because the firestorm he is facing is much worse than that faced by Ed Schultz when he called Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut."

Schultz's misogynistic slur of Ingraham was indefensible. MSNBC would have been in the right had it chosen to fire him, However, to conflate Schultz's slur with Limbaugh's presumes an equivalence in the offense and in the displayed contrition which is simply not the case. First, the offenses. Here is Ed Schultz:

Again, this is indefensible. However, it happened once. Limbaugh, by contrast, repeated variations of his attack on law student Sandra Fluke over a three day period, scoring a whopping fifty-three iterations. Here, watch all 53 of them for yourself:

So, bad as Schultz's offense was--and it was plenty bad--Limbaugh's is of another order of magnitude.

As to contrition, the same would apply. Here's Ed Schultz's apology:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Say what you like, that's a pretty full-throated, unequivocal apology, one which acknowledges the depth of the offense, and in no way tries to minimize it. It was Ingraham's right to choose whether to accept or reject it, and MSNBC's right to determine whether it was sufficient.

Here's Rush Limbaugh's first apology:
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.
Well, not exactly true, is it? It wasn't, as demonstrated by the above video, merely "not the best choice of words," nor was it a single analogy. Moreover, Limbaugh's contention that Ms. Fluke wanted the taxpayer to pay for her contraception is wildly inaccurate. As Ms. Fluke's testimony makes clear, she was opposing the creation of an exemption of employers and universities from the regulations under the Affordable Care Act which would include contraception within the mandatory scope of coverage. Here, see for yourself:

Now, Ms. Fluke, as a Georgetown University Law School student is "eligible and required to enroll in the most comprehensive student injury and sickness plan offered through the University, unless [her] other insurance coverage meets specific University requirements." As the site makes clear, "A charge for this Premier Plan is placed on eligible students' accounts, per their registration status referenced above, once per Academic Year," unless they have appropriate coverage and elect to waive it. So, who is paying for Ms. Fluke's medical coverage? Ms. Fluke. She was opposing both the Blunt-Rubio bill to allow any and all employers to limit insurance coverage based on moral reservations, and specifically the efforts of the USCCB to secure an exemption for Catholic universities and similar entities to contour Ms. Fluke's and her fellow students' legally prescribed coverage to its religious beliefs. You may think she is wrong as a matter of public policy (I do not; As I have previously pointed out, the Supreme Court held as long ago as 1879 that "[t]o permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances). However, even if you disagree with her, Ms. Fluke is due the elementary justice of acknowledging that she is arguing that her insurance payments to Georgetown should buy as much coverage as if she were not attending a Catholic University, consistent with Supreme Court case law from 1879 through the present.

As to Limbaugh's on-air apology, he apologized for the use of the "two words" slut and prostitute "to describe her [Ms. Fluke]. I do not think she is either of these two words":

Now, I agree that this is somewhat better--although he later, in typical fashion, claimed that his offense was that he acted like Democrats, saying "[a]gainst my own instincts, against my own knowledge, against everything I know to be right and wrong, I descended to their level when I used those two words to describe Sandra Fluke. That was my error. I became like them." Limbaugh's offense was not, of course, limited to two words; 53 slurs over three days is not a "heat of battle" mistake. Nor does his blaming the Democrats make any sense--Schultz's offense was egregious, I agree, but hardly comparable, and, in any event, Limbaugh should own his own mistakes, period.

Limbaugh has, as of this writing, lost 13 sponsors and 1 radio station. It's hard to muster any sympathy for him.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The GOP "Charm Offensive" on Women

The GOP does seem to be taking an interesting tack in trying to gain womb's votes, don't they?

And conservatives are uneasily distancing themselves from Limbaugh's nasty slander of a Georgetown law student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she testified about other medical grounds for the prescription of contraception, but not very strenuously, because it is, after all, Limbaugh. Notably, Mitt Romney's schoolmarmish response ("not language I would have used"), earned a scornful response from David Axelrod: "Wow. Profiles in Courage," with an unanswered (to date) follow up: What about the spirit of what Rush said? Was that OK?"

But they must have a secret plan, you say. Of course, here it is being tested:

Seriously, the GOP base seems to have an unending appetite for cruelty, as Ta-Nehisi Coates argues at the link. Perhaps dear old Roger Delgado is the wrong mascot; perhaps I should have gone with:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to Note the Death of a Culture Warrior?

I have to admit, the death of Andrew Breitbart is both a tragedy and a challenge. It's a tragedy, obviously, for his family, friends, and colleagues--for the loss of so much potential when a life is cut short. Breitbart's death has occasioned some mockery, but such mockery involves a judgment that is not for us to make, but for God alone, and fails to recognize the pain that death causes family and friends of the deceased.

I'm sorry for his family, friends, and colleagues, and for Breitbart himself--it's a terrible thing to die so young. But without justifying the inappropriate reactions on the left to his death, Andrew Sullivan's post describing such reactions as evincing "sickness" comparable to that demonstrated by a federal judge in Montana who used his court-provided computer to forward a joke suggesting that President Obama's conception took place at a party with booze, interracial sex and bestiality--well, no. That grossly oversimplifies a cynical reaction to a complex moral situation--and that presents the challenge.

Sullivan writes elsewhere that "[w]e were often at crossed swords online but tried not to make it personal. We spent the last time we were together sharing favorite pop music on our iPhones on an airplane." I've no doubt; Breitbart would have viewed Sullivan as a peer in the Internet blogosphere, and someone in the same "game." (No disrespect to Sullivan intended; just that they both could be described as large-scale bloggers, who leveraged their platforms into political influence). But as to non-peers, Breitbart made it personal when he felt he could get away with it. He cost Shirley Sherrod her job, falsifying the content of her speech by selective quotation that reversed the point she was making, and using carefully edited, doctored video as "proof," and, undeterred when he was caught, promoted similar stories against Planned Parenthood and ACORN. That's more than being what Sullivan described Breitbart as, a partisan who "doled it out relentlessly."

Ms. Sherrod took the high road today, saying "[m]y prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart's family as they cope through this very difficult time." That's the right thing to do, and bless her for it. But there was a lot of very legitimate anger at Breitbart for his irresponsible, reckless, and cruel tactics. Such anger should abate in the face of tragedy. Still, I can't help but think of R.F. Delderfield's line, from To Serve Them All My Days, about what he called "graveside hypocrisy": "To hear some people talk at a funeral, one would suppose dying was limited to the chosen few." (P. 407, 1972 Simon & Shuster ed.)

(Edited to restore disappeared link & text)