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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rewarding Bad Behavior?

On Fr. Neuhaus and Mark Shea

I have over the course of the past two years joined many others in their increasing discomfort with the way Mark Shea has conducted himself as a Catholic apologist in the public sphere -- in his clear misrepresentation of others' positions and treatment of those with whom he disagrees by the imputation of the worst possible motives.

Back in August 2006, I took issue with what I took to be an unfair and cynical characterization of the position of William Kristol and "neoconservatives":

But as long as you support war in Lebanon, war in Iraq and a "war-fighting Republican Party," in the Weekly Standard's phrase, you get a pass on everything else. Beat the drum for permanent war for global democracy and against Islamo-fascism, and all other sins are forgiven you. . . .

And it's quite clear that, for the neocons, the only thing that matters is war and the entire prolife movement and social conservative types can drop dead. The Neocons are All About Power and Realpolitik. Conservatives are morphing into the mirror of their postmodern nihilistic Leftist opponents.

and in a subsequent post I responded to the strange manner in which Mark's commentary on social and political issues had illustrated a reliance upon strings of jingles and catchphrases which bore little resemblance to the complexities of reality (and usually directed at the neocon shibboleth).

To cite but just two examples:

. . . "War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on "creative destruction" and other Machiavellian schemes" (Catholic and Enjoying It August 19, 2006).

". . . the Creative Destructionist Righty who promises an End to Evil and the triumph of the New American Century via murder of wounded combatants and torture, . . . (Catholic and Enjoying It August 17, 2006).

Besides the fact that such phrases simply make no coherent sense to the reader even moderately acquainted with the many facets of neoconservatism and its proponents, my concern was the general impact this form of "arguing" would have on the discussion in general. I had likewise voiced this concern in his combox on several occasions (engaging Mark directly over his constant reference to "The Rubber Hose Right"), and entertained the hope that he would grow out of it.

Unfortunately, in the months that followed it became apparent that this combination of soundbytes with inflammatory rhetoric -- what one might expect from, say, Bill Maher, Michael Moore and other liberal pundits -- was simply becoming the norm.

This concern cemented itself with Mark's role in the so-called "torture debate" in the online Catholic blogging community. For what it's worth, here were my contributions to "the torture debate": On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (Part I), Part II and Part III.

Part II and III specifically concern themselves with Mark Shea's comments, especially on the matter of the Abu Ghraib scandal. While I share similar concerns about the policies and conduct of the Bush administration and the lack of accountability, I find that pounding the table and asserting that "Dick Cheney wants more Abu Ghraibs" (to quote Shea), that "virtually the entire field of GOP Candidates and most of the Allegedly Conservative Punditocracy Favors [beating a man to death]" (to quote Shea again), or that the only reason "people were prosecuted and sent to jail [for Abu Ghraib] is because it would have been political suicide not to do so" (Shea yet again) really does nothing to advance the discussion.

On the matter of the "Rubber Hose Right", I would also note that both Michael Ledeen and John Derbyshire have penned forceful columns against torture in the National Review.

So has Victor Davis Hanson for that matter, who Mark recently dismissed as a "Pagan Realpolitik Zealot."

And the virtual mouthpiece of the neoconservative movement -- The Weekly Standard -- has published articles criticizing the Bush administration's practice of rendition and in support of a uniform standard prohibiting detainee abuse.

I have endeavored to point out all of this to Mark on numerous occasions (on this blog and in his combox), but he's quite wedded to his current approach of slamming the "Rubber Hose Right" and "The Torture Party" en masse -- which sacrifices clarity for convenience and actually has the unfortunate effect of alienating possible allies on the right (not to mention fellow Catholics).

* * *

This pattern of verbal abuse extends itself to other topics as well. Sadly, when Mark moves from hurling general broadsides at political parties ("Tweedledum" and "Tweedledee") and takes aim at specific individuals, his remarks are not merely ignorant and comical. Rather, to concur with Sydney Carton, his "so-called sarcasm is intensely personal, characteristic of a vindictivness that is surprising."

The matter of Mark's libel against Michael Ledeen has been explored and documented in the past; I wish to cite three more examples of such misrepresentation and unjust treatment:

Mark Shea on Michael Novak

As part of the trio of 'Catholic neocons', Michael Novak (along with Neuhaus and George Weigel) receives a great deal of criticism for expressing his personal support of the Iraq war and the foreign policy of the Bush administration in general. Whilte Fr. Neuhaus is curiously absent from Mark's criticism, his remarks about Novak leave much to be desired:

  • July 2004 - In a column for the National Review (Why the Dems Will Lose), Novak expressed the following sentiment:
    I find it hard to believe that the Creator who gave us liberty will ignore President Bush's willingness to sacrifice his own presidency for the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq — their 50 million citizens, and perhaps their progeny for ages to come. A kind of cosmic justice (which does not always materialize, I recognize) calls for vindication. Especially when the president has been so unfairly calumniated by his foes, domestic and foreign.
    Novak's phrasing is a bit "over the top", and he raises some puzzled eyebrows and chatter over at Amy Welborn's. But while Patrick Sweeney ("Novak makes the obvious-to-all point that Bush took the risk of doing something unpopular because he believed he needed to protect American lives"), Maclin Horton ("[Novak expresses] the hope that God will bless Mr. Bush's work and the opinion that it deserves blessing: certainly debatable points, but not so very bizarre as all that"), Rich Leonardi ("A charitable reading of this section of the piece would infer that Novak hopes Providence plays a role in aiding Bush, since he acknowledges that things don't always work out the way we think they should") and Christopher [Fotos] ("This is an unremarkable yearning that God will favor what, in Novak's eyes (and mine), is the good guy") offer charitable interpretations, Mark siezes upon the opportunity to bash Novak as neocon "court theologian":
    Michael Novak acts as Court Prophet for the Bushies.

    I think T. Marzen gets it just about right over on Amy's blog.

    Novak's vocation as paid Neocon Court Theologian has led to this, has it? Bush's "willingness to sacrifice his own presidency for the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq"? How glorious! How noble! Never mind about the lives of the American soldiers and Middle Eastern civilians that were sacrificed to the Goddess Liberty.

    This is really nutty. But Novak’s honesty (or revealing lapse) does provide us an open glimpse of what really makes these guys tick. Next thing he'll be advocating is for us to offer a pinch of incense to whoever is current American Caesar (at least if he’s a Republican).

    Memo to Novak: The central story of history is about the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the success of the American Experiment and the Triumph of Our Way of... well, not "Life" exactly (given that we are busily attempting to establish two sins that cry out to heaven as fundamental human right and laboring to invent new evil via biotech), but "Doing Things".

  • October 2004 - Novak is once again treated to ridicule:
    Some people failed to get Michael Novak's memo about the universal longing for liberty

    Not a few people would very much prefer to be tagged like sheep. After all, an extremely powerful alliance of business, science, and political power will always want to take care of us and would never hurt or exploit us. It's part of the blessed assurance we have from the Holy Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

    Strangely, Novak's book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, had little if any relevance to the subject Mark was addressing in this post. (I may as well pose the question here, as often as he pokes fun at the title, has Shea even read it?)

  • November 2004 - In a guest post from a reader endorsed by Shea, Novak's pre-war visit to Rome is dismissed as "the height of intellectual arrogance" (In a post to First Things' blog, Novak provides the context and details of his visit to the Vatican, noting in part the curia's reaction).

  • March 22, 2006 - Adopting what has not become his as-of-late "pox upon both your houses" approach to U.S. politics, Shea took yet another a swipe at Novak:
    This is why I'd like to see a healthy Dem party re-emerge. Opposite evils, so far from balancing, aggravate one another. A Wilsonian Drunken Sailor Safety Through Torture Right inflames an hysterical angry vengeful Left. Meanwhile, when Elephants and Donkeys fight, it is the grass that suffers. The Left fanatically aims for the maximum number of babies to die, while the Right continues pissing away our grandchildrens savings and trying to make the world into the image and likeness of Michael Novak through the exportation of our democratic capitalist system at the point of a gun (only to wind up with Muslims who tend to see the image and likeness of Madonna instead--and to to hate us all the more).
    Once more in the combox, Daniel Darling, Sydney Carton and others engage in a futile endeavor to educate Shea as to Michael Novak's actual thought, with little success.

  • March 23, 2006 [Update] - Mark Shea attempts to downplay his earlier ridicule of Novak and bolster his case for his criticism of neoconservatism that "they are basically arguing that democracy capitalism will fix the Islamosphere":
    . . . I don't think Michael Novak is a bad guy. I do think that the attempts by the Money and Power guys who are writing policy to hold up Novak as a sort of Voice of Catholic Teaching Blessing our Policies vs. the Euroweenie opinions of our Peacenik Pope and his Clueless Bishops was highly cynical. I wish Novak had been more vociferous in saying that it is precisely at the moment when the whole world is shouting for one thing and an almost unanimous chorus of bishops is saying "Whoa!" that the duty of the Catholic is to inform his conscience with the teaching of the Church, not join the shouting throng. But I also think Novak is not a materialist so much as a guy who has been beating the drum of democratic capitalism for a long time and who naturally gravitated toward people who found him...useful.
    So instead of Novak the "Court Theologian to the Bushies", we have Michael Novak the useful and exploitable peon by the Money and Power Neocons.

    Again in the combox, Ed Graham, Paul Zummo, and Daniel Darling -- displaying a comprehension of what 'neoconservative' foreign policy actually entails (and what Michael Novak himself really proposes in his book) -- attempt to provide a basic education in political thought.

I do not expect Mark Shea to agree with Novak -- but as co-founder of Crisis magazine (one of the journalistic outlets Shea has written for), and even (dare I say) as a fellow Catholic, perhaps a modicum of respect and a fair and accurate presentation of his thought would be in order?

Mark Shea on Tom McKenna

In November 2006, responding to Mr. Tom McKenna on the matter of sentencing Saddam Hussein:

Tom McKenna is Predictably Angry with Me

Reason: I demonstrate an insufficiently insatiable hunger and thirst for death, death, death, and more death, so that means I regard Saddam as a victim, you see.

McKenna, whose blog is more or less devoted to obsessing over how to execute as many people as humanly possible, is naturally orgasmic at the idea of hanging Saddam. Failure to be thrilled at the death of a human being and a general agreement with Pope John Paul that it's better to forego executing people unless you really need to is, for McKenna the ultimate crime and the source of numberless entries on his vengeful blog.

At the time, Mr. McKenna was expressing his personal frustration with the comments of Cardinal Martino on the execution of Saddam ("punishing a crime with another crime"). He was certainly not alone among Catholic bloggers in doing so (see fellow apologist Jimmy Akin).

Nor was McKenna alone in expressing confusion over what he perceived to be the embrace of an 'abolitionist' mentality on capital punishment by the Vatican. Other Catholics like Justice Antonin Scalia (Antonin Scalia and His Critics: The Church, the Courts, and the Death Penalty in First Things and Michael Dunnigan ("The Purposes of Punishment" CHRISTIFIDELIS Sept. 14, 2003) have expressed similar concerns about the present faming of this issue in the Catechism.

One can certainly sympathize with Mark's inclination to defend John Paul II against McKenna's criticism, but Mark's decision to paint his subject in the worst possible light ("devoted to obsessing over how to execute as many people as humanly possible" and "naturally orgasmic at the idea of hanging Saddam") only greatly impeded this effort (much less the possibility of a fair and civil exchange on Shea's blog).

Incidentally, Tom McKenna happens to be a criminal prosecutor by profession. "Orgasmic at the idea of an execution"? Devoted to "death, death and more death"? -- No, but as he reminds us, he HAS "had to sit with the families of murder victims and witness first hand the social, moral, and personal destruction wrought by murderers", and one of the necessary obligations of his office is to weigh the "proportionate, careful use of the death penalty."

Mark Shea on Norman Podhoretz

In May 2007 Mark used the death of a U.S. soldier to smear Norman Podhoretz:

Another Cubicle Dweller Has More Plans for More Andy Baceviches

When it comes to Grand End to Evil Planners, no sacrifice of other people's children is too much.

No doubt, criticial commentary on Norman Podhoretz's "The Case for Bombing Iran (Commentary ) might be ventured. But again, here is not so much an attempt to engage Podhoretz's argument as simply to mock, and imbue the worst of motives. This is what passes for a "response" in Mark's eyes. (Sydney Carton is to be commended for his attempting to reason with Mark in the combox and demonstrate where he might have been amiss in his depiction).

* * *

I want to reiterate: my criticism of Mark is not motivated by personal disagreement with the content of his position. There are some issues on which we disagree and a great deal more on which we are in clear agreement. And on the matter of the conduct of the Bush administration and their prosecution of the war in Iraq and even its defenders, reasonable criticisms should and has been made. But if you hope to persuade somebody of your position on the war or any other issue, fostering an environment conducive to civil exchange and accurately presenting your opponent's positions will work in your favor.

To quote Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ:

Barbarism likewise threatens when men cease to talk together according to reasonable laws. There are laws of argument, the observance of which is imperative if discourse is to be civilized. Argument ceases to be civil when it is dominated by passion and prejudice . . . when dialogue gives way to a series of monologues . . . when the parties to the conversation cease to listen to one another, or hear only what they want to hear, or see the other's argument only through the screen of their own categories; when defiance is flung to the basic ontological principle of all ordered discourse, which asserts that Reality is an analogical structure, within which there are variant modes of reality, to each of which there corresponds a distinctive method of thought that imposes on argument its own special rules. When things like this happen, men cannot be locked together in argument. Conversation becomes merely quarrelsome or querulous. Civility dies with the death of the dialogue.
One need only spend a little time with Mark Shea online to see that his conduct and treatment of others is the antithesis of civil discourse and Christian charity.

On Fr. Neuhaus' Foreward

It is at this point I'd like to note Mark's mention of Fr. Neuhaus' decision to write a foreward to his upcoming book. I have been a subscriber to First Things for decades (at least since I was in college) and have long-admired the journal as an example of how the free exchange of ideas ought to occur.

For example, it's refreshing to pick up a magazine and see such disparate parties as George Weigel, Peter Griffiths, Rowan Williams and Stanley Hauerwaus weigh in on just war theory in the pages of a single journal; or Cardinal Dulles and Justice Scalia debate the contemporary application of capital punishment and its presentation in the Catechism -- contrast this with the daily dose of polemics and what merely passes for debate on, say, Fox News and even on many blogs. And if First Things has been a model of civil discussion, Fr. Neuhaus has exemplified the same -- both in his own writing and in his response to various critics.

Now contrast this with Shea's caricatures of neoconservatives in general as "Money and Power Firsters" who are "All About Power and Realpolitik" and "pissing away our grandchildrens savings and trying to make the world into the image and likeness of Michael Novak through the exportation of our democratic capitalist system at the point of a gun" to the more recent (and completely absurd) fulminations about "sinister rhetoric of Creative Destruction that is animating the latest Big Thinkers in their Wilsonian/Machiavellian attempts to create heaven on earth" -- and his persistent slander and obstinate misrepresentation of countless individuals. . . .and you have an inkling of why I am absolutely baffled that Neuhaus would, at this particular time, commend Mr. Shea in the form of an introduction to his forthcoming book.

It is a strange and disappointing move for someone dedicated to fostering -- in his own words -- a "civil public square."

* * *

Update

A reader had responded to me privately posing the question of whether -- as opposed of being dishonest -- Mark Shea was merely out of his league, his present approach and blogging style masquing an ignorance of the complexities of the political situation.

Judge for yourself with tonight's post:

"Change--above all violent change--is the essence of human history." - Michael Ledeen

Labels: Salvation Through Leviathan By Any Means Necessary

posted by Mark at 4:31 PM

Mark Shea links to a CBS News story about U.S. soldiers rescuing "24 special-needs boys from a Baghdad orphanage after finding the children suffering in horrific conditions" in a government-run orphanage:

Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, the soldiers found more emaciated little bodies tied to the cribs. They had been kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the 24 boys.

"I saw children that you could see literally every bone in their body that were so skinny, they had no energy to move whatsoever, no expression on their face," Staff Sgt. Michael Beale said.

"The kids were tied up, naked, covered in their own waste — feces — and there were three people that were cooking themselves food, but nothing for the kids," Lt. Stephen Duperre said.

Fortunately, the neglected kids were saved by U.S. troops (on routine patrol), and the perpetrators are now under arrest and detained by the Iraqi government.

It's a brutal story, but let's face reality: it could happen anywhere, indeed probably has happened, in every major city in the U.S. (and then some). Want to experience the loss of humanity? The callous neglect of the poor and suffering? Turn on the six o'clock news.

So why, may I ask, would Mark deliberately choose to link to the story in such a way as to suggest that Michael Ledeen is responsible? To suggest that Ledeen condones this kind of abuse?

Got me.

I posed this question twice in the combox -- deleted on both counts.

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