Doug Kmiec has published a lengthy article in Commonweal
accusing the “right-wing Catholic blogosphere” of perpetrating “unrelenting personal attacks” upon him during the Presidential election cycle.
He calls these conservative Catholic blogs his “online tormentors” comprising a “hate-filled blogosphere” who practice a “politics of odium” and are “preoccupied with demonizing” him, thereby “spinning a web of pervasive falsehood” without even “[indulging] a microsecond of charitable thought before hitting the send button.”
These are very harsh words. Indeed, they are about as harsh as the language he accuses the “right wing Catholic blogosphere” of using when they have criticized him.
Because Kmiec also lumps-in conservative Catholic bloggers in his accusations, and I am myself a conservative Catholic blogger with a sizable readership, I am issuing a public correction in response to his article. I have mentioned Kmiec by name in almost one-hundred blog posts during the election cycle so am well-informed about the situation, which is in dire need of a reality check after Kmiec’s misleading narration.
At the outset, Kmiec makes no distinction between the reasonable criticisms his arguments have received from the shrill hip-shots that also make their way into the blogosphere. Hyperbolic fluff has always been part of the background noise of the blogosphere, but to equate that with the excellent Catholic journalism represented in many blogs is the worst sort of overgeneralizing. It is like complaining that “the press” is persecuting you, and then proceeding to quote exclusively from the National Enquirer
So who exactly are these “right-wing Catholic bloggers”? Is Kmiec referring to popular bloggers such as Amy Welborn, Jeff Miller, Steven Gredanus, Mark Shea, Carl Olson, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, myself (all of whom have blogged about Kmiec)? Together these figures represent a heavy proportion of the Catholic blogosphere’s readership, and yet, having read practically every post they have written on Kmiec, I’m hard pressed to think of a single example of rank uncharity in them. Indeed, I doubt a single one of Kmiec’s infamous quotations will be found on their published pages.
What does that leave? Comment boxes and smaller blogs. Now make no mistake, I’m not denigrating smaller blogs – there are real gems out there and I read many of them. Neither am I defending the uncharitable comments that have doubtlessly been made. But what Kmiec has in essence done is to complain about any
instance of uncharity in the blogosphere. Considering how easy it is to publish a blog, it is almost like criticizing free speech. Kmiec is asking that we shut down (or criticize heavily) an open room of vocal Catholics because of a few hecklers.
Kmiec’s choice to only call out the hecklers has allowed him to avoid other legitimate, constructive criticisms of his position. Here he has perfected the art of misdirection by turning the debate away from the issues onto the personal hurt he feels he has received.
For someone who “never thought it was mainly about [him]”, Kmiec spends most of the time talking about himself, long after he apparently gave up pursuing an open debate in a public forum (or any even playing field). Instead he has chosen to portray himself as some sort of martyr in his Catholic support for Obama.
This is exceedingly strange to me, because a universal trait of martyrs is that they do not complain about or bring attention to the fact that they are
martyrs. And yet Kmiec says: “I have at times considered the blog calumnies hurled at me as penance for occasions when I have put on a bit of a false front.” Far from offering this persecution up, Kmiec has chosen to wear it on his sleeve. He misses no opportunities of mentioning a time he was denied Communion for his public stance (a decision I condemned) and the loss of many friendships he has suffered (should not that at least give one pause?).
I do not have equal space to respond to each of Kmiec’s claims, but I can briefly respond to a few of them to provide a sense for how he is misrepresenting the true state of affairs.
First, FOCA is not a “wedge” issue between the Church and the incoming Obama administration, as Kmiec asserts. Obama is on record promising that he would sign it into law. Such a statement reveals the President-elect’s character and priorities. If Obama does not support FOCA, he should not have promised to sign it into law. But you will find no instance of Kmiec admitting that either Obama lied (or pandered) to his supporters or Obama really is so extreme in his support of unrestricted access to abortion.
Second, Pope Benedict does not have to personally tell someone to remove a page from their book for them to know their presentation of Church teaching is misleading. Kmiec’s offer to do so is absurd because it will never be taken up, for such interventions are not the task of the pope. It is, however, the responsibility of local bishops to speak out when they think clarification is needed, and yet every time a bishop has done so, Kmiec has either disagreed with them or ignored them. Indeed, dozens of bishops have called into question Kmiec’s distinctive arguments for how a Catholic can support Obama, but unless such admonitions bear the papal seal, Kmiec evidently feels free to disregard it.
Third, Kmiec tries to portray episcopal disagreement with his positions as always a case of misunderstanding or prejudice (aided by that tireless machine of right-wing propaganda, the conservative Catholic blogosphere, Kmiec would claim). In fact, one of Kmiec’s detractors with the highest visibility (as well as the author of a New York Times’
bestselling book on the subject of faithful citizenship), Archbishop Charles Chaput, can hardly be described as ignorant of American political history, reality, or Kmiec’s own position. How does Kmiec respond to this sort of criticism? Again, not with counter-arguments, but with cries of “foul!”. I could go on, but these cases begin to establish a pattern of obfuscation.
In fact, one faces a daunting task when trying to discover any sort of sustained argumentation from Kmiec in his latest Commonweal
piece. His claim that he remains “unabashedly prolife” simply cannot stand on its own when he supports a President with a 100% rating from NARAL, who promises his supporters to sign into law FOCA, and has demonstrated no desire to undermine the judicially-established and morally repugnant right to abortion in this country. And when Kmiec relates tales of meeting Obama and having the future President say that he was “left empty until he knelt before the Cross”, and that Kmiec believed him, I am left thinking, “well, that’s wonderful, but Obama will elect pro-abortion supreme court justices.” And regardless, Obama’s personal confessions of spirituality are not an argument, and they will not help the cause of defending unborn life in America.
The preceding is just a taste of the reality check I believe is necessary after Kmiec’s charges. The Catholic blogosphere he describes is something completely alien to my experience, and only exists to the degree that mold clings to a tree. The idea, for instance, that the Catholic blogosphere is too busy demonizing their “brothers and sisters in Christ” who voted for Obama that they take no time to give other matters competent discussion is simply preposterous. Someone who has evidently kept such a close track of the Catholic blogosphere should know better than that. Most Catholic bloggers have moved on and are sincerely, energetically, attempting to continue defending the cause of unborn life as best they can. Kmiec, in contrast, is still nursing old wounds by rubbing off the scabs.
This observation about different perspectives yields my last point. I am willing to admit that some individuals have been too energetic in their condemnation of Kmiec’s positions (I have also argued that they constitute a slim minority when compared to the mainline critique), but Kmiec never seems aware that the motivation behind their over-zealousness is, on the whole, a pure one: they really care about the babies. They really think the babies are more in danger as a result of Kmiec’s support for a candidate who does not believe, as Catholics do, that babies must be protected inside the womb.
Kmiec ends his article by quoting Obama about the necessity of applying the golden rule. I find such a move ironic after Kmiec has spent pages grossly misrepresenting and unfairly describing plenty of sincere souls. One would think he did not even indulge a microsecond of charitable thought before hitting the send button (his words). But what is worse is that he did, and I hope that readers will take more than a microsecond in forming their opinion of what he (and I) have said. But I'll try to give this discussion a little nudge forward....
If Kmiec is so concerned with setting the record straight for posterity (as well as the immediate four-to-eight years ahead), I will offer this: I readily condemn the calumnies he has undergone by the nameless bloggers. He is, of course, also more than welcome to read through the almost one-hundred posts I have written which mention him to see if I am ever guilty of the same. But I ask for this response: that he apologize for the overgeneralizing and wild mischaracterization he has perpetrated against the “right-wing Catholic blogosphere”, who, in my estimation, have actually shown an admirable restraint in their dealings with someone that they genuinely believe is endangering unborn lives and setting a dangerous example of Catholic voting in U.S. democratic elections to come. It is time for Doug Kmiec to practice the golden rule he preaches. +++