Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Attack on Harry Knox Now Full-Fledged: Test of Obama Administration's Moral Foundations

Sometimes I don’t enjoy being right. It’s painful to look down a road and see what lies ahead, to realize that what lies ahead might be avoided if others saw and cared, and then to recognize that the pain will be inflicted, regardless. Seeing—and even speaking loudly and clearly—won’t change anything, until those with real power to change things decide to act. And I certainly do not have that power or anything approximating it.

Last Saturday, I posted here about the attempt of a particularly nasty group of right-wing Catholic political operatives to attack one of President Obama’s appointees to his President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Harry Knox is in the sights of this right-wing group seeking to embarrass and undermine the new president in any way possible. Simply because he is a Democrat and they are Republicans, and have had the blessing of the U.S. Catholic bishops for some years now, as they proclaim the Republican party as the party anointed by God, the only legitimate political option for Catholics.

As my posting noted, this attack began with a 7 May Cybercast News Service article by Fred Lucas that accuses Lucas of being anti-Catholic. Cybercast News was founded by L. Brent Bozell III, who happens to sit on the board of the Cardinal Newman Society, the organization mounting the protest against Notre Dame’s invitation of President Obama to its upcoming commencement.

In other words, the attack on Harry Knox is one facet of a broader political plan of a group of hardcore right-wing Catholics to drive wedges between Obama and the Catholic church in the U.S.—to smear the majority of Catholics who voted for Obama and continue to support him as unfaithful Catholics, and to continue to (mis)represent the Catholic church in the U.S. as solidly Republican.

I’m sorry to have to report today that the smear campaign continues and, after I posted on Saturday, has become open and even more vicious. Yesterday U.S. News and World Report carries an open letter of the right-wing Catholic group to President Obama, calling on Obama to fire Harry Knox and threatening him if he doesn’t do so. The threat? The group will vilify Obama as anti-Catholic if he does not get rid of Harry Knox.

The name at the head of the list of signatories? L. Brent Bozell III. Also on the list: Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. As the Good as You website notes today, Concerned Women of America has gotten in on the act, and has just issued a news flash lambasting Harry Knox for his purported anti-Catholic views and calling on Obama to remove Knox from his current position.

The position Concerned Women is taking would seem, on the face of it, to be a curious and even dangerous one for an organization founded and chaired by Beverly LaHaye to take, given the well-documented anti-Catholicism of her husband Tim LaHaye. The right-wing Catholics with whom LaHaye’s Concerned Women are allying themselves accuse Harry Knox of criticizing several of Pope Benedict’s statements.

But to my knowledge nothing Knox has said equals Rev. Tim LaHaye’s claim that Catholicism is a “false religion” and the pope a “false prophet”—claims well-researched in the article to which I have linked. In the 1970s, LaHaye pastored a church which sponsored an anti-Catholic group called Mission to Catholics which distributed pamphlets claiming that Pope Paul VI was the antichrist and the archpriest of Satan.

Strange, indeed, to find the anti-Catholic LaHayes now attacking President Obama for appointing an openly gay man to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and threatening to out that gay man and the president as anti-Catholic unless Obama removes the gay man from his advisory council! Do truth and consistency matter at all to these right-wing types, one wonders?

But, then, this attack on Harry Knox is clearly not about anti-Catholicism at all. It’s first and foremost about attacking Obama—by any means these folks can find, whether those means be fair or foul, based on truth or based on lies. And it’s about the usefulness of gays as political weapons.

Bozell et al. know that the new administration wants to tread very carefully in the area of gay rights. They know full well that gay people and gay causes are an embarrassment to the new administration, something that the administration wants to sweep under the rug as it pursues its "important" business. They understand that the verbal, but not-yet-demonstrated, commitment of the new administration to gay rights is the soft underbelly of the Obama administration and of its claim to stand for moral commitments that neoconservatives have trashed.

Bozell et al. also know that, though things are rapidly changing in the America of the Obama administration, a significant percentage of Americans—and a large percentage in churched circles—continue to resist the claims of their gay brothers and sisters to equal treatment under the law, and to full human status in the human community. Bozell et al. know that they can count on these Americans to view their resistance to gay persons as a moral enterprise, a moral obligation even, and to ignore the compelling moral claims of gay human beings to be treated as fully human.

And Bozell et al. are also counting on Mr. Obama’s willingness to compromise in this area, in order to appease these churched Americans who wish to justify oppression of a persecuted minority as a moral obligation, just as they wish to see torture as a moral act when the one being tortured has a face different from the one these churchgoers see every Sunday in their churches.

Bozell et al. want to undermine the new administration’s claim to stand on moral foundations with its agenda of change. And, with its silence and prevarication about gay issues and gay lives, the Obama administration has, unfortunately, done everything in its power to open itself to this ugly attack. As the new administration continues to cave in to the hard right in this area, I do not believe that a majority of American Catholics of the center—or of Americans of the center, in general—will speak out about this case, and will call on Mr. Obama to resist. Many Americans of the center are as willing as the new president is to choose silence rather than the moral thing to do, when it comes to gay issues and gay human beings.

Ultimately, they would prefer that we just go away, with our inconvenient questions and our inopportune expectations of justice and civility and our inconvenient gay lives.

My prediction? Sadly, I believe Mr. Obama will likely cave in on Harry Knox. I hope that this will not be the case. But as I have noted in previous postings on this blog, in my view, though things are getting better for gay Americans and are likely to continue to get better under the new administration (because the election of our first African-American president has released energies for progresssive change), the price gay Americans will in all likelihood pay for small cultural steps in the right direction is going to be one of several steps backward with each step forward.

Things will in all likelihood often get worse even as they are getting better. We are in a period of whiplash reaction now in which every victory for gay rights in our culture will be followed by one or more defeats at the hands of those who know they can continue to use gay people as objects in ugly political games, and that the majority will not speak out as this happens, will not grant the moral legitimacy of gay lives and gay rights, and will not definitively and decisively reject the claims of the hard right to be pursuing moral goals by bashing gay human beings.

And through it all, silence at the top. Silence in the one place where even the softest word of support would make a world of difference. Silence that translates into consent—consent for the most draconian and immoral uses of power against gay human beings by those representing themselves as moral agents even as they engage in patently immoral behavior.

And a willingness to compromise, which, even through the silence, speaks volumes about how the new administration really regards the moral claims—and the lives—of gay human beings. Because Bozell et al. are watching carefully, they know precisely where to strike now. Because they have, to a certain extent, been checked in their attempt to blow the Notre Dame commencement into a full-blown embarrassment for the new administration, they are out for blood now. They know where to strike to draw that blood—and they know full well whose human lives are dispensable, in their atrocious political games.

I predict they will succeed, in the case of Harry Knox. I predict he will be unseated, and will be the first in a string of gay martyrs produced by the new administration, as the administration continues to do what it regards as expedient, even if not right, in the case of gay human lives.

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