The Corner

A Public Fight

I figured that when I waded into the Mary Ann Glendon/Notre Dame affair, it would be a little like wandering into an Irish bar and asking, as the joke goes, Is this a private fight or may I join in?

While I expected criticism (to which I replied in a second take here), I probably did not sufficiently recognize how beleaguered and isolated strong prolife Catholics such as Maggie Gallagher and Ramesh Ponnuru now feel.  It’s only 100 days into the Obama administration, but they are already at second-term despair. 

I’d hoped I’d phrased my critique of Mary Ann Glendon’s decision respectfully, acknowledging  from the start that I could not enter into the internal Catholic politics of Glendon’s refusal to accept an award from Notre Dame if that meant sharing a platform with President Obama.  I won’t restate the argument: interested NRO readers can follow the links above.

Let me instead just say this: My criticism of Glendon’s decision was expressed from the point of view of a conservative who is watching her movement self-destruct before her eyes. Glendon (and Maggie and Ramesh) may of course choose if they wish to view her decision entirely from within a Catholic frame of reference.

But Glendon (and Maggie and Ramesh) live in a country where other frames of reference coexist as well. And the many Americans — many of them also Catholics — who participate in these nonreligious frames of reference may see in this decision something more than a private act of conscience. They may see one of America’s leading religious conservatives repudiating the moral legitimacy of the president of the United States.   

There was too much of that in the past eight years. And now, with year one of a new administration barely begun, prominent conservative voices are accusing this new president of instituting fascism, of falsifying his birth certificate, of sympathizing with Somali  pirates over  American sailors. For one of our most serious and most conscientious moral thinkers to join the radical rejectionists is alarming, no matter how well stated her reasoning. For Ramesh and Maggie to cheer her on — well that is disheartening. If NR has historically stood against anything, it has stood against this sort of conservative migration to the fringe.  

And that is how I arrived at my final conclusion:

“I fear our side is becoming like the leftists we used to mock. We refuse to recognize the American president as our president. And we reduce our politics to a single issue, showing no tolerance or desire for engagement with our opponents, including those who dissent within our own ranks.

In the coming four years, all conservatives will have cause to oppose and fight the Obama administration on many, many fronts. But let’s not imitate the past eight years of political opposition. We are better than that. And we should–we must–be willing to share a platform with our elected President.”

You can keep trying to insist the Glendon/Notre Dame debate is a private fight.  But whether you like it or not, it’s a public fight as well.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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