The Campaign Spot

Gerson Whacks at Rudy, Playing the Catholic Card

I’m not the grayest graybeard on the politicial scene, but I can’t remember when a surrogate for a sitting president (former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson) has gone after the frontrunning candidate for the president’s party (Rudy Giuliani) the way Gerson kneecaps Giuliani today. Read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Reagan, of course, was a committed social conservative who expressed reservations about choosing George H.W. Bush as his running mate because of his questionable pro-life views. Giuliani’s style and approach are actually much closer to those of another politically successful Republican president: Richard Nixon, pre-Watergate.
Across the country, there will doubtlessly be Giuliani Democrats who respond to a culture war against liberalism without the baggage of pro-life moralism. But there will also be Americans influenced by the teachings of John Paul II, who have been persuaded over the years to support Republicans mainly on the pro-life issue. Many are Reagan Democrats. And they will be less impressed by a conservatism purged of pro-life moralism — which they would see as a purge of compassion and humanity.

These are predictable results if the Republican nominee is not Reagan’s heir but Nixon’s political twin.

Lest there be any doubt, Richard Nixon is always the villain in the paper of Woodward and Bernstein.
My first reaction was arguably snide: “Gerson, you worked for the president who added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare (the biggest expansion of an entitlement program in a decade), punted on affirmative action, created a new federal department in DHS and at the very least had a sloppy Attorney General and at worst tried to politicize U.S. Attorneys, and we’re supposed to believe Giuliani is Nixon?”
Last time I waded into the issue of religion and a Republican presidential candidate I was labeled “an accomplice to bigotry,” so I guess I should be wary of addressing Gerson’s conclusion that “No one inspired by the social priorities of Pope John Paul II can be encouraged by the political views of Rudy Giuliani.”
Look, how many Catholics were less than thrilled with their Church’s stance on illegal immigration? How many were irked by a Cardinal’s declaration that when the U.S. army checked the teeth of a recently-captured Saddam Hussein, they treated him “like a cow”? How many say that despite what they’ve been taught about turning the other cheek, think the death penalty is appropriate in some circumstances, like Timothy McVeigh or the D.C./Va. Sniper? How many people thought John Paul II, as much as many of us loved him as a leader, didn’t accept many serious options for dealing with terrorism as morally justified?
And as for the centerpiece of Gerson’s argument – abortion – if you really want to see the number of abortions in this country go down, do you nominate a consistent pro-lifer like Sam Brownback who would likely get wiped out by Hillary Clinton (and another few Ruth Bader Ginsbergs on the court) or do you nominate a Rudy, who could beat Hillary, and put a few more Robertses and Alitoes on the court? I can understand pro-lifers disagreeing. But the Nixonian comparison, and fear that Rudy would nominate another Harry Blackmun, strikes me as over-the-top.

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