Well, it looks like the kerfuffle over John Edwards' bloggers has blown over. They've both quit. But he certainly didn't help matters. Edwards evidently hired people whose previously published comments in the blogosphere were, to put it mildly, distasteful. In fact, I'll go one step further. They were offensive – especially to Catholics, some of whom were unstinting in their condemnation of Edwards and his employees.
It goes without saying that Edwards should have vetted these people better and displayed a little curiosity about what they had written, and what they believed. (Or, perhaps, he did vet them, did read what they had written, and didn't see a problem with it – which opens a whole other can of worms and calls into question Edwards' judgment.)
But the episode has drawn attention to an issue that strikes close to my own life – and the lives of about 60 million other Americans. It involves a particularly insidious form of bigotry, and the nagging suspicion that there is one remaining permissible prejudice in America. It is anti-Catholicism.
I say this as a person who has spent a quarter of a century working in network news, and as a man who, in three months, will become an ordained member of the Catholic clergy. (On May 19th I'll be ordained a permanent deacon.) Straddling these two worlds, I've seen my share of controversies, scandals and public outcries over the Church and how it is treated by both the public and the media. But the Edwards debacle is something I never quite anticipated.
I would not have believed that a candidate for President (and a previous candidate for Vice President) would have hired a writer, Melissa McEwan, who had described President Bush's supporters as a "wingnut Christofacist base." I did not think a person of Edwards seriousness and experience would condone welcoming onto his payroll a second writer, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote on her blog "the Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics." This is also the writer who wrote: "What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit? You'd have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology." (And then there's this pearl of wisdom: One thing I vow here and now–you motherf*** who want to ban birth control will never sleep. I will f*** without making children day in and out and you will know it and you won't be able to stop it. Toss and turn, you mean, jealous motherf****. I'm not going to be "punished" with babies. Which makes all your efforts a failure. Some non-procreating women escaped. So give up now. You'll never catch all of us. Give up now.")
I certainly would not have imagined that a serious candidate for President would have kept on his payroll people who write things so blatantly, outrageously hateful towards a particular religion.
Which begs the question: would he have been so sanguine if they had written demeaning and insulting tirades about Jews? Or Muslims? How about Mormons?
But we live in an age when the culture defends artists who place a crucifix in urine, display it in a museum, and call it art. (Do that with the Koran, of course, and it's an act of war.) We live in a time when an artist can cover an image of the Virgin Mary with dung and be celebrated. But if you merely show a cartoon of Mohammed, you provoke an international incident.
I don't know if Edwards is a bigot. I suspect not. I suspect he's probably just a product of his age, and that he suffers from what moral theologians would call vincible ignorance.
In other words, he's just too ignorant to know better.
And he's just doing what so many others have done, and continue to do: tolerating the last acceptable prejudice.