It’s March and I’m Mad, Mr President

Dear Mr President,

Welcome to Dayton! If you’re not already here in town, you and British Prime Minister David Cameron will be here shortly to attend tonight’s NCAA First Four game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky at the University of Dayton Arena. There are so many things about this confluence I love:

Dayton. I’m delighted that your visit will bring attention to my adopted hometown, which has suffered mightily in the economic downturn of recent years. We used to have NCR–“the Cash”–and a pretty big chunk of GM, but now we’ve got a pretty big chunk of unemployment and foreclosures and no cash to speak of, which I know you didn’t personally cause, but wish you were more serious about addressing. Especially with our being right smack in a swing state, and all.

March Madness! You and I share a fondness for college basketball and this tournament in particular. I have to say that your bracket challenge is kind of corny, but if I were you I probably wouldn’t be able to resist calling it a BARACKet, either. My own bracket obsession is listing all 68 team names by category (animals, birds, people, supernatural beings, forces of nature, and inexplicable stuff like Zags and Shockers). This comes in handy, my old friend Barb Wanamaker taught me, when you don’t know enough about two teams’ records to pick a winner: you just go with whichever team name would beat the other in a fight. In tonight’s game, for example, you gotta figure the MVS Delta Devils (supernatural beings) are gonna whup the hell out of the (ordinary human) Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. Unless, of course, you don’t put much stock in supernatural beings.

Brits. I love my British roots, even though being half English and half Irish makes St. Patrick’s Day a one-woman civil war. My father was born in England, where his Northern Irish family went to escape anti-Catholic prejudice in hiring. They moved on to the US, to Boston, where they learned No Irish Need Apply wasn’t just a pub song. And on my mother’s side, my Puritan ancestors left England to seek religious freedom, which they then ended up denying everybody else once they got here. It was the Catholics of Maryland who taught the colonies what true religious freedom meant, and laid the foundation for the First Amendment, which contains both anti-establishment and free exercise clauses. But I don’t have to tell you that, right? I mean, you actually taught constitutional law. I just took a few classes.

The University of Dayton. I am a passionate member of the UD Flyer Faithful, but my guys didn’t make it to the Dance this year, so I’ll be watching them play in the NIT tonight instead. I’m proud that UD Arena is such an awesome facility that it’s drawn the NCAA First Four, and you. I hear you’ll be giving interviews during halftime tonight. You might want to remember that this platform is being generously provided to you by a Catholic university. Even though UD’s administration has decided to continue its policy of providing contraceptive coverage for its employees, thus complying with your mandate, and even though they won’t be giving you some big ol’ Notre-Dame type award, thus triggering protests and forcing your posse to arrest American citizens for peaceably assembling, it’s something to think about. You’re on Catholic ground tonight, and it could have been common ground–but oh, well, like the Flyers, maybe next year.

There was a time when I would have added you, Mr President, to the things I love about this visit. I’m a card carrying Democrat, the daughter of a union shop steward, New Deal and Civil Rights and Camelot all the way. In 2008 I let my son’s enthusiasm for you and all you represented woo me away from my lukewarm support of Hillary Clinton, even though I thought even then there was something too-good-to-be-true about the way you absorbed all our war-weary, Bush-burdened projections. I put a HOPE decal in my car window right next to my Go, Flyers! decal. I cheered my heart out at your win, which I truly believed was the start of better days for all Americans. (And for my fellow Catholics who want to read this paragraph as evidence for excommunication, that’s for another combox, OK?)

Since then, though, you’ve disappointed me, Mr President. Even before I returned to the Catholic faith I grew up in, and began to reexamine everything in the light of that faith’s teachings, you showed absolutely no sign of being the bridge-builder you rightly said America needed in that fabulous 2004 convention speech. In your relationships with Congress, even when you had a majority, you talked compromise and did none of it. You ramped up the war efforts you had said were stupid. You kept Guantanamo open, and gave the nod to torture. You approved a return to the US-as-assassin model of dealing with dictators you don’t like, while allowing those who serve your interest to continue slaughtering innocents. You added even more restrictions on Americans’ constitutional freedoms than the original Patriot Act dreamed of. And you wouldn’t fight to keep a single-payer health plan on the table, settling instead for a bloated patchwork doomed to displease everyone, just so you could say you passed a health care act.

But it’s been your administration’s recent cynical manipulation of “the contraceptive issue”–an agenda mandated by your supporters in Big Pharma and Planned Parenthood, and planted in the midst of the debates in order to make the religious right (which now includes extremist Catholics like Rick Santorum and Catholics-by-marriage like Newt Gingrich) snap at the bait. You have managed this really well from your end, manufacturing a “war on women”–Catholics want women to be pregnant or die!–while waging war on the First Amendment. I sometimes wish the Catholic bishops hadn’t jumped at the bait, too (because I truly don’t think this is the hill we want to die on), but you knew they would, and knew that Catholics are already hated enough (for our own sins, in too many cases) in this country to make dissing us equal an automatic double-digit bump in your popularity stats. That’s my biggest disappointment–that you’re nothing but a Chicago pol after all.

So I can’t love that you’re here, and I can no longer love election season, this poli sci minor’s usual idea of heaven. See, there’s no way I can vote for you, because as Nancy Pelosi, the Lady Macbeth of Catholics, says, I have “that conscience thing.” And I sure as hell can’t vote for any one of the Republicans or anyone else out there, because they’re no closer to being what Americans need and what my Church teaches me is truly just and enlightened leadership than you are. You’ve disenfranchised me, Sir, and that’s one sin I just can’t forgive.

Too bad. I’d have loved, under other circumstances, to sit with the you I thought you were over a beer at Tank’s or The Trolley–a good, complicated American craft beer, Mr. President, not that Bud Light crap you drank at your beer summit–and talk b-ball, and Motown, and how to bring real jobs to Dayton, and why pregnancy is not a disease, and that religion won’t, honest to God, bite you, so you can just quit being so damned afraid of it. We used to have so much in common, I thought. But to use a language we share, you air-balled what should have been a slam dunk. Like whichever team loses tonight, we’re one and done.


Update: Msgr Charles Pope is thinking along some of the same lines, with regard to Catholics’ taking the bait, and writing about it more eloquently. H/T to Deacon Greg Kandra for this, and thanks for linking to me.

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