Karl Keating Talks Common Sense

Karl Keating Talks Common Sense January 11, 2013

Over on FB he writes:

What do we mean when we say someone is “pro-country X”? What do we mean when we say someone is “anti-country Y”? We can’t look to Rick Santorum for the answer.

Yesterday Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, announced his is launching a campaign in opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense. Santorum characterized Hagel’s “mindset” as “anti-Israel, pro-Iran.” How is one to understand such language?

Usually, when we refer to someone as being “pro” a country, we mean he likes its people, its culture, its topography, perhaps even its political institutions–more the first three than the fourth, I suppose.

I rightly could be called “pro-Italy” because I enjoy visiting that country, by and large like its people, certainly enjoy its history and culture (despite, of course, deficiencies that every people and culture will have), struggle with but enjoy its language. While I won’t retire to Italy, I can imagine that it would be a fine place to spend one’s sunset years. I feel much the same about Croatia, where I have family roots, and to lesser extents about Japan, Britain, and Germany. I’m sure I could think of other countries toward which I’m “pro”.

When we refer to someone as being “anti” a country, usually we mean that he dislikes its people, dislikes its culture, dislikes its political institutions, or dislikes how it conducts itself in foreign affairs. (Notice that foreign affairs often count when someone dislikes a country and not so much, I think, when someone likes a country. We like countries more for cultural than political reasons and dislike them more for political than cultural reasons.)

Usually, if we are “anti” a country, we feel antipathy to something it does or some characteristic it has, but we don’t wish the country or its people ill. By my measure, you might be “anti-Croatia” because you don’t care for its climate (too hot or too cold), its language (too full of consonants), or its history (too Catholic), but I wouldn’t think that you want to see Croatia and its people injured in some way.

But that’s usually the sense that is given by people who go around calling other people “anti-Croatia.” They mean those other people want to see Croatia damaged economically, politically, or in some other way. When people talk in slogans and say that Mr. A is “anti-Croatia,” they mean that to be taken as most listeners will interpret them: “Mr. A would just as soon see Croatia disappear.”

Similarly when people call other people “pro-Croatia.” When they speak in such shorthand, they leave listeners thinking that the people they’re characterizing want to see Croatia advance on all fronts, even if it means at some other country’s cost, including their own. This becomes even particularly troublesome, to the public ear, if the country about which someone is said to be “pro” is a baddie, such as North Korea. You might think being “pro-Croatia” is wrongheaded but within the pale but that being “pro-North Korea” is outright vile.

This brings me back to Rick Santorum. He has thrown out slogans about Chuck Hagel, calling him “anti-Israel” and “pro-Iran.” Those terms will leave listeners with a certain sense about how Santorum is characterizing Hagel: that Hagel wants to see damage done to Israel, that he wants to strengthen and promote Iran. That’s how the public will interpret such slogans, but are the slogans fair to Hagel?

With respect to Israel, in the past he has spoken against what he perceives as its too-strong lobby in the halls of Congress (many other countries have lobbies of their own, of course), and he thinks a settlement in the Holy Land is more likely if Israel and its Palestinian opponents sit down and talk. Those might be incorrect or impractical ideas, but they don’t amount to wishing ill for Israel.

With respect to Iran, Hagel again thinks it’s worth sitting down and talking. He is said to have opposed sanctions against Iran, but that’s not accurate: He opposed unilateral (that is, U.S.-only) sanctions but endorsed multilateral sanctions (U.S. plus other countries jointly), his thesis being that unilateral sanctions can’t work because Iran would continue to do business with the countries that declined to participate in multilateral sanctions. These too might be impractical ideas, but they don’t amount to wishing Iran success in its aspirations.

Do Hagel’s positions warrant the characterization that Santorum has tried to give him by calling him “anti-Israel” and “pro-Iran”? Not remotely, so far as I can see.

During the primary campaigns for president, Rick Santorum was the most bellicose of the Republican contenders. While I appreciated that in the Senate he had been a leading pro-life voice, I shook my head at what I thought to be his over-aggressive foreign-policy stance, which I found to comport neither with the teachings of the Church nor with traditional conservatism.

I was glad that he failed to gain the Republican nomination, and I hoped that he would learn from the experience. It seems he hasn’t. He still talks belligerently, and he talks in slogans. People use slogans in place of arguments. Slogans may be useful on bumpers but they’re not useful otherwise because they hide important elements that should be part of the discussion, and they tend to misrepresent things, as Santorum has misrepresented Hagel.

Someone should be able to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination without employing slogans that imply Hagel wants to see damage done to a country that generally is considered a friend of the U.S. and wants to promote the interests of a country that generally is considered an opponent of the U.S. Hysteria is not a good way to settle arguments at home, and it’s not a good way to settle political issues either.

Hear! Hear!

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