Why Conservatives are Going Nuclear…

Why Conservatives are Going Nuclear… September 22, 2015

on Pope Francis.

“It matters because of what it shows us about the way ideological fixations have corrupted the conservative outlook, which once treated political passions with suspicion and took its stand with institutions and traditions older than the latest partisan fads.” ~Damon Linker

I remember when conservatives conserved. Good times. Good times.

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  • ManyMoreSpices

    “Conservatives… going nuclear,” eh? As examples we get:

    (1) An argument that Francis is under-informed about economics;
    (2) The decision of one out of 301 Congressional Republicans to sit out the Pope’s address; and
    (3) A characterization of George Will’s column – which, while I disagree with much of it, is hardly unhinged – as “rabid.” (Metaphor Alert: it appears we are dealing with not garden-variety rabies, but nuclear rabies.)

    “Nuclear” my Aunt Fanny.

    There is some Francis-hate out there. But if these are your best examples, actual hate is not widespread and the disagreement that portions of the mainstream right have with the Pope cannot be classified as “nuclear.” I get the impression that the Holy Father’s most robust defenders have been staring into the Francis-hate abyss so long that said abyss has begun to stare back at them.

    • Willard

      Please. The only reason the Pope hasn’t received the Obama treatment from the right wing is that some are worried about the optics of criticizing the institution of the papacy. The vast majority of political conservatives strongly dislike this Pope and I’m sure you are very well aware of that.

      • ManyMoreSpices

        Assuming arguendo that you are correct, the idea that conservatives have been “going nuclear” on the Pope is still false. The whole point of your argument is that conservatives haven’t been speaking out stridently. They haven’t been going nuclear.

        So how is this a rebuttal of anything I wrote?

        • Willard

          No. I said he hasn’t received the Obama treatment. A perusal of First Things, NRO, Rush Limbaugh, etc. certainly shows that conservatives have been “going nuclear” if that means writing endless articles about how the Pope is a socialist marxist who is too stupid to understand the glories of capitalism.

          • Ken

            There are now daily articles on the Washington Post about how conservatives don’t like the Pope. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of conservatives who have zero reservations of speaking ill of him.
            The problem is that the political culture in this country has gotten to the point that if anyone, even the Pope, dares to raise a point against a person’s political beliefs that person can be publically attacked. We’ve reduced the dignity of our political opponents to such a low level that no one is safe. There is a reason Donald Trump is so popular. His rhetoric about his opponents has become perfectly acceptable.
            The reduction of a person’s dignity for our selfish gain is the same sin of slavery and abortion. It takes many forms and has horrible repercussions like a person who chooses the perceived safety of their favorite political party over the Church.

            • ManyMoreSpices

              There are now daily articles on the Washington Post about how conservatives don’t like the Pope.

              The Washington Post is banging on conservatives over and over again… and you think this is noteworthy?

              There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of conservatives who have zero reservations of speaking ill of him.

              And yet those three examples were the best that Linker could do to support his “nuclear” hypothesis. You’d think that he’d be able to pull something other than three weak-sauce examples of civil disagreement.

              • Ken

                Mark has listed a number of articles quoting a number of conservatives over the last several months. How many examples do you need? Clearly there are people in the conservative movement who are Catholic and choosing their political beliefs over the Church. There are also non-catholics who have no problem attacking the Pope. Liberals attacked Pope Benedict and that was unacceptable. Why is okay for conservatives? They aren’t respectful, disagreements they are name calling and demeaning to him and his office.
                I don’t understand why this is so hard to accept. For all the glory it’s followers try to give the conservative philosophy it’s a worldly view. It is bound to fail in one area or another.

                • ManyMoreSpices

                  With all due respect to you and Mark, he’s got this habit of plucking Catholic reactionaries and rad-trads whom no one has every heard of out of internet backwaters and holding them up as examples. Yeah, those people don’t like Francis.

                  But when it’s time to come up with prominent conservatives who actually hate the man – and don’t simply disagree with him – suddenly I’m asked to just accept that there are tons of these people, and they’re prominent.

                  Meanwhile, the number of GOP Congressmen sitting out the Pope’s speech is holding steady at… one.

                  • Joseph

                    They are *reactionaries* because they are speaking to their target market. Otherwise, they’re language would be much more… reserved. Thank God they’ve taken their masks off. They can go where the sun don’t shine. The conservative hero Coulter does it again… she wishes she had a time machine and she could go back to the good ol’ days when Catholics were openly discriminated against and the KKK occasionally lynched ’em. Ol’ Rush Limbaugh agreed with him. Fox News tells us that the Pope is a Marxist. Stop it, MMS, just stop it. It’s OVER! The fat lady has sung for the Republican-Catholic probationary period! Step into my office… because you’re f*cking fired.

                    • Are you going to stomp your heel and disappear in a puff of smoke if MMS declines to be fired? The assumed moral superiority is really telling.

                    • Joseph

                      Actually, it was a movie reference… and I was speaking of the GOP.

                    • falstaff77

                      “They are *reactionaries* because they are speaking to their target market. ”

                      If that were true and the target market was actually the 38% conservative share of US population and the market listened, then these unheard-of’s (Gosar who?) would be otherwise.

                • Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are equally men and equally fallible. Where they make factual misstatements about secular issues, respectful criticism is equally legitimate. If you asked Pope Francis, I am very sure that he himself would agree that Pope Benedict was more careful about what he said and how he said it than he has been. There are obvious differences in personal style that lead to different, legitimate reactions, both positive and negative.

                • Joseph

                  I’ll put it to you this way. There was a time when the Right thought that they had a Catholic market because the Left had become so blatantly opposed to Catholicism on fundamental life and social issues. They actually tried to peddle their snake oil (you know… we’ll fight for the unborn and religious liberty and stuff like that) to them and it worked for a while. But most Catholics figured it out fairly quickly that they had no plans to do any of the “Catholic” things they promised. That’s when those Catholics started looking at the facts and came to realise that the Right wasn’t a friend of Catholics after all, in any way… and that they lied about pretty much everything. So Catholics started dumping them in droves.
                  Though Catholics are practical and pragmatic. The door is always open for conversion. The Left is still clearly anti-Catholic (though, like the Right, they try to peddle their wares to the Catholic market) so Catholics can’t rely on the Left. The Right had an opportunity to win back that demographic… but that’s pretty much dead now with all of their popular media talking heads basically saying that they wished we’d go back to the olden days when Catholics were discriminated against openly.
                  Yeah, any chance they had to snatch the large Catholic demographic has now been successfully destroyed by them taking their masks off a bit too hastily. Good riddance, Republican Party. Into the dustbin with the Democrats you go! Don’t talk to me any more about the benefits of American Conservatism and the Republican Party. They are clearly no friends of Catholicism, just like their bed-buddy Democrats. Screw you all.

                  • The professional political right actually understands how to count. You apparently do not.

                    Catholics moved from being wholly aligned with the Democrats to being a swing constituency. They’ve never been wholly aligned with the GOP as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi will be happy to explain to you.

                    • Joseph

                      “Catholics moved from being wholly aligned with the Democrats to being a swing constituency.”
                      Yeah, I know that. I thought you’d get this implication with my stating that the GOP-Catholic probationary period in my comment to your teammate MMS below. It’s not your fault if you didn’t, that comment wasn’t addressed to you:
                      “The fat lady has sung for the Republican-Catholic probationary period!”

                    • Oh yes, let’s go over to the people who are playing footsie with the infanticide advocates and abortionists. Sign that plan up for success!

              • Joseph

                MMS, you’re going out of your way now to candy coat an obvious problem. Mark has provided multiple examples over the last month. This is just a montage of some of the more recent ones (and everyone is aware that the source is ‘Media Matters’). The conservative attacks on the Pope are widespread. Even your team that comments here are literally touching the borders of doing so.

                • Speaking as a member of what Mark some time ago called the “not racist enough” part of the conservative movement,
                  some of us conservatives are in the trenches trying to fight the good fight and kind of resent the friendly fire from these precincts.

                  To this point, Pope Francis remains within the tradition, though his presentation is very definitely left friendly, a path remains for conservatives to respond to Pope Francis’ appeals in a way that is true to conservatism. Frankly, I think that this conservative response would actually serve the poor better and accomplish the mission Christ gave in a better way than one more round of warmed over socialism, which seems to be the left’s major response.

                  • Joseph

                    Then you’re going to have to disassociate from the American Conservative movement, which is built on the foundation of fundamentalist evangelical Protestantism… a very anti-Catholic strain.

                    • You seem to be utterly ignorant about how the American system is structured. If you were educated in the USA, you have been gravely shortchanged. Really, go read the federalist papers to get a basic understanding of how necessary coalition politics is to getting anything done in this country. I don’t think you really understand that you’re beclowning yourself.

                    • Joseph

                      Sure, guy.

            • falstaff77

              “the Washington Post …”

              In Dec 2008, the WaPo included this description of President-elect Obama, “The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week …”. That was not in the Style section but the front page. In January of 2009, also on the front page, WaPo stated, “With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the “war on terror,” as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.”

              All that’s missing from WaPo all-in tabloidism for the left are nude photos on page 6.


          • ManyMoreSpices

            So “Obama Treatment” is stronger than “Going Nuclear”? Where does “Bush Derangement Syndrome” rank?

            Can you tell me more about your Hierarchy of Treatment of Political Opponents?

            • Willard

              Conservatives haven’t resorted to this with the Holy Father….yet https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b237d2d1b9238699a6ec8a5e90ef2767f757a0287c4b6683980820a7182274bf.jpg

              • Joseph

                Umm… they haven’t? Ever been to an Evangelical Bible church, the bastion of the American Conservative movement? Next time you’re there peruse the pamphlets on their wall or look into their library. Jack Chick, Dave Hunt, and Hal Lindsey. In the wise words of Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I have to say about that’.
                I’d almost rather be called an African tribesman/witch doctor than the anti-Christ and (passive aggressively) stating that the Pope needs an exorcist.

                • I strongly doubt that Jack Chick’s getting more success with his tracts under Pope Francis than he did under Pope Benedict or St. John Paul II. Conservative anti-Catholics don’t just bash a pope because he might not be conservative enough. Their anti-Catholic beliefs are independent and persist regardless of who sits on Peter’s throne. It’s just that right now the media narrative finds them convenient so you’re hearing a lot more from them these days.

                  • Joseph

                    My point wasn’t that Chick is getting any more or less success with his tracts under this or that pope. My point was that Chick’s tracts are and always have been an essential installment at Evangelical/Protestant churches. As are Lindsay and Hunt reading materials. These churches are the larvae for the American Conservative movement.
                    American Conservatives only *pretend* to tolerate the Pope so long as he doesn’t touch their sacred doctrines of Capitalism or the Death Penalty. But once he gets anywhere near those topics, the years of consumption of anti-Catholic propaganda and teaching bubbles to the surface, as we are seeing now. They actually hate the Pope and Catholicism in general.

                    • The USA is structured so that two broad ideological coalitions struggle for power. You’re libeling one of the two coalitions because one of the subgroups is anti-catholic. Guess what, there are elements in both subgroups that are anti-catholic. You can hardly avoid it. Go reread Federalist #10 and the very good reason for that should become clear.

                      These subgroups *do* hate us, but their desire to get their own public policy preferences into law forces them not to be violent about it and to cooperate more than otherwise on mutual areas of agreement. You’re taking a positive structural feature of american government and selectively spinning it into a negative.

                      What you call pretense, people with a shred of charity call tolerance. The road to reuniting the Church in one body is a long one, with tolerance being the necessary mortar that holds the entire structure together. The tolerance that the fusionists have been spreading around the american right for my entire lifetime and more is bearing fruit in a reduction of anti-Catholicism. Perhaps in my grandchildren’s day the work might be done. In the meantime, you might want to reconsider your approach because I don’t see the positives of it.

                    • Joseph

                      “Guess what, there are elements in both subgroups that are anti-catholic. You can hardly avoid it.”
                      Ummm… I’ve never said any different. Soooo… does that mean I should read the rest of your comment or should I just assume that it’s based off of this misunderstanding?

                    • Do as you please, you act as if you needed instruction on the topic.

      • Joseph

        The vast majority of conservatives are Reformed Evangelicals who think that Catholicism is a cult, not a Christian religion. They only pretend to tolerate the Pope when some of his sound bytes are easily digestible and acceptable to Evangelical ears (they *thought* they liked Benedict because they weren’t smart enough to understand him… but he sure sounded Evangelical friendly to them). When the Pope comes close to touching the Conservative Christian doctrine of Holy Capitalism, the mask comes off and it’s business as usual. What they are saying now is actually how they feel, like when you take a colleague out for drinks and they begin to rant about everyone in the workplace.
        I’ve said it before, Evangelical WASPs are no friend to Catholicism. They want it quashed just as badly as the Left does. After all, we’re the Whore of Babylon.

  • Ken

    I read this article and thought he was right on target. To me, the best part of the editorial was when he talked about the argument that Pope Francis shouldn’t speak the economy since he isn’t an economist.
    “That’s an interesting line of argument, implying that the pope lacks authority to speak on topics about which he has no direct experience or specialized knowledge. I wonder if Sirico would apply the same criteria to the church’s pronouncements on sex, marriage, and family, waving them away on the grounds that an organization run exclusively by celibate bachelors lacks the requisite knowledge to speak on those subjects with binding authority.”
    Hard to argue the writer’s point.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      Perhaps, but I’ll take a crack at it.

      First, what Linker calls “implying,” I call “Linker’s expansive inference.” It’s fun to argue with men that are made at least partially of straw. But setting that aside…

      When the Church speaks about abortion, contraception, cloning, IVF, etc., the bishops make sure to get the science right. The same can be said with climate change: say what you will about the way that the Laudato Si sausage was made; Francis at least consulted with scientists and went with the consensus majority view.

      But when it comes to economics, where is the evidence that Francis has devoted the intellectual energy that he did to climate science? I take no issue with his theological commentary on economics, but when it comes to basic economic facts (e.g., is the percentage of people living in abject poverty today more or less than it was fifty years ago?), he has sounded like someone who isn’t aware that global poverty has declined dramatically in the past few decades, and that the decline was caused by globalization and expansion of markets.

      • Ken

        Actually, the criticism about Laudato Si from many conservatives was that he isn’t a scientist so he shouldn’t comment on Global Warming. He actually is a chemist but who needs facts when attacking the Pope?
        As far as economics I agree that he isn’t talking about the structure or science of an economy he’s talking about the justice of it. A person can argue whether he has the right to argue about certain points of economics but he certainly has the legitimacy to speak about justice. You might be aware of the difference but a lot of the criticism of him doesn’t separate the two.
        His writing about economics actually speaks to your point. Yes, there is a growth in economies around the world but there is still great suffering among the poor. The problem in countries where there has been great growth is the assumption that people, especially the very wealthy, no longer have to take care or worry about the poor. People in vibrant economies can be led to believe that the economy will automatically lift everyone out poverty and that hasn’t happen or is ever going to happen.
        The reality is that people on both sides of the aisle are choosing their political beliefs over the church. Conservatives look particularly hypocritical since they’ve looked down on Liberals cafeteria approach to the church.

        • Joseph

          With the increase of overall wealth around the globe came the increase in the gap between the poor and *the rest of us*. For example, in India, the boom their *overall* economy due to US/European countries heavily offshoring has resulted in massive amounts of inflation (I actually have Indian friends and they have validated this). Before, anyone could afford a bag of rice. After inflation, the poor can’t afford the same amount of rice that they could before. Cost of living has increased along with income basically screwing up the poor even more. So, *overall* poverty has decreased… but the gap between rich and poor has widened and life has become harder for those living in poverty.

    • PatOConnor

      The Holy Father also governs an financial entity equal to the GDP of Russia, Brazil or India. I hope he is an economist.

  • ivan_the_mad

    Legitimate conservatives do not go nuclear, but nucular. Get your facts straight, man!

    • Pete the Greek

      I think you’ve misunderestimated his point!

  • P Johnston

    Mark writes, “I remember when conservatives conserved.” I remember when politics was the art of compromise, an activity of statesmen who advocated their perspectives, and then sought the path that pleased and benefited the greatest number. I remember when people were citizens and loyal subjects (depending on your country) first and adherents of political parties second. I remember the days before Alinsky-trained and -inspired community organizers turned social reform into an all or nothing bloodsport, where the forces of goodness and light waged total war against the forces of evil oppression.
    I remember when reporters worked to present a fair and complete picture when reporting on various subjects. I remember the days before advocacy journalism, when reporters were more observers seeking to paint a complete picture than crusading advocates seeking to lift up a point of view.
    Unfortunately, we don’t live in those days any more. So reporters, rather than painting a complete picture of Francis, instead highlight what’s new and different about him, and play down the ways he strongly defends the traditions.
    I think a lot of conservatives are reacting to the single-dimension Francis they read about in the papers (or worse, on Twitter!), rather than to the rather more complicated reality of the Pope himself. They are reacting as people of their times — community organizers rallying the people to be committed to the cause.
    There is much to lament about the times in which we live. I don’t know that there’s much to be gained by criticizing people for living in them. Perhaps the best response is to model an alternative.

  • Captain_America

    Alas, the Right is no longer occupied by “conservatives”, but by radical nihilists. Just as the Left is no longer home to “liberals” but to radical nihilists.
    And the radical nihilists seem to think if they breathe fire and heap scorn on anyone, that one will knuckle under and conform to the (correct) tribal lays.
    Stalin scornfully asked how many divisions the Pope has. Well, I don’t know about divisions (of tanks and infantry, I presume) , but for angels — legions.

  • Stu
  • Tony

    Mark, what’s wrong with being suspicious of Global warming?, and wondering if there aren’t much bigger things for the Holy Father to be worrying about, does that make someone a bad catholic? Also, many conservatives believe that capitalism does great good, is that so bad?

    • asecularfranciscan

      If you really think that the Holy Father hasn’t been worrying (and talking) about things other than global warming, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad Catholic, it just means that you are only paying attention to the version of the him that has been created and served up to elicit a certain response in a certain group of people.

      • Tony

        I didn’t say he wasn’t talking about anything else, I said “does being suspicious of global warming” make you a bad catholic, he just wrote an encyclical about it for crying out loud, which I read cover to cover, much of it was quite beautiful, but I remain very suspicious of global warming

        • Andy

          Being suspicious of something – global warming – that the church writes about through an Encyclical is not an issue – as I read the encyclical it seemed that global warming was only a small segment of the message. The message to care for the earth and its inhabitants was the primary message.
          Disagreement is not an issue – the issue is saying that Pope Francis or any pope or the Church is restricted in what is can teach – that to teach or present an idea makes somehow Pope Francis less then Catholic or a Marxist sis the issue. My personal sense of Pope Francis and other popes is that respectful disagreement is welcomed because it is through discussion and conversation that all are enlightened.
          For the record I think that although the climate has always changed, that our over0pollution of the atmosphere, the waters and our land is hastening this change.

  • Petee

    conservatism was defined by kirk (iirc, but not sure) as an anti-ideology, as an engagement with cultural inheritance that sought to preserve what was best – another way of saying what linker says above. such a current still exists, but it is not rightwingism, which passes itself off as conservatism now.

  • Bemused

    Part of the issue is that a number of Church positions haven’t been “sexy” enough in the past and the emphasis was more on the “sexy” (and sex related) topics, so it was easy for people to ignore all that stuff about the poor and the environment and the death penalty. Now, however, Pope Francis has been equalizing his emphasis more between all topic, so people are suddenly realizing that all that stuff they ignored in religion/theology class because it wasn’t about sex is held to be important as well. The Church isn’t about US political leanings and isn’t analogous with US political parties, that’s part of the reason that US Catholics are found all over the political spectrum.

  • Pope Francis could get ahead of and squelch most of the translation problems he’s suffering under by taking just a small amount of time to comment on Hernando de Soto and other pro-poor reformers who are in favor of the free market. Perhaps I’ve missed it but Pope Francis has never mentioned De Soto’s approach as either good or bad.