The Catholic League claims that its aim is to "safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened." But, in reality, it functions as a rather shrill organ of the Republican right, and little more. I have doing some exposes recently, but most of the really good stuff is in the past. Thankfully, we have access to press statements since 1997, except for the ones Donohue actually withdrew.
Here, I want to look at the different ways the Catholic League has approached Republican and Democratic politicians. And yes, there is a big difference. I'm certainly sympathetic to some of Donohue's positions, including his hounding of Terry McAuliffe for listing Catholics for a Free Choice under the "Catholic" banner on the DNC website. And sure, Donohue did go after the blatant attempt by Hastert and House Republicans to deny a Catholic priest the position of Congressional chaplain. But these instances are few and far between.
More Republican Partisan than Catholic...
One thing Donohue likes to do his to hound Democratic politicians for anti-Catholicism, while letting Republicans off the hook. Sure, a lot of this is about abortion, but much is also about lesser issues on the moral radar, such as school vouchers. There is a lob of legitimate diversity of opinion on this matter, though you would not know it from Donohue. It's almost a "non-negotiable" for him, and he beats Democrats over the head with it constantly.
Another Donohue favorite is the "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. He even calls for the impeachment of judges who oppose it. How is this a particularly Catholic issue? It isn't. But Donohue is quite the constitutional scholar! To wit: "It should be unconstitutional for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an act of Congress unless it is a unanimous decision."
Donohue also thinks public display of the Ten Commandments is one of the pressing issues of our day. Interestingly, he attacked the ACLU for making the point that the Ten Commandments that the fundamentalists want displayed is not the Catholic version. He says that "it matters not a whit whether it is the Catholic, Protestant, to Jewish version". Really? One would think a so-called Catholic organization would be defending the Catholic version.
Donohue also likened the position of those who argue against tax cuts for the rich to "the greedy want to keep the money they've earned; those who want to take it from us are the altruists". What a remarkable statement about Catholic social teaching!
Donohue seems conflicted on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. On the one hand, he notes (correctly) in 2006 that "reasonable people may disagree whether a constitutional amendment is the right remedy". Well, in 2004, he claimed that "President Bush did the right thing by supporting a constitutional amendment to ban marriage between two men or two women." and denounced Democrats who opposed it. Again, when in doubt, go with Bush.
The Iraq war created a dilemma for Donohue. The pope and the church opposed it, but Donohue stuck with his real magisterium, the Bush administration. First Donohue claimed, falsely, that Pope John Paul never said that there was "no legal or moral justification for the war". Second, he denounced those who "exploited" the pope's position while nor respecting "his teaching on all subjects". Of course, Donohue means only those teachings consistent with the Republican agenda. Interestingly, Donohue reserves his main ire for Catholic entities, like the National Catholic Reporter.
Of course, you will not see Donohue bashing politicians for supporting an unjust war or torture, not will be ever give credit for opposing the death penalty, or supporting policies to reduce poverty or extend healthcare. No, "prudential judgment" only works in one direction for Donohue. For any attempt by those on the political left to invoke religion is attacked by Donohue as more politics than religion. Ironic. He sneers that one of these "moderates" was one who counseled Bill Clinton after his "encounter with Monica Lewinsky". Gasp. Moreover, he devotes a huge amount of attention to defending Mel Gibson, who has left the Catholic church for his own kooky sect, even going as far as to dub him "Saint Mel".
Clinton and Gore
Where to begin? A recess appointment in 1999 was deemed "Clintonesque", and James Inhofe was lauded for standing up to this "abuse of congressional recess". No comment when Bush did it for John Bolton. Elsewhere Donohue makes reference to the "Kennedy clan's predilection for spinning the truth". Gore is constantly hounding for the nonsense about fundraising in a Buddhist temple, contrasting it with his opposition to school vouchers. Gore was also mercilessly attacked for some fundraiser at the Playboy mansion that Donohue dubbed the "Gorgy". Charming. And Hillary Clinton is denounced for befriending the Weinsteins. Still, this is all pretty tame stuff compared to what would come in the later years.
Bush and Kerry
John Kerry entered Donohue's imagination in 2004. Sure, a lot of what he talks about is Kerry's position on abortion. But there's a lot more. He repeats the "flip flop" canard from GOP talking points. He lambasts Kerry over his "refusal to answer questions regarding the annulment he sought of his first marriage". I don't recall him commenting on republican paragons of marital virtue like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and Henry Hyde. No, Kerry gets special treatment. Donohue also drags out the tired old Catholics for a Free Choice weblink, and tries to tar Kerry with this one too.
Special venom is reserved for Kerry's religious outreach people. He claimed that the resume of the first one (Mara Vanderslice) is "that of a person looking for a job working for Fidel Castro". Another outreach director (Brenda Peterson) is lambasted for opposing "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, as if this is an important issue. Funny, back in 1997, Donohue was bashing Clinton for not having a Catholic liaison. Contrast also his treatment of Kerry's religion advisers with his defense of Deal Hudson, Bush's liaison, that clearly crossed the line: after allegations that Hudson got a disturbed 18-year old student drunk and had sex with her, Donohue blamed the girl, decrying the allegations of a "drunken female he met in a bar." You see, the right can do not wrong, even when it comes to sexual sin.
When it comes to religion, Donohue's narrative is simple. Bush is religious, Kerry is a phony. So when Kerry talks about religion (such as when he stated the Catholic belief that both faith and good deeds are required for salvation) he is denounced as a hypocrite, and insincere. Donohue is disgusted by Kerry trying to defend his religiosity, asking "whether Kerry is playing politics with his religion". Seriously. To Kerry, "religion is an enigma". Donohue even feels the need to list friends of Kerry's who claim he is not religious.
And Bush? Well, the Bush love-fest is something else. Bush is lauded constantly for his interest in faith-based initiatives. Donohue actually entitled a 2003 press release "Is Bush too Holy to be President?" and claim that his opponents "put words in his mouth and then denounce him for saying what he never said." In 2004, he comes out with the fantastic statement that "most observers, regardless of their political bent, agree that President George W. Bush seems at home with his Christianity". And after Bush's 2004 victory, Donohue proclaimed that "most Americans appreciate and admire President George W. Bush for his strong religious convictions". Elsewhere Donohue quotes approvingly Bob Woodward's claim that Bush "prayed for the strength to do the Lord's will" before the Iraq war. He says that Bush turned to God for wisdom. Clearly Bush didn't listen to God, but that's another story. Donohue also presented a number of anti-Bush quotes as evidence that "we need to build more asylums".
Forgiving Republicans and Hounding Democrats
With Donohue, Democrats can't really win, nor can Republicans really lose. Examples are legion:
* Way back in 1997, Donohue defended Ralph Reed from charges of anti-Catholicism. You see, he "provided a blurb: for a book he wasn't familiar with. The real problem is the "eagerness of Reed's critics to exploit this incident for political purposes."
*During the 2000 election, the Catholic League was light on Bush for appearing at Bob Jones university, and accused John McCain of "demagoguery" and of playing the "politics of fear" for raising Bob Jones's anti-catholic and racist background. When Bush apologized, Donohue claimed that this settled the issue, and talked about Christian forgiveness. People who kept raising the issue were engaging in a "smear tactic" for "political profit".
* Donohue seems to be defending Bob Jones backers a lot. When John Ashcroft received an honorary degree, and was criticized, Donohue leapt to his defense, calling it "much ado about nothing" and declaring that Ashcroft was right to attack his opponent for raising the issue. And in a classic Donohue twist, he turns the table and declares that those accusing Ashcroft of anti-Catholicism are the real Catholic bashers.
*In 2004, he also lets one of the swiftboaters of John Kerry off the hook for harmless anti-Catholic remarks that he apologized for (no mention of the sin of calumny).
*More recently, in 2006, Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio (seriously behind in the polls) was accused of anti-Catholicism because he is "co-authoring a book with someone who once made anti-Catholic quips." Blackwell, says Donohue, "deserves an immediate apology from those who slandered him."
* After launching a huge assault on the DNC for the Catholics for a Free Choice link, they finally caved. What was Donohue's reaction? "We will not congratulate the DNC for doing the right thing... this victory is oh, so sweet." No, nothing about Christian forgiveness here, just partisan childishness.
* When confronted with the anti-Catholic statements of some of the evangelicals at the "Justice Sunday" rally, where some even branded Catholicism a false religion, Donohue thought it was no big deal. His excuse? That's that's what they believe, and "I'm prepared to join hands in the culture war". Of course, Donohue's tried and tested response to to attack the attackers; in this case, he says it is "fat-cat, left-wing bigots like George Soros who concern us" whereas "Dobson is our friend."
* In response to a critique of Harriet Miers for believing in biblical inerrancy and salvation by faith alone, Donohue implicitly defends these non-Catholic claims by saying that the real intent of the critique is "Look out, this dame is dangerous."
* And after years of denouncing Democrats for refusing to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade, what is Donohue's response when Hillary Clinton does so in 2006? Gratitude? Forget it. He decision is "grounded in politics and deceit".