Here is Byron York’s take on the flap over the pro-William Pryor ad (“Catholics need not apply”) that I discussed yesterday. Writing for National Review Online, York discusses both the politics of the ad and its merits.
As to the politics, York finds that the ad has, for the first time, placed the Senate Democrats on the defensive in the debate over judicial nominees. And the ad seems to be helping to mobilize Catholic voters. As I understand it, the ad was used primarily in Maine and Rhode Island. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Republican moderate Senators Snowe and Chafee, whose support for the Pryor nomination was in question, have now apparently indicated that they will back the nomination, thus enabling Republicans to vote the nomination out of committee without fear of being embarrassed by Republican defections on the Senate floor.
As to the merits, York is not very comfortable with the ad. He worries that “To turn the tables on Democrats, the GOP had to resort to the kind of interest-group-sensitivity attack they have condemned when Democrats used them against Bush nominees. For example, the GOP’s accusations of Democratic anti-Catholicism are strikingly similar to oft-repeated Democratic charges that Republican nominees are ‘insensitive’ to issues of civil rights. The problem with such charges is that they are almost always phony. There is no more evidence that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are anti-Catholic than there is evidence that Republican nominees are racists or judicial activists or religious zealots.”
In my view, whether the ad’s charges are “phony” depends on how one construes them. If the charge is that Senate Democrats oppose Pryor because he is a Catholic, then the charge is false. If the charge is that Senate Democrats oppose Pryor because he strongly holds views that are part of Catholic doctrine, then the charge is true. As York explains, the “headline” of the ad — “Catholics need not apply” — levels the former (false) charge. The body of the ad levels the latter (true) one. It states: “Some in the U.S. Senate are attacking Bill Pryor for having ‘deeply held’ Catholic beliefs to prevent him from becaoming a federal judge. Don’t they know the Constitution expressly prohibits religious tests for public office?”
So, in my view, Republicans should continue to run these kinds of ads, but be more careful when they write the headlines. The bottom line is that Senate Democrats are imposing a litmus test that would exclude from the judiciary people who firmly believe in the tenets of Catholicism (as well as those of many other religions). By no means should Republicans let them off the hook for this.
HINDROCKET adds: I’m back from three steamy, 100-degree plus days in Dallas, where I was able to post a bit with a borrowed laptop. It’s nice to come home to find Deacon sticking up for Catholics. Long-time readers are probably aware that I’m a Christian (middle of the road Lutheran), while Deacon and Trunk are both Jews. We are in that sense an ecumenical site; yet Deacon’s defense of practicing, believing Catholics could be substituted for mine without missing a beat. And likewise, I think that my defenses of Judaism and the Israeli people could substitute, on any given day, for Deacon’s or Trunk’s. This ecumenicism is partly, I suppose, an artifact of friendship and our own idiosyncratic beliefs. But more broadly, I think it illustrates the fact that conservatism, as we understand it, provides a framework within which all religions that subscribe to the basic norms of a pluralistic world can flourish, and in which both the free-exercise portion of the First Amendment and the no-establishment portion of the same amendment–a crucial point–can flourish. It’s not for nothing that they call our heritage Judeo-Christian.
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