10 April 2009

Two Catholics Walk into a Television Studio . . .

No, it ain't a joke. Via TPM, Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O'Donnell squared off on Hardball last night, and as television infotainment goes, the debate makes for pretty good fare.

"It is an abomination, it is the greatest horror in my lifetime in this country, I think it is a dreadful scar on America."

What's got Pat Buchanan so fired up? AIG bonuses? Incompetence in VA hospitals? Mexican drug wars spilling over U.S. borders?

Hardly. Buchanan's hyperbole sums his reaction to Notre Dame's invite to the president to give the commencement address to the class of '09. No, I'm not kidding. The comment isn't even about abortion. These are Buchanan's words for the fact of the invite alone.

The remarks come pretty deep into the clip, at the 10:22 mark. While you wait for the money quote, though, you'll be treated to cascades of incandescent fireworks invoking abortion, the death penalty, free speech, the pope, Catholicism, and polls. And the best part of all, O'Donnell pretty much leaves Buchanan lost in the emptiness of his own rhetoric (though I thought O'Donnell could have lowered the heat to achieve better effect).

The gist of O'Donnell's argument comes in the form of a question. The Catholic Church opposes both the death penalty and abortion. Given that context, why was it okay for George W. Bush--who oversaw more executions than any president in U.S. history--to speak at Notre Dame but not okay for Obama--who supports a woman's right to choose--to do the same?

If these two guys are proxies for extreme fundamentalism vs. moderate pragmatism within the Catholic populace in the U.S., then watch for fundamentalism to become more and more marginalized by the likes of Lawrence O'Donnell. While Buchanan's ire and outrage will resonate with some viewers, the simple power of O'Donnell's logic and reason will reach even more.