Monday, April 11, 2005

Labels Don't Always Fit

In case you missed it, here's an intriguing bit of dialogue from the April 8 telecast of CNN's "Inside Politics":
WOLF BLITZER: While they were united today in mourning the death of the pope, U.S. Catholics are a diverse group, as illustrated by two of our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, the conservative Robert Novak, the liberal Paul Begala, both good Catholics -- I don't know if good Catholics -- but both Catholics. I am sure Bob is a good Catholic. I am not sure about Paul Begala.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, now, who are to you pass moral judgment on my religion, Mr. Blitzer?
BLITZER: All right, go ahead. Go ahead.(LAUGHTER)
BEGALA: My goodness gracious, on the day of my Holy Father's funeral. My eldest son is named John Paul after the pope.
BLITZER: So you are -- so you are a good Catholic.
BEGALA: I am serious. Actually, that annoys me. I don't think anybody should presume that a liberal is not a good Catholic.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Paul -- Paul -- Paul is a good Catholic.
BEGALA: The Holy Father is liberal.And, in fact, when Carlos was speaking, I was watching in the green room. Underneath, some producer had written, "Many Catholic doctrines are conservative." Absolutely correct. Many are liberal as well. The Holy Father bitterly opposed President Bush's war in Iraq. He came to St. Louis -- and I was there -- and he begged America to give up the death penalty. President Bush strongly supports it, as did President Clinton and others. Many of the Holy Father's views, my church's viewers are views are extraordinarily liberal. I mean, the pope talked about savage, unbridled capitalism, not Bob Novak's capitalism.(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I was only teasing.
BEGALA: OK. BLITZER: Don't be so sensitive.
BEGALA: Well, it's an important day for my faith.
BLITZER: It's a very important day.
BEGALA: He's the only pope of my adult lifetime, so I'm a little emotional.
(end dialogue, back to me blogging)
Disclosure: I first read about this in an e-newsletter from Media Matters, a group which tries to combat the gazillion or so people crying about liberal bias by tracking conservative attitudes in news programming. But the transcription above comes straight from the CNN Web site, cnn.com.
The exchange between Blitzer and Begala will probably show up in some form in one of my columns because it addresses something that's been on my topic list for some time -- the way that, when Christianity (and not just Catholicism) comes up in news stories, it's so often in terms of conservatism. During and after the 2004 presidential election, for example, I heard a lot about Christians voting for Bush. Implied in that discussion is a contradiction between having a strong faith and voting for Kerry.
I don't buy it, any more than I think we can judge Begala's and Novak's Catholicism based on their politics. Anyone can have a strong faith, exercise that faith in a given church and still disagree with aspects of that church's doctrine.
But a discussion from that premise can be complicated. And we can all see the ways that television news in particular fears complexity. It's much tidier to reduce a philosophy to a label -- "conservative Christian,'' say -- and to make dialogue from label-tossing ("You liberal!""You conservative!"). But some ideas do not fit on one label, and one label cannot encompass all ideas.

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