On the intellectual shallowness of Jack Cafferty

As is true of most of what appears on CNN, Jack Cafferty's commentary has never been exactly a model of balance. Fair enough, I guess; whatever is clearly labeled as commentary has to be judged by a different standard of objectivity than straight reporting, and most of us are not equally insightful at all times.

But I got a real kick out of this gem, which I came across this morning on Real Clear Politics.

Cafferty tries- rather embarrassingly- to make the case that John McCain is intellectually shallow because of his answers to questions asked by Rick Warren at his joint appearance with his opponent, Barack Obama, at Warren's Saddleback Church earlier in the week. The trouble is that it's Cafferty who comes off as shallow.

Consider this odd comment: "When asked what his Christian faith means to him, his answer was a one-liner. 'It means I'm saved and forgiven.' Great scholars have wrestled with the meaning of faith for centuries. McCain then retold a story we've all heard a hundred times about a guard in Vietnam drawing a cross in the sand."

Of course, Warren's question was not about "the meaning of faith-" about as banal an abstraction as I can think of. Whose faith? And in what context? The question as McCafferty poses it is so general as to be devoid of meaning. Not so the question Pastor Warren actually asked, which had to do specifically with Christian faith (an entity with a bit more content than "faith" as an abstraction), and even more specifically with McCain's Christian faith. The answer McCain gave- whether McCafferty likes it or not- is essentially the answer the Protestant Reformation- one of the greatest intellectual movements in Western history- gave back in the Sixteenth Century, and still gives today. Justification, for Luther and Calvin, was the very center of specifically the Christian faith- and McCain summarized it very well, in a manner perfectly responsive to Warren's question about his Christian faith.

"The meaning of faith-" whatever that even means- was simply not what Warren asked about.

Cafferty's next gem: "Asked about his greatest moral failure, he cited his first marriage, which ended in divorce. While saying it was his greatest moral failing, he offered nothing in the way of explanation. Why not?"

Maybe because he wasn't asked?

Cafferty continues, with similar disingenuity: "Throughout the evening, McCain chose to recite portions of his stump speech as answers to the questions he was being asked. Why? He has lived 71 years. Surely he has some thoughts on what it all means that go beyond canned answers culled from the same speech he delivers every day."

As if Barack Obama did otherwise! It seems to have escaped Cafferty that the format of the evening precluded prolonged and detailed conversation. Canned responses were what both candidates gave, because they were all there was time for.

Cafferty complains: "He was asked 'if evil exists.' His response was to repeat for the umpteenth time that Osama bin Laden is a bad man and he will pursue him to 'the gates of hell.' That was it."

And what more, precisely, did Cafferty want? The existence of evil is in fact one of the hotly contested philosophical questions of the age. A goodly proportion of the public (and probably a greater proportion of the MSM) would answer that question in the negative. A close friend- a collegue in the ministry, who taught a junior college class on the history of religion- was appalled not very long ago to find that most of his students were not even willing to apply the word "evil" to Adolph Hitler. After all, they reasoned, murdering eleven million of his fellow human beings might not have been evil to him.

Yes, McCain believes that such a thing as evil exists. Does Cafferty? And does Cafferty not agree that bin Laden is evil? And if so, precisely how is McCain's answer wanting? That it was not issued in the form of a moral treatise? That he did not exceed the amount of time allotted for his answer? How?

In short, McCain answered the question directly- and yes, in a way that pointed out that the world is a more dangerous place than the Left dreams it to be. If Cafferty was looking for a moral treatise on its nature, he would be well advised to go to the library rather than to a question-and-answer session for rival politicians on TV!

McCafferty alleges that McCain makes so many mistakes that reporters are being denied access to him. Never mind that his "mistakes" often are completely accurate (as in his characterization of al Sadr's Mahdi Army as Shi'ite- widely (and wrongly) labeled an error in the MSM). Where was McCafferty when Barak Obama was complaining about the poppy growing for the opium trade in Iraq?

McCafferty blathers on: "One after another, McCain's answers were shallow, simplistic, and trite. He showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has -- virtually none."

Ah- the obligatory slam at Bush; the repeating of the inane "McSame" meme with which the Democrats and the Left try to make the intellectually dishonest argument that John McCain is a George Bush clone! In fact, the very answers Cafferty complains of are serious, to the point, and responsive to the question- unlike the kind of contentless pseudo-profundity the theological and cultural Left (read: Barack Obama and liberal Protestants and Catholics collectively, to say nothing of the secular media) doubtless would have preferred.

If you're looking for moral banality, try Obama's answer to Warren's question as to when a human being achieves personhood: "That answer is beyond my pay grade." In other words, Obama is unable to state categorically that to be a living member of species homo sapiens ought to be enough to qualify as possessing human dignity. And that, of course, is the frightening thing about the pro-choice movement generally. If the line is not to be drawn at being human, while being at the same time alive, any other line at which personhood might be drawn (and there are admittedly many possible alternatives) is finally arbitrary- and not only can but will be moved the very moment an individual or society finds it inconvenient. Obama's answer was as inconclusive and non-responsive as McCain's- "At conception-" was principled and direct. Alas, it's also a line that doesn't move.

But the Cafferty types and the theological and cultural Left seem oddly to equate insubstantiality and vagueness with profundity, and directness and intellectual coherence with its opposite. Cafferty's apparent understanding of profundity reminds me of Being There, the 1979 movie featuring Peter Sellers as a sheltered, clueless, mutton-headed gardener whose incoherent ramblings are thought by all and sundry to be gems of insight and profundity- to the point where, at the film's end, the kingmakers are in the act of anointing him as the next president of the United States. Cafferty, like the kingmakers in the film, seems to prefer his president's thoughts on moral issues to be as vague, rambling, and finally lacking in content as possible.

"Where are John McCain's writings exploring the vexing moral issues of our time?," Cafferty asks. He wants a theologian as a president? Funny. The cultural Left usually frowns on that sort of thing. In any case, McCain's clear and principles stand against post-modernism and the devaluation of the human person at the Warren event stood in stark contrast to Obama's non-committal evasion of those very issues.

"Where are his position papers setting forth his careful consideration of foreign policy, the welfare state, education, America's moral responsibility in the world, etc., etc., etc.?" Earth to Cafferty! They're readily available from the McCain campaign. They have been for many months. If McCafferty himself had more intellectual curiosity, he would have read them by now!

Do your job and read them now, Jack! Surely you know that they're there. Surely you know that it's precisely McCain's detailed and well laid out views on foreign policy, and his thoughtful, well-defined world view (compared with Obama's innocence on these matters) that's one of the chief arguments for electing him!

The rest of this disingenuous article is the kind of ad hominem screed with which the Left (including much of the mainstream media) has befouled our political discourse ever since that memorable night in 2000 when the networks continued to award Florida (and in effect the presidency) to Al Gore for hours after it became clear that the exit polls upon which the judgment was made was mistaken- thus suppressing Bush's national vote in the West by a margin sufficient to win the popular vote for Al Gore. If Cafferty is embarrassed by Bush, then I am embarassed by the smug elitism of the shallow minds which regard the evasion of a question as profound, directness in answering it a sign of insubstantiality- and falsehoods and name-calling as the journalist's proper stock in trade.

ADDENDUM: One final thought: When Cafferty volunteers, in effect, to be tortured for a number of years on a point of principle- as McCain did when the North Vietnamese offered him an early release from the Hanoi Hilton because his dad was CINCPAC- then and only then will our friend from CNN have standing to question the depth of John McCain's moral principles.

If Cafferty is sincere in looking for something written by McCain that speaks to the substance of his moral beliefs, there is one book in particular that he really ought to read.


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