Documentation: Progressive Bigotry—What the Klan Did to JFK, Doug Wilder Does to Clarence Thomas

Editor’s note: After Virginia Governor Doug Wilder attacked Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as a “devout Catholic,” he was forced to backtrack slightly, apologize “if anyone was offended,” and claim that the nominee’s religion “should not be a badge of consideration.” Others were less accommodating; feminist Florence Kennedy, for instance, said, “It’s bad enough to have a conservative. I mean, even if he were dumb and handsome, but he’s funny-looking, and he is a Catholic.” (For the record, Thomas now attends an Episcopal church.) One of the sternest rebukes to Wilder came from best-selling novelist Tom Clancy, whose essay first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

A recent issue of the Washington Post carried an article concerning Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Written by veteran reporter and columnist Davis S. Broder, the article cites the reaction of Governor L. Douglas Wilder (D., Va.) to the nomination. Wilder, who is black, is quoted as saying that Thomas should be required to state his view on abortion because “he has indicated that he is a very devout Catholic.” But what is the relevance of this? Wilder was asked. The governor responded: “I was in Poland not too long ago, and the pope came there reiterating that he thought abortion was wrong and shouldn’t be permitted. The question is, How much allegiance is there to the pope?”

It is noteworthy that Wilder is using the same argument used by the Ku Klux Klan, when John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency in 1960, to rail against the possibility of a Catholic in the White House. It would seem that the American political scene has come full circle—or perhaps even further than that. Here we have a black using against another black the same argument used by white bigots against a white. The additional spice in this particular pie comes from the fact that the black attacker is a “progressive.” I suppose that means that Wilder is free to be a bigot. Indeed, there is a point of view that it is not metaphysically possible for a black to be a bigot, and anything he says must be all right.

Says who?

The implication here is a simple one: No Catholic is entitled to hold an important political position unless he or she disagrees with the moral teachings of his or her church. Excuse me—not all the teachings. When the Catholic Church urges racial justice, social conscience, world disarmament, or opposition to the death penalty, that’s OK—even admirable. But when the Catholic Church takes the opinion—and quite seriously—that abortion is a moral wrong, that single fact disqualifies a Church member from a seat on the Supreme Court, since he or she might have “allegiance to the pope.” We can’t have that, can we? Orthodoxy is one thing, but religious beliefs are another.

In short, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic. A good Catholic might labor under the opinion that the Church is right more often than it is wrong—a most dangerous assumption, since only the progressive left is always right.

More fundamentally, the left here reveals itself for what it is. Its only principles are its own, and they are scarcely principles at all. Any group that mimics the arguments of bigots is itself bigoted. By what supreme arrogance does anyone demand that another person must step away from his religious beliefs in order to be a decent public servant? By what astounding ignorance does that individual mistake religious belief as allegiance to a person and not a moral principle? What sort of personal prejudice allows one person to reject another because that person happens to go to church?

It is now official: The Roman Catholic Church is not Politically Correct. One supposes that earthquake will soon be noticed in the Vatican.

If life is to have any meaning at all, principles may never be set aside at any time and for any reason. If it was wrong for the pointy-headed fools of the KKK to oppose Jack Kennedy on the basis of religion, it must also be wrong for a “progressive” governor (even a sensitive black one) to use the same argument. To require that any person step away from his religious beliefs in order to hold a public office is itself a gross violation of constitutional principles, a breach of faith with American tradition that can scarcely be understood without sober and lengthy contemplation.

I will state it more simply for the politically correct progressives who have trouble with arguments based on principle: It is against the law to discriminate against a person on the basis of that person’s religious affiliation. Is one now to suppose that the politically acceptable progressives are totally free to violate that constitutional and statutory principle in the furtherance of their political views?

I submit that it’s long overdue for the “progressive” elements of the American left to think long and hard about whatever it is that they stand for. I can hardly wait for the revelation. For the moment, I hope Wilder finds his bigotry as comfortable as he finds his arguments. For my part, until such time as the governor reconsiders and recants his views, I will hold him in nothing higher than contempt.


  • Tom Clancy

    Thomas Leo "Tom" Clancy, Jr. (born 1947) is an American author who is best known for his technically detailed espionage and military science storylines that are set during and in the aftermath of the Cold War.

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