The Irony of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s Holier-Than-Thou Hit Piece on Rick Perry

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has written one of her perennial disingenuous articles manipulating religion for political gain (she’s earlier claimed that Obama is more Catholic than the pope, since Obama supports abortion — no, really). This time, she’s bashing Rick Perry for not being sufficiently Christian on the pages of The Atlantic.

My interest isn’t in attacking or defending Rick Perry.  Rather, I just want to point out how utterly hypocritical and self-serving this piece (and scores more like it) are.  After all, this is the same Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has rode the coattails of her uncle,  President John F. Kennedy, who she says “urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.”  So when it suits her, she wants religion to have no place in politics (for example, in the area of abortion). But when it doesn’t suit her, she wants “to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.

In doing so, she manages to badly bungle what Scripture actually says. The Atlantic article is a masterpiece of unintended ironies.  For example, she begins by attacking Rick Perry for being proud of his Christianity:

Most political candidates also profess their belief in God. At the same time, they rarely make a big deal of their devotion. They’ve probably read Matthew 6:1, which warns, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them.”

Obviously, nothing in Matthew 6:1 suggests that Christians need to hide their Christianity, and just as obviously, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is in no position to accuse others of exploiting their faith for political gain.  After all, that’s the whole point of this piece.  Shortly after this, she says:

I had read [The Purpose Driven Life], and coming from a different Christian tradition, I was struck by how much it focused on getting you to feel good about yourself rather than caring about your neighbor, which Christ had said was the greatest commandment.

I was dumbstruck by this one.  This is a pretty basic error.  From Matthew 22:34-40:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Yes, loving your neighbor (which is a bit more than “caring about your neighbor,” I suspect) is critical to living out the Gospel.  But it’s not the greatest commandment, precisely because Christ didn’t come to create a Welfare State, but the Kingdom of God.  We love our neighbors because we love God, and His Image and Likeness is imprinted upon every face we see.

To confuse these is indicative of a misunderstanding of the very purpose of the Gospel.  Christ is the hub.  When we draw closer to Him, we come closer to the other spokes — right relationship with God leads to right relationship with everyone else.

Theology aside, how about basic journalism?  We’ve got Ms. Kennedy Townsend setting herself up as the authority over who can call themselves Christian, and yet she’s getting basic details wrong.  Do they not fact-check at The Atlantic?  I can’t help but imagine that Mark Twain, a former columnist for The Atlantic himself, would be ashamed at how bad the magazine has become.

At bottom, if Kennedy Townsend really believed that the government should be imposing Christian morality, she’d have a much harder time defending her record as a hardcore pro-choicer during her time as Lt. Governor of Maryland. So I don’t even view this article as stupid: I view it as dishonest.

I know that there’s a broader legitimate debate to be had amongst Christians over what role the government should have, both in promoting morality and in providing for the “least of these” (Mt. 25:45).  Scripture leaves enough ambiguity that well-meaning Christians have come out on different sides of this, and many of these issues come down the prudential judgment of the believer and voter.  We’re called to care for the poor: how we do it is left up to us.

By all means, we should continue to have that debate.  But this article, and scores more like it, do nothing to further that.  Rather, they’re just a way for liberals like Kennedy Townsend to hijack Christianity in a none-too-subtle attempt to score political points against Republican political candidates.  Regardless of your view on the appropriate role of government in the protection of the common good, we should be united against these wolves in sheep’s clothing.


  1. There were two typos in that short paragraph, actually. I also said “she’d getting basic details wrong,” instead of “she’s.” The Lord has ways of keeping my pride in check…

  2. Hey Joe,
    This isn’t regarding this post, but I can’t find another way to contact you, so this is the best I can do.

    I’m just wondering if you were able to contact Mark Driscoll? If not, I could give you the contact info of this Deacon who says that he has met with him and has regular meetings with him or something.

  3. HocCogitat,

    While I disagree with Kathryn Lopez’s apparent position on waterboarding (and she actually wrote a second post saying she’d regretted the one quoted in the site you linked to), I do recognize that there’s moral ambiguity on the issue in a way that doesn’t exist on abortion.

    That is, you can be anti-torture and still okay with waterboarding, if you think waterboarding isn’t torture. Like I said, I think that position is wrong — I think waterboarding is wrong, and I think it’s torture. But I know rather devout orthodox Catholics who disagree with me, and think waterboarding is relatively harmless (in the sense that there’s no long term damage).

    So I fail to see how Lopez is hypocritical, and I think you’ll have to develop this thought for it to compelling. This also answers your comment on the Americanism post, in which you suggested that Catholics could no more support Santorum than Obama. Particularly in the absence of any further guidance from the Church, that’s a false equivalence.


    Thanks for touching base on it, and I appreciate the offer. I sent an e-mail to [email protected], and asked them to forward it to Mark Driscoll. Samantha Duarte, the Central Office Manager, said she’d forward it along. That was a week ago, and the last I’ve heard.

    I also e-mailed Gerry Breshears, but I got an autoreply saying he was out until Thursday, Aug. 11. Nothing further from him yet, either.

    I’ll try and keep you updated when and if any new developments occur, and you might check with the deacon to see if he has Driscoll’s contact info., or could say something to him directly.

    God bless,


  4. It seems to me that there is a *factual* and not *moral* ambiguity. Namely, whether or not it is torture, not whether or not it is wrong. So, it seems to me that those people who make the factual judgment you do (that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are torture) should view Santorum as you do Obama (as sanctioning something morally evil).

    In fact, it is really quite similar to the question of whether abortion is murder. There is a difference in that the Church has quite clearly held that it is murder and it has not been so clear on enhanced interrogation techniques. But that is really an insignificant difference for those, like you, who already think it is torture. For those like you both Santorum and Obama sanction a moral evil that they wrongly think is not a moral evil.

    I will grant, however, that Lopez may not be hypocritical if she thinks it isn’t torture.


  5. Right. It would be gravely immoral for me to go against conscience and support waterboarding, given my beliefs. And any candidate whoapprovers of waterboarding gets my vote only in spite of that, and only if their opponent is worse.

  6. Cool, Thx.

    Does that mean that your camp will generally be under a moral directive to use a long shot party or write in candidate option (assuming the left candidate supports abortion and the right candidate supports water boarding, as is typical.)? Or do you have the option of voting for the best realistic candidate?

  7. We’re permitted to vote for flawed candidates, as long as it’s (a) in spite of any immoral positions that they take, and (b) due to a strong countervailing reason.

    For example, voting for a candidate who is pro-torture could be acceptable, if you (a) wish he wasn’t pro-torture, and (b) vote for him to avoid a pro-abortion candidate from being elected (since the gravity and magnitude of abortion are objectively worse).

    A friend of mine had a helpful analogy:

    “The same logic could probably be extended to wartime. Even though our political leaders (and their domestic political opponents!) supported all sorts of abuses of human rights/war crimes/atrocities/targeting of civilians/etc. in World War II, it seems like we’re on firm ground when we say that we would have supported the United States, despite it all, because of the diabolical government in Germany.”

    So just as we’d support FDR and Truman over Hilter (while opposing FDR’s internment camps and Truman’s atomic bombs), we can also support an imperfect candidate over an even-worse one.

    That said, some Catholics avoid doing this, out of fear that associating with the Not-Quite-As-Bad Party for too long will blind them to the evils of “their side.” Mark Shea prefers to do the Third Party thing, supporting candidates he knows won’t win. I did that in ’04, but decided to vote McCain in ’08 (in D.C., where my vote didn’t matter), because McCain’s support for ESCR was less bad than Obama’s support for ESCR and abortion, and a vote for anyone else wouldn’t have stopped Obama’s election.

    As you can probably guess, a lot of this is left to conscience. Either route is acceptable, as long as our reasons are morally right. Hence the importance of good conscience-formation. God bless,


  8. Well, I give the Kennedy’s kudos for believing as and sticking together as a family. That is something which is missing in much of the culture. That said, what they believe is more than slightly off track. Kerry Kennedy’s book, Being Catholic Now, was one of the most sad accumulations of “opinions” that I have ever read.

  9. Robert,

    I can’t support abstention, based on the guidance which the Church has given:

    Do Not Be Anxious,

    Well said. For all their faults, the Kennedys really did stick together. And theres really is a tragic case — I think that the Boston hierarchy had bears more than a bit of blame for how badly their Catholic values turned out. Plus, Rose Kennedy has to be some kind of saint.

    In Christ,


  10. I see your point that this is left to conscience, etc. But I don’t quite understand your personal thought process. Because voting for a 3d party would have amounted to throwing your vote away, as it were, you voted for McCain, which, as you note, made no difference?

    Wasn’t the only possible difference on the table putting the 2 main parties on notice that a third party is sucking off votes they might get if they only avoided grave evils? I mean, if lots of Catholics voted for a third party, that party would still lose handily. But it would put the Republicans on notice that their stance on torture was costing them votes and they would possibly change b/c of it. That seems to me to be a way to make one’s vote “matter” in a way it wouldn’t otherwise.

  11. HocCogitat,

    Obama beat McCain in D.C. 92% – 7%. So he might as well have been a third-party candidate. Given this, why support him over any other third-party candidate?

    In the swing states, third party votes get a lot of attention, because they can play a spoiler role (like Nader voters in Florida being the reason Bush was elected president).

    But in someplace like D.C., where it’s a total blow-out, the only thing that matters is the gap. When McCain “only” won Utah 62-34% in 2008 (compared to Bush taking it 72-26 in ’04), it signaled conservative displeasure. In the areas he was strongest, he wasn’t all that strong. The Republicans won with a 28 point gap, down from a 46 point gap.

    Likewise, with Obama in D.C. Voting McCain helped reduce the gap by which Obama won D.C. twice as effectively as voting third party (since it’s both one fewer vote for Obama, and one more vote for the candidate they’re comparing him with). So it’s still a protest ballot.

    Having said that, I’m pretty ambivalent on the issue. I worry about the tendency to want to throw pro-life ballots away until we can find a perfect candidate, but I’m even more worried about pro-lifers selling out on issues like ESCR.



  12. But, do you see what you just did there? You turned: “candidate that does not positively support a grave and intrinsic evil” into “the perfect candidate”. This is a false equivalence, don’t you think?

    And isn’t the really important number not the gap between the candidates but the percent the winner got? If he’s well above 50% he doesn’t have to worry, but if he dips close he has to start trying to appeal to some of the third party positions (and the second best candidate will start trying to form a coalition). I don’t see why voting for McCain is the best way to signal displeasure (and it seems to send a muddled and false message about your displeasure, as well), or am I missing something?

  13. HocCogitat,

    Certainly, equating “candidate that does not positively support a grave and intrinsic evil” with “the perfect candidate” would be a false equivalence. I don’t think I’m doing that.

    When I wrote of my fear of throwing “pro-life ballots away until we can find a perfect candidate,” my concern was this. Every candidate is flawed: even if one of the tw o major parties puts forward a solidly pro-life, anti-ESCR, anti-torture, anti-unjust war candidate,
    it’ll take all of fifteen minutes for the media and their opponents to smear them.

    And smears aside, they’ll have legitimate flaws: perhaps we’ll hate their views on tax policy, or the environment, or any number of other issues. Or they could just gaffe-prone, or have a history of defective judgment.

    My concern is this: when that candidate comes along (whoever he or she may be), are we going to be so married to the idea that we’re conscientious abstainers that we’d refuse to cast a vote for him, since he’s visibly imperfect, while our third party candidate, free from any scrutiny, still seems pristine?

    I suppose it’s a bit like dating. There should be some non-negotiables in what you’re looking for in a future spouse. But if you spend your life pining over a person who exists only in your own head, well, that’s no good, either. So that’s what I had in mind there.

    Saying all of that, I’m definitely troubled by the idea of supporting a candidate who positively supports intrinsic evil, although I’ve done it, in spite of their support.



  14. Well, ok, we have to keep in mind that among candidates not giving positive support for grave and intrinsic evil, pragmatic considerations like whether they can defeat candidates that do should guide us. I grant you that. So, e.g., between the two Republican candidates not positively supporting a grave and intrinsic evil (Paul and Huntsman), maybe you would support Huntsman b/c you think only he could defeat Obama even though you’d prefer Paul in the White House if you could just declare one of the two President.

    In short, I’m saying that it is hard for me to see how not positively supporting grave and intrisic evil is not one of the non-negotiables.

    Are you saying that you think by making that one of the non-negotiables we will fall onto a slippery slope where we lose sight of what should be negotiable altogether?

  15. PS–This isn’t personal, as far as I can tell I’ve voted for a candidate that positively supports a grave and intrinsic evil every time I’ve voted for President. I’m just reassessing this.

  16. Here’s another way to put it. You imply that “There should be some non-negotiables” in voting. This raise the question: How could anything be non-negotiable if positive support for a grave and intrinsic evil is negotiable?

    One might answer by saying that only some of these evils are non-negotiable? But which ones? One way to distinguish is by clearing out those upon which the candidate has no effect. Voting for a pro-choice chief of police is probably fine, e.g.

    Ironically, if this is true one might support Obama over a pro torture Republican (since the President has less control over abortion than torture, where he could lift the DoD order against waterboarding his first day in office).

    Otherwise you’d have to say one G&I evil is “graver” than the other. And I’m not sure the Church supports such a distinction (could be wrong here).

    So it seems that if anything is non-negotiable than positive support for any grave and intrinsic evil must be non-negotiable? Am I wrong?

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