I have frequently been called a “chickenhawk” on Iraq and, though I am loath to admit it, my critics are basically correct – I am pretty much of a chicken… on Iraq and everything else. I have been since the seventh grade when I chickened out on a fight with Ernie Schaub in the yard of Junior High School 167 Manhattan. (There – I’ve finally said it!)
Still, I am not nearly as much of a chicken as Lawrence O’Donnell revealed himself to be on the Hugh Hewitt radio show last week.
O’Donnell was on to discuss some controversial remarks he made about Mormonism on the McLaughlin Group in reaction to Mitt Romney’s speech on the presidential candidate’s religion. Actually the remarks were more than routinely controversial – the Democratic pundit/television writer (The West Wing) launched a full-scale attack on Mormonism, branding its founding father Joseph Smith a racist and demanding Romney disassociate himself from Nineteenth Century tenets and behaviors of his faith long ago abandoned.
Now I want to be clear – I didn’t take seriously a word O’Donnell said about Romney and Mormonism on McLaughlin. It was a plain, old-fashioned political hatchet job of the most transparent sort. If Mitt Romney had been a Democrat running for President, you wouldn’t have heard word one out of O’Donnell about Mormonism or Smith. And whatever you think of Romney, the man has already served as governor of Massachusetts with no discernible control being exerted on him by the solons of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake. The whole thing is a non-starter and made O’Donnell seem like a political hack – and I say this as an agnostic, frustrated that Romney’s rather banal speech completely ignored the contribution of religious skeptics to America.
What interests me far more is what O’Donnell said during the following exchange at the end of his interview on Hugh’s show, in which the seemingly playful pundit showed far more about himself than he may have intended:
HH: Okay. And do you believe, would you say the same things about Mohammed as you just said about Joseph Smith?
LO’D: Oh, well, I’m afraid of what the…that’s where I’m really afraid. I would like to criticize Islam much more than I do publicly, but I’m afraid for my life if I do.
HH: Well, that’s candid.
LO’D: Mormons are the nicest people in the world. They’re not going to ever…
HH: So you can be bigoted towards Mormons, because they’ll just send you a strudel.
LO’D: They’ll never take a shot at me. Those other people, I’m not going to say a word about them.
HH: They’ll send you a strudel. The Mormons will bake you a cake and be nice to you.
LO’D: I agree.
HH: Lawrence O’Donnell, I appreciate your candor.
I appreciate O’Donnell’s candor too, but perhaps not in the way that Hugh meant. In fact, when I first read those statements, my mouth dropped open.
They are particularly disturbing if you compare the estimated number of Muslims in the world (1.5 billion) to the number of Mormons (12 million) and the likelihood of either group being responsible for, say, a bombing in the New York subway. Of course, O’Donnell is clearly aware of this – all too clearly. And he has decided to opt out.
This means he has opted out as well of a whole series of the most important questions of our time, such as are there moderate Muslims, can Islam be reformed, what is the relationship between religious doctrine and violence, what is jihad, what is dhimmitude, can true democracy exist under Islam, is it terminally expansionist in its ideology, can women and homosexuals achieve their rights under Sharia law, what happens when Sharia expands into Western society, etc.
Compare those questions to whether taxes should go up or down five percent or even to the political relevance of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and you will see just how absurd (and dangerous) O’Donnell’s terrified off-hand comments were.
Remarks like O’Donnell’s disqualify the maker from offering any serious opinion on foreign policy ever. Without the courage of your convictions, there are no convictions worth having. Indeed, in a sense, they are not convictions at all. They are not there.
O’Donnell’s cowardice would not be interesting, however, were he not typical. O’Donnell’s kind of fear is all around us. We have it among artists who censor themselves and journalists who are afraid to speak out. These people have buried their traditional liberal values under a veneer of false tolerance and trendy cultural relativism and essentially turned liberalism on its head.
O’Donnell is no longer a liberal in the sense I understood it growing up. In fact, he runs away from defending the basic canon of liberalism without which it cannot exist – free speech. A true liberal is a man like Flemming Rose who had the courage to defend that freedom against the onslaught of opposition to the publication of the Danish cartoons. Where was O’Donnell on that? Quivering in his corner, worrying whether he will be shot? Where was O’Donnell (a man of the entertainment industry, no less) when director Theo Van Gogh was stabbed to death by an Islamist on the streets of Amsterdam for making a film critical of Islam? Busy attacking George Bush, I imagine. The courage of Rose and Van Gogh (and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan, etc.) is paying O’Donnell’s check from the McLaughlin Group in a very real sense. He owes them all a commission.
O’Donnell’s words remind me more clearly than anything in recent days why I no longer identify as a “liberal” in its modern usage. It has become a meaningless term. I may be a chicken, but I am not a coward. I have criticized Islam often and I will continue to do so.
Striking screenwriter Roger L. Simon is the CEO of Pajamas Media.