Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Angry with Abp. Nienstedt? Respond by offending all Catholics . . .

I have not yet received this campaign postcard from the Minnesota DFL party, but thanks to Grant Gallicho over at Commonweal for bringing it to my attention.  In case you can't quite read it, the priest is wearing a button that says "Ignore the Poor."  I'm not sure that it will be obvious to all voters, but it seems to be a not-so-subtle swipe at the Archbishop's decision to focus on the marriage issue.  Who could have thought that this postcard would be a good idea?

Priest postcard 

UPDATE: I still question the wisdom of this mailing, but the DFL has clarified that it aims at a specific GOP candidate who is also a (nondenominational) preacher and is not intended to be anti-Catholic.


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For non-Minnesotans, the DFL Party is our version of the Democratic Party. In other words, not a fringe group -- very puzzling (to me, at least) how this postcard could ever see the light of day.

Posted by: rob vischer | Oct 26, 2010 1:46:56 PM

Campaigns follow the polls. Do you have polling or focus groups that show that Minnesota independents are swayed by depicting opponents as imposing their religion? Pro-assisted-suicide campaigners in Washington admit that they had Catholic baiting ads in the wings and only refrained from using them widely because their other messaging points resonated better, though they did use those messages in more limited forums. A group like DFL is not going to run any promotion without confirming it through testing--they may have internal focus groups you are not aware of.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 3:05:06 PM

Commonweal has an update. The reverse side of the postcard makes it clear that it was NOT aimed at Catholics but at a particular Republican candidate, who also happens to be a preacher at a nondenominational church, and it is attacking his views, not those of the Catholic Church.

Posted by: Elizabeth Brown | Oct 26, 2010 5:04:47 PM

And the Willie Horton ad was not racist at all, but highlighted a particular case.

And the Jesse Helms's "white hands" ad was not meant to stoke racial haterd, but to point out the injustice of a particular instance of affirmative action.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 5:32:28 PM

It wasn't aimed at Catholics? Right. Anyone want to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

Posted by: Fr. J | Oct 26, 2010 6:12:17 PM

Fr. J,

Take a look at BOTH SIDES of the card.

It is undeniably, indisputably, unequivocally aimed at "Preacher Dan," who is not a Catholic.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 26, 2010 6:22:09 PM

Friends, let's keep the focus on the ideas, not on our opinions of the person offering the ideas. (I've deleted some comments.)

Posted by: rob vischer | Oct 26, 2010 11:51:06 PM

The front of the mailing is "undeniably, indisputably, unequivocally" aimed at Evangelical "Preacher Dan"? David, please share with us what clerical garb this low church protestant wears, when he's not sporting his cassock and biretta I mean.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 7:24:21 AM

Even David Gibson's all-Democratic-spin-all-the-time column wonders out loud why "DFL for some reason chose to represent a lay Protestant by using a Catholic priest in clerics." "I've never worn a Roman collar," Dan Hall told Gallicho. "No one in my church does."

The answer's simple: the front side doesn't represent Pentecostal Preacher Dan Hall. It can't possibly represent him. Undeniably, indisputably, unequivocally.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 7:35:30 AM

The Commonweal blog shows two additional DFL ads with religious images, one of which contains a statue of St. Anthony.

Posted by: Teresa Collett | Oct 27, 2010 10:24:40 AM

I can't tell you how many baroque high altars dedicated to St. Anthony I have seen in Pentacostal churches. Everyone knows they have a strict devotion to celebrating the extraordinary form of Mass. Anyone who thinks these ads are referencing Catholics must be a right-wing lunatic, as the non-partisan David Gibson and David Nickol have convincingly explained.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 10:44:33 AM


On the back side of the mailer, there is a photo of Dan Hall with the "Ignore the Poor" button superimposed over it. That clearly makes the connection between the headless figure on the front wearing the button and Dan Hall on the back depicted with the button. Here is the complete text from the back of the mailer:

Who in God's name would deny health care to the poor? Preacher Dan Hall.

Tim Pawlenty said "God's in charge" after cutting health care to 30,000 or the poorest Minnesotans. Preacher Dan Hall remained silent.

Why won't Preacher Hall side with the poor against politicians?

Leaders of the faith community railed against Pawlenty's decision to demolish the health care system for our poor and elderly, adminishing him by saying "Don't pass this off on God." Preacher Hall remained silent following Pawlenty's cues, and now endorses Tom Emmer, who stands with Pawlenty in rejecting over $1 billion in federal aid that would extend Minnesota's health care for the poor -- choosing partisan politics instead of standing up for those who most need help.

Preacher Dan Hall protects politicians -- not the poor.

Preacher Dan Hall: Pushing politics from the pulpit.

After reading that, I don't see how anyone could reasonably concluded that Dan Hall is not the target of the mailing (both front and back) and that somehow the image on the front was targeting Catholics.

The DFL and the Catholic Church in Minnesota were on the same side in opposing Pawlenty's budget cuts that the mailer is referring to. See the following:

But Alexandra Fitzsimmons with the Minnesota Catholic Conference says the governor and lawmakers need to consider the state's poorest residents when balancing the budget.

"There does seem a difference in approach from looking at it as a human life issue versus an economic issue," said Fitzsimmons. "I think the human life piece needs to come first."

Catholic Charities, the Catholic archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and bishops from several other denominations have also sent letters supporting a fix to GAMC.

Note also the following:

St. Cloud bishop urges priests and parishes to support GAMC override

St. Cloud's Catholic Bishop, the Most Rev. John F. Kinney, is urging priests, deacons and parish life coordinators in his diocese to support legislative efforts to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of the General Assistance Medical Care bill.
In a memo, Kinney says:

"I would encourage you to be in contact with your representatives by phone or e-mail as soon as possible to express your support of the override of Governor Pawlenty's veto of the General Assistance Medical Care bill. ... I would also ask you to ask the support of the members of your parish for the override of this veto."

He then quotes a statement from the Minnesota Catholic Conference:

"In less than six weeks, the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program will end. This program provides basic health care to our poorest and sickest neighbors — all of whom are living in deep poverty. Access to affordable health care that protects and supports the life, dignity and health of all people is a matter of justice. Less than two weeks ago, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill temporarily extending health care coverage to our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors which does not include coverage for abortion services. The House passed the bill on a 125-9 vote, and the Senate passed the bill on a 47-16 vote. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill. Please contact your Representative and urge him or her to vote yes on a vote override. Our neighbors with the greatest needs are counting on us. for more information and to find contact information for your Representative, please visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference web site at www.mncc.org/."

The overwhelming evidence is that the Catholic Church and the DFL are on the same side of the issue discussed in the mailing. Why in the world would the DFL have deliberately attempted to offend Catholics?

I wouldn't say you need to be from the right-wing lunatic fringe to jump to conclusions based on the FRONT of the mailer, but to show the front without the back is taking the image in question entirely out of context. I would say that to PERSIST and maintaining that the mailer was anti-Catholic in the light of all the above evidence indicates an unwillingness to face facts.

One might accuse the DFL of using "poetic license" injudiciously to use the images they did to contrast Hall's religious connections with position of the Lutherans, Catholics, and so on who were opposed to Pawlenty's budget cuts. But to accuse the DFL of anti-Catholicism just makes no sense. Anyone who insists on being so literal-minded as to claim the photo doesn't represent Dan Hall would have difficulty understanding probably about 50 percent of political ads.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 27, 2010 12:14:03 PM

The other postcard with the altar with St. Anthony on it has above the altar in big, bold letters: "DAN HALL: Talks like a preacher, Acts like a politician". It was mailed only to people within the district in which Dan Hall is campaigning. It is clear that its intent is to target Dan Hall, who has made much on his own campaign website and in his campaign about his work as a chaplain and a Christian minister.

The type of altar used on the postcard is more likely to show ignorance about the differences between Christian denominations (Pentacostals vs. Catholics), not a deliberate anti-Catholic attack. It is not dissimilar to someone who is not terribly well-versed in Islam confusing the differences between the Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam.

While Christians maybe well-versed in the practices of what their own denomination does, they are not particularly well-educated on what other Christian denominations do, as the recent Pew survey on religion indicated. This isn't surprising. There are hundreds of different Christian denominations within the United States (including over 10 different Pentacostal denominations) and over 38,000 different Christian denominations worldwide.

So while everyone, including the DFL, should be better educated on religions (particularly if they are going to comment on them), interpreting the mistakes of others as deliberate animus (particularly when there is evidence undermining such an interpretation) is also not particularly helpful.

Posted by: KH | Oct 27, 2010 12:18:37 PM

Teresa Collett says: "The Commonweal blog shows two additional DFL ads with religious images, one of which contains a statue of St. Anthony."

Yes, there is a picture of a Catholic Church altar with a statue of St. Anthony. There is also text that says, "Dan Hall: Talks like a preacher. Acts like a politician." And there are two big banners that say "Vote." The clear message is not anti-religious or anti-Catholic. It is that there is a contrast between Dan Hall's religiosity and his political stance.

Would it have been more "accurate" to use a picture of a nonsectarian chapel instead of a Catholic church? Of course. But which would convey the contrast between religion and politics with a stronger visual impact?

The picture of the church with "Vote" banners is not meant to be taken literally. The point of the ad is not that Dan Hall went into a Catholic Church and hung big red, white, and blue banners up that said "Vote."

Both of these ads are a lot less difficult to decipher than the average political cartoon.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 27, 2010 12:29:17 PM

Of course the mailers target Dan Hall. And they target Catholics along with him. DFL can walk and chew gum at the same time. It is absurd to look at the picture of a Catholic priest and a Catholic altar and say the mailer doesn't target Catholics. The imagery sweeps Catholics in specifically as "those evil religious conservatives we should hate," no matter how far you stretch the limits of partisan spin. When even Grant Gallicho disagrees with you, you need to consider whether you are looking at this issue dispassionately.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 12:52:25 PM

Mr. Bowman,
In the comment feed on his Commonweal post, Grant Gallicho stated: "In other words, he [the person who produced the postcards] wasn’t anti-Catholic (and, for the record, I didn’t think the image was anti-Catholic even when I misinterpreted its intent), just ignorant."

Mr. Gallicho's views seem closer to David Nickol's conclusion and my conclusion that the postcards were not intended to be anti-Catholic.

Posted by: KH | Oct 27, 2010 1:09:01 PM

KH read the comments. Even he sees that a picture of a Catholic priest and a high Catholic altar are Catholic. The postcards are religion-baiting of the worst kind: aimed at Minnesota's strong independent voter demographic to reinforce in them that morally traditional Christians (the epitome of which is the Catholic Church) are bad citizens and are disqualified from public office.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 1:50:20 PM

The ads ferment political bigotry against Christians, openly using Catholicism as its whipping post. Know-nothings, eat your heart out.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 1:53:10 PM

I am wondering why someone would use a picture depicting a "headless" man with a clerical collar in this ad rather than a picture of Dan Hall(head included) unless someone wanted to make a statement drawing attention to all who wear the clerical collar and identify as being Catholic or Christian.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Oct 27, 2010 2:03:55 PM

Not to mention the fact that if they could superimpose a button, they could superimpose a head, only they didn't.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Oct 27, 2010 2:32:32 PM

Matt Bowman wrote: "The ads ferment political bigotry against Christians . . ."

The ads make clear distinctions between Catholics, Lutherans, and others and the policies advocated by Dan Hall. If they were meant to ferment "bigotry against Christians", they wouldn't do that.

In addition, Brian Melendez, the Chair of the State DFL Central Committee that paid for the ads, is also a partner in Faegre & Benson and lists on his webpage at Faegre that he is an active member of the Westminister Presbyterian Church. He also has a degree from the Harvard Divinty School. When he was a undergraduate student at Harvard, he was interviewed because he had been elected student body president and he spoke passionately about his Christian faith. He doesn't strike me as the sort who have an ax to grind against the Christian faith, particularly since he is a believer. :-)

As noted by Mr. Nickol above, Presbyterian ministers also wear collars like the one's depicted in the ad. It seems likely that, at least in Mr. Melendez's mind, such collars are not automatically "Catholic" symbols but more generic symbols for ministers. This again points to a mistake about how others might interpret the photo rather than any premeditated intent to attack Catholcs.

Posted by: KH | Oct 27, 2010 3:28:51 PM

A man goes to a psychiatrist. To start things off, the psychiatrist suggests they start with a Rorschach test. He holds up the first picture and asks the man what he sees.

"A man and a woman making love in a park," the man replies.

The psychiatrist holds up the second picture and asks the man what he sees. "A man and a woman making love in a boat."

He holds up the third picture. "A man and a woman making love at the beach."

This goes on for the rest of the set of pictures; the man says he sees a man and a woman making love in every one of the pictures.

At the end of the test, the psychiatrist looks over his notes and says, "You certainly seem to be obsessed with sex."

And the man indignantly replies, "ME??? YOU'RE the one with all the dirty pictures."

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 27, 2010 3:39:01 PM

Yep, I also can't tell you how many presbyterian churches I've gone to with baroque high altars dedicated to St. Anthony. Please. First you say the ad is focused wholly on Hill then you tell me they're too stupid to know he doesn't celebrate the tridentine rite with his chasuble and maniple. Just because the guy who paid for the ads is a Christian doesn't mean he isn't Christian-baiting. Catholic politicians run pro-abortion ads all the time. Politics over faith, and the ends justify the means.

Political ad strategy is not a mysterious field. Fletcher Rowley and Riddle, who coordinated that Washington campaign I mentioned and who leads the Democrat campaign industry, openly talks about the formula. They identify the block of people they need to sway, in this case Minnesota independent voters. They focus-group test messages based on what most effectively moves opinions on popularity rating and who to vote for. They learn that among the many messages tested, one of the most effective is that "religious extremists are going to impose their beliefs on you through the government." They focus group test the images they will put in the ad, finding that associating Catholic images with the religious villain in the ad sways the opinions most effectively. They print the ad based on those results. Without regard to whether it is true, or whether religious-bating is poisonous to the public discourse. They DONT WASTE MONEY ON ADS WITHOUT TESTING THEM FIRST. The ads are intentional, and the images carefully scrutinized and selected. And they count on loyal apologists who will defend anything their party proposes, no matter how offensive.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 5:37:06 PM

A man goes to a psychiatrist. To start things off, the psychiatrist suggests they start by getting his immediate responses to various pictures. He holds up the first picture, of the Pope in front of St. Peter's Basilica, with Cardinals and nuns all around him, and asks the man what he sees.

"A meaningless Rorschach blot," the man replies.

The psychiatrist holds up the second picture, angels in the sky at night over a nativity scene with shepherds, wise men, and the holy family, and asks the man what he sees. "A meaningless Rorschach blot."

He holds up the third picture, a collage of Catholics Saints in religious habit and their associated images like St. Francis with animals all around him. "A meaningless Rorschach blot."

This goes on for the rest of the set of pictures; the man says he sees a meaningless Rorschach blot in every one of the pictures.

At the end of the test, the psychiatrist looks over his notes and says, "You certainly seem to be antogonistic to any significance in Christianity and Catholicism."

And the man indignantly replies, "ME??? YOU'RE the one showing me a bunch of Rorschach blots."

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 6:12:49 PM


One problem I see with what you say is that this was an ad that criticized someone for NOT going along with "leaders of the faith community."

I take it your position is that those who devised this mailer were so devilishly clever that they figured out how to appeal to people who value the opinion of the faith community (in opposition to the Pawlenty cuts), and at the same time plant in the same or other people's minds that Catholic priests don't care about the poor.

What would be the political payoff for undermining the imagine of Catholic priests in this election? How would this get Minnesota independent voters to vote for Democrats? Are there any priests running?

Those ads looked pretty amateurish to me. I could cobble together something on my home computer that looked more professional. I would be surprised if they were tested on focus groups. I will try to find out how they came into existence.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 27, 2010 6:14:58 PM

Because Protestants routinely dress like that. Oh wait.

Posted by: Titus | Oct 29, 2010 9:33:40 AM

"Who in God's name would deny health care to the poor? Preacher Dan Hall"

How about an archbishop who wants to deny the right to love?

Posted by: Joseph R. Yungk | Oct 31, 2010 1:08:47 PM

It is Christ, the Word of God, Who defines Love. We can not transform The Word of Love, it is Christ Who transforms us.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Nov 3, 2010 11:46:20 AM