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The Cheney Christmas Card Litmus Test

You know certain Catholics (whom I won't mention here) are in a state of confusion when they react as would be expected from any modern Leftist to Vice President Cheney's Christmas card. I don't want to use words that are too strong, but it seems to me that, in losing their perspective of Christian fellowship, in aligning with political liberals and global anti-Americans, such Catholics are missing a delicious irony that I imagine put a brief smile on the VP's face.

Here's the quotation from Ben Franklin that appears on the card:

And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

Focusing on the word "empire," the sentiment is being taken to imply that Cheney believes the United States — specifically the administration of which he is a part — is on a mission from God to expand the U.S. empire throughout the world. With all due respect, that's a foolish way to take this quotation. It comes from Ben Franklin's appeal to the Constitutional Convention that they ought to open each session with prayer (emphasis in original):

Mr. President, the small progress we have made after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes — is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a super-intending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed, in this political building, no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Now, if you are a Christian, in the midst of the myriad laments that Christmas is on its way to becoming an unspeakable, who sees this card not as a very clever prod at those who would drive all hints of religion — from the Decalogue to the Creche — from the public square, but as "infelicitous at best, worrisomely revealing at worst," you really need to examine the tint of your glasses — the spiritual lens as well as the political.

Although, I guess in this day and age, Vice President Cheney oughtn't rely on Americans' knowledge of our own history. Nor, apparently, on fellow Christians' intellectual sympathy and charitable good will.

The interior Biblical quotation, by the way, is from Psalms 127:1:

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

Layer upon layer of significance.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST


I guess cardinals can't count on intellectual sympathy and charitable good will, either.

With Cdl. Martino, folks seem to think that we all need to reminded that Saddam is a bad guy.

But Cheney can assume we're all familiar with this letter from Franklin?

It's interesting who we're willing to extend "intellectual sympathy and charitable goodwill"

VP Cheney? Absolutely!
cardinals? heck, now!

John McGuinness @ 12/19/2003 03:35 PM EST


I'm sorry to have fallen on the other side of this internecine wall from you (specifically). Anyway, I don't imagine that much can be said to bridge it, so I'll only suggest two differences between these instances:

1) Cardinal Martino's anti-Americanism seems to me better established than Vice President Cheney's imperialism.
2) In the case of Martino, critics reacted to words that he actually said in a very specific application. In the case of Cheney, people attributed malicious significance to what was a vague sentiment, given how little people could be trusted to know the context.

As it happens, I don't have intellectual sympathy for the notion that checking Saddam's gums on TV was a condemnable affront to his dignity. Moreover, charitable goodwill does not require perpetual credulity.

Justin Katz @ 12/19/2003 03:42 PM EST

I think it's all a matter of perspective.

For those who want to believe that Cdl. Martino is nakedly anti-American, it's all too apparent.

For those who want to believe that Cheney harbors imperial ambitions, that is also all too apparent.

JohnMcG @ 12/20/2003 11:20 PM EST

Yeah, it is nothing more than a matter of perspective....

March 17, 2003--Cardinal Martino on the looming Iraq war: " "It is a crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," the archbishop said. "Let us pray so that the Pharaoh's heart will not be hardened and the biblical plagues of a terrible war will not fall on humanity."

In this perspective, America's President Bush is Pharaoh, who captured the children of Israel, carried them off to his country, enslaved them and forced them to work many years for him. His hard heart had to be softened by many plagues before he would consent to the liberation of those he oppressed.

This view of America, its President, and the recent war is blinded by bigotry. It violates justice. On top of that, it is so kooky one could call it "kookisimuss."

In January, 2004 Time magazine ran a 5 page spread on tensions between the U.S. and Europe. According to Time, "Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, which opposes war in Iraq as it opposed the [1991] Gulf War, uses religious language to describe American self-absorption. "Power is a temptation," he says. "It's like there's one bottle of a drink and you are alone in the room. You are tempted to drink from it now and again, and eventually you get inebriated. And you forget to take care of those others who maybe just want a sip."

This guy sounds just like the Peter Lorre character in Casablanca. Just add the word, "Rick" after the word, "sip." Like a Borgia, he can make your flesh crawl while being droll.

Martino spent almost 2 decades as the Vatican's observer/spokesman at the United Nations. He left full of admiration for that organization. He must really like to eat, drink, and listen to deranged boilerplate. The U.N. has pressed hard to bring about as many abortions as possible. On the other hand, President Bush (also known as Ahmenhotepbush the First)has signed into law the first step to rolling back Roe v. Wade.

To be sure, Martino is far from being alone in the midst of bizarre fantasies. The Pope's envoy to Iraq proclaimed after a meeting with Saddam last March, "He [Saddam Hussein] is doing everything to avoid war," Cardinal Roger Etchegaray told Italian television, according to French news agency AFP.

George Lee @ 12/21/2003 07:01 AM EST