Mayor’s Decency Panel Confirms Elite’s Bigotry

Rudolph Giuliani informs us that he is serious about

empaneling a decency commission to rule on matters artistic, and the first

prospective commissioner mentioned in the press is the new Roman Catholic

Cardinal and Archbishop of New York, Edward Egan. His Eminence wisely parried

questions concerning his possible appointment to this prospective panel, but

nobody is ruling anything out at the moment.

Mr. Giuliani has spent a portion of his time in City Hall

monitoring taxpayer-supported art exhibits for traces of anti-Catholicism, a

mission that has earned him scorn in the usual circles and admiration in

others. Even some Catholics who are not as defensive as the Mayor privately

enjoyed his taunting of the cultural elites, in the same way that some

middle-class and upper-middle-class African-Americans chuckle to themselves

when the Reverend Al Sharpton screams “race” in front of the television

cameras.

Nevertheless, this decency commission business is a really

bad idea, and it’s time one of the Mayor’s fellow Catholics told him so.

(Actually, one just did.) If the Mayor truly wishes to seek out and destroy

anti-Catholic stereotypes, a decency commission would be less a thumb of the

nose at the artsy crowd than an avenging sword destined to leave Mr. Giuliani’s

face nasally challenged.

There is-and this hardly comes as news-a not-insignificant

portion of Manhattan island that expects people with names like Giuliani or

Egan to make a public spectacle of themselves on such matters, and is delighted

to see its learned opinions confirmed. Such people no doubt have persuaded

themselves that their opinions are not based on prejudice or ignorance, but on

hard scientific data. They have, for example, observed such representative

rituals as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and they have considered Hollywood movies

featuring corrupt lechers in Roman collars and dumb-as-sin white ethnics (and

we all know who they are).  So their views are clearly based on fact.

Besides, how could our cultural elites be anti-Catholic? Why, don’t they just

adore Anna Quindlen?

Equally regrettable is the undeniable fact that prelates and

public officials have contributed to the caricature of the censorious Catholic.

The old Legion of Decency, which scrutinized Hollywood offerings for moral

offenses during Mr. Giuliani’s formative years, sought to do for the movies

what Mr. Giuliani would now like to do for taxpayer-supported art. It’s not an

exact correlation, because the condemned movies were not funded with public

dollars, but the intended effect is approximately the same.

There are few things a columnist for The Nation or a Park Avenue patron of the arts would enjoy more

than hooting at the photo op that Mr. Giuliani seems determined to bring about,

the one with him alongside either Cardinal Egan himself or some other

high-ranking Catholic clergyman and a dozen or so other would-be adjudicators

of artistic merit. A decency commission sounds like something out of the

1940’s, the kind of thing that Father Charles Coughlin or Joe McCarthy no doubt

would have supported. And it would be foolish indeed to think that American

Catholics have been forgiven for Coughlin and McCarthy.

Elite opinion has it that the Mayor’s fixation with

supposedly anti-Catholic art is nothing more than political pandering. Without

betraying the details of a private conversation I had with the future Mayor

more than a decade ago, I’m convinced he is motivated not by poll numbers but

by genuine, though misplaced, outrage. In any case, it would be rather

extraordinary for a lame duck to attempt to curry favor with voters who are

about to move on to somebody else.

So I don’t doubt his sincerity; I do question his judgment,

and I fear what will be said about Catholicism if the Mayor goes ahead with his

plan. If he wishes to continue this crusade, flawed vessel though he is, the

Mayor would do better to challenge the assumptions of his cultural enemies,

rather than round up a few clerics, bluenoses and philistines (as they

inevitably will be portrayed) to get into the art-banning business.

In simply pointing out that few public institutions would

dare transgress the sensibilities of more fashionable groups, Mr. Giuliani

would expose the cant of cultural leftists, those stout-hearted warriors

against hate speech who become First Amendment purists when religious belief

comes under attack. By expanding his critique, Mr. Giuliani might inspire a

conversation about the cultural elite’s hostility not simply to Catholicism,

but to religious belief in general.

Mr. Giuliani’s enemies expect him to dictate, and no doubt

hope that he will make a fool of himself, and others like him, by commissioning

a decency police.

So, like the Allies at Normandy, Mr. Giuliani ought to

launch an attack where it is least expected. By engaging his enemies with

confident argument and exposing their intellectual hypocrisies, he could ruin a

perfectly useful stereotype. Imagine the horror: outwitted by a Catholic Mayor!