The American Principles Project (APP), founded by conservative Catholic professor Robbie George, seems to have an inordinate fixation on gay people. In dealing with presidential appointments and, now, with the President’s promise to end "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," Professor George’s organization betrays a bigotry that is at the very least unseemly in a tenured professor.
Of the three Obama administration appointees APP has attacked – issuing "Action Item" alerts calling for people to contact their senators to oppose the nominations – two of the three were gay. The website of APP listed various opinions expressed by the nominees but also made sure to throw out traditional canards against gay people. Of Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, APP wrote that he is "a target of social conservatives for his past drug abuse and what they say is his promotion of homosexuality in schools, is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic." I especially like the phrase "promotion of homosexuality" for its outdated caricature of gay people as predators. And the concern about "books his critics say are pornographic" puts one in mind of Sweet Alice Moore’s crusade in the early 1970s in Charleston, West Virginia to get such "pornographic" works as "Catcher in the Rye" removed from the school curriculum.
George’s attack on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is especially interesting. The APP website has again issued an "Action Alert" to try and prevent the policy from being overturned. They provide a link to an article by a group called Center for Military Readiness (CMR), an outfit which is similarly obsessed with the issue of gays in the military. In CMR’s analysis of the 2008 election, the first four items on their issues list were all related to gays in the military or, as they nicely put it, creating a "San Francisco military." Surely, Professor George, if not the people at CMR, knows that before San Francisco was a city, he was a saint, and a pacifist, so the allusion to a "San Francisco military" is as offensive to Catholics as it is to gays. Of course, APP earlier cited Sen. Inhofe as an expert on climate change which is a bit like citing Bishop Williamson as an expert on the Holocaust.
What "American Principle" is offended by letting gays serve in the military? Of course, APP notes that the military culture is different from civilian culture and that the military should not be a place to score political points. That argument sort of worked until yesterday, when Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress that ending "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was "the right thing to do" and that ending it involved issues of institutional as well as personal integrity. And, of course, it would be curious to know how APP’s argument comports with Harry Truman’s decision in 1948 to integrate the U.S. military. Actually, one of the few clear, obvious "American Principles" that seems to apply to this discussion is the principle of civilian control of the military. But, Professor George’s organization is turning itself into the intellectual heir of General Douglas MacArthur and his fellow rightwing crazies, so perhaps we should not be surprised that this particular principle, still less recognition of Truman’s courageous and correct stand, do not meet Professor George’s partisan standards. The APP is trading in simple bigotry.
All these supporters of banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. military should be asked what they think of the career of Baron von Steuben. The Baron’s statue is one of four foreigners that grace Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. (Lafayette, Rochambeau and Kosciuszko are the others.) The Baron was in many ways the founder of the U.S. Army, training the Continental Army troops in discipline and drills at Valley Forge. He was also the first known gay man in the U.S. military.
None of this would matter if Professor George was not, in addition to running APP, promoting himself as a leading Catholic intellectual. A recent New York Times profile seemed to indicate that George was the intellectual driving force of the American Catholic bishops. The USCCB, of course, has not taken a stand on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" because the issue does not involve any Catholic principles either. But, the bishops who support and applaud Professor George should be aware of what they are signing up for. He is not only a thoughtful defender of natural law, he is also the proprietor of a D.C.-based advocacy organization that is embarrassing in its bigotry, especially embarrassing to an intellectual. Especially to a Catholic.
Michael Sean Winters