Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton on Russert's "Jesuitical" Argument

This is a fun little observation.

Did any of you catch the interview between Senator Hillary Clinton and Tim Russert yesterday on Meet the Press? America Magazine caught it:
On Meet the Press this morning, Senator Hillary Clinton accused her host, Tim Russert, of being 'Jesuitical' in his argumentation. The Jesuit-educated Russert (Canisius High School in Buffalo, N.Y. and John Carroll University in Cleveland) was pressing Senator Clinton on her 2002 vote to authorize war in Iraq. Here's the transcript:
MR. RUSSERT: Did he (Obama) have better judgment in October of 2002?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, look, judgment is not a single snapshot. Judgment is what you do across the course of your life and your career.

MR. RUSSERT: A vote for war is a very important vote.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, we can have this Jesuitical argument about what exactly was meant.
Now according to the Oxford American Dictionary, "Jesuitical" has two meanings. The first is the more benign: "of or concerning the Jesuits." Okay, that's straightforward. But the word has a second meaning, which is almost always pejorative and was born of the old anti-Jesuit canard that we can be a little slick with our reasoning. Here the word means, "Dissembling or equivocating, in the manner associated with Jesuits."

It's highly unlikely of course that any Jesuit will take offense. Mrs. Clinton is no Pascal and did not intend to be. But one does wonder where she picked up the word. Perhaps it came from her Georgetown-educated husband.
One of my high school religion teachers, now a university professor of American history, sent a note to Meet the Press concerning the choice of vocabulary. He writes:
Hillary Clinton, in her interview with Mr Russert on January 13, said she refused to "participate in this Jesuitical argument" over her past votes, etc. The use of the term, "Jesuitical," in this way is an old anti-Catholic attack common in post-Reformation England and in the United States during the 1800s, used to imply that members of the Society of Jesus--and all Catholics by extension--are deceivers.

Catholics, this term implies, are uniquely able to twist their arguments to suit their ends just as Jesuits, or so the argument goes, did in their attempt to reclaim England for the Catholic faith.
I'll thank him for pointing this out. Although I'm sure Hillary didn't intend to attack Catholics (or the Jesuits) in her usage of the word, it was very obviously chosen to convey her negative opinion concerning Russert's argument. One wonders what inspired her to choose that word as opposed to any number of synonyms... Or am I just being jesuitical..?

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