Friday, August 20, 2004

Just Deal

As promised in this morning's Religious News Roundup, here are some further thoughts on the Hudson Deal flap playing out over the past couple of days.


First, a quick recap:  Hudson is a former Baptist youth minister and philosophy professor who converted to Catholicism in the early 80's, and who more recently has been serving as an unpaid adviser to Pres Bush on Catholic outreach.  In 1994, Hudson resigned his position at Fordham University and paid an 18-year-old student $30,000 dollars to settle her claim that he took advantage of her after a night of drinking margaritas with a number of other students.  The revelation of these facts in this National Catholic Reporter article apparently prompted Hudson to resign his campaign post and write a bitter defense in the National Review Online.


So, some reflections are in order:

  1. Hudson is an all-too-familiar kind of figure in academia.  I've boozed with any number of professors; socializing with students is part of the educational game.  But I remember coming across more than one prof with poor boundaries, particularly with female students.  Not many of them got them drunk and french-kissed them in a bar, granted.  But they're out there, and the sad part about it is that Hudson received a punishment on the harsh end of the spectrum.  He could have been prosecuted for sexual assault; instead, he was allowed to quietly resign, settle the case, and move on.


    Lest I be accused of hypocrisy here, let me quickly add that no, of course most professors aren't like Hudson.  And let's face it, they're not alone in taking advantage of vulnerable people in their care.  Doctors, police officers, yes, even ministers have been known to have "zipper problems."  And, like professors, these individuals too often are able to simply walk away from their offenses and relegate them to the dumping ground of "personal issues."


    The point, of course, is that Hudson should have been disgraced long before he ever turned up at the White House.  I'm all for second chances, but I have to wonder: at what point do we begin to question a person's capacity for moral and political leadership, based on their past behavior?


  2. Because from my perspective, the issue is not whether Hudson took advantage of a young, vulnerable student, as repulsive as that behavior is, and as debatable as Hudson's repentance has been.  I'm willing to trust (hope, really) that his spiritual advisors have worked to set him on a more appropriate path.


    The issue is really this: even though the sin may have passed into forgiveness by now, there remain legitimate questions about Hudson's character and judgment.  Specifically, I have to wonder about the personality of someone who would prey on someone as vulnerable as Hudson's victim was, and who is so outspokenly combative as Hudson's writings have shown him to be.  Then there's the drinking and the womanizing and the need to be the center of social attention...These all suggest to me someone who has a very high need for control, and some rather unsavory notions about what to do with that control once it's achieved.


    While I would accept such a person into our congregation, I'd very skeptical--to say the least--about allowing them to take a leadership role.  And yes, I had the same questions about Bill Clinton a few years back.  As much as I love the Big Dog, and as much as I hated the Starr investigation, I had to question the judgment of someone who could carry on an illicit affair with an intern, then lie about it to a grand jury.


    I don't know if it's "boys will be boys," or if both Hudson and Clinton were people who simply managed to slip through the cracks.  Either way, it seems to me a great failing of our political system that such questions don't get asked.  I'm sure that if Karl Rove knew about any of these problems, his first question was:  will it embarrass the president?  Not, is this creep somebody we really want to be hanging around?


  3. Which leads to the third (and hopefully final) question:  where do we draw the line?  When do zipper problems stop being personal issues and start becoming issues of public concern?  Is it fair to hold a quasi-public figure like Hudson to a standard that some of us, at least, couldn't live up to?  And if so, how do we (as a citizenry) decide what that standard is going to be?


Don't get me wrong here:  the guy's a bastard, and I'm glad he's gone.  (By his own power, it should be noted.  The NCR only reported the story; it did not call for his resignation, nor did anyone else.  Hudson turned in his resignation before they got the chance.)


If nothing else, this will set back some of the onslaught of the Catholic right we've been seeing in recent months.  Not because liberals have something to throw back at them, but because Hudson was a well-connected leader for that movement.


But when it gets down to it, this isn't a matter of politics, or of faith.  It's a matter of common decency.  So how do we apply such a standard in such a highly politicized atmosphere?  And how do defend Clinton (or the next Clinton) if we're ready to go after Hudson?


Talk to me.

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