WASHINGTON - Inside the Edwards campaign, there was what politicians like to refer to as a healthy debate over whether or not to fire two bloggers who had written about Catholics in ways that the candidate said "personally offended me."
One of the bloggers, Amanda Marcotte, wrote on the blog Pandagon on Dec. 26, "The Catholic Church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics."
In the end, Edwards decided to keep Marcotte and Melissa McKwen on staff. But "it was a tough decision," a campaign adviser said in an interview today, "and there was a lot of back and forth. It was certainly tough balancing what they've said in their private lives with how we want the campaign to be represented."
It wasn't that it was so hard standing up to the demands for their firing from Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, whose main constituency seems to be TV bookers.
But there was a balancing act the Edwards aide did not want to discuss -- the choice between the passionate primary-season kingmakers in the blogosphere and the moderate religious voters any Democratic nominee will need to win a general election -- and the campaign chose the former.
So, there will be other purity tests for the candidate to fail in the blogosphere. But did Edwards just lose the Catholic vote? The aide sighed. "I think people will see the statements and know where John is coming from; people know those aren't John's views."
Comments in the blogosphere today overwhelmingly cast the issue as a no-brainer: Are you with us or against us? For many, it was a simple matter of whether Edwards would stand up -- for progressives, under pressure, and to the opposition.
Yet as the blogosphere gains clout, it will increasingly be held to the same standard as other political players, whose impolitic comments generally do result in termination.
And even among Catholic liberals, Marcotte's comments were widely seen as hurtful.
At Commonwealmagazine.org, the online version of the liberal opinion magazine, Eduardo Penalver posted a piece that calls Donohue "an embarrassment who obviously doesn't hold himself to the same standards he holds for others."
Yet he goes on to say that, "As much as it pains me to say it, I think Donohue may have a point in this case...Marcotte's post goes beyond simply criticizing the Church's positions on contraception, etc. on the merits, and attacks the institution as a whole in ways that resonate with traditionally anti-Catholic rhetoric from the bad old days."
Edwards issued a statement today saying: "I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word.''
After reading that, Penalver added to his piece: "The comments on Marcotte's blog were clearly intended to offend...I think the vast majority of Catholic voters see that."
"For Edwards to take these two women at their words -- that they did not intend to offend -- is pretty much to tell those who are offended that there is something wrong with them."
Those who wrote in to comment overwhelmingly agreed. As one of them put it, "I have no time for Donohue...But, I have to say, Marcotte's comments were viciously anti-Catholic. The fact that many on the left failed to realize that explains very clearly why the GOP (a party that violates Catholic social theory over 90 percent of the time) seems to attract legions of Catholics."