WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rocco Buttiglione, the internationally esteemed Italian philosopher and statesman, visited Washington last week. Doors were opened to this Italian cabinet member and devout Catholic as a courageous exemplar of conservative Western ideals against the European Union's leftist ruling establishment. But one door was closed to Buttiglione. It was George W. Bush's door.
Displaying arrogance, ignorance or both, the Bush White House refused to grant one of America's best friends in hostile Western Europe an appointment with President Bush or a senior aide. There was no pretense of an overly tight schedule. It was just plain "no!" Tim Goeglein, Bush's staff liaison with Catholics, told Buttiglione's entourage there was nothing he could do. Father Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. (sponsoring the visit), informed the White House the snub was "politically imprudent" and "morally revolting."
While this conduct contradicts Bush's campaign posture, there is no mystery about what is going on. The re-elected president is offering a hand in friendship to "Old Europe," at the cost of alienating the traditional Catholic constituency so avidly courted the past four years. Never having to worry about running again, Bush can give the back of his hand to Buttiglione, just as the leftist-dominated, anti-American EU refused to seat him as a commissioner.
For an old reporter, this incident brings back memories of nearly 30 years ago, when President Gerald R. Ford snubbed Russian novelist and dissenter Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the symbol of resistance to Soviet tyranny. Then, as now, the White House did not deign to explain itself, but everyone knew Ford stayed away from Solzhenitsyn because Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned that detente was at risk. In cases separated by three decades, a Republican president was downgrading values and upgrading realpolitik.