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Bonus Issue 2000
(published December 1999)

Editor: Joe Sobran
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The Apotheosis of the Lie
(pages 1-2)

"I cannot tell a lie," the mythical little George 
Washington told his father. Parson Weems seems to have 
invented this edifying tale, and it summed up the old 
American assumption that republican rulers should be 
virtuous men, with honesty chief among their virtues. 
The apotheosis of Abraham Lincoln included the popular 
myth of "Honest Abe."

	These myths made a deep impression on 
generations of Americans. I know, because they made a 
deep impression on me. I still vividly remember reading 
children's biographies of Washington and Lincoln in the 
second grade in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a small 
classroom where the Ten Commandments were also posted on 
the bulletin board. After reading that Lincoln had 
walked miles to pay a few pennies to a customer he had 
(inadvertently) shortchanged, I made a point of 
admitting my own faults whenever possible. It always 
made me feel good.

	It was a chief tenet of our patriotism that 
American presidents should be virtuous -- or, as we were 
more likely to say, "godly." That attitude persisted 
through the Vietnam War, when one of the chief charges 
of the war's critics was that Presidents Johnson and 
Nixon were "lying to the American people." It seemed a 
serious charge at the time, so serious that I could 
hardly believe it even of Johnson, much as I disliked 
him. Could a liar even get into the White House? Surely 
our system was designed to weed out ungodly men before 
they achieved power! For the same reason I was reluctant 
to believe the charges brought against Nixon during the 
Watergate scandal. The idea of a mendacious president 
was simply unbearable to me. And not only to me: in 1959 
the American public was deeply shocked to learn that 
Dwight Eisenhower had lied when he denied that a U-2 
pilot shot down over Russia had been on an espionage 

	Well, as Sam Goldwyn once observed, "We have 
all passed a lot of water since then." I was very naive 
well into my adult years, but my trust was in keeping 
with the decorum of the time, including its reticence 
about sex. Even the sophisticated pundit Walter 
Lippmann, when he accused Johnson of lying about 
Vietnam, used the ironic euphemism "credibility gap."

	We've heard all too much about the "lessons" of 
Vietnam and Watergate, but those two debacles did 
destroy the old decorum. They both proved that 
presidents could not only lie, but lie with disastrous 
results. We should have known this all along. Some of us 
did, but many of us (including me) really didn't. Even 
when, throwing off my family's loyalty to the Democratic 
Party in my early twenties, I came to despise Franklin 
Roosevelt, I was made uneasy by conservatives who 
insisted that he'd lied to get us into World War II. I 
still preferred to think of liberalism in general as an 
honest mistake.

	That gets harder and harder with the years. 
After a while, even honest mistakes lose their innocence 
and have to be sustained by ignoring and, eventually, 
falsifying the facts. Today I find many of the same 
people who roasted Johnson and Nixon for lying defending 
the lies and perjuries of Bill Clinton.

	Worse yet, liberals -- and their 
neoconservative cousins -- have developed a new 
tradition of actually *praising* certain presidential 
lies. It has become a dogma of the progressive elements 
among us that Franklin Roosevelt, faced with the threat 
of Hitler, had no choice but to lie to the public, which 
was in an "isolationist" mood. So it was actually 
*virtuous* of FDR to deceive, mislead, and withhold 
vital information from the American people when they 
went to the polls. So much for democracy and the well-
informed citizenry.

	Roosevelt didn't just lie on one crucial 
occasion. He was a totally devious man, as close 
students of his life have always known. His defenders 
admit that he "misjudged" Stalin, but insist that he was 
forced to make a wartime alliance with him. Actually, 
Roosevelt's beneficence to Uncle Joe began in 1933, when 
he extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union 
despite the well-publicized Soviet "agricultural policy" 
of starving millions of Ukrainian peasants for resisting 
forced collectivization. Roosevelt knew a fellow 
collectivist when he saw one, and he recognized a 
natural ally in the Soviet dictator. He even defended 
the Soviet constitution, assuring Americans that it, 
like our own Constitution, guaranteed religious freedom. 
He praised his own ambassador Joseph Davies's absurd 
book, MISSION TO MOSCOW, which justified even the 
Moscow show trials, and urged Warner Brothers to make a 
major motion picture of it. In fact, Roosevelt trusted 
Stalin more than he trusted Winston Churchill (not that 
Churchill warranted anyone's trust either). Official 
wartime propaganda portrayed the cunning monster as 
"Uncle Joe," our democratic ally against the Axis 

	Yet a recent article in THE NEW REPUBLIC 
distinguished between Roosevelt's "noble" lie that drew 
America into World War II and Lyndon Johnson's wicked 
lies that drew America into Vietnam. Such defenses of 
FDR have become standard. They show that sophisticated 
liberals now have no objection to lying in anything they 
regard as a good cause. We've come a long way from 
Honest Abe.

	As a matter of fact, Honest Abe himself has 
undergone revisionism. His myth has been undermined not 
by Confederate sympathizers, but by one of his chief 
contemporary worshippers: Garry Wills. In his 1992 book 
Wills argues that Lincoln's sternest critics have had a 
point. One contemporary newspaper accused Lincoln of 
"misstat[ing] the cause for which [the Union soldiers] 
died," namely, "to uphold [the] Constitution," not to 
free slaves. Wills doesn't disagree.

	The Gettysburg Address did indeed mislead 
Americans about the meaning of the Declaration of 
Independence and the Constitution; except that Wills 
argues that this "giant (if benign) swindle" was all to 
the good. At Gettysburg, Lincoln subtly "corrected" the 
Constitution. He "performed one of the most daring acts 
of open-air sleight-of-hand ever witnessed by the 
unsuspecting. Everyone in that vast throng of thousands 
was having his or her intellectual pocket picked."

	Wills agrees with conservatives like M.E. 
Bradford and Willmoore Kendall who regard the Gettysburg 
speech as (in his words) a "clever assault upon the 
constitutional past," a "stunning verbal coup," even "a 
new founding of the nation." Indeed he gloats that 
Lincoln got away with this "swindle," which has made 
possible the centralization of power the Framers of the 
Constitution had tried to prevent. Wills acknowledges 
that Lincoln was "subverting the Constitution," but he 
thinks it deserved to be subverted.

	It's a curious transformation -- not only of 
Honest Abe, but also of Garry Wills, who, thirty years 
ago, was writing acidly about Richard Nixon's lies. But 
his praise of Lincoln's "swindle" has been warmly 
received by liberal opinion; it actually won a Pulitzer 
Prize for history! Something has changed in the American 
ethos, and we shouldn't marvel that the elites are so 
forgiving of more recent presidential swindles.

Abortion and Hatred
(page 12)
(reprinted from Celebrate Life, September-October 1999, 
with permission)

     According to a recent article in the NEW YORK TIMES, 
scientists have found that the frolicsome dolphin, the 
most intelligent and beloved of marine mammals, has "an 
unexplained darker side": it kills members of its own 
species for no apparent reason. Dead porpoises and young 
dolphins have washed up on shore bearing the teeth marks 
of adult dolphins. Dolphins have even been known to bite 
humans. "We have such a benign image of dolphins," says 
Dr. Dale J. Dunn, a veterinary pathologist. "So finding 
evidence of violence is disturbing."

     The interesting question is why dolphins kill their 
young; it's still unclear whether the young are killed by 
their own mothers, their fathers, or by other adult males 
who want to mate with their mothers and resent earlier 
offspring. "Infanticide is common in nature," the article 
notes. "Females kill their young when food is scarce and 
male lions and bears, for example, sometimes kill the 
young of a female taken as a new mate, giving them a 
reproductive and evolutionary edge."

     It's amusing that the concept of evolution, which 
was supposed to make the concept of divine purpose in 
nature unnecessary, has mutated into a concept of purpose 
immanent in nature itself -- as if animals could somehow 
sense that their genetic destiny is at stake when they 
mate. Or have male mammals read Darwin?

     Be that as it may, many animals, male and female, do 
kill their own young and sometimes eat them. No matter 
how this fact is explained, it still strikes us as 
"unnatural," in the old sense of contrary to the general 
principle of nature that causes beasts -- and humans -- 
to love and nurture their own offspring. Otherwise gentle 
animals, such as gerbils, will also kill other members of 
their species they feel are invading their living space.

     Hatred is very much a part of nature, and it finds 
its ultimate expression in killing. The reasons may 
sometimes be obscure, but the fact is plain enough. There 
is no reason to suppose it serves any higher or 
"evolutionary" purpose.

     We shouldn't shrink from recognizing the same thing 
in human nature. Those who oppose abortion often speak of 
mothers who abort their children as victims -- the idea 
being that a young girl has gotten pregnant by an 
irresponsible man, and that she goes to an abortionist 
only because she has no clear concept of what abortion 

     This is a sentimental notion. Women who abort are 
unable to love the children they carry; and many of them 
know very well what they are doing. The desire to end an 
inconvenient life is a form of hatred.

     In many cultures, from ancient Greece and Rome to 
modern China, infanticide has been accepted. Parents kill 
their newborn children or abandon them in places where 
they are exposed them to starvation and wild animals. 
Even in our liberal (but formerly Christian) culture, 
this still seems well-nigh incomprehensible.

     But infanticide is beginning to find its defenders 
among us -- defenders who appeal to the logic of 
abortion, which says that nobody should be burdened with 
an unwanted child. They differ from most abortion 
supporters only in consistency: they don't pretend that a 
human being isn't being destroyed.

     Like abortion, infanticide has always occurred even 
when illegal. The law can never eliminate such evils 
entirely, for the simple reason that parents often hate 
and resent their children, as witness the phenomenon of 
child abuse. I know of one woman who wanted to get an 
abortion, was discouraged from doing so, and years later 
told the child: "I wish I'd aborted you."

     Being self-centered leads inevitably to hating 
others who are obstacles to selfish desires. What is 
"natural" in fallen human nature easily descends to the 
diabolical. And our modern, post-Christian, liberal 
culture treats the self-centered life as normal, 
rejecting abortion laws as tyrannical impositions on what 
has been called "the imperial self." Most of those who 
favor legal abortion now support even "partial-birth" 

     To paraphrase Our Lord, greater hatred hath no 
parent than to kill the child. No false compassion should 
be allowed to create illusions about this terrifying fact 
of human nature.

(Reprinted from Celebrate Life, September-October 1999).


AT LAST: The twentieth century is finally closing, an 
era of stupendous material progress accompanied by 
equally stupendous evil. The worst of it is that the 
evil was often confused with progress, as when Western 
intellectuals credited Stalin with ushering in a 
"Renaissance" in Russian culture. In retrospect, the 
whole century seems to me a succession of silly crazes, 
large and small. Morals, politics, art, and psychology 
were all dominated and warped by a passionate denial of 
the obvious, an exaltation of the ugly and abnormal. 
(page 5)

REDEMING QUALITY: One of the best things about this 
sorry century is that its technology has made the fruits 
of so many earlier ages available to us. You can watch 
Shakespeare, listen to a Handel oratorio, and savor 
Titian in your own home. Beethoven could have heard only 
a few of Haydn's hundred-odd symphonies; we can hear 
them all. (page 7)

SWEET SWEDES: Loveliest Woman of the Century? Garbo, 
of course. An untouchable combination of beauty and 
depth. But I've always found the young Ingrid Bergman 
nearly as enchanting. Unfortunately, her chaste lustrous 
beauty was prematurely coarsened by time and her 
scandalous life. (page 8)

THE CHAMP: The twentieth century won't technically end 
for another year, but in my opinion one title is already 
secure: Cary Grant is definitely the Coolest Guy of the 
Century, if not the Millennium. Sure, honorable mention 
to Fred Astaire and Laurence Olivier, but it's not 
really close. Less cool guys can only marvel at Grant's 
superbly dimpled face, his suave wit, his indefinably 
elegant accent, his exquisite dress, his bodily grace, 
his perpetually perfect tan, even his haircut (self-
administered!): the total package of masculine charm. 
Grant wrapped up the title so long ago that nobody even 
bothers trying to emulate him anymore. One might as well 
try to be another Shakespeare or Mozart. (page 10)

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: Here are three items, 
selected at random, from the Department of Veterans 
Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and 
Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000: 
"$1,500,000 for West Virginia University to develop the 
plastics recycling component of the Green Exchange, in 
cooperation with the Polymer Alliance Zone and the 
National Electronics Recycling Project, and in 
consultation with the Office of Information and Resource 
Management"; "$400,000 for Small Public Water Systems 
Technology Assistance Center at the University of 
Alaska­Sitka"; "$1,000,000 for the Animal Waste 
Management Consortium through the University of 
Missouri, acting with Iowa State University, North 
Carolina State University, Michigan State University, 
Oklahoma State University, and Purdue University to 
supplement ongoing research, demonstration, and outreach 
projects associated with animal waste management." (page 

INSIGHT OF THE CENTURY: I often think that in our 
time the Devil has finally gotten his act together. 
After dabbling with huge wars and monstrous tyrannies -- 
very successful but short-lived in their violence -- he 
has found a stabler long-term strategy: the more 
peaceful tyranny of the appetites in a mass society, 
catered to by mediocre rulers like Bill Clinton. In C.S. 
Lewis's classic The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil 
counsels his younger colleague that for purposes of 
damnation, murder may be no better than playing cards, 
if cards will do the trick. From that point of view, 
Stalin may be no better than Clinton. (page 12)

Reprinted Columns (pages 3-12)

* The Argument from Status (January 19, 1999)

* Change This Document (February 4, 1999)

* Reading Old Books (April 6, 1999)

* Abortion and Authoritarianism (May 18, 1999)

* The Dark Side of Dolphins (July 6, 1999)

* Debating Shakespeare (July 8, 1999)

* Constitutional Amnesia (July 20, 1999)

* You Know Harry (July 27, 1999)

* Summer Thoughts (August 19, 1999)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran

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