The Real News of the Month

March 2003
Volume 10, No. 3

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> Worse Than Pearl Harbor
  -> Publisher's Note
  -> The Promise of Publius
  -> Space and Other Passions
Nuggets (plus Exclusives to this edition)
List of Columns Reprinted


Worse Than Pearl Harbor
(page 1)

     As press time approaches, war on Iraq seems all but 
certain. I still don't quite understand why most 
Americans can't see what is clear to most of the world: 
that this is a war of sheer aggression against a country 
that hasn't attacked the United States, can't attack it, 
and wouldn't dare to attack it -- a country that is now, 
as the clock ticks, trying desperately to avoid war by 
submitting to every U.S. demand.

     The charge of "appeasement" is being hurled at our 
European friends, who are trying to save us from our own 
folly and arrogance, and to avoid being sucked into the 
horrors to come. The usual stale World War II analogies 
are really running amok now. Saddam Hussein has been 
assigned the role of Hitler, even as he seeks to appease 
the unappeasable aggressor, George W. Bush.

     In his much-praised speech to the United Nations -- 
which turned out to be based on very dubious sources -- 
Secretary of State Colin Powell didn't even pretend to 
argue that Iraq had any part in the 9/11 attacks that 
provided the impetus for the "war on terrorism." If it 
had, the terrorists obviously would have had better tools 
than box-cutters to work with; poison gas perhaps. The 
Bush administration's case for war has been in equal 
measure confused and monotonous.

     The administration has tried to persuade us that 
this war will not be aggressive, but "preemptive." Though 
this rationale might justify any imaginable war, we are 
supposed to believe it contains an important distinction. 
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was surely preemptive 
-- a stitch in time saves nine, after all -- but for all 
that, it's remembered as a notorious act of aggression. 
Would Americans have considered it significantly less 
aggressive if the Japanese had announced their intentions 

     Still, in moral terms, the "sneak attack" at Pearl 
Harbor compares favorably with the attack Bush plans on 
Baghdad. Franklin Roosevelt was really hurting Japan with 
an oil embargo and other measures designed to provoke 
war; and Pearl Harbor was a purely military target. Iraq 
has done nothing to hurt the United States, and Baghdad 
is a civilian center with a population of five million.

     The people Bush has scheduled for death are innocent 
-- not only the civilians, but the soldiers. They are 
young men guilty of nothing but standing ready to defend 
their country. Many of them are conscripts who have no 

     This war, when it comes, should grieve and shame 
every American. But a peculiar feature of it is that the 
pseudo-patriots are already impugning the loyalty of 
those who still hope to prevent it, even before the real 
shooting has started. What a queer concept of 
citizenship: we apparently have a duty to support, in 
advance, even a *proposed* war!

     But there is another kind of patriotism, unknown to 
the jingoists. It's the patriotism that feels anguish 
when its country dishonors itself. This kind of 
patriotism can't desire or enjoy victory in a bad cause, 
and can't take satisfaction in the deaths of young 
Americans who will fight in that cause. No matter how 
this war goes, all the news is bound to be bad news.

     Probably the least bad outcome we can hope for is a 
quick surrender and a minimum of violence.

Publisher's Note
(page 2)

Dear Loyal Subscriber,

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Fran Griffin

The Promise of Publius
(pages 3-5)

     Abraham Lincoln, as we all know, had only a few 
months of formal schooling. This fact is usually cited 
admiringly, as if a fuller education might have spoiled 
his native genius. Actually, if Lincoln had been more of 
a pedant, the United States might have been spared the 
most disastrous event in its history: the Civil War. More 
than 620,000 young men perished because of his ignorance. 
So did the U.S. Constitution.

     The Civil War revolved around the question of 
secession. Were the states sovereign? No, said Lincoln, 
and they never had been. "The Union is much older than 
the Constitution," he held -- older, in fact, than the 
Declaration of Independence. And the Union had given the 
states their very existence as states.

     This was all nonsense. For a man who quoted the 
Declaration so often, Lincoln never read it closely. What 
does the Declaration declare? That "these United Colonies 
are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent 
States." Not one "free and independent *state,*" but 
"*states,*" plural. And each of these states, the 
Articles of Confederation announce, "*retains* its 
sovereignty, freedom, and independence." These were the 
terms of union, even during the Revolutionary War: the 
states were independent of each other as well as of 
Britain. In fact, the Treaty of Paris concluding the war 
in 1783 recognized 13 distinct "free, sovereign, and 
independent states."

     In the early numbers of THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, 
arguing for a stronger national government under the 
proposed Constitution, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton 
(writing, with James Madison, under the shared pseudonym 
"Publius") complain that the Union is being hampered by 
the obstruction of so many "sovereignties." So everyone, 
on both sides of the ratification debate, acknowledged 
that the states were in fact sovereign, whether or not 
they approved of this -- yet Lincoln would say that the 
states had never been sovereign, even when it was 
universally agreed that they were!

     To put it another way, state sovereignty was the 
very thing many advocates of the Constitution hoped to 
defeat. In the short run, they failed. But in the long 
run, they won.

     Lincoln admittedly knew little history. And he 
clearly knew little of the history of the founding of the 
Republic, including the debate over the Constitution.

     The Constitutional Convention that met in 
Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 wasn't supposed to be 
a constitutional convention. The delegates had been 
instructed only to revise the Articles of Confederation.

     The first principle of the Articles is stated in 
Article II, which reads in its entirety:

     "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and 
independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, 
which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to 
the United States in Congress assembled."

     But those delegates soon disregarded their 
instructions and commenced writing a whole new 
constitution for the Union. Several delegates departed in 
protest and returned home.

     During the convention's secret deliberations, two 
factions emerged. The ones who generally favored a new 
"national" constitution called themselves "Federalists." 
Their opponents, who preferred to maintain the Union as a 
confederation of sovereign states, therefore became known 
as "Anti-Federalists."

     These labels were misleading. They were meant to be. 
The Anti-Federalists were actually federalists; the 
Federalists were actually nationalists. But the 
Federalists cunningly claimed the term they knew would 
enlist public approval, since most Americans wanted the 
Union to remain federal, were attached to their states, 
and opposed collapsing all the states into a monolithic 
"consolidated" government.

     The Federalists were publicly disingenuous about 
their purposes. They denied that they wanted a 
"consolidation" of the states into a single national 
government -- though that was exactly what many of them 
did want. Alexander Hamilton called for the abolition of 
the states; he wrote to an ally that he sought a "solid 
coercive union" giving Congress "complete sovereignty." 
When he proposed this to the convention, the reaction was 
so hostile that he backed off, explaining the following 
day that he had been misunderstood. But he had meant what 
he said, and James Madison, at the time, largely agreed 
with him. But the idea was far too radical to have a 
chance, either with the convention or with the public.

     Some Federalists, Madison among them, wanted to 
retain the states as "subordinate" governments under a 
sovereign national government, which could "negative," or 
veto, any state legislation; this would retain the form 
of confederation while destroying its substance.

     The Federalists, of course, generally prevailed: the 
convention did produce a whole new constitution. And to 
ensure that it would be based on popular rather than 
state sovereignty, it was submitted for approval to 
special popularly chosen ratification committees, rather 
than to the state legislatures. The Federalists thought 
this would circumvent the problem of state sovereignty. 
They were in for a bitter surprise.

     The Anti-Federalists had won important concessions. 
The convention decided that the states would be 
represented equally in the Senate, their legislatures 
choosing two senators each. The president was to be 
elected by state delegations, not by popular vote. Above 
all, perhaps, the new Constitution acknowledged and 
incorporated the existence of the states.

     The Federalists could only hope that certain 
provisions of the Constitution would, over time, render 
the powers of the states nugatory. When Anti-Federalists 
warned that the "supremacy," "general welfare," and 
"necessary and proper" clauses might be used to claim 
limitless power for the Congress, Madison ridiculed this 
as a desperate argument; yet that is just what he hoped 
the clauses would achieve -- in effect, the sovereignty 
of the national government.

     Hamilton and Madison were disappointed by the final 
draft of the Constitution. They felt that the Senate 
weighted the whole thing in favor of the states; they 
preferred the proportional representation of the House of 

     Nevertheless, they defended the Constitution. It was 
still, to their minds, a big improvement on the Articles 
and the best they could hope for in the political climate 
of the time. Madison argued publicly that it was "partly 
federal, partly national," neglecting to tell his readers 
that he hoped the "national" features would eventually 
defeat the "federal" ones. Instead he downplayed the 
"national" aspect, assuring his readers that the 
Constitution would mean not so much a grant of new powers 
to the Union as an "invigoration" of its existing powers 
under the Articles. The powers of the Federal Government 
would be "few and defined," concerned chiefly with 
"external objects" (foreign relations); the powers 
remaining with the states would be "numerous and 
indefinite," comprising most of the business of everyday 
life. THE FEDERALIST PAPERS are some of the slickest 
propaganda ever written.

     Aside from the charge of consolidation -- that the 
Constitution had a "tendency," "design," or even "intent" 
to "annihilate," "destroy," "abolish," "devour," or 
"swallow up" state sovereignty -- the Anti-Federalists 
complained chiefly about the absence of a bill of rights, 
especially protection for religion, speech, and the 

     To this the Federalists had two replies. 
Unfortunately, each of these contradicted the other.

     First, they said there was no need for a bill of 
rights in a republican constitution, as opposed to a 
monarchical system. The people ruled, and they needed no 
protection against their own powers, since the government 
would have no powers except those the people delegated to 
them. Why forbid the government to violate (say) freedom 
of the press, when it had been given no power to control 
the press? "Everything not granted is reserved," the 
Federalists said reassuringly.

     Besides, they added, the Constitution already 
contains a bill of rights, such as the rights of habeas 
corpus and trial by jury.

     The Anti-Federalists jumped on this second argument. 
If no bill of rights was necessary, they asked, why were 
these rights specifically protected against the Federal 
Government? Wasn't their inclusion an admission that the 
first argument was feeble after all? And if the listed 
rights needed explicit safeguards, why not others as 

     These questions were hard to answer, and the demand 
for a bill of rights became overwhelming. It was one of 
the Anti-Federalists' great victories. Many of their 
demands were included in the final Bill of Rights.

     In fact the Bill of Rights should be regarded as our 
Anti-Federalist heritage. It was a defeat for the 
Federalists; they accepted it, for the most part, 
grudgingly. The Tenth Amendment was almost a paraphrase 
of Article II of the Articles of Confederation: "The 
powers not delegated to the United States by the 
Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are 
reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." 
Yet Madison hoped that it would ultimately be nullified 
in practice as the "implied powers" of the national 
government gradually expanded.

     The Federalists suffered one more crucial defeat. 
Though the ratification process was stacked to exclude 
the state legislatures, the ratification committees of 
three states -- New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island -- 
ratified with the provision that they reserved the right 
to secede from the Union later. This was chiefly a threat 
to secede unless a satisfactory bill of rights was 

     Hamilton was infuriated. Conditional ratification 
was invalid, he insisted. Ratification must be 
irrevocable, "forever." But his objections were 
unavailing. The conditional ratifications, if accepted, 
would mean that the states remained, in the last 
analysis, sovereign. And the other states did accept 
them. This implied that any state might secede whenever 
it saw fit. That is what sovereignty means. Despite 
Federalist efforts to liquidate the states, each state 
was still "free and independent."

     Over the early decades of the Republic, several 
states contemplated or threatened secession. As the first 
president to face the issue, Thomas Jefferson hoped they 
would remain in the Union, but agreed that it was their 
prerogative to withdraw. Not until Andrew Jackson would a 
president claim the power to invade a state to suppress 
secession; his threat horrified even so strong a Unionist 
as Daniel Webster.

     By the late 1850s the Union was bitterly divided 
along sectional lines. The South was talking secession; 
the North was talking war to prevent it. President James 
Buchanan took the view that no state had the right to 
secede under the Constitution, but that the Constitution 
gave the Federal Government no power to stop any state 
from doing so.

     When, after Lincoln's election in 1860, the Southern 
states actually began to secede, America wondered what, 
if anything, he intended to do about it. He gave no 
answer, but kept a long, agonizing silence between his 
November election and his March inauguration. Meanwhile, 
behind the scenes, negotiations proceeded in the hope of 
averting war. Lincoln instructed the Republicans not to 
yield an inch. It appears that he was already preparing 
to go to war.

     Lincoln, in 1861, had no good answer to the 
secessionist arguments, because he was largely unaware of 
their basis in the ratification debates. The Declaration 
itself was an act of secession, which is, after all, the 
same thing as asserting independence. Ironically, part of 
New York had threatened to secede from the state in 1789 
in order to *join* the Union under the new Constitution!

     At his inauguration, Lincoln would also say that 
"the central idea of secession is the essence of 
anarchy." Despite his professed desire for peace, the 
South saw that he meant war. He denied the sovereignty of 
the states and equated secession with rebellion.

     Yet, during the ensuing war, he accepted the 
secession of West Virginia from Virginia, when part of 
Virginia wanted to rejoin the Union Virginia had 
withdrawn from -- even though West Virginia's secession, 
without the consent of Virginia's state government, was 
plainly unconstitutional. Lincoln, remember, insisted 
that Virginia was still part of the Union and that the 
Constitution still fully applied to it.

     Virginia itself had been reluctant to secede. With 
several of the other states of the Upper South, it had 
remained in the Union after Lincoln took office. But when 
he proceeded to make war -- unconstitutionally, without 
even seeking congressional approval -- by invading South 
Carolina, these states were outraged and joined the 
Confederacy. The issue, for them, was state sovereignty.

     That issue, of course, was decided by the sword. The 
sheer military and industrial power of the North was 
finally too much. As a practical matter, the Union was 
sovereign. Constitutional niceties didn't matter. Lincoln 
arrested dissenters, including legislators, suppressed 
newspapers, rigged elections, and finally created 
military governments in the conquered states -- all this 
while claiming to save the Constitution and self-

     The Constitution itself was a casualty of the war. 
After Lincoln's death, the victors adopted three 
constitutional amendments and forced the Southern states 
to ratify them as a condition of readmission to the 
Union. (Never mind that, according to the North, the 
Southern states had never legally *left* the Union.)

     The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The 
Fifteenth abolished racial requirements for suffrage. 
Nobody is quite sure what the badly drafted (and 
scandalously ratified) Fourteenth Amendment meant, but 
the Federal courts soon began using it with abandon to 
void state laws, North and South.

     Eventually, in great part through judicial review, 
the Federalist dream of a consolidated Union was 
realized. The scope of the Fourteenth Amendment grew and 
grew, until it became the tool with which the Federal 
Government struck down state laws on such varied matters 
as racial segregation, legislative districting, and 
abortion. The Tenth Amendment, through which the Anti-
Federalists had hoped to secure the principle of 
federalism, became a dead letter; both Congress and the 
courts ignored it.

     The final consolidation of the United States into a 
single United State took a longer and more circuitous 
route than "Publius" could have imagined; but it finally 
happened. Today it seems irreversible. We have to wonder, 
however, whether even "Publius" would be pleased with the 

     One thing is clear enough. The United States of 
America has become everything "Publius" promised it would 
never be. If Americans in 1789 had realized this, they 
would never have ratified the Constitution.

Space and Other Passions
(page 6)

     I couldn't get into the spirit of mourning for the 
seven astronauts on the doomed space shuttle, and I 
frankly doubt that most people could. Too bad, of course, 
but so are plane crashes and car wrecks and heart 
attacks, and you can't feel sorry for every stranger who 
comes to a sad end.

     Were we supposed to mourn because the space program 
is a U.S. Government project? That's the very last reason 
I'd feel sympathy for the dead. My philosophical friend 
Butler Shaffer has written some interesting thoughts 
about how the space program illustrates the insights of 
chaos theory -- an extension of the law of unintended 
consequences, as I understand it.

     Government projects notoriously have a way of going 
wrong. So do most human enterprises, but there's a 
difference. In private enterprises, people gamble their 
own money and try to limit their own risks prudently. 
Government -- well, President Bush has just proffered a 
budget of $2.23 *trillion* for the next fiscal year. Over 
two centuries, U.S. Government spending has gone from the 
low millions to the low *trillions.* Apparently billions 
were just an intermediate phase. For that matter, so may 
trillions. Let us begin to brace ourselves for 

     This is a sign of not only limitless government, but 
fantastic mismanagement. Bush's budget is expected to 
mean a $300 billion deficit. I can remember when people 
were alarmed at annual budgets a third that size. (Albeit 
with deficits of a few billion -- cute little things, as 
they now seem.) The national debt? I've heard figures 
like five and seven trillion, but it may be much higher.

     Is it too much to ask that the government spend less 
than it takes in? Imagine a private corporation that lost 
money and fell deeper into debt nearly every year. The 
shareholders would be diving overboard, and the company 
would soon be out of business. From this angle, the U.S. 
Government appears as a stupendous corporation managed by 
people who, in private life, would be bankrupts. As 
"public servants," they bear no personal responsibility 
for the losses they incur or the money they waste. On the 
contrary, they are rewarded.

     Of course this corporation has a unique resource: 
the captive shareholder, also known as the taxpayer. He 
can't really fire the managers and he can't pull his 
money out. He is forced to keep investing, no matter how 
heavy his losses. The managers face no penalty for the 
most palpable incompetence. Unlike private businessmen, 
they can't be sued or fined or prosecuted for fraud. They 
have no incentive for restraint or prudence. They respond 
only to the stockholders who demand more spending -- who 
are generally the ones who have the least invested.

     Think of that: the government can force us to pay as 
much as it likes, yet it still can't stay in the black! 
The personal income tax we've been paying for nearly a 
century has left it no excuse. If it could balance the 
books before that bonanza of tyranny, why not now? Even 
more bafflingly, why do the taxpayers remain loyal and 
submissive to this government? Why do they continue to 
trust it? This confidence passeth all understanding.

     After the crash, I listened to a radio debate over 
whether the space program is worth the cost. The obvious 
answer, given by none of the debaters, is tautological: 
it's worth it to those who feel it's worth it. They 
should be able to invest their own money in it -- and 
nobody else should be forced to. Space exploration 
thrills some people and leaves others cold. Its benefits 
are felt by some and not by others. Let everyone decide 
for himself by privatizing it. What has such an 
enterprise, whatever its merits, to do with law and 
government? Why should anyone, qua citizen, be compelled 
to subsidize the passions, underwrite the profits, assume 
the losses, and pay for the mistakes of others? Without a 
market to measure demand in the form of prices, it's idle 
to discuss whether any enterprise is "worth it."

     As you can tell by now, I have never taken much 
interest in space exploration. I didn't even bother 
watching the first moon landing in 1969; I figured that 
if it could be done, it would be done, eventually. I'm 
even willing to be generous and call it the greatest 
achievement of socialism. It accelerated the date of the 
inevitable, perhaps by many years. It was, in its way, a 
great feat.

     Still, I wanted no part of it. I couldn't have told 
you why at the time. I just felt unconnected to it. As an 
American, I took no pride in it, even though (in terms of 
the Cold War) it meant "we" had bested the Russians. I 
couldn't feel real enthusiasm for statist "achievements." 
It was indeed "one small step for man," but a giant leap 
for collectivism.


HERE I STAND: Years ago I quipped that the NEW YORK TIMES 
should be renamed HOLOCAUST UPDATE, and this is still 
cited as proof of my bigotry. I see no reason to recant. 
The other day I was able to find only one Holocaust story 
in the TIMES; I figured it must be a slow news day. 
(page 6)

BRAVE MEN: The Bush team says it's prepared to "go it 
alone," if necessary, even if all its allies are against 
it. Would that include Ariel Sharon? (page 8)

SUGGESTION: If we're going to install a new government in 
Iraq, why not lend them our Constitution? We can spare 
it; after all, we aren't using it. (page 9)

KWERI: Why is the phonics method of teaching reading so 
popular, when the very word "phonics" isn't spelled 
fonicli? (page 9)

AND FINALLY: A friend reports seeing a bumper sticker 
with a picture of Uncle Sam saying, "My boss is a Jewish 
terrorist." (page 9)

UNBORN IRAQIS: One predictable result of attacking Iraq 
will be to cause a number of pregnant women to miscarry. 
Maybe conservatives would be less hawkish if they could 
be made to see war as a form of abortion. (page 10)

AXIS OF EVIL: A radio talk-show host of my acquaintance 
informs me that many of his callers confuse Saddam 
Hussein with Osama bin Laden. And they probably think the 
Dalai Lama is one of those terrorists. (page 12)

Exclusive to the electronic version:

CUI BONO? Pardon my cynicism, but I want to know if any 
members of the Bush administration have links to the 
duct-tape industry. 


* The Missing Word (January 23, 2003)

* The School of Experience (January 28, 2003)

* Tracing the Box-Cutters (January 30, 2003)

* Mourning in America (February 4, 2003)

* What Happened to the War on Terrorism? 
(February 6, 2003)

* France and the Bush Doctrine (February 11, 2003)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran

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