The Real News of the Month
August 2005
Volume 12, Number 8

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> A Bad Name
  -> The Moving Picture (plus electronic Exclusives)
  -> An Echo, Not a Choice
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
List of Columns Reprinted in This Issue


A Bad Name
(page 1)


     The question of "profiling" has become acute since 
9/11. Everyone knows it's absurd, insulting, and useless 
for airports to do body searches of Caucasian 
grandmothers. Few of us want to encourage invidious 
prejudices. So what to do? There are all those ethnic 
sensitivities and multicultural taboos to think of.

     First, let's pretend the government isn't in charge. 
Imagine that the airlines and airports were privately 
owned and pretty much unregulated, free to act only on 
their own safety concerns.

     At once common sense tells us that many large 
categories of people can be written off as no threat. 
Those grandmothers and, say, Japanese toddlers pose no 
threat; so let 'em through.

     But terrorism is now in fashion, so to speak, among 
certain other categories, large enough to make us a 
little uneasy at anyone who "looks" Arab or Muslim, or 
looks as though he might be {{ (though terrorism is far 
more common, as I've read, among the Tamil right now). }} 
At times, "prejudice" becomes a matter of rational 
caution, even for those who hate humiliating others. The 
point is not to wound their feelings, but to protect 

     If a murderer is still at large, and all we know is 
that he is a man with red hair, we go on the alert for 
men with red hair until the right suspect is caught. 
Nobody thinks this is any sort of insult to redheads, let 
alone a judgment about them. It's strictly a temporary 
practical measure until any danger seems to have passed. 
{{ Sorry about the inconvenience to the innocent majority 
of red-headed men, who I'm sure are fine people. }}

     Right now, millions of innocent Arabs and Muslims 
resemble the very few Arabs and Muslims who have been 
committing suicide bombings and hijacking planes. That 
makes them all, to some extent, suspects. {{ Again, sorry 
for the inconvenience. }} No offense meant.

     Let's be clear about where the blame lies. If you 
commit an atrocity, then it's your fault if you bring 
suspicion on everyone who resembles you. You have, as we 
used to say, given the whole group a bad name. (The 
expression, I notice, has dropped out of use lately. I 
don't think we're allowed to acknowledge, anymore, that a 
whole group can get a bad name.)

     Arabs and Muslims aren't generally violent people. 
Most of the time they seem quite peaceful. So who's to 
blame for the current alarm about them?

     Well, the actual terrorists, certainly. The criminal 
commits the crime, not some indefinable entity like 
"society." But in this case we can single out an entity 
that actually bears a lot of responsibility: the U.S. 

     The chief reason that so many Arabs and Muslims, 
enough to cause problems, hate us and resort to terrorist 
violence is U.S. foreign policy. What a few white 
Americans in suits have done has, as it were, given the 
whole group a bad name, as far as some Arabs and Muslims 
-- often educated and sophisticated young men -- are 
concerned. Just as Arabs and Muslims, for their own good, 
should discourage such violence among their own, so 
should white Americans.

     If your child dies in a hijacked plane, you can 
thank Dick Cheney.

The Moving Picture
(page 2)

     The Iraq war would have been unjustified even if it 
had been a glorious victory, the "cakewalk" its 
enthusiasts predicted. But the Bush administration chose 
to make success proof of its righteousness, and must now 
try to cope as it may with its failure. There is no great 
anti-war movement this time; most Americans are just 
writing it off and tuning it out. Condoleezza Rice still 
insists ... but is anybody listening?

*          *          *

     John Roberts, President Bush's pick for Chief 
Justice of the United States, appears to be a principled 
conservative, the kind I used to dream of when I still 
thought it might make much difference. To put it in what 
may seem a condescending manner, he appears to believe in 
the same things I myself used to believe in at his age. 
He also has many fine personal and professional 
qualities, nicely combining a tough legal mind with 
delicate tact. Things being what they are, he's probably 
as good a choice as Bush could have made. True, liberals 
aren't screaming, but we can't have everything.

*          *          *

     Vital Distinctions Dept.: Joe Queenan, reviewing 
Edward Klein's best-selling hatchet job THE TRUTH ABOUT 
HILLARY (the subtitle, if you've got a minute, is WHAT 
distinguishes usefully between the merely lousy (like 
Klein's book) and the "sublimely vile" (like Geraldo 
Rivera's autobiography). He uses the analogy of a typical 
Kevin Costner movie (merely lousy), as opposed to an 
"epic, studio-busting disaster" (HEAVEN'S GATE, say).

*          *          *

     Two reasons I've lost interest in baseball are Pete 
Rose and Barry Bonds. Both men had already established 
Hall of Fame credentials by the time scandal clouded 
their careers: Rose had set the major league record for 
hits, surpassing Ty Cobb, before it transpired that he'd 
placed bets on his own games; Bonds won several Most 
Valuable Player awards even before steroids apparently 
helped him set new seasonal slugging marks. So two of the 
game's greatest players ever may be remembered with more 
disgust than admiration.

*          *          *

     Bob Woodward's new book, THE SECRET MAN, the story 
of his dealings with Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, has had 
disappointing sales: just over 60,000 copies, a healthy 
enough figure, but only a third of what most of his books 
have sold. Maybe Felt, a self-serving bureaucrat, 
disappointed those who'd expected a more heroic figure. 
Or maybe the Watergate story is just too old. Or maybe 
the public was never as excited about it as the pundits 
were in the first place.

*          *          *

     VERA DRAKE, an award-laden film from the Brit 
director Mike Leigh, is the story of a potty but 
sweet-faced English housewife (Imelda Staunton) who does 
abortions -- or, in the delicate phrase of the DVD cover, 
"helps women terminate unwanted pregnancies." Not for 
money, you understand, but out of the sheer goodness of 
her heart. As she explains, "I help girls." Her own 
family doesn't find out until the police spoil their 
Christmas by coming to arrest her: one of the girls has 
nearly died of her help (not to mention the child who did 
die). Only her son is properly revolted to learn what Mum 
has been doing. Poor Vera winds up doing two years in 
prison. Moral: No good deed goes unpunished.

An Echo, Not a Choice
(pages 3-5)


     Even before I read FIVE DAYS IN PHILADELPHIA, by 
Charles Peters (PublicAffairs), I figured the breathless 
subtitle probably told me all I needed to know: THE 
other recent books have been celebrating the Founding 
Fathers, from the 1776 Revolution to the earlier 
Philadelphia convention that produced the U.S. 
Constitution, Peters's book celebrates the triumph of the 
one-party system, alias "the two-party system," in 1940.

     Yet Peters tells this discouraging story about as 
well as it can be told, because he finds it inspiring. 
And he tells it at a nice, fast pace, never bogging down 
in details. He may irritate, but he never bores. He has a 
knack for good anecdotes and funny quotations, and his 
nostalgia for an older America adds charm to his telling. 
Life moved at a slower pace then; most Americans were 
only a generation removed from the farm; they weren't 
flooded with constant news reports (on December 7, 1941, 
only one radio network devoted a full hour to the day's 

     In his best-selling novel THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, 
published last year, Philip Roth based his story on a big 
What If: What if Charles Lindbergh had gotten the 
Republican presidential nomination in 1940, had whipped 
Franklin Roosevelt in the November election, and kept the 
United States out of war with Germany (and also rounded 
up Jewish Americans, and so forth)? What actually 
happened is, in a way, more interesting. More than a year 
before Pearl Harbor, while Americans were still 
overwhelmingly (over 80 per cent) opposed to intervention 
in World War II, the Republicans took a dive by putting 
up a sure-fire loser to challenge the popular monster in 
the White House.

     Yet Willkie managed to persuade the Republicans that 
he could beat Roosevelt -- with a pro-war stance! Was 
this audacity or insanity? Or -- a possibility Peters 
never entertains -- was Willkie a Roosevelt stooge? From 
Roosevelt's point of view, though Peters doesn't face 
this obvious implication of his story, Willkie was the 
ideal challenger, favoring his foreign policy and only 
marginally opposed to the New Deal. Peters, raised in a 
Democratic home, praises Willkie precisely for his basic 
agreement with the incumbent. A politician as able and 
underhanded as Roosevelt was capable of engineering the 
nomination of a weak challenger; at least we can't rule 
it out.

     The November election shouldn't have been such an 
easy victory for Roosevelt. He was violating a revered 
custom by seeking a third term; even many of his 
supporters knew he was lying when he pledged he wouldn't 
send their sons to fight in foreign wars; the country 
still bitterly remembered the similar lies of Woodrow 
Wilson in 1916. An honest, Lindbergh-style Republican 
really might have won. By failing to offer a real 
alternative to Roosevelt, except maybe in candor, Willkie 
gave Americans little reason to prefer him. If Roosevelt 
lied about his intentions, Willkie lied only about which 
party he belonged to.

     Willkie was hardly even a Republican at all. An 
Indiana lawyer and businessman who'd moved to New York, 
he'd still been a Democrat as late as October 1938 and 
maybe until early 1940 (he'd even been a delegate to the 
Democrats' 1924 and 1932 conventions!); vying against 
staunch Republicans like Thomas Dewey, Robert Taft, and 
Arthur Vandenberg (with a late boomlet for Herbert 
Hoover), he was the only outright interventionist seeking 
the party's 1940 nomination; what's more, he favored the 
draft with no baloney about keeping American boys out of 
foreign wars. But he had the backing of Time-Life's Henry 
Luce, the NEW YORK HERALD-TRIBUNE, the northeastern 
Republican establishment, many intellectuals, and what 
Alice Roosevelt Longworth wittily called "the grass roots 
of a thousand country clubs." At one press conference 
during the convention, Willkie was actually applauded by 
the reporters present.

     What's more, he was an exciting personality whose 
speeches could bring crowds to their feet. Mrs. 
Longworth, a great wag, also quipped that Dewey (the 
front-runner going into Philadelphia) looked like the 
groom on a wedding cake; nobody would say that of the 
rumpled, burly Willkie. But he was handsome and charming, 
in his way, with a handshake that made grown men yelp. 
His extemporaneous brilliance wowed everyone. (Women 
adored him, and he took full advantage of their 
susceptibility, with his wife's tacit consent.) He 
campaigned with furious energy, adding a cunning mastery 
of backstage politics.

     Like many American public figures of his era, Peters 
notes, Willkie consciously adopted the earthy manner of 
Will Rogers, whose immense popularity survived his death 
in a 1935 plane crash. Peters is old enough to remember 
how powerfully Rogers's homely humor influenced the way 
Americans then saw themselves and their politicians. 
Though largely forgotten now, Rogers's gently deflating 
style helped define an age; he even had a column in the 
august NEW YORK TIMES. The seemingly guileless Willkie 
even copied his haircut, right down to the stray lock 
hanging down on his forehead.

     These are excellent observations, as are Peters's 
recollections of the hit movies of the day, {{ such as 
and GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. }} I only wish he'd said 
something about one of the most popular and 
characteristic books of the decade, Dale Carnegie's HOW 
of copies. Written in a colloquial style, it was in its 
way a work of genius, turning the normal desire to be 
liked into conscious technique. The book cited the 
successful methods of great charmers from Roosevelt's 
postmaster general Jim Farley (who claimed he knew 50,000 
people by name) to a bigamist who had married dozens of 
women. {{ Alexis de Tocqueville would have recognized it 
as a touchingly typical expression of the American 
spirit. }}

     But Peters makes an even more serious omission, 
which leaves his story incomplete. British covert 
operations, desperate to draw America into the war, 
worked tirelessly to promote Willkie and, worse, to smear 
his Republican opponents. More than spontaneous idealism 
was helping shape the 1940 election. It was one of the 
most sinister episodes in American democracy. Yet for 
Peters the story is still the triumph of innocence; he 
begins the book with a paean to Winston Churchill, who, 
in his own way, certainly won American friends and 
influenced the American people.

     In those days before television, the dominant media 
were radio, newspapers, and motion pictures (newsreels 
being a standard feature of movie houses); but as Peters 
reminds us, weekly magazines like THE SATURDAY EVENING 
POST, LOOK, and Luce's LIFE, with its superb photos of 
current events, weren't far behind. In May 1940, when 
Luce had pulled out the stops for Willkie, LIFE ran an 
enormous eleven-page spread touting him for president.

     It helped that Willkie faced a dull Republican 
field. Dewey, New York's scourge of organized crime, was 
young and promising, but on the big question of the day 
-- the war in Europe -- he waffled. Ohio's Robert Taft, 
sternly opposed to U.S. intervention, was respected but 
unloved; Michigan's Arthur Vandenberg, also against 
intervention, hardly bothered campaigning. Hoover hoped 
to be drafted, but his defeat in 1932 was still an open 
(and fatal) wound. Once Dewey's initial lead wilted, 
Willkie had the momentum to overtake him and stop a late 
surge for Taft, and the others couldn't agree on how to 
block him; it took six ballots for him to win, not to 
mention the balloons and carefully prearranged ballyhoo 
normal in political conventions.

     With Hitler making daily headlines in Europe, things 
were happening fast, and only Willkie and his crack team 
knew how to exploit their velocity, keeping the press 
sympathetic at every step. It was one of the last 
conventions to offer suspense, certainly the last to 
feature fisticuffs among delegates on the floor, and 
Willkie was the center of the drama.

     In essence, he won the nomination because he was so 
much like Roosevelt; then he lost the election for the 
same reason. Four out of five voters wanted to stay out 
of the new war, and they were offered two pro-war 

     The GOP platform committee had its work cut out for 
it. In a virtuoso exercise in ambiguity, it produced a 
statement carefully worded to accommodate Willkie's 
interventionism without infuriating "isolationists" (as 
Peters always calls the opponents of war) who still 
dominated the party. In his acceptance speech, Willkie 
asked "you Republicans" to "join me" -- apparently 
forgetting that =he= was supposed to have joined =them.=

     Willkie's nomination, Peters exults, emboldened 
Roosevelt to step up his mostly but not entirely furtive 
actions against Germany and Japan: "Simply put, Roosevelt 
could not have done it without Willkie." Even in defeat, 
Willkie's "impact on this country and the world was 
greater than that of most men who actually held the 
office [of president]."

     Well, maybe. But at least one detail supports the 
hunch that Roosevelt had Willkie under his control. 
Peters mentions that "Roosevelt loved gossip, whether it 
be about historical figures or Wendell Willkie's 
mistress, Irita Van Doren." The latter was the ex-wife of 
the historian Carl Van Doren, an accomplished woman 
prominent among the New York literati (whom she helped 
Willkie court).

     The point being just this: if Willkie didn't follow 
the script, Roosevelt could always arrange a timely 
scandal. As Lyndon Johnson, a Roosevelt disciple, knew, 
collecting useful dirt about possible enemies can be an 
invaluable political skill. Letting them know early on 
that you have it can save you a lot of trouble later. And 
Roosevelt, Peters notes, did let Willkie know.

     It was a potent threat, so potent that it didn't 
have to be spelled out. Any hint of marital discord could 
wreck a politician's career. Willkie kept a careful 
distance from Irita Van Doren throughout the fall 
campaign and, for good measure, resumed sleeping with his 
wife, who observed drily, "Politics makes strange 
bedfellows." Then too, Averill Harriman, a big Democratic 
financier, donated heavily to Willkie before the 
Republican convention; he also gave generously to 
Roosevelt's campaign.

     After the convention, the Willkie magic faded 
suddenly -- one might even say suspiciously. The only 
issue dividing him from Roosevelt was the propriety of 
seeking a third term, as they agreed on everything more 
substantial. Only late in the race did Willkie make a 
desperate but half-hearted appeal to those 
"isolationists" by hinting that Roosevelt might send 
American boys to fight abroad. He still lost by five 
million votes.

     Right after the election, Willkie came forth in 
support of Roosevelt's Lend-Lease scheme to help Britain. 
Roosevelt praised his patriotism. Willkie continued 
offering such patriotic gestures, wrote a best-seller 
called ONE WORLD, took on a few new mistresses, and threw 
his hat into the ring again in 1944. This time the 
Republicans threw it back decisively. Meanwhile he smoked 
and drank unstintingly and died of a heart attack that 
same year.

     Peters, a native of West Virginia, was just entering 
his teens in 1940, following politics, he tells us, as 
avidly as most boys followed baseball. His favorite movie 
was MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and he still sees 
Willkie as a Frank Capra hero, raised to glory by the 
spontaneous Will of the People, albeit with a bit of 
machination behind the scenes.

     Even now, Peters remains a believer, thrilling at 
the memory of seeing Roosevelt pass through his home 
town. With the rest of the awed crowd, he "caught a 
glimpse of the upturned chin, the magic smile, and the 
wave of his hand."

     Nice to a fault, Peters credits everyone with good 
motives, even those "isolationists": they quite 
understandably didn't want their sons dying overseas. So 
why was it imperative for the United States to get into 
the war? How was it threatened by Germany, which failed 
even to conquer nearby Britain?

     For Peters these are givens, which need no 
explaining. Hitler was evil, and there's an end on't. 
Well, what about Stalin? Wasn't he evil too? But Peters 
barely mentions him, or indeed the Soviet Union, or 
Communism, except to note that Germany and Russia were 
allies for a spell. (Japan isn't even mentioned in the 
book's index.) Nothing must be allowed to complicate the 
Frank Capra scenario, starring Wendell Willkie as 
Mr. Smith.

     Peters praises Willkie extravagantly, stressing the 
brilliant intelligence that awed everyone who met him, 
intellectuals as well as politicians. He came from a 
brilliant family and compiled his own excellent academic 
record. But there is no evidence of "his original and 
important ideas," or any ideas, in the book. He captured 
the mood of the moment, obviously, and his presence must 
have been electrifying; but nothing Peters quotes 
suggests more than ordinary intelligence.

     Neither Willkie nor Peters, moreover, ever explains 
why Germany posed a threat to America. Why would it? 
Hitler didn't even want war with England, and after 
France and England declared war on Germany he warned the 
United States not to intervene. He had a hard enough time 
crossing the English Channel; crossing the Atlantic Ocean 
would have posed far graver difficulties. As Taft said, 
"There is a good deal more danger of the infiltration of 
totalitarian ideas from New Deal circles in Washington 
than there will ever be from activities of the communists 
or the Nazis." Very true; and thanks to Willkie, those 
ideas infiltrated Taft's own party in 1940. At one 
private dinner party that year, Taft exploded in anger 
when Willkie said he would vote for Roosevelt rather than 
any Republican candidate who opposed aid to Britain and 

     During the fall campaign, the only objections 
Willkie could raise against his opponent were to his 
seeking a third term and to the red tape and 
mismanagement in Washington. There were no differences of 
principle or philosophy worth mentioning.

     Willkie was the wave of the future, as it turns out. 
Today it's routine for Republicans like Newt Gingrich and 
Jack Kemp to hail Roosevelt as the greatest president of 
the century. The GOP has adopted his interventionist 
policy, along with his domestic programs, as its own; it 
even hurls his pet epithet "isolationist" at the 

     Yet for Peters, Willkie's greatness consists 
precisely in his aping of Roosevelt. Much as I enjoyed 
FIVE DAYS IN PHILADELPHIA, I couldn't help feeling that 
Peters has missed the real point, and the most 
interesting overtones, of his own story. He is too 
beguiled by its straightforward surface. I kept thinking 
the book should have been a Mario Puzo novel.


INSULTING THEIR FAITH: President Bush's endorsement of 
"intelligent design" has provoked indignant yelps from 
those who believe that life is an accident. I'm a bit 
surprised they get so upset by a little blasphemy, but 
apparently they are, in their own way, very devout. The 
evolutionist creed, I gather, is roughly this: "There is 
no God, and Darwin is his prophet." (page 7)

IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS: I'm no longer really a fan 
of baseball -- I lack the stamina required of a couch 
potato -- but I'm an avid fan of baseball theory. I'll 
explain in a future essay, but meanwhile I commend one of 
the most gripping, original, witty books ever written 
about the game, Michael Lewis's MONEYBALL: THE ART OF 
WINNING AN UNFAIR GAME (Norton, now in paperback). 
(page 8)

FINE DISTINCTION: Ideally, we would have law without a 
state. What we have instead is the state without law. 
This is the difference between anarchy and chaos. 
(page 9)

CIVICS FOR SUCKERS: Opinion polls, like elections, are 
clever devices to make the hostages think they control 
their captors. (page 10)

HEALTH NOTES: "Stem Cells Heal Burns," says a WASHINGTON 
POST headline. While we're looking on the bright side of 
things, why not "Cannibalism Provides Protein, Prevents 
Malnutrition"? (page 12)

REPRINTED COLUMNS ("The Reactionary Utopian")
(pages 6-12)

* Film's Great Chameleon (July 28, 2005)

* Inordinate Fear (August 2, 2005)

* Islam and Terrorism (August 9, 2005)

* The President and the Professor (August 11, 2005)

* The "Seamless Garment" (August 16, 2005)

* The Iraqi Constitution (August 23, 2005)

* The Patriot's Creed (August 25, 2005)


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