The Real News of the Month

December 2005
Volume 12, Number 12

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
Managing Editor: Ronald N. Neff
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  -> The Content of His Character
  -> Snapshots (plus electronic Exclusives)
  -> Publisher's Note
  -> Presidential Worship
  -> 11th Anniversary Celebration of SOBRAN'S
Nuggets (plus electronic Exclusives)
"Reactionary Utopian" Columns Reprinted in This Issue



The Content of His Character
(page 1)

     For me, winter reaches its nadir with January 15, 
when the cold is coldest and the United States observes 
its most dubious holiday: the birthday of Martin Luther 
King Jr. If he were alive today, he would be 77.

     Even in my teens, I was put off by King's bombastic 
grandiloquence. I never found it eloquent or inspiring. 
On the contrary, it struck me as embarrassingly gauche. 
He wanted his children judged "not by the color of their 
skin, but by the content of their character"? Does 
character have "content"? And was race only a matter of 
"skin"? It was all so superficial. Even vulgar.

     I sympathized with the civil rights movement as long 
as it settled for legal equality; it lost me when it 
became a demand for special treatment, government power, 
and the abridgment of the rights of property and 
association. King led the way in conflating all these 
things as "freedom." When he led crowds in chanting 
"Freedom now!" I cringed.

     King's Marxist views and rumored Communist links -- 
later confirmed by his biographers -- didn't help. His 
preaching of Gandhi-style "nonviolence," accompanied by 
annual dark warnings of "a long, hot summer," sounded 
more menacing than reassuring. I preferred the candor of 
Malcolm X, whose blunt autobiography fascinated me and 
won my admiration. With King I smelled hypocrisy.

     King's murder in 1968 was greeted with rioting and 
looting in the big cities. That seemed to me an odd way 
to mourn, but it also had a certain fitness: he had 
nurtured racial grievance, and his violent death was the 
trigger for revenge on the white man among blacks who'd 
been told they were deprived. They honored his memory by 
collecting on what he'd taught them America owed them.

     After his death, we learned more about the content 
of King's own character. While studying for the ministry, 
he had plagiarized (or as his admirers put it, 
"borrowed") others' writings for one of his theses. His 
friends revealed that he'd been a frenetic adulterer, 
sometimes bedding two women at once. (As a young 
preacher, suddenly famous, in demand, and on the road, he 
had found ample opportunities for playing around.) One 
admiring biographer quoted a bitterly obscene joke he'd 
made about John and Jacqueline Kennedy (which might have 
earned a guffaw from Larry Flynt) while watching the 
president's televised funeral in 1963. Such were the 
sides of King hidden from the public while he lived.

     Many such unedifying details had already transpired 
by the time the U.S. Congress took up the question of 
canonizing him with a national holiday. They were well 
known, but anyone who adverted to them risked being 
branded a bigot. King's noble "legacy" was all that 
counted. His shady personal life was off-limits. (It's 
interesting to note that his widow never wrote her 

     And what was his legacy? An ill-defined drive for 
"racial justice," meaning official racial favoritism, 
which, unlike older concepts of justice, knew no limits. 
It entailed "affirmative action," race quotas, and other 
political spoils. Only conservatives still pretend that 
King stood for color-blind equality.

     {{ King has found a worthy successor in his disciple 
Jesse Jackson, who also combines libidinal energy with 
wearisome sanctimony. Today even so preposterous a figure 
as Al Sharpton can pass himself off as a "civil rights 
leader." These parodies of King are another facet of 
King's legacy. }}

The Moving Picture
(page 2)

     In mid December, Iraq held another free election, 
defined as one conducted under American auspices. Days 
later, Vice President Cheney paid the country a surprise 
visit. You know your country's really liberated when Dick 
Cheney shows up to offer his congratulations.

*          *          *

     Don't ask me how, but I just *knew* Charles 
Krauthammer wouldn't like this guy. Iran's president, 
Mahmoud Ahmnidejad, says the state of Israel should be 
wiped off the map (or at least relocated to Europe), 
denies there was a Holocaust, and wants nuclear weapons. 
And sure enough, Krauthammer wrote a column rather 
unfavorable to him, calling for more military action. Too 
bad he and his friends shot their wad on Saddam Hussein. 
Now they have an even worse villain, and the country's 
not in the mood for another neocon war for the time 

*          *          *

     Like most people now, I guess, I see movies far more 
often on video than at the cinema. That's how I caught 
Danny Boyle's MILLIONS, which I might easily have 
mistaken for one of those ghastly "heart-warming movies 
the whole family can enjoy" -- despite Boyle's grim 
previous work in 28 DAYS LATER and TRAINSPOTTING. It's 
about a little boy (Alex Etel, a near-ringer for my own 
twin grandsons) who, after his mother's death, finds a 
seemingly miraculous fortune and tries to give it away, 
only to discover where the loot really came from. Along 
the way he has visions of saints and gives other signs of 
eccentricity. Oh, what a lovely film! If the whole family 
doesn't like it, just face the fact that they're no good 
and cut them out of your will.

Exclusive to electronic media:

     Democrats keep digging up dark secrets from Judge 
Samuel Alito's wild youth, such as his criticism of the 
U.S. Supreme Court's reapportionment ruling in Baker v. 
Carr back in 1962. I'm getting to like this guy. That 
ruling was a big step toward the final destruction of the 
states by means of the accursed Fourteenth Amendment. By 
its reasoning, "the equal protection of the laws" would 
require the abolition of the U.S. Senate. Then again, by 
1962 the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments had already 
pretty much taken care of that, reducing Jefferson's 
"Free and Independent States" to a mere legal fiction.

Publisher's Note
(page 2)

Dear Loyal Subscriber,

     In this issue, we are publishing a collage of photos 
from our 11th Anniversary Charter Subscribers' luncheon. 
Do you wish you could have joined us? Just send $1,000 
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     Yes I know. The inserts are a nuisance so you never 
look at them. But these enclosures provide valuable 
information, such as whether your subscription is about 
to expire, items for sale from SOBRAN'S (including books, 
CDs, tapes, back issues), and this month ... another 
party invitation!

     That's right. It's closing in on Joe's 60th birthday 
and we are having an informal party in a hall in Falls 
Church, Virginia, on February 23. The details are on a 
flyer enclosed. Would you like to have your name on a 
card to Joe? Or would you care to donate an item for our 
silent auction? If so, you need to act fast as the 
February 17 deadline is approaching quickly.


     FGF Books, the publishing imprint of the Fitzgerald 
Griffin Foundation, is nearing the publication date of 
CULTURE WAR. Joe Sobran has written a beautiful 
afterword. Watch the enclosures in upcoming issues for 
opportunities to purchase the book.

     In addition, the Foundation hopes to showcase some 
writing of resident scholar Joe Sobran this year. Contact 
the Foundation at P.O. Box 270, Vienna, VA 22183, 
703-242-0058, or at for more 

             Wishing you many blessings in this new year!

             Fran Griffin

Presidential Worship
(pages 3-5)

     "God speaks first to his Englishmen," John Milton 
wrote; and if so learned a man could utter such naive 
nationalism, maybe we shouldn't be surprised by American 
exceptionalism. If George W. Bush achieves nothing else, 
he may lay to rest the faith that the Almighty supplies 
the United States with great leaders at critical moments 
in the nation's history.

    But the old faith in the messianic presidency 
survives in the works of the historian Doris Kearns 
Goodwin, celebrant of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, 
Lyndon Johnson, and, now, Abraham Lincoln. In the past 
she has been accused (and convicted) of minor plagiarism, 
but such charges don't affect the thrust of her work: the 
belief that a divinely ordained leader can redeem a 
nation. When she says Lincoln "saved" the Union, she 
means it.

    Maybe Goodwin's earlier books relied somewhat on 
research assistants and passages borrowed from others' 
books, not exactly the scholarly methods of Edward 
Gibbon, but if she read and signed her name to the 
finished products, they are still her works in the sense 
that really matters. Others have done the same; Winston 
Churchill's huge history of World War II incorporated, 
verbatim, substantial passages written by others. What's 
troubling about Goodwin's work is that it's derivative in 
a more fundamental way: in its liberal optimism about 
political power.

    TEAM OF RIVALS (Simon & Schuster) is her new Lincoln 
book, a 951-page narrative of the Union's salvation. 
Goodwin faces a difficulty that hampers most historians 
who tackle Lincoln: his terseness. In an age when 
politicians produced daunting bodies of documents -- 
garrulous orations, memoirs, letters, and diaries -- 
Lincoln's writings were precious few. Which is to say, 
they were both precious and few. His concise eloquence 
defines him so well that you can get his essence from a 
mere handful of his most famous speeches, none of which 
were very long. Unlike most politicians of his day, he 
rarely wasted a word. A long book about Lincoln requires 
the author to supply some bombast.

    Goodwin surmounts this difficulty by concentrating on 
his cabinet, men of more satisfying amplitude. Several of 
them had been Lincoln's Republican rivals for the 
presidency, William Henry Seward, Edward Bates, Edwin 
Stanton, Salmon Chase, Montgomery Blair. Lincoln knew 
they shared a low opinion of him, but he didn't resent 
this; as a novice in Washington (he'd served only one 
term in Congress, many years earlier), he was wise enough 
to know he needed their political talents, and he was 
magnanimous enough to forgive their slights and overlook 
their contempt. As he once told a querulous young army 
officer, "No man resolved to make the most of himself, 
can spare time for personal contention." This was a 
lesson of his own youth: he was notable for seeking 
reconciliation with former enemies, including James 
Shields, who'd once challenged him to a duel. (Lincoln 
made Shields a brigadier general in the Union army.) His 
humility and magnanimity were real practical assets. 
Goodwin argues that he displayed his true political 
genius by welding these fractious men into a successful 

    Lincoln was a remarkably undistracted man. As we now 
say, he always kept his eye on the ball. Unfortunately, 
Goodwin doesn't. Like all Lincoln's worshippers, she 
never examines his premise for the war on the South.

    Lincoln almost monotonously appealed to the 
Declaration of Independence, which he called the source 
of his own political principles and the lodestar of 
American self-government. But while he harped on "the 
proposition that all men are created equal," he ignored 
some of its other key phrases.

    One was "the consent of the governed," which the 
Southern states had formally withdrawn from the Federal 
Government by the act of seceding, exactly as the 
colonies had officially withdrawn their consent from the 
king of Great Britain.

    Another point Lincoln chose to ignore was the very 
thing that the Declaration had declared: that the 13 
American colonies "are, and of Right ought to be, Free 
and Independent States." This point was often underlined 
by the additional word "sovereign," which appeared in, 
for example, the 1783 Treaty of Paris successfully 
concluding the American Revolution (the British 
recognizing, by name, the 13 "free, Sovereign, and 
Independent States") and again in the Articles of 
Confederation, which begins by affirming, "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."

    The Articles had thus reiterated the Declaration: the 
former colonies were now states, not only independent of 
Britain but also mutually independent. And this was the 
very point Lincoln had to deny, and did deny, as when he 
said flatly that the states had never been independent of 
each other, that they had never been sovereign, and, most 
famously, that what "our fathers brought forth" in 1776 
was not 13 free and independent political entities but a 
single "new nation." The Declaration never even uses the 
term "nation"; Lincoln used it five times at Gettysburg 

    In this way Lincoln effected what the Princeton 
historian James M. MacPherson, another of his admirers, 
calls "the second American Revolution," though it may 
also be called the American Counterrevolution, a virtual 
reversal of the 1776 Revolution. (Lincoln himself charged 
that Southern secession was "revolutionary.")

    The War Between the States is still called a 
sectional war between North and South, and so it was, but 
it was also more than that. It was a fight over what a 
"state" was. The war on the South was essentially a war 
on *all* the states. Were they still the "Free and 
Independent" -- that is, sovereign -- bodies of 1776? Or 
were they, as Lincoln said, mere subdivisions of a larger 
sovereignty, a permanent Union from which there could be 
no legal withdrawal, regardless of whether it still 
enjoyed the consent of the governed?

    These had long been lively questions for Americans, 
with Thomas Jefferson and John Calhoun powerfully 
upholding the priority of the states' independence and 
Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster denying it (while 
insisting on strict constitutional limits on the powers 
of the Federal Government). During the debate over 
ratification of the Constitution (a debate of which 
Lincoln was largely ignorant), both sides had agreed in 
principle that a "consolidated" government was to be 
abhorred and that the Union should continue to be an 
essentially voluntary confederation; even Lincoln had 
sometimes spoken of the Union as "this great 
confederacy." But the Union he "saved" was no longer the 
original one; it was a radically different thing, in 
which the states had lost their ultimate defense against 
Federal tyranny.

    Though the war took a sectional form, millions in the 
North believed, even after Fort Sumter had given Lincoln 
the pretext (a la Pearl Harbor, the Lusitania, or 
"Remember the Maine") he needed to rally the North for a 
full invasion of the South, that the states were still 
sovereign, with the right to go their own way. Even when 
persecuted, this view persisted and smoldered throughout 
the war. It was strong enough to fuel a desire for peace 
that threatened Lincoln's reelection in 1864, when George 
McClellan, proposing conciliation with the South, 
challenged him.

    Lincoln keenly understood the power of public 
opinion: "Public opinion in this country is everything." 
It was "dangerous to disregard" -- and therefore 
necessary to control, especially when it had been 
influenced (or "debauched," as he put it) by Southern 

    Lincoln's hostility to freedom of speech and press -- 
like that of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt after 
him -- seems not to disturb Goodwin, MacPherson, or his 
other defenders. If he thought suppressing it was 
necessary in order to save the Union, well, the great end 
of "saving the Union" justified whatever means he saw 
fit. His many violations of the Constitution and 
usurpations of congressional powers were excused by the 
loyal Republican Congress that remained after the 
Southern Democrats left (an underrated consequence of 
secession, though foreseen by sober Southerners).

    So he cracked down hard on dissenters against his 
war, even within the Union, where the Bill of Rights 
became a dead letter. While promising "a new birth of 
freedom," he suspended habeas corpus and authorized tens 
of thousands of arrests and the closing of hundreds of 
newspapers; among those jailed were elected state 
legislators (as in Maryland, where they'd condemned the 
invasion of the states and were on the verge of voting to 
secede), the mayor of Baltimore, and an Ohio congressman 
(who was exiled to Canada). Elections were effectively 
rigged, with the aid of supervising soldiers. Given 
Lincoln's frequent advertence to the Declaration, it can 
be startling to reflect that its author, Jefferson, would 
have been eligible for summary imprisonment under 
Lincoln. Yet he could say that with a Northern defeat, 
self-government would "perish from the earth."

    It's surprising that this deep division of opinion 
and sentiment within the North has been forgotten. The 
Union victory and Lincoln's assassination have, to this 
day, given partisan Northern propaganda the status of 
virtual history. Even Lincoln's most extreme rhetoric is 
now taken for granted as simple fact: that secession was 
"rebellion," "aggression," and "treason," that disunion 
would mean the "immediate dissolution," "national 
destruction," or even "conquest" of the United States as 
a whole. By this logic, the Declaration was a threat to 
conquer Britain and abolish the monarchy.

    Usually Lincoln's words were more carefully measured; 
but for a man who rejected Christianity, he had a strange 
tendency to become apocalyptic. It's astonishing to 
compare his two inaugural speeches -- the first oozing 
persuasion, the second roaring hellfire. (The first shows 
you why Lincoln had been such a disarming courtroom 

    Once you accept Lincoln as the national savior, it's 
a short step to idolizing his ambitious successors too, 
as Goodwin does. After all, he barely began the great 
project of centralizing political power in the American 
Republic; it has been left to others to complete it.

    After the North's victory, the Republican Party 
continued to dominate American politics until the New 
Deal, when the Democrats took their place as the 
centralizing party. As a result, the Jeffersonian 
philosophy went into eclipse. It found its last great 
expression in the postwar writings of the two chief 
Confederate leaders, Jefferson Davis and his vice 
president, Alexander Stephens. The Southern Democrats who 
continued to pursue Jeffersonian politics are now 

    In his memoirs, Davis cited Jefferson, as Calhoun 
had, to justify secession. So, in his voluminous postwar 
writings, did Stephens, stressing the words "free and 
independent states." Both men defended slavery, but they 
also made powerful independent arguments for state 
sovereignty as the very basis of the U.S. Constitution. 
This was the indispensable presupposition shared by all 
the Founders, not just Jefferson; Davis and Stephens 
could quote George Washington, and even Alexander 
Hamilton, to clinch their case. They still used the old 
language of the Founders, charging the North with seeking 

    During their days in Congress, Stephens had been a 
particular friend of Lincoln; the two men liked and 
esteemed each other. Stephens is nearly forgotten today, 
but Edmund Wilson devoted a respectful chapter to him in 
CIVIL WAR (1962). Wilson is one of the few liberals who 
have tried to see the Southern position as something more 
than regional special pleading. He likens Lincoln to 
Bismarck and Lenin as a centralizer of power who laid the 
groundwork for the great wars of the twentieth century. 
(Those wars were fought among the German, Russian, 
American, British, and eventually the Japanese empires.) 
Again in contrast to most liberals, Wilson finds 
parallels between the United States and Soviet Russia in 
the way both have managed to bury the real past under 

    Lincoln's worshippers hate such analogies, but 
America's warrior presidents have claimed his mantle ever 
since his death; apostles of constitutional government, 
on the other hand, seldom appeal to Lincoln. And Goodwin 
is far from the only historian to rank him with Franklin 
Roosevelt as America's two greatest leaders. In their 
different ways, both men did more than violate the 
Constitution; they destroyed all previous limits on 
Federal power. The simplest evidence for this is an 
Orwellian reversal of meaning: "Federal" has become a 
synonym, instead of an antonym, of "centralized."

    "The United States" has also become a singular noun, 
an "it"; the Founders used the plural "they," as does the 
Constitution itself. Garry Wills offers this pronoun 
shift as a measure of Lincoln's achievement; and so it 
is, in a sense. A "new nation" is an "it"; "Free and 
Independent States" are "they."

    As for those states, they are now mere provinces, 
with only the merest residue of sovereignty. Few 
Americans today are aware that their nation was ever 
essentially different. They've been taught that a single, 
simple tradition -- "American democracy" -- unites their 
presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the 
Roosevelts, Wilson, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan. Many 
liberals would prefer to think that, say, Richard Nixon 
and George W. Bush don't belong in this line, but it's an 
awkward point to argue when both have notably increased 
the size, scope, and power of the Federal Government.

    The great fact remains that Lincoln was a *sectional* 
president. He was elected in 1860 in a four-way race 
against three Democrats, winning only about 40 per cent 
of the votes cast, nearly all of them in the North; he 
got not a single electoral vote in the South. The North 
was sharply divided about secession; the South was not. 
Yet though Lincoln had to crush dissent in the Union, and 
to violate the Constitution he said he was trying to 
preserve, he claimed to represent the whole "nation." 
That claim is still honored.

    His fraud goes marching on. The history profession 
has seen to that. And Doris Kearns Goodwin isn't one to 
set the record straight.

11th Anniversary Celebration of SOBRAN'S
(pages 6-7)

Photos can be viewed at: 

These files take a long time to open if you are using a 
dial-up account to access the Internet. 


THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: Now we've seen everything. Elusive, 
reclusive Bob Dylan has signed on to host a weekly 
hour-long radio show. (page 5)

TAKE THE MONKEY AND RUN: Yet another remake of KING KONG, 
twice as long as the original, this one by Peter (LORD OF 
THE RINGS) Jackson, and it looks to be filling the 
theaters for months. Sounds like fun, but why do all the 
reviewers have to give away the ending? (page 11)

Thomas Dubay, S.M., was originally published in 1985, but 
I've only just caught up with it. I hesitate to call it 
profound, because the word suggests difficulty and 
abstruseness, whereas this book is a wise, readable, 
reflective study of the justification for religious 
belief -- with pointed comments on the obstacles of 
self-delusion. It bears comparison with C.S. Lewis's 
classic MIRACLES. (page 12)

Exclusive to electronic media:

LORD OF THE BOARDS: Terry Coleman's OLIVIER (Henry Holt), 
though the authorized biography of the great actor, is 
startlingly frank and full of fresh material, especially 
about his stormy marriage to Vivien Leigh. Much as I 
enjoyed the gossip, I hoped for more insight about his 
art, and Coleman doesn't offer much; neither did 
Olivier's own two books. Any reader looking for depth 
will be disappointed. Still, lots of his performances are 
available on video, among them his terrific cameo as a 
fanatic Arab in KHARTOUM (1966), which steals the film 
from Charlton Heston. Olivier's acting style is already 
looking a bit old-fashioned, but gems like that leave no 
doubt of his genius.

SO THEY SAY ... : President Bush must be listening to 
talk radio. I don't know where else he could have gotten 
the idea that he has the authority to suspend the 
Constitution in time of war. 

REPRINTED COLUMNS ("The Reactionary Utopian")
(pages 8-12)

* Reflections of a Conspirator (December 15, 2005)

* None Dare Call It Hypothetical (December 20, 2005)

* Darwinian Graffiti (December 27, 2005)

* Is Darwin Holy? (December 29, 2005)

* Bush's Alpha Male (January 5, 2006)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran.

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