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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Budget Notes

(Reprinted from the issue of July 24, 2003)

Capitol BldgIf mere numbers could provoke tears, we’d all be sobbing and wailing uncontrollably over the White House’s projected budget deficit of $455 billion for the current fiscal year.

To call that figure staggering is to fall short, since annual deficits have been staggering for decades. Mere adjectives no longer suggest the magnitude of federal spending.

How do you even visualize it? Would that many dollars, laid end to end, reach to the planet Pluto? One thinks not of economists, but of Buzz Lightyear: “To infinity, and beyond!” By my rough calculation, the figure means that the federal government this year will spend about $2,000 more, per capita, than it takes in — and it takes in far too much anyway.

Even with limitless taxing powers, this government can’t control itself.

Total federal spending in the Kennedy era was, as I recall, around $100 billion per year, with Keynesian deficits, then recommended to “stimulate the economy,” in the low billions. Balanced budgets were still conceivable. Now the deficit alone approaches a half-trillion. Quadrillion, here we come!

But the White House budget director, Joshua B. Bolten, calls this deficit “manageable ... [if we] exercise serious spending discipline.” He said this with a straight face.

Aren’t we lucky to have a conservative Republican government?
Early Reviews

It’s customary to review a film, favorably or not, at the time of its release. But this season we are seeing a remarkable innovation: A film is being panned a year before its release (and it doesn’t even have a distributor yet) because the director hasn’t repudiated his father’s opinions.

Sound odd? Who ever cared about the views of the fathers of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, or Martin Scorsese? Such things usually lie well outside the purview of cinematic criticism.

By now, dear reader, you are probably thoroughly mystified.

Or maybe you’ve already read about it. The film is Mel Gibson’s independent project The Passion, a graphic reproduction of the last hours of Christ. The actors speak in Aramaic and Latin, without subtitles. The sufferings of our Lord (played by Jim Caviezel) are shown in excruciating detail.

I haven’t seen it, but Gibson reportedly sticks closely to the Gospel accounts, with a few touches added from the visions of the 18th-century mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich.

This is enough for some Catholic and Jewish monitors to express “concern” about possible anti-Semitism. I guess the thinking is that if any Jews are shown as being involved in the crucifixion, viewers will rush from the theaters to lynch Jews. Never mind that the principal character is a Jew too.

Gibson is a devout Catholic of the traditionalist and apparently sedevacantist stripe, rejecting the Second Vatican Council and denying the legitimacy of the recent Popes. During the filming of The Passion, in southern Italy, he had the Tridentine Mass celebrated every morning on the set.

So how does Gibson’s father figure in this? The outspoken Hutton Gibson has been the focus of several hostile advance stories about the film. Now 85, he is reportedly not only a sedevacantist, but a Holocaust denier.

Whatever you may think of the Gibsons, I’d strongly advise against holding your breath waiting for Mel to denounce his father. These guys have a pronounced Irish streak; and in my experience, the word “stubborn” is but a feeble synonym for the word “Irish.” Right or wrong, they don’t back down easily.

Mel Gibson believes in this film. He has spent millions of his own money producing it independently, with no major studio backing and no assurance that it will be seen by large numbers of people.

But his enemies are already making it a sensation. As the adage says, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Every denunciation piques public interest. You can be not only a militant atheist but a New York Times subscriber to boot, but your curiosity will have been aroused by those who have been telling you, a full year in advance, that you mustn’t see this film.

I can’t judge Mel Gibson as a movie director, but he sounds like a marketing genius. Yet what really matters to him isn’t the profit margin, but simply bringing the Gospel story to the screen. When was the last time a movie was made for the purpose of leading the audience to salvation?

Naturally, only such a film as that is capable of stirring panic in today’s secular moral guardians, who don’t even notice the steady flow of raw sewage from Hollywood.

Do we need any further proof that modern culture is topsy-turvy?
Bonds, the Babe, and Baseball

I’ve pretty much quit following major-league baseball, because I no longer feel it’s the sport I grew up with. I have no right to complain; I can only say it’s so different today that I’ve lost interest. The 1993 strike nearly finished it for me, but the last straw was the cryogenic freezing of Ted Williams’s mortal remains.

I see that Barry Bonds, the superstar of the San Francisco Giants, now claims to be greater than Babe Ruth. He may be right, and more’s the pity. Bonds’s talent is, well, staggering. He has far surpassed Ruth’s season records for home runs, walks, and even slugging percentage. He’s also tough to strike out, especially for a power hitter. And he’s dealing with much better competition in today’s athletes.

Of course you have to take into account that the Babe wasn’t just a slugger; early in his career he was well on his way to becoming one of the game’s great pitchers. Beyond that, he was a living myth: His utter dominance of his time was coupled with a joie de vivre that kept him a popular idol long after his career ended. His colorful personality still jumps off the pages of his biographies.

Bonds, surly and aloof, just doesn’t capture the imagination.

Bonds set his home run record at an age when Ruth had been retired for a couple of years. His late blossoming into a muscular behemoth stirred rumors (which he denies) that he owed his explosive improvement to steroids; and this suspicion will always leave a shadow over his records. Ruth made his legend while training on beer and hot dogs.

Babe Ruth always had fun playing baseball, and he made the game more fun for everyone; his spirit still helps animate the game. It wouldn’t quite be the same sport if he hadn’t come along when he came and done what he did.

Even when his last record has been eclipsed, he will remain the symbol of baseball at its most joyous.
Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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