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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Bigot-Baiting Bombs

(Reprinted from the issue of January 26, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Bigot-Baiting BombsSamuel Alito survived his confirmation hearings with a poised performance that was assisted, in the end, by Democrat excesses. Led by the ineffable Ted Kennedy, the Dems tried to tar Alito as a bigot for having belonged to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a conservative group whose office my son used to work in, opposed to coeducation and affirmative action — positions which are now apparently thought-crimes.

At one point Alito’s wife broke down in tears and had to leave the hearing room. What actually provoked this was not Kennedy’s aggressive insinuations, but Republican Lindsay Graham’s quietly indignant rebuke to them; she had braced herself for the smears, but she was unprepared for an outburst of decency in that setting, and her pent-up emotions got the best of her. Suddenly the Democrats looked small, cheap, and mean. The Party of Compassion was up to its old tricks, and they had backfired.

As Kennedy railed against the “reprehensible” Princeton group, it came to light that he himself had for half a century been a member of Harvard’s all-male (and therefore reprehensible) Owl Club. Oops! This is the progressive champion who charged that Alito’s affiliation “calls into question his appreciation for the need for full equality.”

Bob Bork must have been roaring with laughter as Kennedy, through a spokeswoman, announced that he was resigning as an Owl.

What a hoot! Kennedy, who became famous as the kid brother of a dynamic young president, has become a tiresome, bloated old man, the Jabba the Hut of liberal hypocrisy. Nothing seems to penetrate his arrogant self-assurance; he evidently doesn’t realize that he has become a symbol of moral decadence, pompously droning on behalf of the hollow values of an era that is past.

As the Last Kennedy, he occupies a position of quasi-royalty in his party, and the Democrats have nobody big enough to tell him it’s time to retire and stop embarrassing them. Since he is most unlikely to grasp this through introspection and self-examination, they are stuck with him until nature pulls the plug.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton made a similar blunder in a black church while observing Martin Luther King’s birthday, when she charged that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives is run “like a plantation.” Again, the old trick of insinuating bigotry (“and you know what I mean”) no longer worked as of yore; the chief public reaction was revulsion.

She also hurt her presidential ambitions with her stridency, which undercut her recent attempts to sound moderate; her screeching voice is not an asset. I never cease marveling that so many American women spend billions on their looks, hair, and wardrobes, but never give a thought to how their raucous voices offend the ear. A melodious voice can be more charming than dazzling beauty, and it doesn’t cost a dime; but this secret seems to be known to few women outside the South, and Hillary failed to pick it up in Arkansas.

All of which goes to illustrate that the Democrats don’t know how to capitalize on their opponents’ weaknesses. As the Republicans lose popularity, the Democrats go around, as somebody has nicely put it, whipping up apathy.

They have absolutely nothing fresh to say; they merely play on ancient resentments, on prejudices as stale as those they impute to others. When they don’t know what else to do, they accuse the Republicans of bigotry.

The Impeachment Remedy

A Zogby poll finds that 52% of the public thinks President Bush should be impeached if he authorized illegal wiretaps of Americans. I can’t argue with them; but I think Americans would actually demand impeachment far more often if they understood their Constitution.

In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton explains that impeachment is a way of removing a president without the violence incident to the deposing of a British monarch — a point underlined shortly after he wrote when the French beheaded their king and queen. A king was an almost sacred figure, above the people, whereas a president would be a mere temporary officer selected by the people themselves. Removing him would be more like dismissing an errant servant than a regicide, rebellion, or revolution.

So a presidential impeachment is not, as commonly said, a “constitutional crisis.” On the contrary, it’s the constitutional remedy for the abuse of power. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he 
writes them!And it shouldn’t be reserved for crises; it should haunt every president in the same way that the chance of getting fired should haunt a bank teller who is tempted to embezzle funds.

It happens far too seldom. Since at least the days of Lincoln, American presidents have been allowed to usurp power with impunity. So have judges and legislators. We have neglected an essential tool of self-government.

Lincoln and the Press

Speaking of Lincoln, a stunning new book recounts his war against freedom of the press — in the North. Lincoln’s Wrath (Sourcebooks), by Jeffrey Manber and Neil Dahlstrom, deals with the most neglected aspect of the Civil War, the battle for public opinion and Lincoln’s largely hidden, but very active, role in it.

The modern media were still in their infancy, with such new inventions as photography and the telegraph transforming the traditional newspaper. New York City alone had 174 newspapers (only a few of which were dailies). Nearly all of them were partisan; the idea of “objective” and unbiased reporting was practically unknown. With so much competition, their survival often depended on political and government patronage, as well as access to the mails.

“In this country,” Lincoln observed, “public sentiment is everything.” For him that meant that it had to be controlled, by any means necessary.

Lincoln and the Republicans looked on the Democratic press as little better than treasonous. And in their minds, any reservation about the war — even the mere suggestion that the “rebels” might have a point — was treason. Lincoln set out to crush the opposition press, not only using arbitrary arrests and dubious legal powers given him by the Republican Congress, but tacitly encouraging mobs to invade newspaper offices, smash printing presses, and visit violence on publishers.

He never expressed regret for these outrages and never prosecuted them. (At the same time, he extended secret favors to “loyal” newspapers.)

Lincoln’s many speeches extolling freedom, in striking contrast to Jefferson’s, never mention freedom of speech or an independent press. Strange and even paradoxical as it may sound to those beguiled by the “Honest Abe” myth, freedom survived in spite of Lincoln, not because of him.

SOBRANS looks at Lincoln as courtroom lawyer, young husband, and failed politician. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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