No Retreat

     Samuel Alito was finally sworn in as an associate 
justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, just in time to attend 
President Bush's State of the Union address. I wonder if 
he wishes his swearing-in could have waited just one more 
day so he wouldn't have been expected to show up.

     With all its pomp and circumstance, this annual 
pseudo-event gives new meaning to the old phrase "empty 
ritual." There are times when conviviality requires us to 
show polite hypocrisy, but the only excuse for this 
exercise in mass genuflection is that it's the one night 
in the year when you can hear a Bush, other than Barbara, 
speak in complete sentences. The Bush males have to rely 
on their speechwriters to provide syntax.

     (I once heard Mrs. Bush give a perfectly delightful 
speech. Apparently the gift of articulate utterance has 
been carried only through the distaff line.)

     After an opening tribute to Coretta Scott King, the 
president began with yet another warning against the 
grave sin of "isolationism," saying we must avoid 
"retreating within our borders." This confirmed my 
apprehension that we were in for a bad night, 
uncomplicated by rationality. The peculiar thing is that 
this sin, which owes its name to a moral theologian 
called Franklin D. Roosevelt, is a sin only for the 
United States. It used to be known as "neutrality."

     Other countries are expected to stay within their 
borders, or they are guilty of "aggression"; those who 
want our own country to stay within its borders are 
guilty of "isolationism." When we commit what would 
otherwise be called "aggression," it's called "defending 
freedom." When radical Islamists get nuclear weapons, 
they will be "weapons of mass murder." And when we have 

     But we were just getting started. For the next hour, 
the president continued playing head games with my common 
sense, inducing the awful fear that I'd neglected to take 
my medication. In bewildering succession, pausing for 
breath only for his party's frequent applause, he touched 
on the topics of optimism, defeatism, terrorism, 
education, entitlements, Islamic radicalism, oil, tax 
cuts, Iran, Medicare, democracy, immigrants, nuclear 
weapons, doctor-patient relationships, New Orleans, 
cloning, equal opportunity, domestic surveillance, and 
love, each point buttressed by statistics.

     "Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 
2001," he said, confounding those pessimists who had put 
it around 17 percent. Various initiatives, most of them 
bold, were proposed. Near the end of the speech, 
favorable reference to Abraham Lincoln was made.

     In his 1862 State of the Union message, Lincoln had 
proposed his own bold initiative, a constitutional 
amendment to encourage "free colored persons" to leave 
the United States. The do-nothing Congress took no 
action, however, and now look. Today, opportunities for 
white youths in basketball are severely limited.

     One of Bush's previous bold initiatives, his 
proposal to send a man to Mars, was neither repeated by 
him nor even remembered by the commentators. This just 
goes to show how very empty these empty rituals are. 
Their multitudinous bold initiatives, after immediate 
success as thunderous applause lines, sink without a 

     After Bush had finished, the Democratic response was 
delivered by Virginia's new governor, Timothy Kaine, who 
barely a month after taking office is already being 
spoken of as a future presidential candidate.

     As an orator, however, Kaine appears unlikely to 
dominate the next edition of BARTLETT'S FAMILIAR 
QUOTATIONS. If he ever becomes president, don't expect 
the State of the Union address to become sizzling 

     Meanwhile, in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, executive editor 
Fred Barnes praised Bush for having "redefined the right" 
with his "strong-government conservatism." I'd prefer to 
call it Constitution-free conservatism; Bush has managed 
to make both Medicare and the Mideast even more chaotic 
than they already were, saddling posterity with trillions 
of dollars of additional tax debt.

     It seems like rather a nasty trick to play on 
posterity. But as yet, posterity doesn't suspect a thing.

Democracy Scores Again

     The big news in Washington this week has been the 
latest shock to Bush's hopes for democracy in the 
Mideast. Yes, democracy is spreading, all right, but not 
quite the way our president expected it to. When he 
speaks of promoting a "global democratic revolution," he 
assumes it will bring benign results, wholly favorable to 
the United States. How can it fail to bring peace, 
freedom, and security for all?

     Like posterity, Bush is in for some unpleasant 

     The radical group Hamas, whose solution to the 
Palestinian problem would be to get the Jews out of 
Palestine (every last one of them, and not necessarily by 
peaceful coaxing), won a huge upset victory in the 
Palestinian legislative elections.

     Condoleezza Rice quickly made it clear that 
democracy doesn't mean allowing parties to win when they 
are committed terrorists and/or refuse to recognize 
Israel's right to exist.

     Having themselves chosen leaders like Menachem 
Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon, the Israelis are 
keenly aware that terrorists can win elections like 
anyone else. Alas, they forgot to inform Bush of this.

     The neocon press corps scolded the Bush 
administration for failing to foresee the Hamas victory. 
Its crack intelligence apparatus, it seems, had no 
inkling that Israel and the United States were so 
unpopular in the Muslim world.

     Still, even the neocons are beginning to realize 
that extending the War on Terror to Iran, Hamas's ally, 
may not be so easy, and that they may have trouble 
persuading the American public that this would be another 
"cakewalk" like Iraq.

     This one has "unintended consequences" written all 
over it. Even the usually hawkish Robert Kagan thinks a 
military attack on Iran right now would be ill-advised, 
remarking that the Iranian regime may want nuclear 
weapons because it is "paranoid about its security." 
Paranoid? Maybe they suffer from the insane delusion that 
their enemies have nukes?

     But perish the thought that the United States should 
consider retreating within its borders!

Exceptions to the Rule

     Despite their well-earned reputation for mendacity, 
a friend reminds me that politicians can be startlingly 
candid -- "usually when they don't realize the microphone 
is still on."

                 +          +          +                  

     If you assume I simply despise Lincoln, you may be 
interested in the more complex portrait I offer in 
SOBRAN'S -- finding qualities, admirable and otherwise, 
even his worshipers usually overlook. 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,

     Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription 
for a priest, friend, or relative.
                                        --- Joseph Sobran


Read this column on-line at 

This column copyright (c) 2006 by THE WANDERER, the
National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867, Reprinted with permission.

This column may not be published in print or Internet 
publications without express permission of THE WANDERER. 
You may forward it to interested individuals if you use 
this entire page, including the following disclaimer:

"THE WANDERER is available by subscription. Write for information.
Subscription price: $50 per year; $30 for six months.
Checks can be sent to The WANDERER, 201 Ohio Street, 
Dept. JS, St. Paul, MN 55107.

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's syndicated columns are 
available by e-mail subscription. For details and 
samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."

This page copyright (c) 2006 by THE VERE COMPANY.