Revolt of the Sidekicks

     Once again the word "impeachment" is being murmured 
hopefully in Washington, this time by purring Democrats. 
They're watching President Bush's poll numbers plunge, 
enjoying the Republicans' discomfiture, and dreaming of 
recapturing Congress in this fall's elections. The 
alleged Republican Revolution of 1994 could be reversed 
with a vengeance!

     Now "impeachment" is one of my favorite words, on 
general principles. Like the word "usurpation," it never 
fails to make my pulse race and get my hopes up. An 
impeachment would be some consolation for seeing the 
Democrats back in power.

     But of course it's improbable. If the remote threat 
of it keeps Bush and the Republicans running scared, 
fine, but a veteran Washington observer -- my bookie -- 
advises me not to count on it.

     Bush, I always say, is the conservative liberals 
deserve. The trouble is that so many conservatives think 
he's the conservative =they= have been waiting for. In a 
new book I've already written about here, Fred Barnes 
argues that Bush has actually =improved= conservatism. As 
Huck Finn would say, that's too many for me.

     Fortunately, many conservatives are beginning to 
grasp that whatever Bush has done to liberalism is as 
nothing compared with what he has done to conservatism. 
It's about time. These conservatives remind me of Alan 
Arkin's character in the wonderful old comedy THE 

     Arkin, a timid dentist, falls under the spell of 
Peter Falk, a blustering former CIA man who always has a 
scheme that can't fail (but always lands them both in 
trouble). "Were you involved in the Bay of Pigs 
operation?" Arkin asks innocently. "Involved in it!" Falk 
boasts. "It was my idea!"

     For five years, conservatives have played Arkin to 
Bush's Falk, and after several Bay of Pigs operations, 
these gullible sidekicks are finally becoming a little 
wary. But of course they resist the idea of impeaching 
him; they'd rather be stuck with him for the next couple 
of years than let the Democrats have his head as a 
trophy. So Bush needn't panic about being deserted by his 

     After all, party loyalty trumps everything else in 
Washington, except saving one's own skin, of course. If 
you want a friend in this city, as Harry Truman said, get 
a dog. True enough, but I pity any dog that adopts a 
politician as a friend.

     Whenever I write critically of Bush, I hear from 
angry readers who defend him on grounds that he is "sound 
on abortion" (though there is more than one opinion even 
on that). I can only say that other things matter too; 
the last two Popes, both outspoken on abortion, have been 
firmly against warfare as a feature of the culture of 
death. I wonder how many pregnant Arab women, Christian 
and Muslim, have fallen under the heading of "collateral 

     I was about to call the Democrats the Party of 
Death, but that would suggest that the Republicans 
haven't deserved the name in their own way. The culture 
of death has room for a two-party system. What both 
parties are worrying about is whether their supporters 
will keep bothering to vote.

Sports News

     The current issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED features a 
long excerpt from a new book contending, for those who 
are still wondering, that San Francisco Giants' slugger 
Barry Bonds owes his astounding late-career power boom to 
inveterate steroid consumption. Bonds, of course, still 
denies ever having touched the stuff.

     Apparently he would have us believe he's just a late 
bloomer whose reflexes quickened and whose muscles 
blossomed after the age of 35, when most players are 
facing retirement, raising his batting average and 
doubling his home-run production.

     It's as if I, in the twilight of my writing career, 
started churning out verses worthy of Shakespeare. My 
readers might demand a better explanation than weight 

     The story is a sordid one, and not only because it 
portrays Bonds as a singularly ugly personality. I 
thought I was already disillusioned about professional 
sports, but this was like a hard punch in the solar 
plexus. The limitless avarice that has spawned drug abuse 
has also motivated organized baseball, from the players 
to the owners to the commissioner, to pretend it wasn't 
happening even when it was becoming obvious to everyone.

     Not only has Bonds been enabled to rewrite the 
record book; he has made it meaningless.

     The drug scandal has often been likened to the 1919 
Black Sox scandal, which involved the fixing of the World 
Series. To my mind it is far worse. That was an ethical 
aberration that could be corrected by a few suspensions. 
But the steroid subculture has long tentacles that can't 
be so easily lopped off. It has changed the very nature 
of what we call "sport."

     Who knows? This scandal may have the healthy effect 
of making people see the moral hazards of activities we 
have traditionally looked on as innocent, wholesome, and 
character-building. On the other hand, it has already 
attracted those who see it as a promising opportunity for 
yet more government supervision of what remains of "the 
private sector."

     And yet I still feel I owe baseball so much. As a 
boy I read about it even more than I played it. I loved 
it not only for its sport but for its literature, which 
gave me heroic legends, hilarious stories, and a useful 
fascination with statistics. Later I had the thrill 
(often recorded in these pages) of seeing my grandson 
become a brilliant player. You hate to say goodbye to all 

Dee and the Future

     Recently, while doing research for my Shakespeare 
novel, I did a bit of research on a curious Elizabethan 
figure named John Dee, whom I use as a minor comic 
character. Dee (1527-1608), nearly forgotten now, was a 
noted figure in his day, making his mark in such 
disparate disciplines as mathematics and astrology. He 
was also involved in the quests for the philosopher's 
stone and the Northwest Passage (through what is now 
Canada to Asia).

     Though esteemed by Elizabeth I and others, he was 
also accused, but never convicted, of heresy, necromancy, 
and sorcery. (Some think he inspired Shakespeare's 
Glendower in HENRY IV.)

     To put it mildly, Dee occupies an odd niche in the 
history of science. We tend to forget how much modern 
science owes to its origins in magic, alchemy, augury, 
divination, and other things now considered mere 
superstitions. We now have other methods of predicting 
the future, but the yearning to foretell is still as 
strong as ever. Nobody ever goes to jail for getting the 
future wrong, and prognostication still yields large 

     One never knows what's going to happen, of course, 
but my crystal ball tells me that futurology still has a 
great future. My bookie agrees.

                 +          +          +                  

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