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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Revolt of the Sidekicks

(Reprinted from the issue of April 23, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Revolt of the SidekicksOnce 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 In-Laws.

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 base.

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 damage.”

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 training.

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 that.

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 Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!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 fortunes.

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.

“It’s always disappointing to discover that a man you took for a functioning moron is, in fact, a hapless imbecile” — SOBRANS. 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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