The Bush Era

     With the deaths of Lyn Nofziger and Caspar 
Weinberger, the Reagan era finally seems concluded. Lyn, 
a jolly rumpled man known for his Mickey Mouse neckties, 
once greeted me in sunny Bermuda, "Always glad to see 
you, Joe. As long as you're here, I know I'm not the 
worst-dressed man present." I wasn't going to take that 
lying down! I shot back, "Before you got here, Lyn, I 
think most people assumed that Bermuda had licked the 
problem of homelessness."

     Ah, the good old days. We all have to go sometime, 
but Lyn was the kind of guy whose death, at any age, 
comes as a surprise. Sad as it is, I'm more disposed to 
smile at the memories he leaves than to mourn.

     Another sign of the times: Peggy Noonan, Reagan's 
eloquent speechwriter, whose intuitions are worth more 
than most pundits' statistic-laden analyses, has sadly 
concluded that she was wrong to support President Bush.

     He isn't conservative in any sense she understands, 
and he has confused the image of the Republican Party 
with his mammoth expansion of government power and 
spending. His self-applied label of "compassionate 
conservative" means nothing intelligible.

     Much as I admire Peggy (another old friend), she 
should have listened to the conservatives who were never 
fooled by Bush, such as Ron Paul and Tom Pauken, who knew 
him in Texas. There were plenty of warning signs from the 
start. But who could have suspected how awesomely bad he 
would prove? He has outstripped all misgivings.

     Looking ahead to November, the Democrats are licking 
their chops. At this point, their only strategy is to lie 
low and let the Republicans keep destroying themselves 
without interference. Bush is the greatest blessing the 
Democrats have received since Herbert Hoover. He may have 
achieved the feat of making Hillary Clinton electable in 

     The Republicans have wasted an opportunity that will 
never come again. Bush had a lot of help from 
conservatives who supported him uncritically, setting 
their principles aside and taking credit -- a little 
prematurely, as it turns out -- for his success. 
Following their advice has earned him a disgraceful niche 
in history.

     Bush's dwindling number of apologists are hard put 
to say what he stands for. Everything he has done has 
been in mere reaction to events and pressures: the 9/11 
attacks, demands for entitlements, hurricanes, what have 
you. He exudes no sense of an unchanging inner core of 
conviction, as Reagan did. "Compassionate conservatism" 
and "global democratic revolution" are just slogans he 
hopes the public will be impressed by.

     Bush's remaining followers include a sizable number 
who not only support the Iraq war, but would like to nuke 
Mecca. Bush, to his great credit, won't go that far, but 
he has sent mixed signals that have tripped him up.

     He calls Islam a "religion of peace," but he opposes 
something he terms "Islamofascism." He exults that 
Afghanistan now enjoys "democracy," but objects when the 
Islamodemocracy sentences a man to death for the crime of 
converting to Christianity. After arousing war fever and 
beefing up "homeland security," he is shaken when his 
supporters go ballistic over letting Arab firms control 
American seaports.

     Has any era ever been so defined by a single man's 
eccentricities? In the end I can only sigh that the Bush 
administration was so avoidable, yet so unforeseeable.

Hard Times for Neocons

     Neoconservatives have been shocked and angered by 
the defection of one of their best-known and most 
influential thinkers. Francis Fukuyama has just released 
Press), explaining his qualms about the Iraq war and the 
ideology of power that fueled it.

     Fukuyama wants the United States to dominate the 
post-Cold War world, but not by sheer military force. 
Instead of a belligerent neoconservatism that addresses 
all problems with war and threats of war, he favors a 
"realistic Wilsonianism" that relies on diplomatic, 
economic, cultural, and other forces. These operate more 
slowly than violence, but more surely and benignly.

     The neocons are furious at Fukuyama, but he 
carefully avoids the red-hot question of Israel, so they 
can't give him the full treatment. This they reserve for 
two professors named Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, 
authors of a long article titled "The Israel Lobby" (URL:
6-011/$File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf), which argues that 
Israel has been a huge liability to the United States. 
(See reports by Paul Likoudis on this in the March 30 
issue and in this week's issue.) In reply, the neocons 
speak, in typically moderate and measured language, of 
anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and the Ku Klux Klan.

     Brings back memories. When I fell out of love with 
Israel some years ago, the neocons accused me of writing 
the sort of things that "led to the Holocaust." Can't we 
discuss foreign policy without reminding these folks of 
Hitler and genocide?

What About Hell?

     Garry Wills is often wrong, but always stimulating. 
His latest book, one of his shortest, is simply titled 
WHAT JESUS MEANT (Viking). Though he passionately and 
brilliantly affirms our Lord's divinity and Resurrection 
against liberal attempts to reduce Him to a merely 
"historical Jesus," he says flatly, "He did not found a 
church...." He "opposed all formalisms in religion"; 
indeed he was "against religion," except for a "religion 
of the heart." "Religion killed him."

     Though he seems to accept the Gospels, the early 
creeds, and St. Paul's teachings as authentic and 
authoritative, Wills rejects so many articles of faith 
that I can only marvel that he continues to call himself 
a Catholic.

     To me he sounds more like a Quaker. His recent book 
on the rosary suggests that prayer is good for you, but 
not really efficacious -- a sort of healthy meditation or 
self-improvement course, no more than that, as if prayer 
were its own reward.

     The new book hardly mentions Hell and suggests that 
even Judas may not have been damned. In that case, what 
did the Savior save us from? The entire New Testament 
rings with warnings of the danger of damnation: "Many are 
called, but few are chosen"; "Narrow is the gate"; and so 
on. Unless our immortal souls were -- are -- in peril, 
why is the Good News so good?

     And finally, as we must ask every dissenter, if the 
Visible Church has been allowed to mislead us for so many 
centuries, what has the Holy Spirit been up to all this 

     Yet in spite of all this, Wills conveys better than 
most orthodox writers what Chesterton (whom he quotes at 
length) realized: the mighty shock of Jesus on those in 
an obscure place who first encountered Him, a shock that 
has reverberated through the whole world.

                 +          +          +                  

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