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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Bush Era

(Reprinted from the issue of April 6, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Bush EraWith 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 2008.

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 a short book titled America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press), Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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,” 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 time?

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.

“At Gettysburg Lincoln proclaimed ‘a new birth of freedom.’ What he actually brought the country was the death of limited government.” — 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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