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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

A Letter from Tehran

(Reprinted from the issue of May 18, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for A Letter from TehranIran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has addressed an 18-page letter to President Bush, invoking Christ and the prophets of the Old Testament in an appeal for peace, combined with sharp criticism of U.S. foreign policy and liberal democracy. The American press gave it scant coverage, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the mushroom cloud lady, dismissed it brusquely for offering no concrete proposals of the kind the Bush administration demands.

But Ahmadinejad’s message was obviously aimed at a wider audience — the whole world, really, and especially young Muslims. He will be seen as the leader who wants to avoid war, while the Bush team will appear as the aggressors who rejected his olive branch out of hand. And he will be seen as the one appealing to the Christian principles of peace and justice that Bush should be guided by, thereby putting Americans in the role of “Crusaders,” infamous in the Islamic world.

With his talk of “Islamofascism,” Bush may think he’s fighting World War II all over again, but Islam has a longer memory and still sees itself as resisting the assaults of the Middle Ages. Osama bin Laden never fails to identify America and its Western allies, including the state of Israel, as “Crusaders and Jews,” terms with galvanizing power in the Mideast. And Bush seldom fails to validate his words in the eyes of his audience.

Ahmadinejad, ridiculed as a “flake” and damned as a “lunatic” in the neoconservative press, actually appears pretty shrewd. Whether Bush hailed or rebuffed this appeal, it was bound to make it more awkward for him to widen his war to Iran. It also upsets Bush’s dramaturgy, making it harder for him to cast Ahmadinejad as the latest New Hitler bent on world conquest.

As noted here last week, even some supporters of Israel are having qualms about a U.S. attack on Iran. Now the usually rabid Alan Dershowitz, writing in the London Spectator, has warned against it. The Iraq war is not an encouraging precedent. One such “cakewalk” is enough.

The Big Idea

With Bush’s approval ratings barely gurgling above 30%, Republicans are starting to panic over this year’s elections. In recent days, E.J. Dionne Jr. and Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post, both liberals, have already commenced licking their chops at the prospect of big Democratic gains in Congress in November.

Dionne points to “the failure of conservative policies and the declining appeal of conservative rhetoric.” This, I’m afraid, is a half-truth, but a deadly one. Bush has adopted almost nothing that can be called a conservative policy. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!The awful truth is that he has given us the biggest government in American history, while using — and debasing — that conservative rhetoric.

In this, alas, he has been abetted by conservatives who should have known better. The result is that conservatism has been politically discredited. Voters aren’t going to split hairs over distinctions between “conservatism” and “neoconservatism.”

Meyerson likewise decries (gleefully) the Republicans’ “bankruptcy of ideas.” They have run out of exploitable issues, he says, citing the war, a stagnant economy, immigration, taxes, energy, and so on. By contrast, he cites a series of wonky proposals he thinks will carry the Democrats to victory at the polling booth, such as repealing part of the Medicare drug plan that ... zzzzzz.

In truth, the Republicans do have an idea. Unfortunately, it’s basically the same idea the Democrats always have: more government. The dreary tyranny of piecemeal socialism in which there is no such thing as enough. Neither party has any sense of the normal, of a point at which government has done all it can for society.

If such a point exists, surely we passed it long ago. Long, long ago. Today the very idea of limited government is passé. The state now performs an enormous miscellany of functions, and is always looking eagerly for yet more things to do.

Hardly anyone in politics now dares to suggest that there can be too much government, and that “reform” should mean repealing superfluous laws and programs and cutting it down to its essential functions. And perish the thought that the federal government should be reduced to its constitutional dimensions!

Liberalism lacks even the concept of an optimum amount of government, beyond which it must not go; and this is where conservatism used to come in, insisting that enough was enough. The very idea of “enough” was alien to liberals, who ascribed it to a lack of compassion and/or imagination.

Nowadays that idea is barely kept alive by a few libertarians and, I’m afraid, even fewer conservatives. The legacy of the Bush Republicans may be to have finally finished it off in American politics.

The Celebrity Glut

First I noticed the news that Jessica was finally pregnant. Then, only weeks later, she and Nick had split up! Now I see that Nick is still carrying a torch for Jessica, and the big question is whether she’s going to return his ring.

Who are these people, anyway? Don’t ask me! Everyone but me seems to be on a first-name basis with them, and I hesitate to ask their surnames. I know of them only from seeing the tabloids and magazines every week at Giant or Safeway.

I do know that Tom and Katie are Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who have just had a baby and may even get married, but please don’t press me for more information. (I forget whom Tom used to be married to. Somebody famous, I think. Was it Nicole? Not O.J.’s Nicole, another one.)

Such is the celebrity culture I dwell on the dim fringes of. Nobody can quite escape it. Feeding public curiosity about the fleetingly famous is an enormously lucrative business, with television now supplementing the cheap press in its coverage.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. I go back to the days of Liz and Dick, Jackie and Ari, and an older generation of celebs, back before half of them were named Britney. I see that that generation is all but gone, with a recent article reporting that Liz is soon to succumb to heart trouble. After eight husbands! Seven, actually; she married Dick twice.

Why, I can remember when she and he were so scandalous — this was around 1962 — that L’Osservatore Romano felt it necessary to denounce their behavior. Today’s stars are so abandoned that nobody bothers complaining about their conduct. Has it come to this?

I feel old.

If you have not yet seen SOBRANS, my monthly newsletter, 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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