The Homeless Conservative

     I had lunch with Jim Webb about 15 years ago, and he 
commanded my immediate trust and respect.

     I've never talked with a public figure who seemed 
less like a public figure. He was as candid as if he knew 
no other way to be. I left that lunch feeling I'd just 
met a man you could depend on in any crisis.

     He was a Vietnam veteran and acclaimed novelist who 
had been secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, and 
he was one of the few prominent Republicans who opposed 
the first war with Iraq.

     During our meal he spoke highly of Colin Powell, but 
with a certain reserve that suggested he thought Powell 
would rather stay on the inside and try to make the best 
of a bad situation than openly denounce the war. Webb 
accepted this as an honorable course, but I sensed it 
wasn't a course he could have taken himself.

     So I haven't been shocked by either man since. 
Powell was in character when he publicly supported the 
war on Iraq, and Webb was in character when he switched 
to the Democratic Party to challenge George Allen for one 
of Virginia's seats in the U.S. Senate.

     Webb has now won his new party's nomination to seek 
that seat this fall, but voter turnout in Virginia was 
very low (3.4%), he calls himself "pro-choice" (though he 
doesn't stress it), and Allen is a popular incumbent in a 
Republican state, so the challenger seems to face long 

     What's more, Allen is a superb campaigner and 
fundraiser with an eye on the presidency in 2008.

     But as a decorated combat vet, Webb is probably the 
best candidate the Democrats can field against Allen in a 
year when the Republicans seem to be losing everyone but 
their hard core (and even that looks shaky). He is 
attractive enough to pull off an upset if the war keeps 
going badly.

     One hates to see him compromising on abortion, but 
thanks to the Republicans the issue has lost its urgency 
for the time being. President Bush himself has given 
winning his war priority over saving the unborn, so what 
else should we expect?

     Conservatism may not be dead, but at the moment it 
certainly appears comatose. This administration has done 
its best to finish it off.


     Bush made another surprise visit to Iraq this past 
week, hoping to capitalize on the killing of the 
terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as yet another turning 
point in a war he remains doggedly optimistic about.

     He originally allowed that we might never know when 
the War on Terror was won, but he has been announcing 
that victory is at hand ever since.

     No wonder the public is skeptical. The only thing we 
have to fear is hope. Before the year is out, it may lead 
us to a similar triumph in Iran.

     In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute 
three years ago, Bush predicted that "regime change" in 
Iraq would propel a "global democratic revolution" that 
would engulf Iraq, the entire Arab world, and all other 
hitherto undemocratic countries.

     Democracy, he said confidently, was not merely a 
Western institution, but a universal aspiration of 
mankind, Christian, Muslim, what-have-you.

     Well, it now appears he was misreading someone's 
body language. Not everyone seeks felicity in the voting 
booth; certainly the founders of the American Republic 
didn't, and the great political philosophers were almost 
unanimous in their contempt for democracy. Nor do Iraq's 
Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds evidently aspire to it.

     A workable formula for majority rule is more elusive 
than Bush imagined. Iraq's new democratic institutions 
may satisfy him, but for everyone else the miracles he 
foresaw are running behind schedule.

     American presidents since Woodrow Wilson have 
loosely equated democracy with freedom. Now freedom 
really is a universal aspiration, in some sense, but to 
confuse it with democracy is really inexcusable, and the 
results of that confusion are always costly.

     How much did Bush ask Congress to appropriate for 
this war -- $87 billion, was it? Ask John Kerry, who is 
still being mocked for reversing himself. Meanwhile, Bush 
has largely escaped ridicule for his optimistic estimate 
of the tab.


     It's an ill wind that blows no man good, they say, 
and Hurricane Katrina was no exception. Far be it from me 
to shake anyone's faith in government, but I couldn't 
have made this stuff up.

     If you hadn't already read about it, in fact, I 
wouldn't dare describe how the Federal Emergency 
Management Agency, FEMA, responded to the crisis.

     Who says the government isn't responsive to our 
needs? FEMA doled out emergency relief to every con 
artist in New Orleans, or even claiming to be in or from 
New Orleans (some were actually in prisons elsewhere), no 
questions asked.

     It paid for Caribbean vacations, a divorce lawyer's 
services, pornography and sexual debauches, season's 
tickets for football games, champagne, and, according to 
one radio report, a sex-change operation.

     But that's why we need government, isn't it? The 
alternative would have been chaos!

     Need I remind you, this is the same U.S. government 
that is bringing law and order to Baghdad.

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     "You can always tell when a politician has spoken 
from the heart: He has to take it back the next day" -- 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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