The Homeless Conservative(Reprinted from the issue of June 22, 2006)
I had lunch with Jim Webb about 15 years ago, and he commanded my immediate trust and respect.
Ive 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 Id 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 wasnt a course he could have taken himself.
So I havent 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 Virginias seats in the U.S. Senate.
Webb has now won his new partys nomination to seek that seat this fall, but voter turnout in Virginia was very low (3.4%), he calls himself pro-choice (though he doesnt stress it), and Allen is a popular incumbent in a Republican state, so the challenger seems to face long odds.
Whats 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 someones body language. Not everyone seeks felicity in the voting booth; certainly the founders of the American Republic didnt, and the great political philosophers were almost unanimous in their contempt for democracy. Nor do Iraqs Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds evidently aspire to it.
A workable formula for majority rule is more elusive than Bush imagined. Iraqs 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.
Its an ill wind that blows no man good, they say, and Hurricane Katrina was no exception. Far be it from me to shake anyones faith in government, but I couldnt have made this stuff up.
If you hadnt already read about it, in fact, I wouldnt dare describe how the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, responded to the crisis.
Who says the government isnt 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 lawyers services, pornography and sexual debauches, seasons tickets for football games, champagne, and, according to one radio report, a sex-change operation.
But thats why we need government, isnt 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.
You can always tell when a politician has spoken from the heart: He has to take it back the next day 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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|Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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