Fall Prospects

     President Bush has taken several gambles with his 
presidency, of which the greatest is the Iraq war; and as 
the elections loom, it appears that he has lost them. 
Opinion polls indicate that the Democrats may regain 
control of both houses of Congress, unless the mighty 
Republican turnout machine can do its stuff once more -- 
which may be quite a feat this time, since the party's 
morale is very low.

     Though the war is obviously the chief reason for the 
Republican decline, it is far from the only one. The GOP 
has abandoned the old conservative philosophy of limited 
government to which it used to give at least lip service. 
Who can say what it stands for any more? If you vote 
Republican, just what are you voting for?

     If there were any remaining sense of a normative 
principle behind the Republicans' policies, voters, even 
conservative voters, might excuse some deviations. 
Instead, one has gotten a sense of a party floundering 
without a clear purpose beyond winning a war, and not 
even knowing how to do that. A stream of books has 
exposed the arrogance, confusion, and shortsightedness 
with which this administration plunged into Iraq. But 
there has been less analysis of the more general poverty 
of its philosophy of governing.

     Much has also been written about the undue influence 
of the neoconservatives on Bush. True enough, but it 
isn't just that the neocons are obsessed with war in the 
Mideast; they also lack any real connection with Bush's 
base. Silly slogans like "national-greatness 
conservatism" don't warrant negligence of the abiding 
concerns of real conservatives; the neocons are not so 
much wrong as politically irrelevant.

     When the Iran-Contra scandal threatened to upend 
Ronald Reagan's second term, he was saved by the loyalty 
of a large part of the electorate who felt that, whatever 
he had done, he remained the bearer of their hopes 
against the liberal Democrats. Much as today's Democrats 
may hate Bush, there is no such clear contrast between 
him and them.

     The overblown Foley scandal has further muddied 
differences between the parties. It's no use pointing out 
that the Democrats have been guilty and even tolerant of 
even worse behavior, as the death of the defiant sodomite 
Gerry Studds (eulogized as a role model by Ted Kennedy!) 
has just reminded us. The Republicans were supposed to be 
the Party of Virtue (or, as we now say, "values"), and 
now a homosexual scandal erupts within their ranks, 
making moral distinctions between the parties seem a bit 

     So the Republicans have lost whatever definition 
they had. They are now chiefly identified as the guys 
responsible for the mess in Washington. And the voters' 
natural reaction is just to throw them out. 

     In fact, I've come to the conclusion that if you 
must vote, you should almost never vote for an incumbent. 
If a modest number of citizens -- say, 10% -- used their 
franchise to oppose incumbents, we would realize one of 
the Founding Fathers' dreams: what they called "rotation 
in office." This would make life difficult for (even if 
it didn't actually abolish) the career politician and the 
two major parties.

Village Atheist

     Christopher Hitchens, a vitriolic former Trotskyite, 
has shocked his old leftist comrades by joining the 
neocons and becoming an equally vitriolic defender of the 
Iraq war. He's also a militant atheist and has written a 
forthcoming book attacking religion. "Religion poisons 
everything," as he told a recent interviewer. A 
naturalized Englishman, he seems to be making his niche 
as our national village atheist.

     Hitchens fancies himself an apostle of reason, which 
he sees as menaced by the superstitions of faith. Just to 
answer him at his own level, the atheistic regimes of the 
20th century didn't do his cause much credit. If 
anything, Stalin, Mao, and their ilk proved that if a 
ruler doesn't acknowledge God, he's apt to try to make 
himself a god. And his attributes may not conspicuously 
include mercy.

     A few years ago Hitchens wrote that the Catholic 
Church, in the Middle Ages, killed "millions." He didn't 
offer a source for this impressive (if somewhat vague) 
statistic; maybe he got it from the same place where Dan 
Brown learned that the Church had burned five million 
women as witches.

     It takes some gall to dismiss so huge an area of 
human life as religious experience, especially when you 
evidently know nothing about it, except by hostile 
caricature. There is nothing quite like the credulity of 
the skeptic who is ready to believe any lie about the 

     Consider the notorious Spanish Inquisition, still 
the staple of anti-Catholic polemics. Never mind that it 
was a government operation. It lasted over three 
centuries and killed fewer people than Stalin killed, on 
average, per day, roughly 5,000 in all. My purpose is not 
to defend it, but to restore a sense of proportion. More 
important than the numbers is the fact that each of those 
executed was tried as an individual and given a chance to 
recant. Those killed weren't herded into boxcars and 
killed en masse as "class enemies," after the fashion of 
the enlightened atheistic regimes. Yet even this was far 
from typical of Christian societies.

Faith and Reason

     Inconveniently for the likes of Hitchens, the Pope's 
recent remarks on faith and reason argued for their 
harmony against those, religious or secular, who see them 
as incompatible. The violence that erupted when the Holy 
Father's words were given a hostile spin in the Muslim 
media missed his entire point. The Gospel of St. John 
begins with the affirmation that the Word, the Logos, was 
with God in the beginning, and was indeed God Himself.

     Dogmatic secularists are variously disappointed and 
indignant that religion hasn't quietly withered away with 
the advance of science and reason, as they define these 
things. For them, whatever purports to be supernatural 
must be arbitrary and irrational, and it follows that the 
more we learn about nature, the less we need supernatural 

     Hence the popularity, among the superficially 
educated, of such ideas as Darwinism, which seems to such 
people to explain everything in purely physical terms, 
rendering the metaphysical superfluous. Nothing is 
created; everything just "evolves," don't you see. The 
absence of evidence for this, in both the fossil record 
and our own experience, can't shake the faith of those 
who want to believe it.

                 +          +          +                  

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