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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Fall Prospects

(Reprinted from the issue of October 26, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Fall ProspectsPresident 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 Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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 hair-splitting.

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 Church.

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 explanations.

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.

“The liberal’s creed: ‘Women and minorities never have a nice day.’Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will brighten your odd moments. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS, 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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