Hope Springs Eternal

     As the off-year elections close in on us, die-hard 
Republicans cling to the belief -- or hope -- that the 
polls portending disaster for them are mere figments of 
the liberal media. So, presumably, are all the ghastly 
reports from Iraq. You know, "They never report the 
positive developments," such as the rise of a vibrant 
democracy, the popularity of the American occupation, and 
similar triumphs.

     Well, we can all agree that =somebody= is indulging 
in wishful thinking. And the Bush administration is 
sufficiently in touch with reality to announce that it is 
dropping the slogan "Stay the course" -- indeed, denying 
that it has ever used these words. I guess my old memory 
is deceiving me again. My impression is that the 
president has used them rather insistently, but I won't 
insist on the point.

     Let us also tactfully forget the Bush version of the 
Domino Theory: that after the overthrow of Saddam 
Hussein, democracy would spread contagiously across the 
Mideast and beyond, in a "global democratic revolution." 
He spoke of abolishing tyranny itself -- everywhere. Two 
of his neoconservative supporters, Richard Perle and 
David Frum, foresaw nothing less than "an end to evil."

     Heady talk. With all due respect to this 
administration's foreign policy wizardry, this was a bit 
much. Some of us gloomier types, not all of us liberals, 
suspected that evil might be sticking around awhile 
longer. After all, it has quite a track record, and has 
successfully resisted earlier attempts to eradicate it.

     Many now compare Bush to Lyndon Johnson, who was 
also ruined when he presided over a misconceived war. But 
there is this difference: Johnson inherited his war from 
John Kennedy. Vietnam wasn't his idea. But the Iraq war 
has been Bush's project, from conception to execution.

     The Anglican bishop Richard Whately, teacher and 
mentor of John Henry Newman, once wrote, "He who is 
unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his 
knowledge." Golden words! Secretary of Defense Donald 
Rumsfeld was making the same point, in a way, when he 
distinguished between "the known unknowns" and "the 
unknown unknowns."

     This is the Information Age, and it is fatally easy 
to forget that no matter how many data you collect, no 
matter how many experts you consult, there remains an 
intractable area of mystery and unpredictability. 
Conservatives, once scornful of social engineering and 
nation-building, used to warn of the unintended 
consequences of government action. The lesson applies to 
war as well as ambitious domestic programs.

     But Rumsfeld apparently forgot this, and the unknown 
unknowns of making war are proving to be the 
administration's downfall. If it still wants to insist 
that the Iraq war is going well, it seems not to be 
persuading many voters. The test is simple. Many people 
who used to believe in the war have ceased to believe in 
it; can you name any who used to be pessimistic about it 
who have lately become optimistic? All the movement has 
been in one direction.

     This is reflected in the way Republicans seeking 
reelection are shying away from the war and distancing 
themselves from Bush. They sense what is coming in 
November: not only a reversal of their gains in 1994, but 
maybe the worst debacle they have faced since 1932. So 
much for Karl Rove's dream of making the War on Terror 
the foundation of lasting Republican dominance. 

     If there is any consolation or silver lining, it is 
that this time the Democrats have little positive to 
offer. Their only real strength is that they are not the 
Republicans. They have no Franklin Roosevelt to rally the 
masses, only Illinois's bland and inoffensive young 
Barack Obama, who may seek the presidency during his 
first term in the Senate -- hardly the makings of a 

Kuo's Complaint

     One symptom of the administration's troubles is the 
disaffection of its base, the religious right of 
Protestant evangelicals. A powerful blow has been 
delivered by David Kuo, a disillusioned former official 
of Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives who has 
written a book about his disappointment with Bush's 

     Kuo speaks well of Bush himself, but charges the 
Republicans with cynical and contemptuous deception of 
the evangelicals. Somehow the money for those 
"faith-based initiatives" was never forthcoming. The 
word "seduction" tells us eloquently how these people 
feel they have been used. Kuo's book is less important 
in itself (in either sales or readership) than as an 
indication of evangelical sentiment, and it is receiving 
a lot of media attention.

     Of course one has limited pity for anyone who 
expects to receive money from the government, especially 
when it comes by means of unconstitutional programs. But 
let's not forget that Kuo and his allies have done their 
own part to make conservatism synonymous with big 
government. Bush couldn't have done it alone.

     For the last century, expanding the federal 
government, especially the executive branch, has been 
chiefly a project of Democratic presidents: Woodrow 
Wilson, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Johnson. No 
longer. Bush has been a match for any of them. Yet he has 
also abstained from using the chief presidential power to 
check federal growth: the veto.

     Now, like his father, Bush has left his conservative 
base feeling betrayed. This is most definitely not what 
they bargained for when they supported him.

Will v. Aquinas

     "Not since the medieval church baptized, as it were, 
Aristotle as some sort of early -- very early -- church 
father has there been such an intellectual hijacking as 
audacious as the attempt to present America's principal 
founders as devout Christians." Thus George Will in THE 
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. Leave it to lofty George to 
take a cheap shot at both the Catholic Church and 
St. Thomas Aquinas in the same breath.

     Well, as I understand it, the Church neither 
"baptized" the Philosopher nor claimed him as a "Church 
father." Some Catholic theologians, most notably Aquinas, 
found his philosophy illuminating, as earlier theologians 
(St. Augustine, for example) had long found Plato's and 
others' philosophies -- a step that was controversial 
enough, since the archbishop of Paris ordered Aquinas's 
writings burned. 

     At any rate, it's a little absurd to call such 
drawing on pre-Christian thought "intellectual 
hijacking," as if it were a form of plagiarism or 
otherwise unethical, as Will suggests. Nobody was so 
"audacious" as to pretend that Aristotle was a Christian; 
and of course all serious thinkers have debts to their 
predecessors. If he hadn't been so intent on attempting a 
clever sneer, Will might have realized this.

                 +          +          +                  

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