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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Hope Springs Eternal

(Reprinted from the issue of November 2, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Hope Springs EternalAs 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.” Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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 dynasty.

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 circle, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.

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 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.

“Lincoln has been deified as surely as any Roman emperor.” 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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