The Crazy Season

     This has been the craziest election season ever. And 
we have seen some mighty crazy ones lately. Even as it 
comes to an end, it appears radically unpredictable. As 
of Halloween, each party was appealing to its base with 
the basest of appeals. And we haven't even gotten to the 
hanging chad stage yet.

     At first the outlook was simple. The Republicans 
were going to be crushed and the Democrats might 
recapture both houses of Congress, largely because of the 
botched Iraq war. Then it looked as if the outcome would 
be even more lopsided. This made liberals very happy, but 
no happier than some principled conservatives. I assumed 
Karl Rove was feigning optimism when he predicted that 
the GOP would hold its own. He couldn't seriously believe 
that, could he?

     Well, maybe Rove knew something after all. The polls 
showing President Bush and the Republican Congress 
licking the bottom of the pot of popularity might matter 
less, it now seemed, than the party's sophisticated 
machine for generating turnout. Years of gerrymandering 
had also made incumbents in both houses hard to unseat.

     But that was not all. Thomas Edsall, a respected 
liberal reporter, decidedly does not share the rosy 
outlook of his fellow liberals, at least not for the long 
term. On the contrary, in his new book, BUILDING RED 
AMERICA (Basic Books), he contends that the Democrats 
seem to have a lock on lasting minority status. Their 
populist appeals to pocketbook issues have flopped again 
and again. They can't seem to "cross a security 
threshold" and win the voters' trust on national 
security, he explains, while the Republicans have learned 
to work the "wedge issues."

     This seems to me a pregnant insight. It may apply 
even more to things like homosexual rights. The Democrats 
are now trying to distance themselves from proven losers 
like "same-sex marriage" while supporting "gay rights," 
but I doubt that this can fly. No matter how many fine 
distinctions they make, a lot of us are quietly 
wondering, "Why are we even talking about this in the 
first place?"

     You know how it works. If tomorrow the U.S. Supreme 
Court were to strike down all laws against cannibalism as 
violations of (what else?) the 14th Amendment, it would 
not be long before the Democrats, especially Catholic 
Democrats, were declaring themselves personally opposed 
to cannibalism, while reminding us that "culinary choice" 
has always been a basic American principle and therefore 
declining to impose their views on others in a 
pluralistic society, et cetera, et cetera. Meanwhile, a 
lot of voters would be uneasily aware that in a happier 
age, there was no controversy at all in this area.

     In modern politics, we always seem to be arguing 
about things we should never even have to think about. 
Things that used to be matters of common sense (alias 
natural law) become censured as bigoted and 
unconstitutional, and a Karl Rove sees them as 
opportunities for "wedge issues." Who can blame him? The 
Democrats can thank themselves for the success of men 
like Rove and Lee Atwater. Much as I dislike the 
Republicans, I know who has made them possible.

     No wonder this has been a crazy season. Republican 
campaign ads have been disgusting to the point of 
absurdity, hinting at connections between their rivals 
and pedophilia, and so forth. Virginia's Sen. George 
Allen, speaking of base appeals, broke new ground, of 
sorts, by calling attention to dirty passages in his 
opponent Jim Webb's novels. (Webb responded by pointing 
out lesbian passages in a novel by the wife of Vice 
President Cheney.)

     Coming down to the wire, the air was thick with 
demands for apologies, but all in vain. Nobody seemed to 
be in an apologetic mood. John Kerry made a joke about 
how dumb President Bush is. Bush mistook it for an insult 
to our brave fighting men (and women) and angrily 
demanded an apology. Kerry angrily refused to apologize. 
Republicans shared Bush's indignation; Democrats shared 
Kerry's. There was a lot of shouting.

     As election day approaches, I find myself knowing a 
lot more than I ever wanted to know about both parties. A 
kinky lot all around, if you ask me. It all goes to 
illustrate one of my own adages: A "normal" person is 
just someone you don't really know yet. But in some 
obscure way, I can't help feeling the Democrats have 
brought all this on themselves.

Islam and the Bomb

     Writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, Noah Feldman 
has a fascinating essay on the prospect of Iran's 
acquisition of nuclear weapons, ending on a slightly 
hopeful but not altogether reassuring note. Feldman 
reviews the long history of Muslim thought on the ethics 
of warfare, which has been far more complex and nuanced 
than I knew or suspected. Islam has traditionally set 
stern theoretical limits on what is permissible in war, 
even if these have often been transgressed in practice 
(as have Christian principles of just war).

     Over against the popular Western image of Muslims as 
congenital fanatics given to indiscriminate terrorism and 
beheading, Feldman cites a rich tradition of moral 
philosophy that is subtle, reflective, and deeply 
conscientious. Until very recently, such tactics as 
suicide bombing were universally abhorred. The use of 
nuclear weapons, even against infidels, would have been 
simply unthinkable. In many respects, the Muslims were so 
civilized as to put the modern West to shame.

     In fact it seems to have been under Western pressure 
that things really changed for the worse; suicide bombing 
was a novelty in Beirut in 1983, but it quickly caught on 
in spite of many condemnations (the 9/11 attacks were 
also condemned by many Muslim authorities) and has now 
begun to affect theory too. It is no longer universally 
rejected, and serious Muslim thinkers are now 
contemplating whether an apocalyptic nuclear war might be 
morally justified -- even if it kills millions of 

     What a terrible irony. And the situation isn't 
helped when Americans and Israelis talk about nuking 


     With the United States losing two wars at once and 
heading for total ruin, I can't help feeling that the 
Soviet Union threw in its hand a little too soon -- just 
when Communism might have finally become the wave of the 
future after all. Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Kim 
Jong Il seem to be reaping the rewards of keeping the 

                 +          +          +                  

     "Today the government is the wolf at the door." 
REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- a new selection of my 
Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian -- will brighten 
your odd moments. We'll send you a free copy if you 
subscribe to SOBRAN'S for one year (at $44.95). 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 

     Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription 
for a priest, friend, or relative.
                                        --- Joseph Sobran


Read this column on-line at 

This column copyright (c) 2006 by THE WANDERER, the
National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867, Reprinted with permission.

This column may not be published in print or Internet 
publications without express permission of THE WANDERER. 
You may forward it to interested individuals if you use 
this entire page, including the following disclaimer:

"THE WANDERER is available by subscription. Write for information.
Subscription price: $50 per year; $30 for six months.
Checks can be sent to The WANDERER, 201 Ohio Street, 
Dept. JS, St. Paul, MN 55107.

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's syndicated columns are 
available by e-mail subscription. For details and 
samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."

This page copyright (c) 2006 by THE VERE COMPANY.