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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Crazy Season

(Reprinted from the issue of November 9, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Crazy SeasonThis 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?”

Read Joe Sobran’s columns the day he writes them!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 Muslims.

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


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 faith.

“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. Wešll send you a free copy if you subscribe to SOBRANS 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 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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