The 2006 elections went much as the polls predicted 
they would, with the Republicans taking what even 
President Bush called a "thumping." The Democrats 
regained majorities in both houses of Congress; but it 
was less a Democratic triumph than a Republican debacle.

     By now a lot of Republicans in Washington are 
looking for new jobs. To paraphrase Gen. MacArthur, old 
Republicans never die -- they just become corporate 
lobbyists and Viagra pitchmen.

     We should resist the temptation to read too much 
into election results, but when even Bush gets the hint, 
we are entitled to speculate that perhaps the Iraq war 
has not been quite the smashing success he has been 
assuring us it is. Karl Rove's hope of a permanent 
Republican majority has at least been delayed for the 

     Once again the GOP proved itself to be what the late 
lamented Sam Francis called it, "the stupid party," 
resolutely ignoring every warning signal of the electoral 
wrath to come. Well, it has come. They saw the lightning 
and heard the thunder but kept confidently expecting 

     Not that this is going to slow their neoconservative 
mentors down very much. If anything, it has increased the 
urgency of the neocons' demands for war on Iran, with 
another go at "regime change" (spelled out in the current 
issue of COMMENTARY magazine). It's comical; as Bush pays 
the political price of having taken their disastrous 
advice for six years, they offer even more of the same 
disastrous advice to get him through his final two years.

     Maybe the neocons' Catholic auxiliary will once 
again be dispatched to Rome to try to explain to this 
Pope, as they did to his predecessor, that a war for 
democracy is just what the Mideast needs. But they will 
probably be even less persuasive now than they were last 

     Only days after assuring us that Defense Secretary 
Donald Rumsfeld was doing such a "fantastic" job that he 
would serve the remainder of Bush's second term, Bush 
gave Rummy the heave-ho. The neocons have been divided 
over Rumsfeld, some adoring him, others complaining of 
his insufficient ruthlessness. They have been similarly 
divided over Bush himself, but when it comes to a choice 
between blaming Bush and blaming themselves for the Iraqi 
quagmire, it's not hard to guess which option they will 

     As Margaret Thatcher once said to Bush's father, 
"This is no time to go wobbly, George." But Rumsfeld's 
dismissal shows that Bush is already wobbling. The facts 
are so obvious now that even he can't ignore them. And 
most conservatives aren't even trying to. Bush's 
maladroit presidency has achieved only one thing: the 
revival of a moribund liberalism.

Remembering a Protestant Friend

     Forty-six years ago, when John Kennedy and Richard 
Nixon were vying for the presidency, I was in the eighth 
grade. Knowing nothing about politics, I was passionate 
for Kennedy. I got into a friendly argument with a Nixon 
man, a classmate actually, in our school cafeteria. 
Robert was far better informed than I was, which 
commanded my respect, and I listened to what he had to 
say. We were like a pair of kittens pretending to be 
lions, but he was already far more mature than I was.

     One good result of the 1960 campaign was that it 
spurred my interest in Catholicism, and the following 
year I was catechized and baptized. Young and callow as I 
was, it was the wisest decision I ever made. Robert was 
always wise, with the manner of a history professor with 
an explosive sense of humor, a hearty laugh that made me 
feel good all over. He remained one of my closest 
friends. He still is. We have both gone from being 
conservative Republicans (my Kennedy phase was brief) to 
a sort of merry despair over the GOP. Though Robert was a 
Protestant, he was full of the same deep sanity that had 
drawn me to the Church; and over the years I was struck 
by his growing sympathy for Catholicism.

     This week we talked and joked about the elections. 
We had to talk by phone, though. Robert is in the 
hospital fighting cancer (the doctors aren't offering 
much hope) and I'm not very mobile myself. I found myself 
sobbing that I loved him -- not the way we usually talk! 
-- and he gave me some consoling news: a priest was 
coming to his room to receive him into the Church. So it 
looks as if, after half a century of friendship, Robert 
and I, now two old men, are going to wind up fellow 
Catholics. Not something we foresaw back in the 

Paganism without Gods

     Startling how fast THE DA VINCI CODE blew over, 
isn't it? The book was such an enormous hit, but the 
movie bombed with the critics and must have been a huge 
disappointment to the millions of readers who felt that 
Dan Brown had exposed the hidden truth about 
Christianity, the Church, and the villainy of Opus Dei. I 
sense a lot of quiet blushing out there, as if the 
unbelievers are already embarrassed by the very mention 
of the object of their recent enthusiasm.

     Nevertheless, this has been a prosperous season for 
atheists. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been 
reaping publicity for their polemics against religion -- 
any and all religion, but especially (of course) 
Christianity. Both are naive materialists who don't seem 
to grasp that there are a few metaphysical questions at 
stake before you even get around to Darwin and Genesis. A 
small child can raise the problem of evil quite 
poignantly when he asks, "Why did God let my puppy die?" 
I have less sympathy for the Oxford don who sneers that a 
just God wouldn't permit a Bush presidency.

     Dawkins, Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, now 
joined by Elton John, contend that religion does such 
immense harm that the world would be better off without 
it. I see their point. Think how much finer life in 
Russia was under the enlightened Lenin and Stalin than 
under the superstitious tsars. 

     I would humbly suggest that during the last century 
the atheists had sufficient opportunities to prove that 
they could rule more humanely than Christians, and I 
would just as humbly inquire how many more chances they 
think they deserve before we are entitled to draw our own 

     By the way, I just ran across this gem from 
Chesterton, in THE WELL AND THE SHALLOWS, one of his last 
and richest collections of essays. Contrasting ancient 
paganism with modernity, he observes that even the most 
obscene phallic cults of antiquity exalted nature and 
fruitfulness: "It has been left to the very latest 
modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once 
exalts lust and forbids fertility."

     Happy Thanksgiving!

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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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