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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

After Rumsfeld

(Reprinted from the issue of December 14, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for After RumsfeldThe dust of the elections is settling, and it looks as if, one way or another, President Bush is going to have to extricate himself from his mess in Iraq. Gone are the days when the hawks could insist that it wasn’t a “quagmire.”

Bush still won’t admit that the unpleasantness between Sunnis and Shi’ites can be described as a civil war, and he may yet take the neocons’ counsel and bomb Iran too; but he has sacked Donald Rumsfeld, and even Rumsfeld is revealed to have urged a course correction, leaving his boss holding the bag alone as he waves good-bye.

Meanwhile the James Baker commission is expected to urge a decorous retreat from the quagmire, if that’s the right metaphor; at this point I think it’s more like crawling out of a train wreck. We’re way beyond mere damage control. During his confirmation hearings, even Robert Gates, Rumsfeld’s successor as defense secretary, readily conceded that the United States is not winning in Iraq.

Yet, almost incredibly, there are those diehards who still offer plans for an American victory in the war! You can read them in The Washington Times; but it’s doubtful that they would appear even there if they weren’t sustained by the president’s delusion that victory, democracy, and all the rest, are still within reach. Yes, I’m tempted to retort, and the South will rise again!

It’s one thing for the captain to go down with his ship; but another for him to refuse to recognize that it is sinking, even when the rats have deserted it and the water has reached his earlobes. Liberals and conservatives no longer debate whether Bush is a great or even a good president; they now argue over whether he is the worst or just one of the worst.

I try to keep him in historical perspective; I think the dubious honor of being the worst American president ever belongs to one of the liberals’ favorites, either Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.

It takes a truly terrible president to make the liberal honor roll. If it’s any consolation to his admirers, Bush falls far short of that.

What’s in a Name?

Days after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, I heard a radio news report that an Arab gent in Ohio had opened a new Lebanese restaurant, named after himself: Osama’s. It seemed unfortunate timing, in the sense that I nearly drove off the road and flipped into a ditch. I often wonder if this Osama is still in business. It’s possible. After all, he started with a valuable asset: universal name recognition.

The story comes to mind today because, with Bush hanging out to dry, the Democrats are looking for a political messiah, and many of them think they’ve found one in Illinois’s junior senator, Barack Obama. And Obama is, without question, a very charming, intelligent, and impressive young man who is, moreover, catnip to the press corps. He made his first big splash at the Democrats’ 2004 convention, upstaging the nominal star of the show, John Kerry.

Many pundits are already touting Obama as the guy who could snatch the party’s presidential nomination from Hillary in 2008, and he hasn’t ruled out running for the big prize. Not since Colin Powell a decade ago has a black politician wowed so many white people. Despite his very mildly liberal views, he found a welcome and got a standing ovation at the conservative megachurch of the evangelist Rick Warren, where he spoke on the need to combat AIDS in Africa without endorsing, or even seeming to endorse, sexual licentiousness.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!One tiny problem: his name. Not only does it sound like Osama, but we now learn that his middle name is Hussein. Is the country ready for a President Barack Hussein Obama? Can you see him addressing the nation from the Oval Office: “My fellow Americans ...”? I ... don’t ... think .. so.

Otherwise, Obama may be the smoothest politician since Slick Willie himself. He has a genius for seeming to be on every side of every issue at once, though he firmly opposed the Iraq war from the start (now a great asset). He is “pro-choice” while expressing moral reservations about abortion; he is technically non-white without seeming too black; an achiever, not a professional victim; a suburbanite more apt to celebrate Christmas than Kwanzaa; a Democrat, but not a socialist or aggressive proponent of Big Government.

In short, Obama is exquisitely poised on every political fence, perfectly in tune with the Zeitgeist. But that name! Is he for real, or is he some weird test of our sense of humor, like the movie Borat?

Whatever Happened to Hell?

Last year the prolific and scholarly Garry Wills published a little book called What Jesus Meant. Though Wills still calls himself a Catholic, he denies just about every distinctive Catholic doctrine, from the papacy to the priesthood, even as he affirms the Resurrection. (He has also written a little book recommending the practice of saying the rosary, but with no suggestion that prayers to our Lady are actually efficacious.)

Now Wills has published a sort of sequel, What Paul Meant, in the same vein. What puzzles me most about his explications of both the Gospels and the Epistles is the near-total absence of any reference to Hell. This is also true of the very interesting Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, also a prolific author who denies many Catholic teachings.

If there is one striking theme throughout the entire New Testament, from John the Baptist to the Apocalypse, it is that we have been rescued from damnation, but that time is running out and we must be prepared for the end and a terrifying final judgment soon.

Yet here is where both Wills and Wright leave me wondering: Just what do they think our Savior saved us from? Do they believe in Hell at all? Why is the message of the New Testament so insistently urgent?

That message is wonderful and consoling, but also frightening. We disregard it at our peril, a peril almost unbearable to think of, as many great Christian teachers and writers have attested. Is mentioning Hell and Satan now considered bad taste? Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a sermon by even the most orthodox priest warn us of the ultimate spiritual dangers we face. I often think of Chesterton’s remark that “optimism” is the modern word for the ancient sin of presumption.

Yes, this country is in bad shape, terrible shape, in fact; but it’s still pretty funny, says SOBRANS. 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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