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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Redeeming Clinton

(Reprinted from the issue of December 21, 2006)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Redeeming ClintonBill Clinton had a famous preoccupation with his “legacy.” This anxiety seemed laughable after his multiple disgraces — his sordid sexual behavior, his impeachment and near-conviction, his disbarment, his habitual mendacity, and his final departure from office with nakedly cynical pardons of his criminal pals, his own pockets stuffed, as it were, with White House properties. His crookedness had become a national, no, a global joke. Such, it appeared, was his “legacy,” beyond any hope of redemption.

He can stop worrying. I have always said, only half in jest, that every president makes his predecessors seem better than they really were, and George W. Bush has added several cubits to Clinton’s stature. It is not only liberals who say this; more and more conservatives are reaching the conclusion that Bush is much worse than Clinton by conservative standards, though much of the credit for Clinton’s comparative restraint in expanding the size and power of government must go to the Republicans in Congress who, more recently, have so shamefully cooperated with Bush.

That said, Clinton, for all his faults, was more cautious than Bush anyway. In fact a good case might be made that Bush is in most respects the more liberal of the two men.

The Iraq Study Group has issued its report, further dimming whatever luster still accrues to this president. The “bipartisan” commission agreed that the war has been, to put it gently, a misfortune, “grave and deteriorating.” Yet Bush continues to resist conceding anything more than minor mistakes in its conduct, as if it were an inspired idea that has somehow hit a few snags. He promises to study the ISG’s 79 specific proposals and make adjustments, but his notorious stubbornness will surely prevent any major course correction.

With barely two years remaining in what has become the ordeal of his presidency, the Republicans dread the prospect of facing the 2008 elections with U.S. troops still dying in Iraq. And the Democrats, much as they criticize the war, are not about to rescue them by using their new congressional majorities to pull the plug on it. Leaving the Republicans with this albatross might be a good thing for Clinton — Hillary Clinton, I mean now, though it would be even better for her likely rival Barack Obama, who has flatly opposed the war from the beginning.

Apart from Bush himself, the most enthusiastic remaining GOP hawk is Arizona’s John McCain, widely considered the front-runner for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination. McCain too still wants victory in Iraq and is eager to send more troops to salvage it. Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!The ISG report, which favors a pullback of American troops, views this as a dubious option; I view it as nuts.

So by a remarkable irony, Bush, like Bill Clinton, now faces his own legacy problem. He has bet his historical reputation on the Iraq war, but only one in six Americans agrees with him that the United States is winning. And even that sorry ratio keeps shrinking.

¡Viva Fidel!

The liberal press greeted the death of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet with headlines that were more like editorials than disinterested news reports.

The New York Times: “Augusto Pinochet, 91, Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies.” The Washington Post: “A Chilean Dictator’s Dark Legacy.” And so on.

Notice that “reactionary” rulers are always “dictators” and “strongmen,” whose crimes are highlighted in our liberal press; whereas “progressive” rulers — such as Communists — are “leaders,” whose achievements are glowingly enumerated. I first caught on to this in 1976, when I was struck by the contrast between the obituaries of Mao Zedong and Francisco Franco, who died a few weeks apart. To read them, you’d have thought Franco was the mass murderer, while Mao’s enormous crimes were barely hinted at in the eulogies of his heroic reign.

So when Fidel Castro finally bids this world good-night, we can expect to read litanies of praise for his “leadership,” the elimination of illiteracy (never mind his totalitarian control of what Cubans can read), socialized medicine (never mind his firing squads, prisons, murders of people trying to escape), and of course his personal charm and magnetism. Even now, many liberals are still Communists at heart.

Benign Reality

Columnist Ruth Marxist — I mean Marcus — of the aforementioned Post has hailed the pregnancy of Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter (who is “married” to another woman), as a sign of “the benign reality of gay families today.”

It seems that Hillary Clinton got it wrong ten years ago. It doesn’t “take a village” to raise a child; it takes only a couple of perverts.

Down Memory Lane

Jeffrey Hart, my old colleague at National Review, has written a splendid history of the magazine,The Making of the American Conservative Mind (ISI Books). It deals briefly with my own travails there; and though I’d take issue with a few of his remarks about the episode that led to my firing, he is on the whole very generous to me.

More important, Hart supplies wonderfully vivid and perceptive portraits of the men who made the magazine, in its early years, one of the most stimulating political journals this country has ever seen. Its recent sad decline has unfortunately obscured the memory of what it once was, but Hart reminds us of the days when its pages boasted such gifted and seminal writers as James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall, Whittaker Chambers, Hugh Kenner, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, and of course the young Bill Buckley himself. (Even the names I omit here would make an impressive roster.)

It was my great privilege to know most of these colorful men personally, yet thanks to Hart I know them better now. Other readers will see why they deserve to be remembered; Jim Burnham in particular, Buckley’s mentor and foreign policy sage, was, as Hart rightly says, “indispensable.” This was borne out, alas, after a stroke forced him to retire. A bit of his wisdom over the past two decades (he died in 1987) would have saved National Review from shaming itself with puerile enthusiasm for the two Bushes.

This book is intellectual history that reads like a novel, delightfully blending ideas and gossip. For me its chief defect is that, at 394 pages, it’s far too short. But you can enjoy it even if you aren’t a former senior editor of National Review.

You should be reading SOBRANS, the intellectual monthly that puts the qua back in Kwanzaa. If you have not seen a copy of it 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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