THE WANDERER, JANUARY 25, 2007

JOSEPH SOBRAN'S
WASHINGTON WATCH

Quicksand

     Most of the pundits agreed that President Bush's 
televised "surge" speech had failed. It was uninspired, 
he delivered it without conviction, and it didn't even 
produce a slight bump in the polls. The Democrats, no 
longer shocked and awed, attacked it, and some 
Republicans joined them, Sen. Chuck Hagel calling it the 
worst foreign policy mistake since the Vietnam War; few 
Republicans were hardy enough to support it. Bush himself 
seemed demoralized as he delivered the speech, as if he 
didn't even expect anyone to believe him. It struck me as 
the weariest hype I have ever seen.

     But he hinted that Iran still poses a threat to the 
United States. Are we back in the "mushroom cloud" phase 
so soon? Will he dare to widen the war, in a desperate, 
double-or-nothing bet on fortune? That is of course what 
John McCain and the neoconservatives hope he will do. 
Will the Democrats dare to oppose him if he does?

     Backers of the war demanded that the Democrats offer 
an alternative to the Iraq surge; but after all, it's a 
lot easier to get into quicksand than to get out of it, 
and the Democrats aren't quite bold enough to vote to cut 
off funding for the war or to demand an immediate 
withdrawal. That would be politically dangerous. Better 
to let Bush have his way and take all the heat until he 
leaves office. If he's in a hole and wants to keep 
digging, why try to stop him? So what if he expands the 
war? What's bad for the country may be good for the 
Democratic Party in 2008. The "new direction" Nancy 
Pelosi promises can wait until then. Meanwhile, any hope 
of a conservative agenda is in ruins. Bush's agenda is to 
fight to the finish -- endlessly.

     It may be idle speculation to ask, but can Congress 
declare peace? It gave Bush a vague mandate for his war 
on "terrorism" -- an undefined enemy -- and allowed him 
to fill in the blanks. Bush has taken his constitutional 
role as commander in chief of the armed forces in time of 
war to mean that he is a "decider" who can pretty much 
define the limits of his own authority.

     That way lies dictatorship. The basic idea of the 
U.S. Constitution, after all, is the rejection of 
arbitrary one-man rule, and it is no accident that the 
two presidents the neocons most venerate are the two most 
dictatorial, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Their motto 
seems to be, "George, be a king!" But most of the country 
now agrees that if we are doomed to have one-man rule, 
the one man should be someone other than George W. Bush.


Obama Nation?

     Sen. Barack Obama, the latest Flavor of the Month, 
has taken a step toward becoming our next one-man ruler 
by announcing that he will soon announce whether ... 
well, he's reached the exploratory committee stage. Look 
out, Hillary!

     Can he be stopped? I think so. Unless I am mistaken, 
the Obama craze in the media is already losing steam. It 
started when he outshone the drab John Kerry during the 
2004 Democratic convention. The nation's journalists, 
like a bunch of desperate housewives, were in the mood 
for someone new and exciting.

     Did Obama lack experience, especially in foreign 
policy? Yes, of course, but so what? Older politicians 
and their servile "experts" had given experience a bad 
name. Even an unknown quantity was more alluring than 
what we were used to. Hillary may still have the inside 
track for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, 
but many Democrats are afraid she can't win. She 
irritates too many people, and Obama makes her seem a bit 
old hat.

     Such an earnest, appealing young man! The trouble is 
that Obama is really not much more than a champion 
high-school orator. Everyone agrees that he is 
intelligent and impressive and has a great future ahead 
of him, and a lack of "experience" also means a lack of 
baggage. If he has one proven gift, it is for not making 
enemies. He is a black who doesn't antagonize whites, a 
liberal who doesn't alarm conservatives, a Bill Clinton 
who doesn't chase women. Like Clinton, he can leave 
everyone in the room feeling he is so reasonable they 
can't really disagree with him.

     The truth is that nobody can possibly fulfill the 
messianic hopes Obama arouses. His advantage at the 
moment is that each of his rivals has known negatives, 
and he doesn't. Not yet, anyway. But the Clintons are 
doubtless working to fix that. Before you know it, Obama 
will probably be trying to explain away embarrassing 
allegations about his past and our political life will 
have returned to what we have come to think of as normal.


Keeping the Dream Alive

     As I write, a Spanish newspaper has published an 
unconfirmed report that Fidel Castro is finally about to 
leave this world. Can it be? Can we pray that he will 
finally repent?

     At any rate, he leaves a devoted successor of sorts 
in Venezuela's odious Hugo Chavez, who presumably thinks 
he has no reason to repent. Chavez has blasphemously 
called Jesus Christ "the greatest socialist who ever 
lived," overlooking the minor difference that Jesus, 
unlike Castro, managed to serve the poor without firing 
squads.

     As the late Jean-Francois Revel observed, most 
regimes are judged by their records, but Communism is 
judged by its promises. What Revel called "the 
totalitarian temptation" is still with us. Men like 
Chavez will see to it that it doesn't die with Fidel.


Does Anyone Notice?

     Unless you're a bigger lacrosse fan than I am -- or 
even if you are -- you probably know more than you want 
to know about the Duke University lacrosse team. The 
story of the collapsing rape charges is one of those 
local stories, like that of the runaway bride a couple of 
years ago, that take on lives of their own in the news 
media and become unavoidable.

     Yet something has been missing in the saturation 
coverage. A serious injustice has been done, the district 
attorney has acted disgracefully, and so forth. But is 
hiring a stripper to entertain at a party now considered 
normal behavior for college athletes? Once upon a time, 
such a thing would have been grounds for expulsion. Today 
it goes unremarked, like the continuing moral 
deterioration of American life in general.

                 +          +          +                  

     "If Islam is a religion of peace, why are there so 
many fights in the NBA?" REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran

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