The Scooter Libby trial has finally ended, 
compounding the confusion of the whole case, as the 
jurors in effect repudiated their own verdict of (mostly) 
guilty. Yes, the trial ended, but not the controversy.

     Maybe the simplest way to get our bearings is to 
note that as soon as the verdict was announced, the 
neoconservatives were unanimously demanding an instant 
presidential pardon for Libby; though President Bush 
seemed indisposed to oblige them, presumably because a 
pardon would create the impression that his 
administration itself had been convicted, especially 
Libby's friend-patron-former boss, Vice President Dick 
Cheney, the most powerful and distrusted vice president 
in American history.

     The neocons insisted that Libby had done nothing 
illegal or unethical, or even unusual, but they were 
protesting a bit too much. They evidently reckoned that 
the whole case was bad for the War Party; and so it was. 
There was something obviously malodorous about the way 
Cheney and Libby had schemed to discredit critics of the 
Iraq war at its hatching, especially Joseph Wilson, the 
former ambassador, by outing his wife Valerie Plame as a 
CIA agent of sorts.

     It was doubtful, as the neocons said, that Libby had 
done anything substantially criminal, but if not terribly 
guilty, he didn't exactly seem innocent, either. One more 
tempest in the enormous teapot that is the Beltway; maybe 
in a year it will make some sense, but I doubt that it 
will matter. At any rate, the outcome was hardly a public 
vindication for Cheney. It seemed more like curtains.

Republican Winners?

     Conservative disgust with the polygamous 
collectivist GOP presidential hopefuls is bearing some 
positive fruit: The most honorable member of the House, 
Ron Paul of Texas, is in the race now, and the admirable 
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is talking about getting in 
later. Both men are principled conservatives who have 
little chance of getting the nomination, but their 
opposition to the Iraq war and their high character would 
make either of them tough for any Democrat to beat next 

     Despite their salient handicap -- penury -- I 
wouldn't count them out. Both are men who command respect 
across party and ideological lines, and the current 
front-runner (and neocon darling), Rudy Giuliani, a 
liberal pro-abortion pander who is now trying to pander 
to pro-lifers, has a much more severe handicap: Lots of 
conservatives wouldn't bother voting for him, just as 
many Democrats wouldn't bother turning out for Hillary.

     George Will, who has virtually endorsed Giuliani, 
dismisses Paul as a "useful anachronism" -- that is, a 
conservative who takes the U.S. Constitution seriously. 
Imagine that!

     Paul and Hagel are men who would tempt even me to 
vote. The most encouraging fact in recent politics, in my 
opinion, is the rise of conservative qualms about the 
Iraq war. Since the end of the Cold War, thanks in large 
part to two Popes, not to mention Patrick Buchanan, to be 
an American conservative is no longer necessarily to be a 

     The Bush-Rove-Cheney Republicans didn't see this 
coming. They've gone on assuming that appeals to 
patriotism and veiled charges of treason would keep their 
presumed followers in line. But a few months ago, Bill 
Buckley broke ranks on the war and noted that in a 
parliamentary system, Bush would have been thrown out of 
office by now. It wasn't front-page news, but it was a 
symptom of an important change.

     A new realignment is under way. As Hagel says, "This 
movement is bigger than both parties."

Mrs. Noah

     I am now working on an introduction to five plays of 
Shakespeare for high school students. But what sounded 
like an easy task at first is turning out to be a labor 
of Hercules.

     Why? Because every page or two of Shakespeare has a 
scriptural reference, and one simply cannot take for 
granted that today's youth have even the most rudimentary 
knowledge of the Bible. And it isn't just young people. 
Nor is it just the Bible.

     America is said to be a religious country, 
predominantly Christian, in which atheists and agnostics 
are exceptional and most people profess belief in God, 
Jesus Christ, and Scripture. Darwinism and homosexual 
"marriage" face strong popular opposition.

     But for all this lip service to piety, Stephen 
Prothero of Boston University, in his new book RELIGIOUS 
DOESN'T (just published by HarperSanFrancisco), notes 
that Americans are shockingly, and I do mean shockingly, 
ignorant of religion in general and the Bible in 
particular. Fewer than half can name the first book of 
the Old Testament, or even one of the four Gospels, and 
similar numbers don't know who gave the Sermon on the 
Mount (many ascribe it to Martin Luther King). Most can't 
name the world's five major religions, and 15% can't name 
even one of them.

     It's not only sad but often downright hilarious: One 
in ten thinks Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Well, I guess 
we don't have to worry about being overrun by 
fundamentalists! But even atheists should be appalled and 
alarmed by the disastrous enfeeblement of the basis of 
Western culture, just as we would be shocked if readers 
could no longer recognize the names of Homer's and 
Virgil's pagan gods. How would Christians gain if people 
forgot who Zeus/Jupiter, Ares/Mars, and Aphrodite/Venus 
were? Even unbelievers should know what it is they don't 
believe in.

     Shakespeare could assume that even illiterate 
members of his largely illiterate audience would be 
familiar with many names, stories, and verses of the 
Bible. Until recently, American authors could assume that 
their readers knew the Bible pretty well too; when Ernest 
Hemingway titled a novel THE SUN ALSO RISES it was 
needless to explain that he was quoting Ecclesiastes. 
Everyone in 1926 knew it. And it is simply a cultural 
fact that collections of sermons used to be best-selling 
books. BEN-HUR, a fictional "spinoff" of the Gospels, was 
enormously popular both as a novel by Lew Wallace and 
(twice) as an epic motion picture (silent and with 

     Such is the impact of so-called popular culture on 
the older, literate culture. No, it's even worse than 
that. People of my generation used to be able to allude 
to films like CASABLANCA ("Play it, Sam"; "Round up the 
usual suspects"; "I am shocked, shocked") the way our 
elders could quote the Bible; but today's kids don't even 
know the classic black-and-white movies.

     Talk about decline! Decline? It's a cultural 
tailspin. I've often observed that we've gone from 
teaching Latin and Greek in high school a century ago to 
teaching remedial English in college today; but where 
will it end? Will Harvard soon be offering doctorates in 
remedial English? I'm afraid to guess anymore.

     I was both shocked and amazed at the worldwide 
success of Dan Brown's absurd bestseller THE DA VINCI 
CODE. I shouldn't have been. Prothero's book explains 
that a huge, ignorant readership was just waiting for a 

                 +          +          +                  

     "The Lord's Prayer seems to me to prove, by itself, 
the divinity of its author." REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME 
-- a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary 
Utopian -- will provoke thoughts and smiles. If you have 
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