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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Libby Case

(Reprinted from the issue of March 22, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Libby CaseThe 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 year.

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 hawk.

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.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!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 Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And 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 sound).

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 Brown.

“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 not seen my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS, 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 © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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