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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Please Don’t Surprise Us!

(Reprinted from the issue of March 29, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Anniversary of 'No Doubt'Have you ever noticed? When the media praise a supposed conservative for “surprising friend and foe alike,” you can be pretty sure the surprise has been a lot more pleasant for his old foes than for his old friends.

The Anniversary of “No Doubt”

The fourth anniversary of the Iraq war has come, and I don’t think even the doomsayers expected it to go on this long. I know I didn’t. I objected to it on principle, but for all I knew it might be the “cakewalk” its advocates so confidently predicted. Even if it was a turkey shoot, as in 1991, one had to think of the poor turkeys.

It was about five years ago that Vice President Dick Cheney assured us: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now [!] has weapons of mass destruction.” He added the prediction that the Iraqis would welcome Americans as “liberators.” Condoleezza Rice still had her head in the mushroom clouds.

And of course Colin Powell was among those Bush apparatchiks who kept intoning that there was “no doubt” about the Saddam threat. In fact, he was easily the most respected of them; even liberals who were skeptical of the Unholy Trinity of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld trusted Powell. In that sense he may bear more responsibility for this war than anyone except Bush himself. And judging by his recent public silence, he realizes this.

It is almost as if a whole generation has passed since September 2001. Bill Clinton now seems as remote as the George H.W. Bush he succeeded. Powell is gone, as are many others who were mighty then.

Of these, the one I miss most is Michael Kelly, the most prominent journalist to die in the war. He supported the war that took his life; he was a sort of Catholic neoconservative. But he was also a gifted writer and a very brave and honest man, always worth reading and absolutely independent. Nobody has taken his place; nobody could. His death is sufficient reason to curse this war. I don’t dare say that had he lived he would now oppose Bush’s war, but he would have given us a unique view of it. Losing him was like losing George Orwell; there is no compensation or consolation for it.

Time magazine’s current cover features a doctored photo of Ronald Reagan weeping at what has become of American conservatism, which Fred Barnes says Bush has “redefined” (and improved!). “There’s no need to reclaim the Reagan legacy,” writes Paul Krugman in The New York Times: “Mr. Bush is what Mr. Reagan would have been given the opportunity.” Well, there’s no need to deify the Gipper either; but he had too much common sense to get into a mess like the Iraq war, and he pulled out of Lebanon pronto after a suicide bomber killed 241 Marines. He saw a quagmire coming, and chose not to “stay the course,” thank you very much.

Lincoln and Booth

Abraham Lincoln and the man who murdered him had one thing in common: a love of Shakespeare.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!All the world knows that an actor named John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, in Washington, D.C., on Good Friday 1865. What is less well known is that Booth was a very popular star — and one of Lincoln’s favorite actors. Though not highly educated, Lincoln loved Shakespeare and, with his wife, attended the theater often. His speeches contain phrases from Shakespeare and the Bible. He could take for granted a certain level of literacy in the American public. And he liked to read Shakespeare aloud to his friends.

Lincoln’s favorite play by far was Macbeth, and he may well have seen Booth play Macbeth and other Shakespearean roles. We know that Booth starred as Macbeth, Brutus (in Julius Caesar), Hamlet, Romeo, Othello, and other parts, mostly tragic. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, and his elder brother Edwin were among America’s most famous actors. (Edwin Booth was later honored in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans.)

Lincoln occasionally invited actors to the White House, and in November 1863 he sent an invitation to Booth, after seeing him perform brilliantly in a comedy. But Booth hated him and failed to respond, snarling to the messenger that he would “rather have the applause of a nigger.”

The nation was shocked when, less than two years later, Booth killed Lincoln. It was almost as if Sean Penn had shot President George W. Bush. Booth even saw himself in Shakespearean terms: as a heroic Brutus assassinating a tyrannical Caesar.

That is how he expected history to remember him. He miscalculated.

A final coincidence. Years later, Lincoln’s eldest son Robert was nearly killed when he was accidentally pushed off a crowded railway platform as a train approached. But someone grabbed his arm and pulled him back just in time. When he thanked his rescuer, Robert found that it was Edwin Booth.

As the Twig Is Bent ...

Years ago, when the excellent actress Mia Farrow had her stormy split with Woody Allen, it was reported that she had returned to the Catholic Church, in which she was raising her many children, most of them adopted.

Why did she do this? I think I have a clue. While browsing through my personal library the other night, I ran across a book I’d never gotten around to reading, by a one-time Hollywood director. The book was Damien the Leper; the author, John Farrow. Mia’s father.

The basic story is well known. In the 19th century, Fr. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest born in 1840, was given permission to go to the Sandwich Islands (as Captain Cook named Hawaii), where, with astounding courage, diligence, heroism, and sanctity, he ministered to a leper colony. Shortly after his death in 1889, he was venomously slandered by a Protestant minister named Charles McEwen Hyde, who had praised him lavishly only four years earlier. Now Hyde accused Damien of several sins, including loose relations with women, and blamed his death from leprosy on his own “vices and carelessness.” Hyde even denied him any credit for improving the lot of the lepers in the colony.

Reading Hyde’s words now, one is reminded of Christopher Hitchens’s smear of Mother Teresa, complete with the gratuitous lewd innuendo.

Hyde’s lies, printed in a Sydney newspaper, provoked a furious and crushing response from Robert Louis Stevenson, which Farrow quotes in full in chapter XVII of his book, to stunning effect. Stevenson’s renowned defense of the holy man stands as a classic refutation of an incredibly foul attack, calling the world’s attention to the merits of the intended victim; and it would be Hyde’s only claim to fame today, had not Stevenson (by coincidence!) named the monstrous title character of one of his most famous stories “Mr. Hyde” in 1886.

At any rate, something tells me that Damien’s story and Stevenson’s role in it, as recounted in John Farrow’s book, made a deep impression, many years later, on Farrow’s daughter.

“Five years ago, David Frum accused Pat Buchanan, Sam Francis, and me of hating America. David is a great Canadian.” 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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