Shakespeare for Dummies

     The U.S. House of Representatives, in an act of what 
President Bush angrily called "political theater" (he 
never touches the stuff), has narrowly voted to require 
that all U.S. troops be brought home from Iraq by 
September of next year -- two months before the 
elections. The bill won't pass the Senate (which has just 
as narrowly passed a similar bill), and even if it does 
he will veto it; but still, he will now find it harder to 
launch the Iran war -- toward which, ironically, many 
Democrats are more favorably disposed than toward the 
Iraq war.

     After all, Bush himself has warned the Iraqi regime 
-- created by Bush's own regime change -- that "America's 
commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government 
does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the 
support of the American people."

     "In a sense," notes Fareed Zakaria, "Congress is 
merely following through on the president's promise." And 
Robert Novak reports that Bush's support among 
Republicans in Congress is even lower than Richard 
Nixon's when he faced impeachment.

     Before the November elections, I used to get 
blistering smoke signals from angry Bush supporters who 
accused me of helping the Democrats (and thus effectively 
promoting abortion, sodomy, et cetera) by criticizing 
Bush. I sense that the elections have sobered those folks 
up and that the truth is sinking in: Bush himself, with 
his obsession with his odious war, has left the old 
conservative agenda in ruins.

     Yesterday I happened to see a movie about a blind 
man who insists on driving a car through New York City 
and terrifies his passenger by flooring the accelerator. 
The city's cabbies (you know how they are) express 
annoyance. A metaphor? The last-ditch defense of Bush is 
that he has made some good judicial appointments. That's 
true. I don't belittle it. Alas, he has also done his 
best to ensure that future judicial appointments will be 
made by liberal Democrats.

     Last summer it was reported that Bush was reading 
Shakespeare's tragedies. Was this merely an edifying 
cultural piety, or did he actually reflect on what those 
plays say about the fateful decisions of rulers, on the 
disastrous abyss between intentions and results? "Our 
thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own."

     The great critic A.C. Bradley observed that the 
premise of Shakespearean tragedy is that "men may set off 
a course of events which they can neither calculate nor 
control," bringing destruction on themselves and their 
societies. I wonder if this reflection has ever occurred 
to Bush, or does he just read the Bard for wise adages 
like "Neither a borrower nor a lender be"? -- though, 
come to think of it, I wish he would take even that one 
to heart.

Canine Atheism

     "If he is an atheist," Samuel Johnson remarked of a 
dull contemporary, "it is as a dog is an atheist, in that 
he has never given the subject any thought." Those words 
could still describe countless people.

     TIME magazine has just run a heartening cover piece 
on whether knowledge of the Bible is essential to 
education. (Answer: Yes.) I am delighted to see that 
Stephen Prothero's book RELIGIOUS LITERACY, discussed 
here two weeks ago, is getting the attention it deserves. 
How can you begin to understand American and European 
history, philosophy, and literature if you don't know a 
fair amount about the Scriptures?

     Abysmal ignorance of the most basic cultural facts 
is among the rotten fruits of secularism. Would anyone 
try to understand the Middle East without knowing the 
Koran? It would be like studying ancient Greece without 
getting familiar with Homer.

     The Decider, the Uniter, the War President, the 
Leader of the Free World, the Compassionate Conservative 
also styles himself the Education President (actually he 
would be Education President II; his father was Education 
President I), and maybe we deserve him. This country may 
be no more ignorant than some others, but it has less 
excuse. It's enormously rich and spends extravagantly on 
teachers and paraphernalia, yet remains, in this 
Information Age, disgracefully uneducated about basics, 
semi-literate, "innumerate," and as unfamiliar with its 
vaunted Constitution as with Holy Writ. I think of this 
whenever I hear our groveling pols speak piously of "the 
American people." Twain and Mencken had it right.

Right-Wing Blues

     A March 20 tribute to the late, great Sam Francis at 
the National Press Club ended in unfortunate contention, 
which I may write about in the future. For now I'd like 
to quote one of the speakers, my old friend Paul 
Gottfried, the most profound analyst of what he now calls 
"the misnamed conservative movement."

     Gottfried said he owes Francis the vital distinction 
between "conservatism" as "an archaic and by now spent 
force belonging to the 19th century," and "the Right" -- 
"a continuing, creative reaction to the Left, a defiant 
response from an already weakened Christian bourgeois 
society that is in the process of being liquidated."

     Until I pondered these words, I'd considered 
"right-wing" a mere catch-all epithet for everything 
liberals dislike, incoherently conflating things that 
have nothing in common (and are even mutually opposed): 
totalitarian fascism, anti-government anarchism, 
racialism, limited-government libertarianism, 
"neoconservatism," monarchism, constitutionalism, 
militarism, you name it.

     And of course that is exactly how liberals do use 
the term: It stands for all the things they consider evil 
and willfully confound for propaganda purposes, a moronic 
synonym for "extremism" (also conveniently undefined). In 
short, bad stuff. 

     But Gottfried shows that the term can also be used 
precisely, meaningfully, usefully. I am (not for the 
first time) in his debt. I try to listen carefully for 
semantic fraud, but this man can give me some lessons. 

     Gottfried goes on to show that the so-called 
conservative movement has allowed itself to be used and 
devoured by liberals, as long as those liberals style 
themselves neoconservatives. No wonder avowed liberals in 
the media have been so hospitable to the neocons; their 
"debates" have been mere shadow-boxing. By pretending to 
oppose each other, they have together managed to keep 
their common enemy, the real Right, shut out of public 

     So the public is essentially presented with bleak, 
and false, alternatives: Which kind of liberalism do you 
prefer? (Sorry, right-wing extremism is not on our menu. 
No substitutions, please.) Thus neoconservatism 
"conserves" nothing -- except the one-party system. 
That's democracy for you.

     Brace yourself for President Giuliani.

                 +          +          +                  

     "Accused of partying with sinners, Jesus, far from 
denying the charge, explained that it was the sick, not 
the healthy, who needed the physician. The question that 
interests me is this: Why did they keep inviting Him 
back?" 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, SOBRAN'S, yet, give my office a call at 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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