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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Shakespeare for Dummies

(Reprinted from the issue of April 5, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Shakespeare for DummiesThe 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.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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 discussion.

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, 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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