So far this week the news is being made a little 
south of Washington, at Virginia Tech, where a Korean 
student went berserk and murdered 32 people, then killed 
himself. It's being called "the worst mass murder in 
American history" (not counting Waco, I guess).

     Horrible as such incidents are, I wish we could let 
them pass without affecting national grief over them, and 
without our politicians and pundits assuming the roles of 
pastors and "grief counselors." The grief belongs to the 
victims' families, and nobody else should try to 
appropriate it.

     Yet President Bush, visiting the school the day 
after these stunning crimes, spoke piously, wisely, and 
without cant.

Revving Up

     Now that the phony rape charges against those three 
Duke lacrosse players have been dropped -- my, college 
life (let's not forget Rutgers) is eventful these days! 
-- will the Reverend Sharpton demand that their accuser 
be fired from her job, like Don Imus?

     Of course Sharpton himself is even worse than the 
disgraced prosecutor in the Duke case, Mike Nifong. At 
least Nifong was finally forced to apologize; Sharpton 
still stands by the phony rape charges he made in the 
Tawana Brawley case; and whereas Nifong may well be 
disbarred and even prosecuted for a crime, the Rev is in 
no imminent danger of being defrocked.

     But his 15 minutes of fame may be over at last -- 
about 15 years too late.

Bush and the Catholic Neocons

     Neoconservatives have been likened to skunks: They 
can stink you up for a while, but in the end, everyone 
knows the odor is theirs. This may somewhat limit the 
harm they can do. They've made it hard to remember that 
they have ever done any good.

     For one subset of neocons I feel something like 
pity: the Catholic neocons, many of whom I have known 
personally. By supporting the Iraq war, they have allowed 
themselves to be put into an awkward and compromising 
position. We must ask bluntly, Do they really want to be 
used against the Church and the Popes?

     In his authorized biography of Pope John Paul II, 
George Weigel criticizes His Holiness for his opposition 
to both American wars against Iraq. I must say that it 
would make me uneasy to have said such things about the 
Pope, especially in the light of those wars' unhappy 

     Another Catholic neocon, Michael Novak, has been 
critical of both John Paul II and now Benedict XVI for 
their views on the current Iraq war. In early 2003, 
before the war had begun, after flying to Rome in a vain 
effort to set the Vatican straight, Novak argued that 
Saddam Hussein was capable of "devastating" London, 
Paris, or Chicago and, invoking St. Augustine, that 
Catholic principles of just warfare might well give the 
United States a "moral obligation" to invade Iraq and 
topple its government.

     Lately Novak has scolded Benedict for his Easter 
message saying that nothing good has come of the Iraq 
war. He seems to equate Benedict with mere secular 
European critics of this country. (For those who may 
suspect I exaggerate, Novak's articles on these matters 
can be found on NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE.) And in a long 
interview in CRISIS magazine, which he founded, Novak 
expounds on neoconservatism without mentioning the Iraq 
war at all! It would seem he is in no mood to celebrate 
the neocons' most famous achievement.

     Can anyone seriously believe, or even imagine, that 
Christ would blame these two Popes for urging peace? It 
would be presumptuous enough to claim the Lord for 
old-fashioned conservatism. But for neoconservatism?

     The neocons argue ingeniously -- over-ingeniously, 
it seems to me -- that the decision to go to war must be 
referred to the "prudential judgment" of "legitimate 
authorities." But that can hardly be the end of it. The 
prudence and judgment, not to mention the morality, of 
our authorities are precisely what millions of thoughtful 
people have come to question; and those millions have 
pre-eminently included the last two Popes and other 
Catholics, laymen, clergymen, and hierarchs, who command 

     "Legitimate authorities" doesn't necessarily mean a 
monarch, or a president; under the U.S. Constitution, it 
also means Congress, which decides when to declare war, 
and which may decide that it, or the president, has acted 
imprudently. Congress and the people are moving into 
alignment with the Popes and, yes, most Europeans on 
this; and though in this respect we are all fallible, 
still, as Samuel Johnson observed, "About things on which 
the public thinks long it commonly attains to think 

     That is the very voice of Christian common sense, 
the consensus fidelium.

     How many serious Christians originally had qualms 
about the war, but over the past four years have become 
persuaded of its wisdom and justice? Hasn't virtually all 
the motion been in the opposite direction?

     It's weird that so many Catholics are promoting 
George W. Bush's fundamentalist Armageddon agenda. I 
suspect that Bush's war policy has very little to do with 
just war theory, considerations of prudence, or 
St. Augustine, and everything to do with an occult and 
fanatical eschatology he hasn't told the public about.

Patricia Buckley RIP

     C.S. Lewis said of his friend Charles Williams that 
when he died, it was the idea of death, not Williams, 
that seemed to have changed. I felt almost that way when 
I heard that Pat Buckley, Bill's wife, had died this week 
at 80.

     We'd known it was coming. I hadn't seen her in many 
years, but I'd heard she'd been suffering the most 
agonizing kind of arthritis. Unremitting torment. The end 
was inevitable but still unbelievable.

     Pat was the most forceful woman I ever knew, a tall, 
striking, raucously funny lioness, intimidating (though 
she didn't mean to be) until you got to know her. The 
only child of the richest tycoon in Canada, she was that 
rarity in America (see Tocqueville), a woman who never 
had to please anyone. Oh, was she blunt! Feminists would 
wither in her presence. But her fearlessness was a tonic. 
You could see why Bill loved to play with her, the 
lion-tamer who loved her wildness.

     She and Bill were married for over half a century, 
and their son Christopher is one of America's most 
successful satirists. She bawled me out when I panned his 
first book in her husband's magazine after all the other 
reviewers had praised it. "Pat," I teased her, "NATIONAL 
REVIEW was the only magazine with the guts to take that 
book on." Bill roared with delight; trying to look stern 
at my insolence, she smiled in spite of herself.

     She dominated New York's high society, seeming to 
run most of its charities. The gossip columnists doted on 
her, despite the total lack of scandal in her life. That 
city won't be the same now.

     Eventual grief is the price of every love, so there 
is no way I could offer Bill the consolation I wish him. 
But then, that's what families are for.

                 +          +          +                  

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