Then ...

     Thomas Jefferson, composing his own tombstone 
inscription, didn't see fit to mention his presidency 
among the three chief achievements of his life. Imagine 
what he would think of today's obsession with the office, 
which has become, in effect, a seriously corrupted 

     The modest executive role envisioned by the Framers 
of the U.S. Constitution now seems incomprehensibly 
quaint, and in the age of mass "democracy," so does the 
constitutional method of electing them. The idea that the 
Electoral College should actually decide who shall be 
president strikes most Americans as so absurd that they 
never even bother to ask why it ever made sense.

     The reason, of course, is precisely that the 
president was never meant to be a king. These United 
States, as READER'S DIGEST still calls them, were to form 
a republic, delegating a few specific legislative powers 
to a Congress in which the people would elect one house 
and the state governments would appoint the other. Most 
actual power would remain with the people and the states; 
the president and the federal courts -- particularly the 
federal Supreme Court -- would make few if any fateful 

     The great horror of Americans in that age was 
"consolidated" (i.e., centralized) government. The 
presidency would be more an honor than a position of real 
power. It should hardly matter who held the office. It 
was so weak that there was no reason to fight very hard 
for it, or to spend much money campaigning for it; nor 
was there any reason to worry about assassination, since 
the stakes were so low. Presidents didn't have to worry 
about their personal safety. They were more concerned 
with their personal honor. Even in Lincoln's day any man 
on the street could still walk into the White House and 
ask the president himself for a job!

     The original system was so different from today's 
that the most lucid explication of it, in the FEDERALIST 
PAPERS, has become puzzling to read, like a medieval 
treatise on alchemy. Its basic terms -- "consolidated," 
"delegated," "usurpation," "confederacy," "sovereignty," 
and so forth -- form a language alien to us. Even Lincoln 
hardly understood them.

     The original design began to unravel very early, as 
party politics, abhorrent (in principle, at least) to the 
Framers, emerged. Later Lincoln denied and then destroyed 
the sovereignty of the states, on which everything 
depended. The damage was compounded by amendments that 
virtually repealed what was left of the original 
Constitution, and it is almost nonsense, now, to speak of 
"strict construction." To hear this phrase from a Rudy 
Giuliani is beyond all irony.

     The 22nd Amendment, limiting the president to two 
terms, should have been entirely unnecessary; it was a 
desperate reaction (and a pathetically futile one) 
against the hypertrophy of the office by Franklin 
Roosevelt's time. Neither the people nor the states are 
sovereign now; subject to a few vestigial limitations, 
the president is. The original American republic is gone 

... And Now

     The foregoing was meant to be a brief prologue to 
some reflections on the 2008 presidential campaign, 
already as far advanced as a terminal case of bone 
cancer. I'm afraid my exasperation got the better of me.

     The latest wrinkle in this mess is the news that New 
York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be about to enter the 
race as an independent, financing his run with one of his 
own spare billions.

     Last week I offered a hopeful scenario for next 
year, with Ron Paul running and winning as a third-party 
candidate, the lone conservative against two liberal 
nominees offered by the major parties. It could happen, 
but so could this: The Democrats run Hillary, the 
Republicans run Giuliani, and Bloomberg runs too. That 
would give the voters a real choice: three pro-abortion, 
pro-war, pro-homosexual New York white liberals. I 
suppose this is a liberal's idea of diversity. As Bill 
Clinton used to say, "Diversity is our greatest 

     With Giuliani running, Bloomberg would seem 
superfluous. The only difference between them is that 
Bloomberg isn't a Catholic and doesn't pretend to hate 
abortion, which makes him, I guess, ever so slightly 
preferable. Among these three, Hillary should win. (The 
ballyhooed Barack Obama, glib but wispy, is already 

     In that case, though, a principled conservative like 
Paul might win as a =fourth=-party candidate (the 
Constitution Party?), for whom the glut of liberals would 
surely create a furious demand. The possibilities are 
endless. No use trying to predict which way this ball 
would carom.

Rudy's Roar

     In the second Republican "debate," Phony Rudy had 
the sort of big demagogic moment that usually wins these 
sorry contests. When Paul remarked that the 9/11 attacks 
were the result of U.S. meddling in the Middle East, a 
thought that had occurred to me before the second tower 
fell, Giuliani erupted in hypocritical outrage. The South 
Carolina Republican audience applauded wildly, and the 
Fox pundits scored it a triumph for Rudy. Other 
Republicans wanted Paul expelled from the party for 

     But much of the post-debate reaction favored Paul. 
Genuine conservatives recognized one of their own. Pat 
Buchanan spoke for many when he praised the honest Texan. 
The Republican Party should indeed kick him out; it has 
no room for men like him.

     If Giuliani gets the Republican nomination next 
year, he will enjoy the support of the Compassionate 
Conservative, George W. Bush. Naturally.

Ecrasez L'Infame

     National Public Television has recently outdone 
itself with a series of specials on "the" Inquisition (it 
seems there was only one) and Martin Luther, all of them 
relentlessly, one-sidedly, and bigotedly anti-Catholic. 
None of the several I saw made any serious effort to 
balance propaganda with any other perspective. It was all 
a simple liberal morality tale of Progressive heroes and 
victims versus Reactionary villains (i.e., the Church of 

     Luther's only flaws, apparently, were a bit of 
intolerance (toward those who were even more Progressive 
than he was) and anti-Semitism. Well, nobody's perfect. 
He was still "one of the great emancipators in human 

     The obvious question was left hanging: Why on earth 
does the Catholic Church still exist?

                 +          +          +                  

     "'Though liberals talk a great deal about hearing 
other points of view,' Bill Buckley once observed, 'it 
sometimes shocks them to learn that there =are= other 
points of view.'" REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- a new 
selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian -- 
is culled from my most recent lucid moments. If you have 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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