The Great Uniter

     As soon as I heard that President Bush had commuted 
E. Lewis Libby's prison sentence, in view of Libby's 
"exceptional public service," I remembered his boast: 
"I'm a uniter, not a divider." Not only has partisan fury 
grown red-hot in Washington during his presidency; he has 
split his own party, much of which now wants an end to 
the Iraq war.

     I've never been able to work up much passion over 
the Libby case; like most Americans, I'm still a bit 
puzzled that a grown man with a nickname like "Scooter" 
could achieve not only middle age, but access to the 
highest levels of power.

     In a year and a half Bush will be a former 
president. He's already being dismissed as a lame duck, 
especially with the embarrassing failure of his 
immigration bill -- another party-splitter. Even though 
nobody knows who his successor will be, his 
administration is exhausted, unless of course he can 
start another war.

     Even Richard Nixon, after being forced out of office 
in disgrace, managed to salvage some dignity in his last 
years. His intelligence was respected, he was a highly 
literate man, and he could write books worth pondering on 
foreign policy. Nobody made jokes about how stupid Nixon 

     But what will Bush do? It's hard to imagine any 
positive role for him, especially with his father, who 
avoided his worst foreign policy blunders, still living 
as an implicit rebuke to his Middle Eastern folly.

     The only defense I can offer for Bush is admittedly 
not a very effective one: "Well, he's not as bad as 
Lincoln!" This theme only appeals to people who have the 
historical perspective to realize that Lincoln was to the 
American Constitution what Henry VIII was to the British 
one: a permanently deformative force, after whom nothing 
could ever be the same. 

Hillary Pipes Up

     Still, the Libby commutation had its funny side. On 
the campaign trail in Iowa, Hillary Clinton blasted Bush 
for blatant cronyism, apparently forgetting her own 
husband's outright pardons of far more (and many more) 
brazen criminals than Libby. Or is she just utterly 

     In fact, it's one measure of Bush's failure that 
both Clintons are now so popular. When he was elected in 
2000 and the Clintons left the White House with the 
furniture, who dreamed that they might, in only a few 
years, resume residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? How 
has the memory of an impeachment for perjury faded so 

     It would be just our luck if our first woman 
president should be one who prays to Eleanor Roosevelt. 
And the thought of listening to Hillary's raucous voice 
for four or (gulp!) eight years!

The Lesson of JFK

     The cover of the July 2 issue of TIME magazine 
features one of our least distinguished presidents, John 
Kennedy, with a worshipful spread on "what we can learn 
from JFK." One of the headings is "what candidates should 
say about faith." The essay, by Nancy Gibbs, offers just 
the kind of spiritual guidance Rudy Giuliani craves.

     Kennedy "wore his religion lightly." Well, yes. No 
mention of his constant and cynical adulteries, 
apparently unmixed with even a particle of real affection 
for the women he used; all Gibbs can marvel at is his 
adroit political use of his utterly nominal Catholicism, 
with a quick and vague reference to his "spiritual 

     Kennedy supposedly won the presidency in 1960 by 
overcoming anti-Catholic bigotry, but his opponent, 
Nixon, shrewdly foresaw what was actually to happen: "He 
told his close advisers that he thought Kennedy's 
religion would hurt him only in states he wasn't going to 
win anyway and help him in the swing states he needed." 
In the end, Kennedy got 78% of the Catholic vote and 
became the first Catholic U.S. president. He remains a 
great symbol of American Catholicism.

Why St. Paul Wasn't Rich

     I've been studying and pondering Christopher 
Hitchens's best-seller gOD IS NOT GREAT (refusing to 
capitalize "God" is part of its cheekiness), and I think 
the book is best understood as a spoof. Hitchens is far 
too intelligent to believe some of the things he writes, 
such as that even Jesus' historical existence is in 

     But there's a big market for flamboyant atheism 
waiting to be tapped, and Hitchens needs to tap it. He 
has lost a lot of standing among intellectuals by 
supporting the Iraq war, and a frontal assault on 
religion may be just the ticket to recover it.

     His hero is George Orwell, but nobody could be more 
different in style. Orwell is an unbeliever too, but he 
plays fair with the reader, never trying to rush or 
bully. With Hitchens the reader is never quite sure what 
he's jeering at; he's displaying his attitudes, not 
giving reasons.

     Cynical though he is about religion, it's worth 
pointing out that he's likely to make a lot more money on 
his book than St. Paul made on his epistles. Granted, if 
the Apostle had gotten a perpetual copyright and lived 
long enough, he would have become stupendously wealthy on 
the royalties, but of course it didn't quite work out 
that way, so Hitchens must be said to be the more 
successful author, at least on his own terms.


     Paris Hilton seems to get more attention than any 
politician, and I don't know whether that's good news or 
bad. She's a very pretty girl, but no prettier than many 
others who lack her wealth. And though she's extremely 
rich, it seems she can't afford the one thing available 
to every poor girl: self-respect.

     Whatever happened to modesty? Why does Paris want a 
man's first thoughts of her to be lewd thoughts? This 
baffles me. I really don't see the point of living like 

     Every morning I encounter modestly dressed girls 
whose attraction is that their demeanor implies dignity 
and personality. They have a sense of their own worth 
that means infinitely more than any physical appeal. Some 
man should write a book about what good men really want 
in women.

                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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