April 26, 2005 

by Joe Sobran

     A stay in the hospital, with the heightened 
awareness that your days are numbered, makes you feel a 
bit like Rip Van Winkle: you come back to the ordinary 
world with a different perspective. Things that used to 
seem urgent to me now seem trivial, especially political 
quarrels. "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" 

     In Washington the two parties have been fighting 
bitterly over the confirmation of President Bush's 
judicial nominees. The Republicans may resort to "the 
nuclear option" to prevent Democratic filibustering and 
other obstructive tactics. The Democrats call Bush's 
nominees "radical." 

     I hardly know which side is more risible. Both 
parties blow their noses on the U.S. Constitution, so it 
hardly makes any difference which controls the judiciary. 
The Democrats are somewhat worse, which doesn't mean the 
Republicans are good. To call the Republicans "radical" 
is to pay them a compliment they have done nothing to 

     The Democrats, whether they admit it or not, want 
judges who will declare homosexuality and same-sex 
marriage constitutional rights. But the Republicans favor 
unconstitutional Federal entitlements, expanded executive 
powers (Homeland Security, the USA PATRIOT Act, 
et cetera), and of course undeclared war. George W. Bush 
makes Bill Clinton look like Thomas Jefferson. 

     "The real American is all right," said G.K. 
Chesterton. "It is the ideal American who is all wrong." 
Today the "ideal" American wants to impose his false 
ideal of democracy on the rest of the world. But to most 
of the world American democracy, supported by American 
weaponry, appears an alarming thing. 

     What happened to the country we used to love and the 
world used to admire? For many years it was a country of 
implicit understandings about freedom and the good life. 
The government seemed to accept its limits and respect 
our desire to be left alone. 

     But as new forms of tyranny exploded abroad, our own 
politicians got ideas too. The concentration of power, 
economic dirigisme, high taxes, a mania for equality, and 
world empire became accepted as enlightened principles. 
Gradually, America became a profoundly different country. 
We hardly noticed it happening. 

     Today we take topless spending and bottomless debt 
for granted. American military forces are now stationed 
in more than a hundred countries around the world. At 
home, meanwhile, smoking and obesity are "problems" for 
the government to solve. 

     The older America venerated its inventors, creative 
men like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford who enriched us 
all. We were grateful to medical men like Jonas Salk, who 
found cures for dreaded diseases. Today we honor 
politicians, especially those who, like Lincoln and 
Franklin Roosevelt, got us into the bloodiest wars and 
enlarged the power and scope of government. 

     That older America also loved gentle humor and 
melodic music. It hardly needs saying that our tastes 
have coarsened remarkably in these areas, along with our 
public morality. Much of the blame for this, I'm afraid, 
lies with the American Catholic Church, which, since the 
Second Vatican Council in the Sixties, has ceased to 
exert the gravitational force it did when I was a child, 
even as government has joined the mammoth entertainment 
industry in marginalizing all religion. 

     I spent only a few days in the hospital, but it 
might almost have been half a century. Maybe it was that 
I'd been largely insulated from the media; but when I 
left, I was, for whatever reason, acutely conscious of 
how startlingly the country had changed during my 
lifetime. The monstrous growth of the government had been 
accompanied by a paganization we couldn't have imagined 
fifty years ago. 

     Would my father's generation have fought for this 
country in World War II if they could have foreseen the 
America of 2005? Despite the current celebration of "the 
good war," I seriously doubt it. They thought they were 
fighting for a way of life that has now vanished, 
destroyed by politics and cultural decay. Maybe it was 
already doomed, and the war only hastened its 

     Tens of millions died in "the good war," probably 
including a Gershwin or an Edison, to say nothing of the 
misery of countless ordinary people. There is nothing 
about it to celebrate, unless you're a politician who 
profits by the new order that arose in its ruins and 
survives today. Politicians love to commemorate wars, the 
men who died in them, and above all the politicians who 
started them. 


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