The Reactionary Utopian
                      May 4, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     I don't watch television much anymore, but I gather 
that Stephen Colbert is the hottest comedian on the tube 
this month. I missed his latest achievement, an act of 
lese majesty at the White House Correspondents'
Association Dinner, where he ridiculed the chief guest, 
President Bush, without mercy.

     Bush and his wife had to take it, but they obviously 
didn't enjoy it. Colbert raked him for the Iraq war, his 
stupidity, his low approval ratings, his domestic 
eavesdropping, you name it. His monologue might have been 

     Even the columnist Richard Cohen, a keen and harsh 
critic of Bush, found Colbert offensive. He calls his 
jokes "lame and insulting." Because decorum prevented 
Bush from walking out in a huff, "Colbert was more than 
rude. He was a bully."

     Needless to say, this is far from a unanimous 
verdict. Millions of others think Bush got what he 
deserved for more than five years of abusing power. For 
once he was momentarily vulnerable for a change, and 
Colbert took the occasion to make him squirm, rather like 
the king who watches his crime enacted on the stage in 

     Cohen objects that what Colbert did took no courage, 
since we have free speech and you can insult the 
president without risking martyrdom. But the point of 
free speech is that it should be used, all the more so if 
it's safe, and rebuking a criminal ruler, even with "lame 
and insulting jokes," is a splendid way to exercise it. 
In fact, finer witticisms might have bounced off the 
target. Bush got some rough feedback, but at least it 
doesn't seem to have gone over his head. He'll get more 
in the November elections.

     The worst punishment you should wish on your 
enemies, but also the most charitable, is that they may 
see themselves as they really are. Self-knowledge can be 
either a curse or a blessing, depending on whether you 
are humble enough to accept it. Unfortunately, Bush's 
self-delusion appears all but impenetrable. Politicians 
can have thin skins and tough hides at the same time. 
Appeals to their consciences can be like horseflies to a 
stallion -- no more than minor irritations.

     As we all know, James Bond, in his capacity as 
Agent 007, is licensed to kill. This is supposed to 
assure us of his deserved heroic status -- we are to 
trust him not to use his power wantonly -- but it tells 
us something crucial about the nature of government: that 
some men are authorized to do things that are inherently 
criminal, and even to decide what shall be criminal.

     One of man's oldest follies is the belief that such 
authority can exist and that some men can, and must, be 
trusted with it. Democracy supposedly gives everyone a 
fair share of it. We all get to help choose our rulers. 
What could be fairer than that?

     And yet, for some reason, "politician" is a 
disreputable word in democracies. People speak of 
government with irony even as they demand that it improve 
their lives.

     Last week Jean-Francois Revel, an eloquent champion 
of democracy, died in France at 82. In his book THE 
TOTALITARIAN TEMPTATION he made the arresting observation 
that whereas other systems were judged by their records, 
Communism was judged by its promises -- no matter how 
often they had been brutally broken. Revel aimed his barb 
at Europe's leftist intelligentsia.

     But doesn't the aphorism really apply to government 
in general? No matter how much harm it does, men continue 
to believe in its promises. Individuals are blamed for 
its failures, as Bush is being blamed now, but most of us 
persist in thinking that this is a mere personnel 
problem, not a problem intrinsic to the very nature of 
government. The wrong men are in power. We can see that 
power is handed over to the "right" men in the next 

     Somehow, though, the "right" men never seem to turn 
up. After a short time, we find that those in whom we 
placed our hopes were just a new set of wrong men. Bill 
Clinton was the wrong man for the presidency. George W. 
Bush would restore morality, honor, resolve, and other 
fine things to the White House. Now look!

     As long as there is government, the wrong men will 
rule. This is not a prediction. It's an axiom.


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