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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Wave of the Future?

(Reprinted from the issue of July 15, 2004)

Capitol BldgAs you can tell from the media coverage, Washington has been in a state of ecstatic excitement over John Kerry’s choice of a running mate. Even before he announced that a first-term senator, John Edwards of North Carolina, was the winner, the anticipation was like that attending reality TV shows like American Idol.

There was nothing that could be called “historic” about Edwards’s anointment. He wasn’t the first woman, black, Jew, or even Southerner picked for a national ticket; the obvious parallel was John Kennedy’s choice of Lyndon Johnson in 1960, one of the rare cases where a regional running mate made the difference in a close election (possibly because Johnson brought out the cemetery vote in Texas; Mayor Richard Daley, father of the current Mayor Daley, almost certainly did likewise in Chicago).

It’s no secret that Kerry’s first choice for a running mate was Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican. That would have been a real innovation, but McCain declined the honor out of party loyalty. So Kerry went with the more obvious and conventional choice, a promising young Democrat. At 51, Edwards seems a generation younger than Kerry who is 60; but this sufficed to inspire a brief media frenzy.

In fact, the last time we saw the media so elated was when Kerry emerged as the Democrats’ front-runner last winter. Their excitement implied that Kerry was exciting, an impression that has long since worn off. Edwards too is likely to be a short-lived thrill. He is known for being a good campaigner and not much else. His voting record is nearly as liberal as Kerry’s. About all he brings to the ticket is charm and unfamiliarity.

But Kerry seems to realize that the best way to balance the ticket is to add a running mate with a vaguely human personality, which implies a shrewd self-assessment on Kerry’s part. He once hoped to be a new John Kennedy — a Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts with the initials JFK — but has come up short in the youth, wit, and charisma departments. Maybe Edwards can supply the missing pieces. Kerry says he and Edwards share the same “values.” (Does that mean Edwards shares Kerry’s “personal opposition” to abortion?)

The obvious practical problem of Edwards’s fresh face is that he’s a political nobody. He won only one primary, in his home state, but showed little appeal elsewhere. In 1960 Johnson was a powerful established political veteran, well connected, who could deliver more than Texas to the Kennedy column. Edwards isn’t even well known in the South. This may matter less in the media age than it used to, but Edwards will have to perform brilliantly on television in order to become a real asset.

That so much importance can be attached to a running mate of no particular distinction is a sign of dissatisfaction not only with Kerry, but with both major candidates. Kerry was supposed to be “electable,” just as George W. Bush was once supposed to be “invincible,” but time has quickly tarnished them both. Neither offers much in the way of hope; the alternatives they offer are merely different versions of big government — Bush stressing militarism and empire, Kerry stressing domestic socialism.

If Edwards is at least the only fresh face on either ticket, Kerry might win with his own October surprise: He could announce, shortly before the election, that he has a terminal illness. That could be the most seductive campaign promise in political history: “I’m going to die.” Kerry also has the advantage of looking rather moribund.

Politicians are always eager to assure us that they are in good health, on the assumption that we want them to be able to go on serving the public indefinitely. It may be time to question this assumption.

Remember, Attorney General John Ashcroft lost his last senatorial race to a deceased opponent. He has been unfairly mocked for this; the voters preferred a corpse! But how many politicians could beat a dead man? Few have been put to the test.

The Democrats have a long history of winning with posthumous voters (Bill Buckley’s long-deceased grandfather voted for Johnson in Texas in 1948), but dead and dying candidates are still something of a novelty whose potential remains to be seen. At any rate, it seems worth a try. Nothing else Kerry does is working very well.

Of course this might cause hard feelings if Kerry wins and turns out to be perfectly healthy. But what’s one more broken campaign promise? After all, it wouldn’t be quite the same thing as stealing an election. It could hardly leave as much bitterness as the Florida fiasco of 2000. Who knows? Candidates in frail health may be the wave of the future.
The Immigrant Threat?

Conservatives (or “paleoconservatives”) with whom I usually agree, such at Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis, have been raising alarms about the danger to this country posed by immigration. I must say I don’t understand.

Europe may have a serious problem, with its plunging birthrate and rapidly reproducing Muslim immigrants who may transform the continent. Italy and Spain, traditionally the most Catholic countries in Europe, are expected to have Muslim majorities, hostile to Christianity and more or less sympathetic to radical Islam, in the fairly near future. I can see where this may lead to difficulties.

But the American situation is different. Most of our immigrants are Mexican (or Latin American), and most Mexicans are Catholic. It is argued that they resist assimilation to American culture. Maybe so, but they are hardly likely to be loyal to the Mexican government in any way that could be subversive of American law. True, they may overload the welfare state, but whose fault is that? If the welfare state is here to welcome them, the solution is to get rid of it, as should have been done long ago. Overpopulation is a problem for socialist systems, not for free societies. In fact, the welfare system may be more destructive of the immigrants’ families than to the natives.

What are the cultural differences that are believed to be menacing to America? Americans and Mexicans tend to live apart, peacefully preferring their own races, but they don’t seem radically incompatible. Why is total assimilation so desirable? Why shouldn’t the immigrants retain a distinct sense of identity? Would it be better if they gave up their own healthy traditions and adapted to American culture, especially considering the sorry condition that culture has come to?

It’s not as if America still had its edifying old Protestant ethic and stern Puritan morality. Every morning, as I read my papers at McDonald’s, I find myself surrounded by teenagers with body-piercing and exposed navels, gabbing on cell phones and listening to hip-hop. Is that what the Mexicans should aspire to for their children?

Maybe I’m missing something here. But I just don’t feel the least bit threatened by immigrants.

Are you reading SOBRANS, my monthly newsletter, yet? Each month I have at the icons of liberalism and what passes for conservatism. President Bush wouldn’t enjoy it, but I hope you will. If you have not seen it yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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