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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Virtual Kennedy

(Reprinted from the issue of October 7, 2004)

Capitol BldgA few months ago, John Kerry’s religion loomed as a potentially explosive element in the campaign. Would he be denied Communion because of his long pro-abortion record? Somehow the question died out, unresolved. Instead, debate has focused on details of his war record.

Well, it seems Kerry has been ineligible for Communion on other grounds for nearly a decade. A profile of Teresa Heinz Kerry in The New Yorker casually reports, “After a brief courtship, a short period of cohabitation, and the signing of a prenuptial agreement, the Kerrys were married in a civil ceremony on Nantucket in 1995.”

Put otherwise, the divorced Kerry has been living in sin for more than nine years (maybe more, counting the premarital cohabitation). He has said, in a jocular radio interview with Don Imus, that he’s applied for an annulment of his first marriage, presumably so he can solemnize his union with Teresa, but he left it at that.

Given the scandalous ease with which annulments are dispensed nowadays, you might think a man who claims his “faith” means so much to him might wait a bit for the paperwork; but maybe Kerry is one of those Catholics who think Vatican II repealed all the rules.

Who knows? Meanwhile, he insists that his support for abortion, even horrifying late-term abortion, mustn’t be construed as evidence of a lack of devoutness.

Draw your own conclusions. Here’s mine, for what it’s worth.

Kerry is an ambitious man, and he found Teresa Heinz, an attractive, vivacious, and extremely rich widow, irresistible. They were both Catholics, but they found the Church’s teachings on sex, marriage, contraception, abortion, and so forth annoying technicalities that needn’t be taken too seriously.

However, like so many lax Catholics, they found it curiously difficult to cut their ties to the Church and become, say, Episcopalians. As Teresa told The New Yorker, Catholicism “is part of me, you know — part of who I am.” And I believe she means it.

Maybe Kerry shares this feeling. Maybe he hopes to marry her in the Church someday. If so, his spiritual condition could explain several things about him, including the failure of his presidential campaign.

Everyone senses a lack of conviction in Kerry; his fellow Democrats complain about it. Nobody has suggested the obvious possibility that his problem stems from a bad conscience. Living in sin is a corrosive thing, and I suspect Kerry is inwardly aware that he has cut himself off from the Church, and is tortured by it. He goes through the motions of living, even seeking the biggest prize in politics, but his heart isn’t in it.

What outwardly appears as great worldly success — wealth, power, fame, and the rest — is, from a Catholic standpoint, ultimate failure where it really matters. “What shall it profit a man ... ?” And Kerry, unless his conscience is quite dead, knows this. He has placed himself in a spiritual trap from which it won’t be easy to escape, least of all during an election season. Like Bush, but in a different way, he has to pretend that all is well, when he knows better.

No wonder his campaign is so strikingly joyless. Kerry has turned himself into a virtual Kennedy, so to speak. For decades he has been making what were supposed to be, in career terms, all the right moves. But in his heart he must know he has made one wrong move, and it was a big one. And no, it wasn’t in Vietnam.
The Long War

Tensions are said to be rising between the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA isn’t delivering the optimistic reports on Iraq that President Bush would prefer. The Washington Post reports that career professionals in several agencies “believe the rebellion is deeper and more widespread than is being publicly acknowledged.”

“Things are definitely not improving,” one official is quoted as saying. “It is getting worse,” adds an Army staff officer who served in Iraq and stays in touch with comrades in Baghdad through e-mail. The resistance is conducting attacks in U.S. strongholds that seemed safe a year ago.

Bush has hardly been there, except for a brief surprise visit to American troops nearly a year ago. How can he have a feel for the situation, except through the intelligence services whose judgment he recently belittled as “just guessing”? He later said he should have said “estimate” rather than “guess”; but, fallible as the CIA is, what else does he have to go on?

Many Americans have supported Bush’s war because “he knows so much more than we do.” But how, and in what sense, does he “know” about a situation from which he is remote? It’s these agencies that are supposed to give him a privileged perspective. If he doesn’t believe them, on what sources does he base his stubborn optimism?

The casualty figures, no-go areas, car bombings, kidnapings, and beheadings speak for themselves. So does the hostility of ordinary Iraqis who may not resort to violence, but who openly resent the U.S. presence.

In the face of such evidence, Bush is insisting that he has been right all along, from his rosy pre-war predictions to “mission accomplished” to the creation of a new, American-sponsored government. The Iraqis were yearning for freedom, he said; which may well have been true, but didn’t mean that they would welcome an American occupation as the vehicle of their liberation.

Even now, Bush is hardly qualifying what he was saying two years ago. This is unnatural. The experience of war must have put things in a somewhat different light by now. There have to be some events he didn’t foresee, some things that didn’t work out quite as planned, some factors he should have given more weight to. This is true not only of this war, or of any war in an alien culture, but of human action in general.

Oddly enough, Bush reminds one of Dan Rather’s recent ordeal. Rather too found it hard to admit any mistake in judgment. He insisted that the public accept as authoritative his trust in documents that turned out to be forgeries. And he wound up making that public doubt not only his judgment, but his honesty. If you catch a man picking your pocket, do you assume it’s the first pocket he’s ever tried to pick? More likely you assume it’s a habit, and he just happened to get caught this time.

Bush and Rather, I suspect, are both showing bad habits they have fallen into. Both men believe, or ignore, sources of information according to what they want to believe. Both speak out of sincere conviction. But both have made disastrous misjudgments.

Rather has kept his job anyway, and it looks as if Bush will keep his anyway. The Iraq war will slog on for the foreseeable future. There won’t be the kind of happy ending Bush keeps predicting; but neither will there be the frank admission of a mistake. Even if he’s re-elected, Bush will persist in maintaining the appearance of consistency as long as he possibly can.

Even the ancient pagan world, knowing nothing of Revelation, spoke easily of the divine. Why, after two millennia of Christianity, do modern men talk like logical positivists? A tentative answer will be found in my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS. 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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