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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Advanced Conservative Studies

(Reprinted from the issue of September 29, 2005)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Advanced Conservative StudiesRush Limbaugh argues that the Democrats should be encouraged to move as far leftward as possible — just as, during the 2004 primaries, National Review hoped the Democrats would nominate Howard Dean for president.

Now you might think principled conservatives would want both major parties to be as conservative as possible. And you’d be right. That’s exactly what principled conservatives do want, just as pro-lifers wish both parties opposed abortion.

Why? Because to be principled means to place moral norms before power and party interests. Make no mistake: “Conservatives” like Limbaugh are Republican partisans first, conservatives second. If a more leftist Democratic Party helps the Republicans win elections, they reason, that’s just fine — even if it allows the Republicans to keep edging leftward, as it always does.

Which is why the Republicans today are about where the Democrats were in the heyday of Lyndon Baines Johnson (or, as I like to call him, Baneful Lyndon Johnson).

It’s sobering to reflect that Johnson was in his time the biggest spender in American history. But Bush is running annual deficits that are larger than the entire federal budget under Johnson. And he has yet to veto a single act of Congress.

Bush is following Johnson’s precedent; just as LBJ promised both “guns and butter” — war abroad and socialism at home — Bush isn’t exactly counting the pennies it will cost to pay for (among many other things) a foreign war, expanded Medicare entitlements, and cleaning up after every hurricane Mother Nature can throw at us.

As I write, it appears that Galveston is about to go the way of New Orleans; and this time Bush is determined not to be caught flat-footed. At least not in the short run; as for the longer term, that’s unreal to him. The evening news shows the immediate impact of hurricanes; it doesn’t show the steady swelling of the national debt quite so vividly.

An old maxim tells us to “expect the unexpected”; but sometimes it appears that this president can’t even predict the inevitable. What’s going to happen when all the bills he’s running up come due?

Are you sure you don’t want to use that veto, Mr. President?
Late Surprises

Though it won’t make much difference, the Democrats’ Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced he’ll vote against confirming John Roberts as chief justice of the United States. He says Roberts falls short of the high standards a nominee for the job should have to meet.

This is no doubt true, though in a sense Reid probably doesn’t intend, since no nominee can deserve to hold such power for a minute, let alone a lifetime — the power to change the meaning of the U.S. Constitution without control by the legislative branch, the executive, or the voters. But the problem lies in the nature of the office, not in Roberts.

On the other hand, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, who unlike Reid is as liberal as all get-out, is supporting Roberts’s confirmation. Maybe both men figure it makes no difference how they vote at this point, since Roberts is a shoo-in. At his confirmation hearings, pinning him down was like catching an eel while wearing boxing gloves.

The neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer favors Roberts, partly because he is sure Roberts isn’t radical enough to vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. Krauthammer agrees with the logic of the 1992 Casey majority: Even if Roe was questionably decided (and Krauthammer thinks it was politically “poisonous”), overturning it now would be just as disruptive.

Maybe it would, but that’s a political judgment. Let’s hope Roberts keeps his eye on the ball better than that. The Court is supposed to rule on strictly legal merits, not extraneous contingencies that may arise from its rulings.

Since when does an unconstitutional ruling become constitutional over time because things have changed? To use the baseball analogy again, the crowd may riot if the umpire calls the home team’s runner out at the plate; should the umpire have foreseen this possibility and called him safe?

Since Roberts is now replacing William Rehnquist, not Sandra Day O’Connor, and since he appears likely to resemble Rehnquist as chief justice, Bush’s next appointment may well be the crucial one, deciding the balance of the Court in years ahead.
Clare Asquith, Shakespeare, and the Catholic Question

A new book about Shakespeare is causing a stir: Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, by Clare Asquith (published by PublicAffairs). Conventional scholarship has generally assumed (1) that “Shakespeare” was Mr. Shakspere of Stratford, and (2) that he was noncommittal about the political and religious controversies that raged around him in Elizabethan England.

Asquith accepts the first of these beliefs, but not the second. She argues that the plays and poems contain, in highly coded language, his passionate Catholic convictions.

I’d love to think so, but though I’ve only begun to read her book, Asquith’s scholarship doesn’t inspire much confidence. She calls Henry V the Bard’s “most conformist play,” ignoring its profoundly ironic treatment of this national hero. As for the real author, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as I’m convinced, she has ventured the opinion that he was “illiterate.”

I’m afraid that if Asquith calls anyone’s literacy in question, it’s her own. Not only was Oxford widely praised as poet and playwright in his own time (by the great poet Edmund Spenser, among others); he left letters and prefaces in elegant English, French, and Latin. He was tutored by some of the finest scholars in England, studied at Cambridge University and the Inns of Court, and, during a two-week visit to the noted scholar Johann Sturmius in Strasbourg, conversed entirely in Latin. Not bad for an illiterate man.

Still, Oxford came from the old Catholic nobility, whose titles long predated Henry VIII’s revolution, so it’s just possible that she has inadvertently hit on something. Stay tuned.

SOBRANS takes a look at Christopher Hitchens, the fierce former Trotskyist who now applauds the Iraq war. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter 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 © 2005 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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