Thumped(Reprinted from the issue of November 23, 2006)
The 2006 elections went much as the polls predicted they would, with the Republicans taking what even President Bush called a thumping. The Democrats regained majorities in both houses of Congress; but it was less a Democratic triumph than a Republican debacle.
By now a lot of Republicans in Washington are looking for new jobs. To paraphrase Gen. MacArthur, old Republicans never die they just become corporate lobbyists and Viagra pitchmen.
We should resist the temptation to read too much into election results, but when even Bush gets the hint, we are entitled to speculate that perhaps the Iraq war has not been quite the smashing success he has been assuring us it is. Karl Roves hope of a permanent Republican majority has at least been delayed for the moment.
Once again the GOP proved itself to be what the late lamented Sam Francis called it, the stupid party, resolutely ignoring every warning signal of the electoral wrath to come. Well, it has come. They saw the lightning and heard the thunder but kept confidently expecting sunshine.
Not that this is going to slow their neoconservative mentors down very much. If anything, it has increased the urgency of the neocons demands for war on Iran, with another go at regime change (spelled out in the current issue of Commentary magazine). Its comical; as Bush pays the political price of having taken their disastrous advice for six years, they offer even more of the same disastrous advice to get him through his final two years.
Maybe the neocons Catholic auxiliary will once again be dispatched to Rome to try to explain to this Pope, as they did to his predecessor, that a war for democracy is just what the Mideast needs. But they will probably be even less persuasive now than they were last time.
Only days after assuring us that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was doing such a fantastic job that he would serve the remainder of Bushs second term, Bush gave Rummy the heave-ho. The neocons have been divided over Rumsfeld, some adoring him, others complaining of his insufficient ruthlessness. They have been similarly divided over Bush himself, but when it comes to a choice between blaming Bush and blaming themselves for the Iraqi quagmire, its not hard to guess which option they will take.
As Margaret Thatcher once said to Bushs father, This is no time to go wobbly, George. But Rumsfelds dismissal shows that Bush is already wobbling. The facts are so obvious now that even he cant ignore them. And most conservatives arent even trying to. Bushs maladroit presidency has achieved only one thing: the revival of a moribund liberalism.
Remembering a Protestant Friend
Forty-six years ago, when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were vying for the presidency, I was in the eighth grade. Knowing nothing about politics, I was passionate for Kennedy. I got into a friendly argument with a Nixon man, a classmate actually, in our school cafeteria. Robert was far better informed than I was, which commanded my respect, and I listened to what he had to say. We were like a pair of kittens pretending to be lions, but he was already far more mature than I was.
One good result of the 1960 campaign was that it spurred my interest in Catholicism, and the following year I was catechized and baptized. Young and callow as I was, it was the wisest decision I ever made. Robert was always wise, with the manner of a history professor with an explosive sense of humor, a hearty laugh that made me feel good all over. He remained one of my closest friends. He still is. We have both gone from being conservative Republicans (my Kennedy phase was brief) to a sort of merry despair over the GOP. Though Robert was a Protestant, he was full of the same deep sanity that had drawn me to the Church; and over the years I was struck by his growing sympathy for Catholicism.
This week we talked and joked about the elections. We had to talk by phone, though. Robert is in the hospital fighting cancer (the doctors arent offering much hope) and Im not very mobile myself. I found myself sobbing that I loved him not the way we usually talk! and he gave me some consoling news: a priest was coming to his room to receive him into the Church. So it looks as if, after half a century of friendship, Robert and I, now two old men, are going to wind up fellow Catholics. Not something we foresaw back in the cafeteria!
Paganism without Gods
Startling how fast The Da Vinci Code blew over, isnt it? The book was such an enormous hit, but the movie bombed with the critics and must have been a huge disappointment to the millions of readers who felt that Dan Brown had exposed the hidden truth about Christianity, the Church, and the villainy of Opus Dei. I sense a lot of quiet blushing out there, as if the unbelievers are already embarrassed by the very mention of the object of their recent enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, this has been a prosperous season for atheists. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been reaping publicity for their polemics against religion any and all religion, but especially (of course) Christianity. Both are naive materialists who dont seem to grasp that there are a few metaphysical questions at stake before you even get around to Darwin and Genesis. A small child can raise the problem of evil quite poignantly when he asks, Why did God let my puppy die? I have less sympathy for the Oxford don who sneers that a just God wouldnt permit a Bush presidency.
Dawkins, Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, now joined by Elton John, contend that religion does such immense harm that the world would be better off without it. I see their point. Think how much finer life in Russia was under the enlightened Lenin and Stalin than under the superstitious tsars.
I would humbly suggest that during the last century the atheists had sufficient opportunities to prove that they could rule more humanely than Christians, and I would just as humbly inquire how many more chances they think they deserve before we are entitled to draw our own conclusions.
By the way, I just ran across this gem from Chesterton, in The Well and the Shallows, one of his last and richest collections of essays. Contrasting ancient paganism with modernity, he observes that even the most obscene phallic cults of antiquity exalted nature and fruitfulness: It has been left to the very latest modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility.
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|Copyright © 2006 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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