The Urge to Surge

     The Democrats have assumed control of both houses of 
Congress, with preposterously exaggerated celebration of 
the "historic" fact that Nancy Pelosi is the first female 
speaker of the House. Why this is considered such a 
milestone I fail to understand. It's not as if women in 
politics were a novelty, as, say, women in pro football 
would be. Franklin Roosevelt appointed a woman to his 
cabinet, and nobody thought it was terribly remarkable.

     The last time we saw such a silly fuss was in 1984, 
when Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his 
running mate. By a remarkable coincidence, Ferraro too 
was a Democrat, Italian, Catholic, and vociferously 

     When was the last time the media got excited about 
an anti-abortion politician? Sometimes politics is almost 
too depressing to think about. As President Bush pushes 
for a "surge" (the new word for escalation) in the war in 
Iraq, the new Democratic Congress appears disposed to 
treat him like bad weather -- that is, to complain but 
not to do anything about him.

     Pelosi is typical: She favors "supporting" the 
troops who are already there while verbally opposing the 
war. That way Bush gets all the blame but nothing really 
changes, nicely setting the stage for the Democrats in 

     There are no good options in Iraq now, nor even the 
illusion thereof. Sally Quinn of THE WASHINGTON POST 
argues for an immediate U.S. withdrawal in a poignant 
way: She recalls how, as a little girl, she shared a 
hospital plane with severely wounded soldiers from the 
Korean war: "I remember ... the soldiers screaming in 
pain and crying out for their mothers.... Many of them 
were amputees. Some had no stomachs, some had no faces."

     The Democrats are also planning a flurry of early 
legislation -- raising the minimum wage and so forth -- 
so, between them and Bush, we must not look for smaller 
government soon.

     I do not think Bush has been the worst American 
president ever. But he may prove to be one of the hardest 
to clean up after.

Say It Again, Sam

     It has been nearly a year since my old friend Sam 
Francis died, and he is missed. [Website editor's note: 
It has been nearly two years. Joe corrects his error in 
next week's column.] Not by everyone, to be sure: One 
neoconservative crowed that his death had left this 
country a better place. Gracious people, those neocons. 
But those of us who valued Sam's unique eye and voice 
will welcome a new collection of his essays, SHOTS FIRED: 
Gemma (FGF Books, Vienna, Va.,; 
1-877-SAM-0058). Reading it is like having Sam back with 
us for a little while.

     The neocons had plenty of reason to loathe Sam. The 
feeling was mutual. Though he was a robust critic of 
liberalism and was unsparing of the Clinton 
administration, these pieces reveal him as an even more 
severe critic of the second Bush administration (not that 
he much cared for the first) and especially of the 
"neocon mafia" that nestled within it. Sam's way with the 
sharp phrase is shown by his jab at "neoconservative sex 
god Irving Kristol." His humor and insight are here, as 
well as his vigor and elegance of expression. I can't 
resist quoting his sardonic description of politics as 
"the high art and science of fooling some of the people 
some of the time."

     Sam was right early and often. He saw the follies of 
the Republican Party, and he saw how it was changing for 
the worse. He didn't have to wait for the Iraq war to go 
bad or for public opinion to turn against it to tell us 
what was wrong with it. It had disaster written all over 
it, and he wouldn't be at all surprised at how it has 
gone over the past year.

     But after all, these are current topics; and Sam's 
purview wasn't confined to the ephemeral. In this book we 
also find the Sam Francis who never shrank from a good 
cause, even if it was a lost cause; who could think and 
write boldly on debates most people assume were finished 
long ago: on the Civil War, on slavery, on Lincoln (whom 
he sees as essentially "a small-town politico" rather 
than a far-seeing statesman).

     Though such short quotations are fun, they don't 
convey the quality of Sam's deeper analyses of history 
and politics. In these he follows his intellectual hero, 
James Burnham, a maverick conservative who has been 
absurdly called "the first neoconservative." (Burnham 
would have shared Sam's view of the neocons.)

     Sam was even more pessimistic than his master. 
History, to his mind, had no tendency to reach happy 
endings, and most of the things others called "progress" 
he viewed as ambiguous at best, degenerate at worst. He 
was a natural enemy of every form of official optimism: 
"The final and unpredictable irony of our history may be 
that we were more civilized at the beginning of it than 
at the end of it." This is the remark of a man who had 
thought long and hard about the subject, and who was 
willing to think alone.

     Sam's essential loneliness (he never married) was 
one of the most striking things about him. Even his 
humor, which could be uproarious, was never far from 
gloom. He didn't expect the truth to be consoling. He 
sought it anyway.

Key Words

     In THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, Alexander Hamilton made an 
argument for ratifying the Constitution that deserves 
more attention. The proposed Constitution, he said, would 
be superior to the (unwritten) British constitution in 
this respect: It would be "unalterable by the 

     A simple and profound point. In Britain, freedom of 
speech or habeas corpus could be abolished by a mere act 
of Parliament; but here, so radical a change would have 
to be made by the people through the difficult process of 
amendment. What, after all, would be the use of a 
constitution if the government could change it at its own 

     Worth thinking about. We lose this advantage, as 
Jefferson pointed out, when the government is allowed to 
define the extent of its own powers. Which, alas, is what 
happens whenever the president, Congress, or the federal 
judiciary gets away with claiming wider authority on the 
pretext that the Constitution is a "living document."

     In theory, "We the People," in our Constitution, 
tell the government what powers we are "delegating" to 
them. The whole idea is stood on its head, and its 
purpose defeated, when the government tells us what its 
powers are! Why do we stand for this?

                 +          +          +                  

     As I always say, "At present, the U.S. Constitution 
poses no serious threat to our form of government." 
REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- a new selection of my 
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