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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Urge to Surge

(Reprinted from the issue of January 18, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Urge to SurgeThe 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 pro-abortion.

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 2008.

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: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, edited by Peter B. Gemma (FGF Books, Vienna, Va., www.shotsfired.us; 1-877-SAM-0058). Reading it is like having Sam back with us for a little while.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!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 government.”

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 pleasure?

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 Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will brighten your odd moments. We’ll send you a free copy if you subscribe to SOBRANS for one year (at $44.95). 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 © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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