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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch


(Reprinted from the issue of April 26, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for MassacreSo far this week the news is being made a little south of Washington, at Virginia Tech, where a Korean student went berserk and murdered 32 people, then killed himself. It’s being called “the worst mass murder in American history” (not counting Waco, I guess).

Horrible as such incidents are, I wish we could let them pass without affecting national grief over them, and without our politicians and pundits assuming the roles of pastors and “grief counselors.” The grief belongs to the victims’ families, and nobody else should try to appropriate it.

Yet President Bush, visiting the school the day after these stunning crimes, spoke piously, wisely, and without cant.

Revving Up

Now that the phony rape charges against those three Duke lacrosse players have been dropped — my, college life (let’s not forget Rutgers) is eventful these days! — will the Reverend Sharpton demand that their accuser be fired from her job, like Don Imus?

Of course Sharpton himself is even worse than the disgraced prosecutor in the Duke case, Mike Nifong. At least Nifong was finally forced to apologize; Sharpton still stands by the phony rape charges he made in the Tawana Brawley case; and whereas Nifong may well be disbarred and even prosecuted for a crime, the Rev is in no imminent danger of being defrocked.

But his 15 minutes of fame may be over at last — about 15 years too late.

Bush and the Catholic Neocons

Neoconservatives have been likened to skunks: They can stink you up for a while, but in the end, everyone knows the odor is theirs. This may somewhat limit the harm they can do. They’ve made it hard to remember that they have ever done any good.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!For one subset of neocons I feel something like pity: the Catholic neocons, many of whom I have known personally. By supporting the Iraq war, they have allowed themselves to be put into an awkward and compromising position. We must ask bluntly, Do they really want to be used against the Church and the Popes?

In his authorized biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel criticizes His Holiness for his opposition to both American wars against Iraq. I must say that it would make me uneasy to have said such things about the Pope, especially in the light of those wars’ unhappy results.

Another Catholic neocon, Michael Novak, has been critical of both John Paul II and now Benedict XVI for their views on the current Iraq war. In early 2003, before the war had begun, after flying to Rome in a vain effort to set the Vatican straight, Novak argued that Saddam Hussein was capable of “devastating” London, Paris, or Chicago and, invoking St. Augustine, that Catholic principles of just warfare might well give the United States a “moral obligation” to invade Iraq and topple its government.

Lately Novak has scolded Benedict for his Easter message saying that nothing good has come of the Iraq war. He seems to equate Benedict with mere secular European critics of this country. (For those who may suspect I exaggerate, Novak’s articles on these matters can be found on National Review Online.) And in a long interview in Crisis magazine, which he founded, Novak expounds on neoconservatism without mentioning the Iraq war at all! It would seem he is in no mood to celebrate the neocons’ most famous achievement.

Can anyone seriously believe, or even imagine, that Christ would blame these two Popes for urging peace? It would be presumptuous enough to claim the Lord for old-fashioned conservatism. But for neoconservatism?

The neocons argue ingeniously — over-ingeniously, it seems to me — that the decision to go to war must be referred to the “prudential judgment” of “legitimate authorities.” But that can hardly be the end of it. The prudence and judgment, not to mention the morality, of our authorities are precisely what millions of thoughtful people have come to question; and those millions have pre-eminently included the last two Popes and other Catholics, laymen, clergymen, and hierarchs, who command respect.

“Legitimate authorities” doesn’t necessarily mean a monarch, or a president; under the U.S. Constitution, it also means Congress, which decides when to declare war, and which may decide that it, or the president, has acted imprudently. Congress and the people are moving into alignment with the Popes and, yes, most Europeans on this; and though in this respect we are all fallible, still, as Samuel Johnson observed, “About things on which the public thinks long it commonly attains to think right.”

That is the very voice of Christian common sense, the consensus fidelium.

How many serious Christians originally had qualms about the war, but over the past four years have become persuaded of its wisdom and justice? Hasn’t virtually all the motion been in the opposite direction?

It’s weird that so many Catholics are promoting George W. Bush’s fundamentalist Armageddon agenda. I suspect that Bush’s war policy has very little to do with just war theory, considerations of prudence, or St. Augustine, and everything to do with an occult and fanatical eschatology he hasn’t told the public about.

Patricia Buckley RIP

C.S. Lewis said of his friend Charles Williams that when he died, it was the idea of death, not Williams, that seemed to have changed. I felt almost that way when I heard that Pat Buckley, Bill’s wife, had died this week at 80.

We’d known it was coming. I hadn’t seen her in many years, but I’d heard she’d been suffering the most agonizing kind of arthritis. Unremitting torment. The end was inevitable but still unbelievable.

Pat was the most forceful woman I ever knew, a tall, striking, raucously funny lioness, intimidating (though she didn’t mean to be) until you got to know her. The only child of the richest tycoon in Canada, she was that rarity in America (see Tocqueville), a woman who never had to please anyone. Oh, was she blunt! Feminists would wither in her presence. But her fearlessness was a tonic. You could see why Bill loved to play with her, the lion-tamer who loved her wildness.

She and Bill were married for over half a century, and their son Christopher is one of America’s most successful satirists. She bawled me out when I panned his first book in her husband’s magazine after all the other reviewers had praised it. “Pat,” I teased her, “National Review was the only magazine with the guts to take that book on.” Bill roared with delight; trying to look stern at my insolence, she smiled in spite of herself.

She dominated New York’s high society, seeming to run most of its charities. The gossip columnists doted on her, despite the total lack of scandal in her life. That city won’t be the same now.

Eventual grief is the price of every love, so there is no way I could offer Bill the consolation I wish him. But then, that’s what families are for.

“Is the phenomenon of global warming better described as solar warming?” Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will provoke thoughts and smiles. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS, 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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