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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

The Great Uniter

(Reprinted from the issue of July 12, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for The Great UniterAs soon as I heard that President Bush had commuted E. Lewis Libby’s prison sentence, in view of Libby’s “exceptional public service,” I remembered his boast: “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” Not only has partisan fury grown red-hot in Washington during his presidency; he has split his own party, much of which now wants an end to the Iraq war.

I’ve never been able to work up much passion over the Libby case; like most Americans, I’m still a bit puzzled that a grown man with a nickname like “Scooter” could achieve not only middle age, but access to the highest levels of power.

In a year and a half Bush will be a former president. He’s already being dismissed as a lame duck, especially with the embarrassing failure of his immigration bill — another party-splitter. Even though nobody knows who his successor will be, his administration is exhausted, unless of course he can start another war.

Even Richard Nixon, after being forced out of office in disgrace, managed to salvage some dignity in his last years. His intelligence was respected, he was a highly literate man, and he could write books worth pondering on foreign policy. Nobody made jokes about how stupid Nixon was.

But what will Bush do? It’s hard to imagine any positive role for him, especially with his father, who avoided his worst foreign policy blunders, still living as an implicit rebuke to his Middle Eastern folly.

The only defense I can offer for Bush is admittedly not a very effective one: “Well, he’s not as bad as Lincoln!” This theme only appeals to people who have the historical perspective to realize that Lincoln was to the American Constitution what Henry VIII was to the British one: a permanently deformative force, after whom nothing could ever be the same.

Hillary Pipes Up

Still, the Libby commutation had its funny side. On the campaign trail in Iowa, Hillary Clinton blasted Bush for blatant cronyism, apparently forgetting her own husband’s outright pardons of far more (and many more) brazen criminals than Libby. Or is she just utterly shameless?

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!In fact, it’s one measure of Bush’s failure that both Clintons are now so popular. When he was elected in 2000 and the Clintons left the White House with the furniture, who dreamed that they might, in only a few years, resume residence at1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? How has the memory of an impeachment for perjury faded so soon?

It would be just our luck if our first woman president should be one who prays to Eleanor Roosevelt. And the thought of listening to Hillary’s raucous voice for four or (gulp!) eight years!

The Lesson of JFK

The cover of the July 2 issue of Time magazine features one of our least distinguished presidents, John Kennedy, with a worshipful spread on “what we can learn from JFK.” One of the headings is “what candidates should say about faith.” The essay, by Nancy Gibbs, offers just the kind of spiritual guidance Rudy Giuliani craves.

Kennedy “wore his religion lightly.” Well, yes. No mention of his constant and cynical adulteries, apparently unmixed with even a particle of real affection for the women he used; all Gibbs can marvel at is his adroit political use of his utterly nominal Catholicism, with a quick and vague reference to his “spiritual journey.”

Kennedy supposedly won the presidency in 1960 by overcoming anti-Catholic bigotry, but his opponent, Nixon, shrewdly foresaw what was actually to happen: “He told his close advisers that he thought Kennedy’s religion would hurt him only in states he wasn’t going to win anyway and help him in the swing states he needed.” In the end, Kennedy got 78% of the Catholic vote and became the first Catholic U.S. president. He remains a great symbol of American Catholicism.

Why St. Paul Wasn’t Rich

I’ve been studying and pondering Christopher Hitchens’s best-seller god is not Great (refusing to capitalize “God” is part of its cheekiness), and I think the book is best understood as a spoof. Hitchens is far too intelligent to believe some of the things he writes, such as that even Jesus’ historical existence is in doubt.

But there’s a big market for flamboyant atheism waiting to be tapped, and Hitchens needs to tap it. He has lost a lot of standing among intellectuals by supporting the Iraq war, and a frontal assault on religion may be just the ticket to recover it.

His hero is George Orwell, but nobody could be more different in style. Orwell is an unbeliever too, but he plays fair with the reader, never trying to rush or bully. With Hitchens the reader is never quite sure what he’s jeering at; he’s displaying his attitudes, not giving reasons.

Cynical though he is about religion, it’s worth pointing out that he’s likely to make a lot more money on his book than St. Paul made on his epistles. Granted, if the Apostle had gotten a perpetual copyright and lived long enough, he would have become stupendously wealthy on the royalties, but of course it didn’t quite work out that way, so Hitchens must be said to be the more successful author, at least on his own terms.


Paris Hilton seems to get more attention than any politician, and I don’t know whether that’s good news or bad. She’s a very pretty girl, but no prettier than many others who lack her wealth. And though she’s extremely rich, it seems she can’t afford the one thing available to every poor girl: self-respect.

Whatever happened to modesty? Why does Paris want a man’s first thoughts of her to be lewd thoughts? This baffles me. I really don’t see the point of living like that.

Every morning I encounter modestly dressed girls whose attraction is that their demeanor implies dignity and personality. They have a sense of their own worth that means infinitely more than any physical appeal. Some man should write a book about what good men really want in women.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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