George W. and that Other President from Texas
THE WANDERER, NOVEMBER 2, 2006
Hope Springs Eternal
As the off-year elections close in on us, die-hard
Republicans cling to the belief -- or hope -- that the
polls portending disaster for them are mere figments of
the liberal media. So, presumably, are all the ghastly
reports from Iraq. You know, "They never report the
positive developments," such as the rise of a vibrant
democracy, the popularity of the American occupation, and
Well, we can all agree that =somebody= is indulging
in wishful thinking. And the Bush administration is
sufficiently in touch with reality to announce that it is
dropping the slogan "Stay the course" -- indeed, denying
that it has ever used these words. I guess my old memory
is deceiving me again. My impression is that the
president has used them rather insistently, but I won't
insist on the point.
Let us also tactfully forget the Bush version of the
Domino Theory: that after the overthrow of Saddam
Hussein, democracy would spread contagiously across the
Mideast and beyond, in a "global democratic revolution."
He spoke of abolishing tyranny itself -- everywhere. Two
of his neoconservative supporters, Richard Perle and
David Frum, foresaw nothing less than "an end to evil."
Heady talk. With all due respect to this
administration's foreign policy wizardry, this was a bit
much. Some of us gloomier types, not all of us liberals,
suspected that evil might be sticking around awhile
longer. After all, it has quite a track record, and has
successfully resisted earlier attempts to eradicate it.
Many now compare Bush to Lyndon Johnson, who was
also ruined when he presided over a misconceived war. But
there is this difference: Johnson inherited his war from
John Kennedy. Vietnam wasn't his idea. But the Iraq war
has been Bush's project, from conception to execution.
The Anglican bishop Richard Whately, teacher and
mentor of John Henry Newman, once wrote, "He who is
unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his
knowledge." Golden words! Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld was making the same point, in a way, when he
distinguished between "the known unknowns" and "the
This is the Information Age, and it is fatally easy
to forget that no matter how many data you collect, no
matter how many experts you consult, there remains an
intractable area of mystery and unpredictability.
Conservatives, once scornful of social engineering and
nation-building, used to warn of the unintended
consequences of government action. The lesson applies to
war as well as ambitious domestic programs.
But Rumsfeld apparently forgot this, and the unknown
unknowns of making war are proving to be the
administration's downfall. If it still wants to insist
that the Iraq war is going well, it seems not to be
persuading many voters. The test is simple. Many people
who used to believe in the war have ceased to believe in
it; can you name any who used to be pessimistic about it
who have lately become optimistic? All the movement has
been in one direction.
This is reflected in the way Republicans seeking
reelection are shying away from the war and distancing
themselves from Bush. They sense what is coming in
November: not only a reversal of their gains in 1994, but
maybe the worst debacle they have faced since 1932. So
much for Karl Rove's dream of making the War on Terror
the foundation of lasting Republican dominance.
If there is any consolation or silver lining, it is
that this time the Democrats have little positive to
offer. Their only real strength is that they are not the
Republicans. They have no Franklin Roosevelt to rally the
masses, only Illinois's bland and inoffensive young
Barack Obama, who may seek the presidency during his
first term in the Senate -- hardly the makings of a
One symptom of the administration's troubles is the
disaffection of its base, the religious right of
Protestant evangelicals. A powerful blow has been
delivered by David Kuo, a disillusioned former official
of Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives who has
written a book about his disappointment with Bush's
circle, TEMPTING FAITH: AN INSIDE STORY OF POLITICAL
Kuo speaks well of Bush himself, but charges the
Republicans with cynical and contemptuous deception of
the evangelicals. Somehow the money for those
"faith-based initiatives" was never forthcoming. The
word "seduction" tells us eloquently how these people
feel they have been used. Kuo's book is less important
in itself (in either sales or readership) than as an
indication of evangelical sentiment, and it is receiving
a lot of media attention.
Of course one has limited pity for anyone who
expects to receive money from the government, especially
when it comes by means of unconstitutional programs. But
let's not forget that Kuo and his allies have done their
own part to make conservatism synonymous with big
government. Bush couldn't have done it alone.
For the last century, expanding the federal
government, especially the executive branch, has been
chiefly a project of Democratic presidents: Woodrow
Wilson, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Johnson. No
longer. Bush has been a match for any of them. Yet he has
also abstained from using the chief presidential power to
check federal growth: the veto.
Now, like his father, Bush has left his conservative
base feeling betrayed. This is most definitely not what
they bargained for when they supported him.
Will v. Aquinas
"Not since the medieval church baptized, as it were,
Aristotle as some sort of early -- very early -- church
father has there been such an intellectual hijacking as
audacious as the attempt to present America's principal
founders as devout Christians." Thus George Will in THE
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. Leave it to lofty George to
take a cheap shot at both the Catholic Church and
St. Thomas Aquinas in the same breath.
Well, as I understand it, the Church neither
"baptized" the Philosopher nor claimed him as a "Church
father." Some Catholic theologians, most notably Aquinas,
found his philosophy illuminating, as earlier theologians
(St. Augustine, for example) had long found Plato's and
others' philosophies -- a step that was controversial
enough, since the archbishop of Paris ordered Aquinas's
At any rate, it's a little absurd to call such
drawing on pre-Christian thought "intellectual
hijacking," as if it were a form of plagiarism or
otherwise unethical, as Will suggests. Nobody was so
"audacious" as to pretend that Aristotle was a Christian;
and of course all serious thinkers have debts to their
predecessors. If he hadn't been so intent on attempting a
clever sneer, Will might have realized this.
+ + +
"Lincoln has been deified as surely as any Roman
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