The Long View 2004-02-04: When the Vampire Speaks

Bill Clinton in Qatar in 2004

Bill Clinton in Qatar in 2004

Bill Clinton's visit to U.S.-Islamic World Forum in 2004 is a good reminder that there isn't really that much difference between the two American parties on foreign policy.

[Bill Clinton] told his audience that had he been president when the September 11 attacks occurred, he would have followed a course identical to that of his successor. He praised President Bush for trying to convince Muslims that America's war on terror is not a war against Islam. And despite all of the baiting during a question and answer session, Clinton never blamed the Bush administration for its many policy missteps. Instead, he called on his audience to bring about a "free, independent, stable, and representative government in Iraq"...[He scolded the crowd that blaming others for their own failings was useless and destructive.] It is a message few Americans could deliver to Muslim leaders -- to a standing ovation.

Here are some interesting off-hand comments about the 2004 papal conclave:

Weigel points out that, at the next conclave to elect a pope, the cardinals will not divide along the liberal-conservative lines that religion journalists write about in the US. In the context of Catholic orthodoxy, there really isn't more than one possible opinion about abortion or the ordination of women. The cardinals will have serious prudential matters to talk about, however:
Collapsing Catholicism in Europe The collapse here is not just in church attendance, but in the populations that are supposed to attend. It's hard to start a religious revival on a dying continent. To me, this suggests that the cardinals would have to look at new ways to support natalism. They will also have to reconsider whether the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council did far more harm than good. The next pope is not going to endorse gay marriage; he may well endorse a Latin liturgy.
Radical Islam The penny seems to have dropped that some elements of modern Islam just can't be dialogued with. I was about to write "No one wants a Crusade," but I am not so sure. At the very least, one would expect some attention to the evangelization of Muslims in Christian countries.
Biotechnology There is a European phobia about this that I have always had trouble grasping. The really interesting point will be whether the theologization of environmentalism continues. I would suggest that would be a mistake, but then no one has asked me to attend the meeting.

This guess about the character of the then future Pope Benedict XVI was pretty good.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI


When the Vampire Speaks

 

The Democratic presidential primaries have now reached the point where only one question remains: is there any way that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts can fail to get the nomination? The dynamics of the race are now wholly in his favor: almost all the organized money is flowing his way, and the media is following him as a real front-runner. In that he is more fortunate than Howard Dean, who from first to last was treated as a popular-culture phenomenon. Nonetheless, we should not forget the wisdom of Edgar Frog in The Lost Boys (1987), who had this explanation for his rapid retreat from a nest of sleeping vampires:

We had no choice! They pulled the Mind Scramble on us! They opened their eyes and talked!

John Kerry is ahead because he looks, and no doubt is, serious. His seriousness is so profound that it is hard to remember anything he actually says. This is his talent as a politician. The danger is that he has rarely benefited from close attention to his words.

Senator Kerry's record in Vietnam outclasses the martial credentials of any serious contender for the presidency since Theodore Roosevelt. This leaves him free to act as an avatar of anti-American transnationalism. The same pattern runs through his whole life: he gets a credential to deflect criticism from what otherwise would be a vulnerable position. His economic populism might seem threatening to investors and entrepreneurs, had he not taken the trouble to become a Bonesman at Yale. He opposes gay marriage, but also voted against the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. Most recently, of course, he voted for the resolution that made the Iraq War possible, but now is campaigning on the proposition that the war was a mistake, and was always obviously a mistake.

Consistency is not that much of a factor in the general election; in November, people vote on the the basis of the candidate's perceived character. However, consistency really does matter in primaries, where the voters are much more likely to be unforgiving ideologues and over-informed news junkies. So, it's possible that John Kerry will utter some show-stopper in the next few days that will put Wesley Clark or John Edwards back in play. The window is closing fast, however.

* * *

Speaking of confrontations with uncongenial realities, Mary Eberstadt has an opinion piece in the February issue of First Things that puts the gay phenomenon in perspective. The essay, entitled "The Family: Discovering the Obvious," points out that homosexual marriage is the only context in which open opposition to the traditional family survives:

That is a major transformation in public life. Only twenty-five years ago, not only the acceptance but the active ideological defense of [heterosexual single-parent households] was the intellectual norm among secular educated people. Divorce, it was commonly argued then, is not only a human right but actually better for the child. One parent was said to be as good as two...Today, by contrast, they are all playing defense. Whether they like it or not, whether they begrudge the fact or not, most people in the public square have been brought around to recognizing the truth of this proposition: the traditional family, despite its problems, it is nonetheless the best arrangement yet contrived for raising children.

As for the gay exception, she makes this prediction:

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask why, if being gay is cause for celebration, gay boys and men continue to kill themselves at significantly higher rates than do heterosexuals. Sooner or later, someone is going to wonder why, despite society's open arms, virtually every study of gay mental health shows higher rates of depression, alcoholism, sexual addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, and the rest.

This is the evidence ignored by, for example, judges who place children in gay-headed households. It is also the evidence ignored by everyone who argues that homosexuality has nothing to do with sex scandals involving young boys. It is also the evidence that will not go away. The empirical reality of much gay life contradicts the rhetoric of virtual normality; and eventually, it seems safe to predict, the twain will meet.

Not to belabor the point, but the whole gay phenomenon is starting to look like the Internet bubble at the beginning of 2000, when AOL was briefly worth more than all the stars in the sky. To switch metaphors: the Hindenburg is almost above Lakehurst, and Fritz is about to sneak a quick smoke next to a leaky gasbag on the afterdeck.

* * *

This is not to say that there is no life after the bubble bursts. Bill Clinton, despite the trail of slime he left on his exit from the White House, is turning into a useful ex-president. In the February 9 issue of The Weekly Standard, Marc Ginsberg, a former US ambassador to Morocco, recounts how the president emeritus saved American's bacon during the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, which was hosted in Qatar in January. The meeting brought together journalists and politicians from all over the Muslim world, as well as members of the Western press. Some high-ranking Bush Administration officials were also supposed to attend, but backed out when Bill Clinton agreed to come. No matter:

[Bill Clinton] told his audience that had he been president when the September 11 attacks occurred, he would have followed a course identical to that of his successor. He praised President Bush for trying to convince Muslims that America's war on terror is not a war against Islam. And despite all of the baiting during a question and answer session, Clinton never blamed the Bush administration for its many policy missteps. Instead, he called on his audience to bring about a "free, independent, stable, and representative government in Iraq"...[He scolded the crowd that blaming others for their own failings was useless and destructive.] It is a message few Americans could deliver to Muslim leaders -- to a standing ovation.

As Tacitus said of the unfortunate Emperor Galba: "by general consent, the most fit to rule, had he not ruled."

* * *

A friend sent me this link to a piece by George Weigel, A Crossroad for the Catholic Church. It appeared in yesterday's Washington Post: it's the sort of thing that The New York Times just will not publish anymore, even as an Op Ed.

Weigel points out that, at the next conclave to elect a pope, the cardinals will not divide along the liberal-conservative lines that religion journalists write about in the US. In the context of Catholic orthodoxy, there really isn't more than one possible opinion about abortion or the ordination of women. The cardinals will have serious prudential matters to talk about, however:

Collapsing Catholicism in Europe The collapse here is not just in church attendance, but in the populations that are supposed to attend. It's hard to start a religious revival on a dying continent. To me, this suggests that the cardinals would have to look at new ways to support natalism. They will also have to reconsider whether the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council did far more harm than good. The next pope is not going to endorse gay marriage; he may well endorse a Latin liturgy.

Radical Islam The penny seems to have dropped that some elements of modern Islam just can't be dialogued with. I was about to write "No one wants a Crusade," but I am not so sure. At the very least, one would expect some attention to the evangelization of Muslims in Christian countries.

Biotechnology There is a European phobia about this that I have always had trouble grasping. The really interesting point will be whether the theologization of environmentalism continues. I would suggest that would be a mistake, but then no one has asked me to attend the meeting.

For myself, I am reluctant to speculate about the Conclave. Over the years, too many people who have written about the passing of John Paul II have been called by their Maker for closer consultations.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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