SHORTLY BEFORE NOON on the day that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, I was standing in St. Peter's Square with a smart young Carmelite priest from Ireland. We were watching black smoke pour out of what, for a few days at least, was the most famous chimney in the world. That meant no Pope, yet. By chance, or perhaps thanks to the Holy Spirit's intervention, Father Simon Nolan was just the kind of Catholic who could give me faith in the Church's future. He is a philosopher who studies medieval topics, and he was orthodox, warm, and open.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."--Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981 "We have a responsibility that, when somebody hurts, government has got to move."--George W. Bush, September 1, 2003 Conservatism isn't over. But it has rarely been as confused. Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending.
Things look relatively good for the Democrats right now. Social Security privatization is practically dead, Tom DeLay is actually on the defensive, and President Bush's approval rating is below 50 percent in many polls. But then there is Phil. Phil is the cartoon star of a new political advertising campaign to preserve the filibuster--the parliamentary maneuver that allows members of the U.S. Senate to delay votes indefinitely and that has, for the last few months, enabled Democrats to prevent the full Senate from voting on a handful of conservative Bush judicial nominees.
The first of the giants of American grand strategy during the Cold War lived to be the last of the giants. When George F. Kennan died a few weeks ago at the age of 101, none of his great contemporaries was left. Truman, Marshall, Acheson, Forrestal, Harriman, Bohlen, and Lovett had all preceded him in death years ago; and even Kennan's most formidable rival on matters of policy, his longtime friend Paul Nitze, died last fall at 97. It is an appropriate moment, therefore, to assess what Kennan and his generation accomplished.
As far as titles go, it's hard to beat Pope. It's exclusive--none of that pesky power sharing that goes on amongst dukes and princesses, presidents and prime ministers. It's ancient--an uninterrupted line for nearly 2,000 years. It's expansive--one billion Catholics and counting. It's not hereditary--you really have to earn that papal miter. And, perhaps most importantly, the pontiff never wants for powerful allies--he's always on the side of the Almighty.
The White House has a new favorite Democrat. President Bush and his aides can't stop talking about a guy named Robert Pozen. The investment executive from Boston has been making the rounds at Washington editorial boards and think-tank forums flacking—what else?—a Social Security plan. Bush launched Pozen into the headlines at his March 16 news conference when, apropos of nothing, he noted that "one of the interesting ideas [on Social Security] was by this fellow—by a Democrat economist, name of Pozen.
Much of the press coverage of the Schiavo case focused on a now-familiar split within the Republican Party between social conservatives—who insisted nothing mattered more than prolonging Terri Schiavo's life—and anti-government libertarians, who tut-tutted about the Republican leadership's encroachment on local autonomy.
If Terri Schiavo will have been a martyr for any cause, it will be for the cause of moral reflection in America. This is not obvious, of course. The Schiavo "debate" has constituted one of the great degradations in modern American life. This controversy about virtue in America has been a perfect storm of American vices, as our grand national traditions of sanctimony and publicity combined to make a mockery of reasoned deliberation about difficult problems. And yet, the paradoxical effect of this rank and inescapable spectacle has been to incite an entire population to thought.
If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others. He pursued his goal obstinately, they would say, without filtering his thoughts through the medical research establishment. And he didn't share his research with competing labs and thus caused resentment among other scientists who didn't have the resources or the bold—perhaps even somewhat reckless-—instincts to pursue the task as he did.
Last week, at a conference convened in Washington by the freshly formed Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration (JCCCR), the enemy operated under many different aliases.