In spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. And why not? We've finally come around winter's corner here in New York. The last bits of snow, hiding in the shadowed folds of the buildings, have finally melted. The girls are no longer wrapped up in parkas like polar bears. The paths of Central Park are beginning to fill again with the traditional swirl of bicycles, baby carriages, joggers, and strolling bank tellers. Mayor Bloomberg is spotted limousining down Park Avenue. The doormen start to risk putting out the geraniums. A poll names Rudy Giuliani the Republican front-runner for president. A spring like any other, you might say.
It's his occasional surrenders to a New York-kind of spring feeling that will probably keep the much-married Rudy Giuliani from the presidency, assuming he is actually running. The divorce papers in which his second wife accused him of "open and notorious adultery," for instance. Reagan was the only divorced president we've had so far, and it's unlikely the nation is ready for a man on wife number three, and counting.
Meanwhile, Bill Frist won the SRLC straw poll down in Memphis this weekend with 36.9%. Of course, it was held in his neck of the woods, and he needed to win itnot to look good, but just to keep from looking bad. Does Frist have what it takes to get elected president? He does look the most likely, right now: accepted by the base, which a candidate needs to get through the primaries, but not yet demonized as a raging right-winger by the mainstream press.
Someone like John McCain looks likely to stumble in the primaries (besides being the oldest presidential candidate since, maybe, Truman's vice president Alban Barkley tried for the Democratic nomination in 1952), while Sam Brownback is too easy to turn into an ideologue in the national election. Mitt Romney and George Allen, finishing second and third in the straw poll with 14.4% and 10.3%, are other possibilitiesboth capable of getting through the primaries and then hanging on to a national win.
The problem for all the Republican candidates is the social conservative vote: They can't win without it, but they can't win solely with it, either. The conventional wisdom in political circles these days is a general but containable defeat for the Republicans in this year's congressional elections: a net loss of two or three Senate seats and seven or eight House seats, meaning the Republicans receive a setback but retain control of the Congress. That result is supposed to set up 2008 as either the completed defeat of the Republicans or their chastened return to power. Given that President Bush can't realistically fall much lower in the polls, it's probably a rebound by the Republicanswhich may help a Republican presidential candidate get past someone like Mrs. Clinton.
Ah, well, who knows? It's reading tea leaves, at this point, or trying to guess the color of the flower from the first green bud after winter. Or maybe it's just that in spring an old man's fancy ponderously turns to thoughts of politics. On the whole, I'd rather be in Central Park.
In addition to which:
"Theology's Continental Captivity" is a spirited essay by R.R. Reno in the April issue of FIRST THINGS. Theologians take to Martin Heidegger and his many philosophical offspring because they ask the "really big questions" about life, death, meaning, being, nothingness, etc. etc. But the Anglo-American analytical tradition in philosophy has the distinct merit of being seriously interested in what is true, in more ordinary (and solid) understandings of truth. That brief summary hardly does justice to the care and complexity of Reno's thesis, which should stir a lively discussion about the place of theology in intellectual discourse. Isn't it time for you to become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS?
Some of you have been very patient in waiting. There was confusion about the publication date of Father Neuhaus' new book. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School says of Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth:
"The author of The Catholic Moment has done it again. From its opening meditation on the death of the Pope that Neuhaus was one of the first to call 'the Great,' to the closing notes on the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, this beguiling book brings the reader into conversation on the current state of the Church with one of the great Catholic thinkers of our time. No one is better than Father Neuhaus at reminding us why, even in times of confusion and controversy, it's a joy to be Catholic!"
The book can be ordered from Amazon here.