THE AIR ABOUT THEM THICK WITH CONSPIRACY, with whispering in corners, and every man feeling out his colleague for his secret leanings, Brutus asks Lucilius how he has been received by Cassius and is told: "With courtesy and with respect enough, but not with such familiar instances, nor with such free and friendly conference, as he hath used of old." "Thou hast described a hot friend cooling," replies Brutus. "Ever note, Lucilius, when love begins to sicken and decay, it useth an enforced ceremony. There are no tricks in plain and simple faith. But hollow men, like horses hot at hand, make gallant show and promise of their mettle. But when they should endure the bloody spur, they fall their crests and like deceitful jades sink in the trial" (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar).
I felt a hot friend cooling the day President Bush came to Pennsylvania to bolster the sagging campaign of Arlen Specter. The 74-year-old, four-term, pro-abortion, pork-larding, moderate Republican senator was opposed, like Goliath against a shepherd boy, by 42-year-old U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, as solidly pro-life as he is conservative.
The president's heart wasn't in it, of course. His proclamations of affection, endlessly aired in Specter reelection committee radio spots during the weeks before the primary, had the feel of damp praise, sounding more like the work of a ventriloquist. This is no affaire de coeur for the conservative Mr. Bush, it's clear. But of what, then? Noblesse oblige? (The traditional courtesy of supporting incumbents-especially incumbents who will happen to chair the incomparably important Judiciary Committee.) Quid pro quo? (Has the senator who slew Robert Bork in 1987 promised a friendlier reception to Mr. Bush's future judicial nominees in exchange for a helping hand now? Would you trust him?)
This is risky business, Brutus. If you want to talk Iraq and quagmires, recall the days of "embedded reporting," when CNN found itself in bed with Iraq's more unsavory elements, a moral sticky wicket in which the news organization thought to trade a modicum of morality for access. As chief news executive Eason Jordan later admitted to The New York Times, CNN systematically covered up major news stories on human-rights abuses under Saddam's regime, ostensibly for the long-term greater good of being better positioned to expose future major new stories on human-rights abuses under Saddam's regime. A curious circularity.
Life through the looking glass and inside the Beltway is no doubt its own arcane culture, which the uninitiated like myself do well to refrain from judging hastily. But it would take more political sophistication than many of us can muster to understand that you need to back a pro-choicer in order to promote a pro-life agenda. Sounds too much like "Why not do evil that good may come?" (Romans 3:8). Meanwhile a true brother in the faith is left to twist in the wind, and the simpleminded faithful stumble. Conservatives who had forgiven the president's recent liberal economic dalliances on the grounds that he is at least pro-life may feel like they're running out of reasons.
Christians close to the president might remind him that the Bible has lots to say about people who thought to "help" God with their strategies-Abraham taking his wife's maid to expedite the promise of an heir, King Saul helping out by offering sacrifice before war when Samuel seemed to be running late. Even Moses, friend of God, "helps" water from a rock, thereby denying God the glory of a greater miracle: "Because you did not believe Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Numbers 20:12).
King David, "man after God's own heart," is famous for two sins, adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Less talked about is the time when the usually steadfast truster of God-the one who forswore to kill Saul in the cave though he had the chance, and Abigail's fool of a husband though he had the power-succumbed to a moment of shaky faith to have his army counted by Abner, a shameful placing of trust in resources rather than God (2 Samuel 24). The results were unpleasant.
Sen. Specter has won-clout over principle. But at what cost? What is true victory? Where does this end? No one is allowed to know the might-have-beens, as Aslan was heard to tell Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Christian is called to be both innocent and shrewd (Matthew 10:16). May the Lord raise up leaders who excel in both. And may those who start out serving Him never become hot friends cooling.