My friend Joe Sobran died last Thursday, and the world lost its greatest writer.
To my delight, some obituaries noted that he had influenced my writing style. I only wish I had known he was so close to the end so I could have seen him again to let him influence me some more.
The G.K. Chesterton of our time, Joe could deliver a knockout punch with a single line. Many of his aphorisms were so catchy that everyone repeats them now without realizing their provenance.
It was Joe who came up with the apocryphal New York Times headline: "New York Destroyed by Earthquake; Women and Minorities Hit Hardest."
Joe created the phrase "strange new respect" to describe the sudden warm admiration the media have for any conservative who becomes a liberal.
In the '80s, Bill Buckley suggested that AIDS sufferers be required to get tattoos on their buttocks to protect other gays. As all hell broke loose over his proposal, Sobran simply suggested that it might borrow from Dante: "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
I've recently been telling a friend who talked me into agreeing to an interview with the Times that I wouldn't be mad at him no matter what the Times does to me because "your enemies can never hurt you, only your friends can." I remember now that it was Sobran who told me that, years ago, in reference to his treatment by Buckley.
Ironically perhaps, I've often used a Sobran observation to explain why I have a greater affinity to Israel than to the Muslim world after 9/11: Watching a death-match fight on Animal Planet once, Joe said he found himself instinctively rooting for the mammal over the reptile.
Joe was comically immune to group-think. Every Christian should be, but with Joe it was nearly pathological.
A Shakespeare expert, Joe became convinced that the real author was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Among his vast trove of evidence were the sonnets, some of which clearly expressed love for another man.
When Joe was writing what became "Alias Shakespeare," he used to tell me he was going to title the book: "He's Here, He's Queer, He's Edward de Vere!"
Reading through some of his columns after he died and being reminded of what an eloquent writer Joe was, I realized that the best tribute would be to quote him extensively.
As Joe himself said: "I note that my enemies have written a great deal about me, yet they rarely quote me directly. Why not? If I am so disreputable myself, I must at least occasionally say disreputable things. Is it possible that what I say is more cogent than they like to admit?"