WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the spring of 1978, I was in Rome on a glorious sunny morning, and after my matutinal coffee I strolled up the Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's for a visit. As I recorded in "The Conservative Crack-Up" over a decade later, it was a time of "idiot whirl." Suggestive of the whirl, that pert ignoramus, Jimmy Carter, was dithering through the last years of his idiot presidency. Inflation was singeing the dollars in our pockets. Industries were failing. America was derided around the world. There were new fanatics everywhere and crazy suicidal cults. The Rev. Jim Jones had just led 900 or so of his faithful to their poisonings.
After this pope and all the history made since the late 1970s by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and their confused Marxist-Leninist accomplice, Mikhail Gorbachev, the world is a saner place, albeit still troubled. The day Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II, Richard Nixon, still in disgrace, was visiting London. When informed of the Polish cardinal's surprising election, Nixon speculated to members of Parliament in the House of Commons that here might be the "spark" to ignite the forces of freedom against Soviet domination throughout what was then called Eastern Europe. Pope John Paul did that and much more, as every obituary has affirmed.