Emmett Tyrrell

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.

The Piazza San Pietro was experiencing the whirl, too. Yes, there were great schools of pious Christians swimming across the Piazza's old gray stones and into the great cathedral, but it seemed there were lunatics everywhere. Seated next to a bored cop was a fat greasy man in his early 30s dressed only in a T-shirt, a pink diaper and a baby's bonnet. A demented woman carrying a bird cage was howling to the crowd. There were many others -- dirty, tired-looking hippies from earlier in the decade now burned out and vacant. Several months later an obscure Polish cardinal would be elected pope. Over the next few years, the chaos of the Piazza receded. The idiot whirl of the Western world receded, too. True, the narcissistic contingent of American politicians about to descend on St. Peter's to exploit John Paul II's funeral will return zaniness to the Vatican for a few hours, but then it will be back to normal.

 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.

Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
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