Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

David Brooks and social security reform

This sounds like good advice:

The president’s role - at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after - will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn’t need to say what the legislation should look like. That’s too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it’s values.

Here are some of the values he might endorse:

First, Social Security reform should liberate our kids, not shackle them. It should eliminate the fiscal overhang so they have the money to tackle the problems that will arise in their own day.

Second, the reform should be transparent, so that people can see what kind of return they are getting on the money they put into the system. People should have information about their own lives.

Third, it should enhance people’s control over their own retirement. In a self-governing democracy, citizens should do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

Fourth, people should be encouraged to work longer. In an age in which many live into their 90’s, we should be making better use of people in their 70’s and 80’s.

Fifth, we need a savings revolution. The plan should encourage the nation to save more, to create more capital for America’s future greatness.

This is a time to trust the legislative process. Social Security has a better chance of passage if Congress leads. It’s also time to think big. Social Security reform plus tax reform go a long way toward getting you to an ownership society.

Read the whole thing.


All That is Old is Newdow Again

Everyone’s favorite atheist, Michael Newdow, who sued challenging "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, is at it again. This time, AP reports that he is challenging the offering of any prayer at the Presidential inauguration. After succeeding in the 9th Circuit on his "under God" challenge, the Supreme Court slapped him down for lack of standing. But don’t count on his case getting that far this time. This suit has been appropriately (at least as a jurisdictional matter) brought within the confines of the DC Circuit--a circuit which is less prone to the LSD flashbacks that too often masquerade as 9th Circuit opinions. Anyone needing more convincing of the lack of merit attendant to Newdow’s latest challenge need only read the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers, in which the Supreme Court upheld Nebraska’s policy of paying a Judeo-Christian chaplain to offer a prayer to open the legislative session.

Update: Rehnquist Will Not Sit Next Week

AP is reporting that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will not participate in oral arguments when the Supreme Court returns next week "because of continuing secretions caused by his tracheotomy and radiation therapy." He nonetheless is still participating in the cases, and still plans to administer the oath of office to the President on January 20th--health permitting.

Campus diversity, yet again

Winfield Myers offers a nice summary of the latest on campus diversity, or lack thereof, here. There are lots of good links.

I’ve said my piece before here, here, and here.

President Bush’s speechwriters

Here’s a story in Newsweek reporting on a change in President Bush’s speechwriting staff. The big news, not yet formally announced: Michael Gerson is moving into a policy position and so will not be directly involved in the day-to-day speechwriting tasks. Newsweek presents this as a major loss of the President, comparing Gerson to Peggy Noonan and Theodore Sorensen in the pantheon of presidential speechwriters and implying that the religious undertones in Bush’s speeches may be absent in the future.

Ramesh Ponnuru in yesterday’s NRO’s "The Corner" (scroll down a bit) doesn’t think so:

[T]hey’ll have McGurn’s religious undertones instead--just read his recent articles for NRO or First Things or the New York Post and you’ll see that he is not so far off from Gerson’s (or Bush’s) understanding of the proper role of religious language in public life.

If you want some insight into the mind of McGurn, you could look here, here, here, here, and here.

Hat tip: Democracy Project.

News Flash for Specter: Cabinet Officers Are Not Independent

There is much that could be and that has already been said by others about Alberto Gonzales’s confirmation hearings for the postion of U.S. Attorney General. The hearings gave us a first glimpse of Senator Arlen Specter as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and, while he has been largely praised for his handling of the hearing, he committed an embarassing constitutional error. AP reports that Specter

proclaimed his independence and said he expected the same from Alberto Gonzales, President Bush’s nominee to be attorney general.

"While Judge Gonzales is the appointee of the president ... he’s representing the people of the United States, a key distinction which I’m pleased to say in advance that Judge Gonzales has noted in the statement which he has submitted," Specter said.

Senator Specter can be as independent as his constituent electors allow him to be, but Judge Gonzales cannot be independent as U.S. Attorney General. That is because cabinet officers have no independent constitutional authority. All of their power is derivative from the President, in whom the Constitution vests all executive power. If Gonzales, or any other cabinet officer were to decide to go off an independent lark, the President could override their decisions by directing them to toe the line, or by removing them from office. While it is true that cabinet officers serve the people, they do so by carrying out the agenda of the President whom the people elected. If the people believe that the cabinet officer is inappropriately carrying out the duties of his office, the remedy is not an appeal to a political check on the imagined independence of the cabinet officer, but ultimately is a political check on the President himself.

Specter is just the latest in a cavalcade of malcontents to call for greater independence among the cabinet officers. Most of these calls have come from those who are disappointed with the reelection of President Bush, who therefore wish to undermine the agenda of his Presidency. Yet aside from the clear constitutional basis to recognize cabinet officers as subsidiary rather than independent, such a system respects the democratic process. The people get a single vote for the Executive--for the person whose policies they would like to see implemented by the cabinet offices. By suggesting that the cabinet should be independent, the Specter-objectors make those positions less responsive to the people, and therefore less democratic. Of course, this is precisely what the blue staters want. They know better than the majority of Americans, who they have dubbed as stupid and misguided, and therefore they seek cabinet officers who are beholden to their values and not to the electorate or the electorate’s popularly elected President.

I’m quaking in my boots

I found this exchange between William Voegeli of the Claremont Institute and Gerald L. Houseman, representing a group calling itself "Taxpayers Against Extremism" (TAX), amusing. The only "extremism" Houseman wishes to deprive of tax-exempt status is that supported by conservative-leaning foundations.

The only Gerald L. Houseman I can find through a Google search is a much published professor at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, who worked as a Democratic precinct officer in the last election, and who is likely the same guy who lost an election in 1996 to U.S. Representative Mark Souder (R-IN). In other words, he’s a not atypical member of the Democratic Left. As Voegeli points out, when Dennis Kucinich is President, we’d better be worried.

Ballot Initiative Seeks to End Racial Preferences in Michigan

The Detroit Free Press reports that Ward Connerly and the proponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative--a proposal which would prohibit racial preferences in state government hiring and university admissions--filed 508,202 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2006 ballot. To qualify for the ballot, 317,700 signatures are required.

The Free Press reports that "U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said the proposal would close the door to higher education for many people." This is a lovely statement of how the liberal elite attempt to have it both ways. They have claimed for years that affirmative action is only really a slight finger on the scale, and yet eliminating preferences effectively closes the door for minority students. They also have been quick to suggest that non-minority candidates who are discriminated against because of racially preferential policies can simply go to other, less-competitive institutions of higher learning. But somehow, based on Ms. Coleman’s statement, this option must not be available to the minority candidates. And then there is the subtle racism of the left, which with the nuance of a sledgehammer suggests that minorities can only achieve if the benevolent elites give them a handout. It is past time that people of all creeds reject this kind of benevolent racism.

Anyone got a job for me in Wilmington, Delaware?

Via the Democracy Project’s blog, an account of the Mayor’s inaugural address. Here are two nuggets from the speech:

We cannot continue to be baffled by the existence of crime or continue to run and hide from it. We cannot continue applying simplistic answers to the very complex reasons why crime has overwhelmed almost every city and town in America. We cannot look to the police as our only real solution to the epidemic of violence caused in large part by our own children who are enthralled with guns, drugs, and making money illegally. This crisis of crime, fueled by a crisis of values, has gripped urban neighborhoods around the nation, especially poor and minority communities, and is even more pronounced within the African-American communities. In the Bible, there are two passages that I think speak volumes about people and their future: “without vision the people will perish” and “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Crime can and will destroy vision, knowledge, and people. So we of this City must never let this happen.


Complicating this issue even further, as we try to understand criminal behavior and take action against criminals, is the fact that many of us, and our children, have adopted values that are alien to most people in this Country and are contrary to expected, required, or normal behavior. This crisis of values is having a devastatingly negative effect on our cities. The crisis of values is a type of self-inflicted genocide, the new lynching, that is not inflicted upon people by some evil, white-hooded terrorist in the middle of the night, but by those in black hoods or white T-shirts, whether in the middle of the night or in the light of day, who spew death, destruction, and fear at monumental proportions, far greater than at anytime during the highest number of lynchings that occurred in this country.

Winfield Myers provides further commentary and context, as well as the text of the whole speech.

Cynthia McKinney #1

It didn’t take long for my representative to embarrass me. Here’s a little nugget from NRO’s "The Corner" (you’ll have to scroll down just a little). Of course, she could just be paying the campaign debt she owes to Maxine Waters.

Update:You can tell something about people by the company they keep. Here’s a story about a rally in Lafayette Park this morning (McKinney wasn’t there, but her allies were) and here’s the Al Jazeera account of what’s transpiring. Whee!

Update #2: I somehow missed this article when it came out.

Shame, Thy Name is The Swimmer

Andrew McCartney over at The Corner has this little gem: "At the Gonzales hearing this morning: On ’water-boarding,’ Senator Kennedy, I kid you not, actually said that ’as a human being,’ he would have been ’offended’ by something that could have caused ’drowning.’" Me thinks the Senator doth protest too much.

Rehnquist Back at Work

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports today that Chief Justice William Rehnquist has returned to work in his chambers on a part-time basis, and is continuing to work from home. The article notes that

Coupled with Rehnquist’s plan to administer the oath of office to President Bush on Jan. 20, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg’s acknowledgment that Rehnquist has returned to his chambers on a part-time basis lent credence to the view that the 80-year-old chief justice, who has been receiving treatment for an unspecified form of thyroid cancer, will not retire in the near future.

Why Terrorists Fear Democracy

The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial yesterday ran an interesting editorial in which they quoted a statement from the Ansar al-Sunnah Army describing its opposition to democracy:

Why do the terrorists fear democracy? In a remarkable statement recently, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups dropped all the self-serving double-talk and self-righteous excuses for slaughtering innocents. They spelled out their fear and hatred--and ignorance--of democracy. They made clear that their campaign is not simply to thwart American interests--it is to thwart the Iraqi people.

"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," the statement said. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God--Muslims’ doctrine."

The people will do what they see fit. That, to the insurgents, is the great danger.

Of course, the fear is not merely that the people will do as they see fit, but rather that the people will see fit to do things with which the extremists disagree. Worth a read.

Advice for the Democratic Party

Peggy Noonan offers some sober advice for the Democratic party in today’s WSJ. Here’s a taste:

The Groups--all the left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros--didn’t deliver in the last election, and not because they didn’t try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them. Stand up to the Groups--make your policies more moderate, more nuanced, less knee-jerk. . . .

And don’t forget to confuse categories. Be counterintuitive. Republican Mike Bloomberg of New York won’t let workingmen and -women smoke at the local bar. Democrats always wind up in support of such measures. Don’t! Distance yourself from the smoke Nazis, from all Nazis. Be sane; take the side of normal humans with normal imperfections. Let the Republicans look stupid on these issues if they choose to. Don’t fall for it. The Sierra Club will love you anyway. (Politicians in New York tell me the tide has turned, that even people shuddering outside buildings grabbing a smoke say it’s only right. I’m not shuddering outside a building, but I talk to smokers all the time and let me tell you how they feel about the banners. They hate them.)

As I write this, however, the left-fringe of the party is on full display on C-SPAN, voicing their objection to Ohio’s electoral votes. Perhaps they should have read Noonan this morning.

What to Make of Long Lines at Polling Places

I just received an email from a friend inquiring about the long lines at polling places--in particular, the claim that Democrats waited 10 hours at some places to vote. My response is two-fold:

1) First and foremost: from a legal standpoint, the delay and any voters discouraged from voting did not make any difference as to the outcome of the election, and therefore it is not a basis for any remedy—such as failing to count the electoral votes. The margin of victory in Ohio was more than 118,000 votes. Kerry supporters simply can’t meet their burden of demonstrating that there were more than 119,000 discouraged Democratic voters.

2) Picking up on the italicized language, in the materials that I have seen, the objectors fail to take into account delays in polling places that were more heavily Republican, or to address the simple statistical reality that even in Democratic strongholds like Cuyahoga County, there would be a reasonable number of Republican voters who were also discouraged by long lines. In other words: not every discouraged voter was a Kerry voter, and the challengers need ever discouraged voter (and then some) to be Kerry voters in order to make a case.

Part of the problem with this entire line of reasoning is that it assumes the possibility of perfect elections. In every election, there will be some errors--generally about a 3 percent error rate. In 2000, the local error rate mattered because the margin of victory was razor thin. This year, however, the election was not close enough for any errors to make a difference, but the Michael Moore left is still clinging to errors--both real and largely imagined--in the vain hope that it proves the election should have gone otherwise.

It is also worth noting that voting problems can arise from the best of intentions. For example, in recent elections, some of the longer delays have been attributable to the use of newer voting systems (such as touchscreen systems), which were put into place to assure greater accuracy, but which led to delays because of technical problems or user unfamiliarity.

Stanley Fish on religion and the university

I don’t find this column very illuminating, in either the religious or the secular sense, but it is a straw in the wind. Here’s the conclusion:

To the extent that liberalism’s structures have been undermined or at least shaken by these analyses, the perspicuousness and usefulness of distinctions long assumed -- reason as opposed to faith, evidence as opposed to revelation, inquiry as opposed to obedience, truth as opposed to belief -- have been called into question. And finally (and to return to where we began), the geopolitical events of the past decade and of the past three years especially have re-alerted us to the fact that hundreds of millions of people in the world do not observe the distinction between the private and the public or between belief and knowledge, and that it is no longer possible for us to regard such persons as quaintly premodern or as the needy recipients of our saving (an ironic word) wisdom.

Some of these are our sworn enemies. Some of them are our colleagues. Many of them are our students. (There are 27 religious organizations for students on my campus.) Announce a course with "religion" in the title, and you will have an overflow population. Announce a lecture or panel on "religion in our time," and you will have to hire a larger hall.

And those who come will not only be seeking knowledge; they will be seeking guidance and inspiration, and many of them will believe that religion -- one religion, many religions, religion in general -- will provide them.

Are we ready?

We had better be, because that is now where the action is. When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted to know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.

As long as you’re thinking about these matters, you might as well read Charlotte Allen’s
review of Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book, God on the Quad.

I’ll be interested to see what kinds of responses the column and the book evoke.

The Conspiracy Theorists Get Their Day

CNN is reporting that California Senator Barbara Boxer will join a handful of House Democrats in objecting to the counting of Ohio’s electoral votes during the constitutionally mandated joint session which will be held today to tally the nation’s electoral votes. This is the final election concession to the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic party--those who have been flooding the blogosphere with conspiracy theories since election day. The objection will be put to rest with a simple majority vote--one which should be joined by numerous Democrats who wish to reassert some measure of sanity to their party.

Wacky Warning Labels

Each year a pro-tort-reform group called The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch gives awards to the stupidest warning labels on consumer products. This year’s top winner was found on a toilet brush: "Do not use for personal hygiene." Other gems include:

-- A scooter with the warning "This product moves when used."

-- A digital thermometer with the advice "Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally."

-- An electric blender used for chopping and dicing that reminds users to "Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is operating."

I hope I live to see this label: "If you’re too stupid to use this product, stay away from the damn thing."

Powerline and Stuntz

The good people at Powerline have entered into a very interesting exchange with Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz, about whose argument I blogged here. The Powerline posts are here and here. The latter post contains an extensive reply from Stuntz to their original post.

I’ll repeat what I said earlier. I think the most promising basis for any coalition is on local anti-poverty policy. To the extent that the academic Left pays any attention to the people actually doing the work in the trenches, they’ll develop a good bit of sympathy for a faith-based approach. But even in this case there are so many other issues connected with it that are hard for my colleagues to swallow. A lot of African-American churches, for example, are theologically and morally conservative. Here’s an example of one Atlanta church--where MLK daughter Bernice King is an associate pastor--that has drawn a lot of fire from the usual suspects. Can my colleagues get past opposition to gay marriage, on the part either of white evangelicals or African-American evangelicals, however meritorious their anti-poverty work is? Are my colleagues willing to support groups doing good work if they wish to hire only people of faith who are sympathetic to their mission?

The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that Stuntz’s hopes about abortion are well-founded. His argument, in a nutshell, is that the less we talk about the law, the more we can talk about the morality of abortion. This is another way of saying, as pro-choice folks often do, that the goal is for abortions to be "safe, legal, and rare" (p. 42 of this pdf). I don’t think that it’s as easily possible to separate law and morality as Professor Stuntz argues. We tend to embody some of our highest moral commitments in the laws we make and, in turn, the laws help teach us what our moral commitments are or should be. We legislate morality all the time and that, in my view, is both a necessary and a good thing. And until we restore abortion policy to the status quo ante Roe--not illegal, but a matter for state legislation--we cannot have the kind of moral discussion regarding abortion that we need to have.

Roe and its progeny do not encourage moral discussion; they are rather, as Richard Rorty once said about religion, "conversation stoppers." Professor Stuntz seems to think that if we leave the legal framework of abortion rights alone, we can talk honestly and concretely about good and evil, right and wrong. I think we have to "desanctify" the "right" to have an abortion in order to have that conversation. With the framework in place, there will always be the trump--the law says it’s my choice, or it’s between my doctor and me (i.e., it’s discussion about a medical procedure). This does not encourage responsible moral argumentation.

O.K., I’ll shut up now.

At the movies with Max Boot

Here’s Max Boot’s column describing two movies that explain, in his view, "why we fight" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first is Osama, now available on DVD. It’s not about the infamous one, but about a girl who must work to support her family in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.

The second is Voices of Iraq, compiled from footage gathered through the distribution of 150 digital video cameras to ordinary Iraqis. There’s a compelling clip at the site.

Iraqi Elections

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman pens an op-ed today that raises the right issues about the coming elections in Iraq. He writes, "We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there." The sooner the various Iraqi factions (Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds) exercise self-rule, the sooner they can exercise self-defense, to put it simply.

Friedman is not sanguine about the prospects for self-government in Iraq, and takes the expected potshot at the administration for what he sees as a naive approach to liberating Iraqis. Nevertheless, his op-ed presents enough context for what’s at stake to make the read worthwhile.

What he fails to acknowledge is the connection between Iraqi self-rule and American self-defense and the attendant "peace in the Middle East," or at least the beginnings of which are tied to our grand strategy in that region of the globe. This would explain why we set our sights on Saddam Hussein in the first place.

Bowman on the Election

If you read nothing else this week, or this month, about politics, and even if you are sick of post-election commentary, you must read James Bowman’s analysis of the election fallout, "Cutting Moral Corners." (Hat tip: the article appears in The New Criterion, but this link is to Bowman’s own website.)    

"Moralistic therapeutic deism"

Here is a fascinating interview Michael Cromartie conducts with Christian Smith, a leading sociological authority on American evangelicalism. They are discussing Smith’s forthcoming book, Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers.

Teenagers (13-17 year olds), we learn, are more conventional than rebellious. According to Smith,

Very few teens are hardcore relativists. In fact, they are quite moralistic. They will confidently assert that certain things are right or wrong. What they can’t do is explain why that’s the case, or what’s behind their thinking.

To the extent that there is one, this is the "theology" implicit in teen attitudes:

the de facto religious faith of the majority of American teens is "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." God exists. God created the world. God set up some kind of moral structure. God wants me to be nice. He wants me to be pleasant, wants me to get along with people. That’s teen morality. The purpose of life is to be happy and feel good, and good people go to heaven. And nearly everyone’s good.

Smith suspects or fears that the kids are basically getting this attitude from their parents and church leaders. Even most religiously conservative teenagers hold something like this view, he finds.

[W]e can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of ’Christianity’ in the U.S. is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition [and that]this has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.

Of course, if the point of religion is merely social control or promoting healthy, pro-social behavior, there is some evidence that, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, moralistic therapeutic deism is "good enough":

Highly religious American teens are happier and healthier. They are doing better in school, they have more hopeful futures, they get along with their parents better. Name a social outcome that you care about, and the highly religious kids are doing better.

But, as Smith asks, "what is the interest of the Christian church? Is it to make kids wear their seat belts more often? Is that their goal? Or is there some higher commitment—to understanding the world, to practicing a way of life, Jesus’ way, whether or not it makes you happier and healthier and gives you a longer life."

There are more nuggets in the interview, but I want briefly to bore you with my own highly idiosyncratic conclusions, as the parent of two children, aged 9 and 7. Smith makes the point that religion plays a relatively small role in the lives of most teenagers, who devote a good portion of their time and energy to maintaining the relationships they form at (public) school. They’d spend more time with their parents, but virtually everything in their lives (and the lives of their parents) militates against that. So parents and religious educators end up competing for teenagers’ attention in terms of the dominant language of the culture and marketplace, which happens to be therapeutic and moralistic.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Boy, am I glad we’re home-schooling!   

Why We Don’t Trust Government

Over at Division of Labour, Michael Munger offers a thoughtful answer to the question of why Americans do not trust their government. After citing authorities from Plato to Ludwig von Mises to Edmund Burke, he concludes:

One cannot blame the FORM of government for its failings. Simply the existence of a pervasive, intrusive nanny state, doing the only things it can do, explains why people don’t trust government. You can’t blame a dog for eating out of the garbage. But you can put a lid on the garbage can. In the U.S., people are worried that the lid is coming off.

Come together

Harvard Law professor William J. Stuntz is provocatively at it again, this time proposing the oddest red-blue coalition imaginable--between the Christian Right and the academic Left. His first column on the subject was much more modest, proposing merely to open lines of communication, given certain unacknowledged similarities between those who take sanctuary in the sanctuary and those who take sanctuary in the faculty club.

I’ll leave it to Ramesh Ponnuru to put the kibosh on Stuntz’s opinions regarding a meeting of minds on abortion. I agree with Ponnuru that that’s a non-starter.

But Stuntz’s other ideas are more plausible. Here’s the nub of one:

The idea that intellectuals could play a large role in poverty policy might sound naive. But intellectuals had a lot to do with the War on Poverty of the 1960s. Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, got the political train rolling. That could happen again. If it did, a lot of evangelical Christians would get on board. Urban ministry is a hot topic in the churches I’ve attended; evangelicals are eager to get behind people and programs that aim to ease the suffering in inner cities. That includes government programs, if they actually accomplish something. In the churches I know, there is real hunger for a politics that is about something nobler than tax cuts and tort reform.

I wrote about Jim Sleeper’s interest in these matters here and have a review essay forthcoming in the Claremont Institute’s Local Liberty, the most recent issue of which is available here. The two books I review are Stephen V. Monsma’s Putting Faith in Partnerships and Stanley Carlson-Thies’s and Dave Donaldson’s A Revolution of Compassion. Taken together, both books demonstrate that, increasingly, evangelical churches are major players in the the world of compassionate social service. So Stuntz is onto something here. Of course, the academic Left either has to get beyond its visceral hatred for President Bush and everything with which he’s associated (like the faith-based initiative) or simply pay closer attention to the good things that churches and faith-based organizations are doing in marginal urban neighborhoods. A professor who happens to work alongside a conservative evangelical tutoring at-risk kids might discover that the latter can read and think at astoundingly high levels; many of the folks in my church, for example, have graduate degrees from what we in Atlanta call the trade school on North Avenue. And the evangelicals might discover that not all professors have horns and tails.

Stuntz also discusses what I called "evangelical internationalism" and even nation-building, which the academic Left--especially folks like Michael Ignatieff--supported, at least when Clintonistas were doing it.

I’ll close with Stuntz’s peroration:

Blair’s popularity in the U.S. captures something important about today’s politics. Left and right have no clear meaning anymore. Which was the more progressive stance a decade ago -- supporting Newt Gingrich’s welfare reform, or supporting the welfare status quo? Which is more progressive today: vouchers for parents of inner-city school children, or keeping public education the way it is? Who should be more committed to fighting fascist Middle Eastern dictators, conservatives or liberals? Should liberals oppose cuts in Medicare and Social Security, even if showering money on the middle-class elderly blocks spending that might improve the lives of the youngest and poorest Americans?

Michael Barone is right (as usual) to call the left’s politics nostalgic. An even better word would be sclerotic. The status quo is pretty good: America is rich, strong, and free, and freedom and democracy are expanding all over the world. But it could be so much better -- especially for those among us who are most vulnerable. The left should aim higher. For that matter, so should the right.

I can think of two groups that would welcome bigger dreams than prescription drug benefits and dividend tax cuts. Academics dream for a living -- we think about ways the world might change, and how the change could happen. And evangelicals believe we live in a world afflicted by sin and filled with wrongs that need righting. I bet both groups would welcome a politics that aimed to right some of those wrongs. I know I would.

Gosh, this Stuntz fella is almost as smart as George W. Bush. They dream some of the same dreams. And like Bush, I suspect he’ll have an easier time with the folks in the church pews than with the folks in the faculty clubs. But I don’t fault him for trying.  

More freedom from religion

The other shoe has dropped. Today the Freedom From Religion Foundation announced that it had filed legal papers challenging a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to Emory University’s Interfaith Health Program. Here’s a press release describing the partners benefitting from the HHS grant to Emory. In many cases, they are traditional religiously-affiliated hospitals, attempting to reinvigorate the religious dimensions of their original missions.

Just so you know, in 1899 the Supreme Court upheld public aid to a religiously-affiliated hospital in Bradfield v. Roberts.

Here is the FFRF press release announcing its complaint. As soon as I can get my hands on the FFRF brief, I’ll write at greater length. In the mean time, you’ll have to be satisfied with this piece on the other part of the FFRF’s suit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation Loses One

Thanks to NRO’s "The Corner," I learned that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had issued this decision (pdf file). The case involved the sale of public land containing a Ten Commandments monument to the "Aerie" of the Fraternal Order of Eagles that had donated the monument in the first place. Here’s Shannen Coffin’s summary of the court’s opinion:

The opinion...holds that even if the original installation of the monument (which was erected in honor of those who saved the city from a flood) violated the constitution, the sale of the land cured the supposed violation. So here’s the obvious solution to the problem -- privatization of public land!

The plaintiffs in the original case were ginned up by our old friends, the ever-industrious Freedom from Religion Foundation, which wasn’t happy with the City of La Crosse’s extensive efforts to disassociate itself from any conceivable message of endorsement, which included the erection of a fence separating the land on which the monument stood from the larger park and copious signage. Here’s some colorful language from the dissent:

I am aware of the fact...that a disclaimer has been set next to the monument which remains exactly where it was originally placed on what was unquestionably public property, surrounded by public property, and ofr all intents and purposes is still public property.... Moreover...a disclaimer sets out that the City is not endorsing anything. The disclaimer seems to me to be taken from a scene in the movie "The Wizard of Oz," in which the phony wizard, whose fraud has been exposed, directs the onlookers to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain;" a disclaimer that is nor more or less effective than the disclaimer at the monument. It too is an obvious sham.

It’s unfortunate that things have come to this pass--that a city government has to go to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of endorsing the Ten Commandments, that judges have to engage in considerations more appropriate to landscape architects (read the opinion; you’ll see what I mean), and that all this still isn’t good enough for some.

Nevertheless, it’s satisfying to see the Freedom From Religion Foundation lose one.

Update: This article, in discussing a dispute over a Ten Commandments monument in Cumberland, Maryland, offers some interesting historical background regarding the interest of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the monuments. Cecil B. Demille also figures in the story. Fascinating.

More Democratic Navel-Gazing

The media continue to be fascinated by the divisions among Democrats over why they lost in November. In the New York Times Adam Nagourney surveys about a half-dozen different theories, from the familiar "values-voter" interpretation to Nancy Pelosi’s no doubt comforting "the Republicans just did a better job at getting out the vote" theory. Meanwhile Ronald Brownstein at the LA Times focuses on the exchanges that have been taking place in liberal journals.

Liberals, conservatives, and "republican virtue"

Last year (well, last month), I posted this comment in which I pigeonholed Jim Sleeper (a lecturer at Yale, who was a student there at roughly the same time as John Kerry and George W. Bush) as a more or less typical liberal.

I was wrong.

Sleeper, the author of these two books-- The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York, and Liberal Racism--is hardly typical. I haven’t yet read the books, but the other pieces he was kind enough to send me have whetted my appetite. I don’t agree with everything he says--especially about conservatives and George W. Bush--but his is a provocative voice worthy of some attention, not only from his (former?) friends on the Left, but also from conservatives, religious or otherwise.

Let me focus on a recent essay, "Religion in Its Place," posted here.

His diagnosis of our problem is worth quoting at length:

In The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York, I diagnosed an unhealthy decline in public policymaking itself, at least as it affected the urban civic cultures I had engaged as a journalist and activist in the city. While developing my account, I came, against my own left-liberal inclinations, to accept charges that a lot of social policymaking had itself become an accelerant of civic decline. But I had no idea what was missing besides a resilient public spirit whose own wellsprings remained obscure. I knew only that there was something almost anomic about the American provision of social welfare that, whatever its intention to redress the very real damage that economic exploitation and racism had done, retarded any reliable balance between rights and responsibilities that might revive civic responsibility in a liberal republic.

But I also accepted, and still do, the liberal countercharge that a lot of the civic irresponsibility whose increase conservatives blame on entitlement and redistribution policies is driven even more strongly by something they tend to support as uncritically as some liberals do entitlements: the investment and consumer marketing methods of the legal, fictive “persons” we call corporations. Their methods, which are ever-more protean, intrusive, and absorptive of civic life, encourage a kind of spiritual privatization and civic disengagement by workers, consumers, and the unemployed. If liberal social-welfare policy, too, has accelerated civic decline, it has done so, I repeat, as a maladroit and indeed often counterproductive response to this other, more basic cause of that decline. The classical liberal understandings of freedom and sovereignty which conservatives proclaim, and upon which the American republic perhaps uniquely relies, cannot be squared with today’s conservative understandings of corporate freedom and sovereignty.

The thorny paradox we all face is one that Tocqueville only partly anticipated: These patterns of investment, broken loose from the religious ethos in which John Locke would have harnessed them, are generating an ever-more reckless, relentless, and intrusive “culture” of consumer marketing that degrades and atomizes civic and political culture in ways liberal government is not constitutionally empowered to constrain, much less redirect.

In his view, neither the Left nor the Right offers an adequate response to the ways in which commercial "culture" is undermining civic virtue. He also recognizes, however, that the "enemy" is not simply capitalism, but an evil more radical, what religious folk would call human fallenness and what Sleeper calls a "divided nature." Our solutions can’t simply be found, he argues, in a governmental counterpoise to corporate power, but rather also by supporting "the folkways, friendships, and rites of passage of republican (small “r”) training grounds--the after-hours schools, youth programs, summer camps, and other institutions that are established to strengthen civic attachments, not just to enhance the resumés of college applicants."

He especially calls our attention to inner city churches and faith-based organizations:

[T]oday’s crucibles of civic engagement, if not civic virtue, are the stronger neighborhood organizations and churches such as those organized by IAF, some employing community-organizing methods pioneered by Saul Alinsky. They do this in arms-length relationships with public as well as private supporters, whom they tend to fend off but sometimes cajole or embarrass into doing things their way, whether in supporting charter schools or other school reforms or in developing housing and living-wage programs that are far from the social-welfare models of the Great Society. They challenge both inner-city “welfare” programs and corporate welfare, both white racism and the reactive, non-white racialism of “liberationist” academics and activists.

I think he’s right, not only for the reasons he offers in his article, but also for reasons best articulated in this book.

I think, however, that his over-the-top criticism of George W. Bush--at one point he compares him to Augustus Caesar--will not win him any friends or readers among conservatives, or at least among conservatives with influence sufficient to help promote his vision. This may not trouble Mr. Sleeper, since he seems to regard almost all conservatives as in the thrall of a simple-minded free-marketism. But I think there are elements of Bush’s vision, which I attempted to articulate here and here, that ought on some level to appeal to Sleeper. I would urge him and those who might be attracted to his vision to reconsider what Bush has said about the faith-based initiative in various and sundry speeches, as well as what he says in this interview. Here’s a sample:

At home, the job of a president is to help cultures change. The culture needs to be changed. I call it, so people can understand what I’m talking about, changing the culture from one that says, "If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else," to a culture in which each of us understands we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era. … I said that when I was governor of Texas. As a matter of fact, I’ve been saying that ever since I got into politics. This is one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place. Governments cannot change culture alone. I want you to know I understand that. But I can be a voice of cultural change.

It seems to me that Sleeper and Bush are on the same side in the culture war, though Sleeper may not, like many former Leftists, be altogether comfortable admitting it.

Update: If you’ve been persuaded to purchase Liberal Racism, please go here, as the Ashbrook Center will benefit.