Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More thoughts on Bush Second Inaugural

Ken Masugi likes it and thinks that, domestically, it responds to FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Address. William Safire rates it very high, as does David Brooks. Brooks: "Bush’s speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day.

With that speech, President Bush’s foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged." William Kristol thinks it will prove to be a historic speech, as it is powerful and subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced. Details of policy aside, Kristol writes, Bush is right on "the fundamental American goal." And Victor Davis Hanson has some smart words for those who are inclined to castigate idealims, either of Bush or Epaminondas.

And, of course, some are critical. Orlando Patterson thinks Bush misunderstands freedom, and the speech will anger the world.
The socialist Eric Hobsbawm argues that the speech is based on a dangerous illusion and Bush will fail.
Bill Buckley thinks the whole speech was confusing. Peter Robinson says that the speech proves that Bush is not really a conservative. (He’s wrong.) Roger Kimball throws out a few paragraphs about Wilson, Fukuyama, and Hegel, and leaves it there. David Kusnet, a speechwriter for Clinton, parises Michael Gerson, the author of the Inaugural, and concludes: "Bush’s critics can and should challenge how he’ll translate his poetry into policy. But meanwhile, they ought to mimic, not mock, his invocations of democratic values. In public debate, those who speak movingly about democracy have seized the high ground. Bush tried to do that yesterday; his critics should try to do that in the days ahead."

Lanny Davis on Bush

Lanny Davis, who served as Clinton’s special counsel for two years, has some good words on W. They went to Yale together, and he tells a few stories.

Attacking Condi

Colbert I. King, not exactly a Bush supporter, starts to wonder why Codi Rice is being caricatured by Senator Boxer, et al, as if she were Bush’s parrot, or "little more than a diligent echo of Bush’s thought." He smells racism. It is likely that in delaying a full senate vote on her
nomination because they needed more time for debate, so they said, the Democrats are making a mistake: the more they say now--along the lines of Boxer--the more their words will be turned, and will haunt them in future elections.

Principle and prudence

Joe mentioned his piece on Bush Second Inaugural speech below (along with a host of others worth reading), but I invite you to read Joseph Knippenberg’s piece because I think it the best piece so far in trying to explain Bush’s affirmation of principle and prudence, while not ignoring the domestic political consequences of the masterful rhetoric. A masterful job, Joe. Thanks.

Where the rubber meets the road

This article in today’s Washington Post does a good job of letting the Bush Administration speak for itself about the import of the President’s Inaugural Address. Here are my favorite paragraphs:

White House officials argued that some observers have read more into the speech than is there. "The speech was carefully and purposely nuanced," said presidential speechwriter and policy adviser Michael J. Gerson. "We are dealing with a generational struggle. It’s not the work of a year or two."

Presidential advisers also said they were not trying to roll back the speech on the day after, pointing to language in the address that they said made it clear that the goal of ending tyranny would not be accomplished with cookie-cutter policies or unrealistic ambitions. For example, Bush declared that ending tyranny would not be accomplished primarily through armed conflict, and he made distinctions between dealing with outlaw states that actively support terrorism and those whose human rights records may be poor but that have shown a willingness to change.

The senior administration official pointed to Russia and China as countries that have a "successful relationship" with the United States. But he said Russia and China would need to embrace "a common set of values and principles" to have "a relationship that broadens and deepens."

He said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to take steps to restrict democracy, it will "have a consequence on our relations," adding that "it will depend on some sense whether he has heard the message and acted on it, or doesn’t." But he also said that administration concerns might not be voiced publicly, but through private channels.

The official stressed that he was not pulling back from the speech, which he repeatedly called "bold," but he also focused on what he called positive trends in close U.S. allies generally regarded as repressive. He said that Saudi Arabia is taking steps toward municipal elections and is having a "national dialogue" on reform, while Egypt last year held a conference that resulted in a declaration on political reform. "It’s a step," he said.

The President will have to resist those who wish to drag him into imprudently rash actions and respond to those who call him a hypocrite. He could do worse than remind them that Lincoln’s moral opposition to slavery was accompanied by a patient flexibility about the means to put it "in course of ultimate extinction." The more I think about it, the more I like the speech.

Fathers, don’t let your daughters grow up to be coeds

Vigen Guroian offers a long and impassioned indictment of college complicity in the sexualization of student life. Here’s a taste:

Doane College in Nebraska recently mailed a recruiting postcard that showed a man surrounded by women, with a caption that read that students at this college have the opportunity to "play the field." After a public outcry last December, administrators hastily withdrew the marketing campaign, explaining that the postcard was harmless and a metaphor for exploring a variety of education options. But the very fact that the campaign was conceived and approved in the first place speaks volumes. The sexual revolution, if that is an appropriate title, was not won with guns but with genital groping aided and abetted by colleges that forfeited the responsibilities of in loco parentis and have gone into the pimping and brothel business.

Sex Carnival

I do not use these words lightly or loosely, and rarely is a college so blatantly suggestive as was Doane, although this attitude about the commendability of sexual experimentation has become an orthodoxy among many who hold positions as deans of student life at our colleges. Of course, some colleges take concrete steps to resist this revolution of morals. Still, in most American college coed dorms, the flesh of our daughters is being served up daily like snack jerky. No longer need young men be wolves or foxes to consume that flesh. There are no fences to jump or chicken coops to break into. The gates are wide open and no guard dogs have been posted. It is easy come and easy go. Nor are our daughters the only ones getting hurt. The sex carnival that is college life today is also doing great damage to our sons’ characters, deforming their attitudes toward the opposite sex. I am witnessing a perceptible dissipation of manly virtue in the young men I teach.

Frederica Mathewes-Green offers an interesting response
here. She argues that students operate in accordance with a moral code "just different from ours":

They believe that it’s objectively wrong to dump someone in a callous way. It’s wrong to have sex with someone who isn’t willing. It’s wrong to transgress any one of a hundred subtle etiquette cues about who may sleep with whom under what circumstances. There is plenty of objective morality on their side, and they think it’s better than ours. As far as they can see, theirs is working and ours looks pointlessly difficult. Why should they switch? This argument sounds like nothing more than "because I said so."

In other words, a mere assertion of adult or parental authority is not an effective answer. The resources for resisting the "hook-up" culture, she argues, can currently be found only in religion. This gives her two sorts of hope, one from the relationships with God and with others that grow out of religious commitments, the other from living in a world created by God:

Chastity has been such a fixture of human history that the current situation is wildly anomalous, and I expect it will eventually right itself, probably due to women realizing that promiscuity doesn’t make them feel empowered, but endangered. It may even turn out, in a supreme irony, that the current phenomenon of transitory student lesbianism was just a strategy of desperation, the only way society currently allows young women to tell boys, "Go away, I’m not ready."

For a somewhat less despairing view of the sexualization of campus life, there’s this report from Powerline about a panel discussion of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum. As the father of a Charlotte (currently age 7), I hope the Deacon’s claim that the hook-up culture is really a student sub-culture is right. Not that I want simply to leave participants in it to their demons, but that I hope that there are morally and psychically superior alternatives available on campus. What say my collegiate readers, such as they are?

GWB’s Second Inaugural

Here, for what it’s worth, is what I had to say about the President’s speech yesterday.

Other mostly non-MSM takes that are worth a gander can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

In fairness, here are some leftish takes on the speech: Harold Meyerson, David Corn, and Archon Fung. Others, like Kevin Drum and folks at the Daily Kos, can’t bring themselves to write about what the President said.

Update: I wonder if this Archon Fung is the fellow who intervened so provocatively here, here, here, here, and here.

Update #2: More good stuff from Powerline here.

Update #3: The answer to my query regarding Archon Fung is "no."

Baylor President announces resignation

Here’s the news release.

A friend at Baylor told me this in an email:

Sloan resigned this morning in a fashion that I think will be good for Baylor’s mission. Some of us were aware that this would happen, but it has occurred a bit earlier than I expected. He will stay on as Chancellor. His administration will remain in place. He will remain in office until the composition of the Board of Regents changes in May, so that his successor will be appointed by a pro-2012 board. And, finally, there will be an interim who has not yet been named. My source of information tells me that the interim is a great choice and a powerful supporter of Sloan.

This has only the appearance of a bad day for Sloan, but I do not think it is at all. He has resigned voluntarily and in such as way as to control the course of the university for the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope my friend is right.

Update: Read news coverage here, here, here, and here.

Update #2: Still more here and here.

The American President

You Americans are a deeply interesting people. And you are made interesting because you have only had one thought around which all your other thoughts and actions have revolved. Imagine how an ordinary man in some part of the world that is perhaps dark and dreary, if not horrible, reacts when he hears an American speak about the world and the possibilities therein. Imagine how he envies you, how he might think you’re lucky--and maybe even unworthy of your freedom and wealth and greatness--how he might think that you are a romantic tilting at windmills. Imagine then when he realizes that, somehow, when you speak of how things ought to be you are also speaking of him and for him, that you confuse man with citizen, that you are beyond idealism in your ends and purposes. And yet, he listens to the cadence of your words because, somehow, it sits well in his ear and in his soul. Imagine then the man who is in a cold and damp cell--with the windows covered in tin--and without hope, hearing, perhaps as coded taps on concrete walls between the prison cells, that the American president knows your condition and stands with you and has said that Americans will pay any price and bear any burden for the cause of liberty, that slavery is wrong and a just God knows it, that we know there are evil regimes in the world, and that America stands in opposition to human beings being treated like dogs. And then he hears that America will use its considerable influence in freedom’s cause. Your only response to that is this: I now have hope and I hope they have the courage. The rest of it, the grey fog of the practical that intellectuals prefer to focus on, is secondary to such a man in such a condition, no matter where the place. Yes, you Americans are an interesting people, and we are glad that you live and breathe and talk. And I will make sure that my grandchildren know the things for which you have always stood, and how you tried to do what’s right. And they will remember and honor your name and the names of your statesmen who knew how the world ought to be.
A fine speech Mr. President. Thank you.

GWB and Advancing the Cause of Freedom

Bush’s convictions, principles, and policy agenda were clearly outlined in his Second Inaugural Address. In a word, the man believes in freedom, and believes it his duty as president to protect it at home and promote it abroad.

His 24-minute speech reminded us of the vicious character of our enemies, the noble aspirations of our country, and his resolve to "advance the cause of freedom" as the most formidable challenge and opportunity of our time.

President Bush’s address was conservative in its principles, hearkening back to the timeless truths of the Declaration of Independence. But it was also daring in its acknowledgment of the need to reform "our great institutions" (think, Social Security, here) to meet the needs of our time.

To this American citizen, the hallmark of the speech was his quotation from an 1859 letter Abraham Lincoln wrote on the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday:

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."
In his attempt to help every American become a stakeholder in American society, "an agent of his or her own destiny," our president shows his profound understanding of the glorious possibilities and challenges of human freedom. Moreover, Bush’s commitment to human freedom should serve as the starting point for all discussion of how he intends to address the mundane aspects of domestic policy and the sublime considerations of foreign policy. In sum, the president has announced an ambitious and worthy agenda for the next four years; may we do our best to fulfill the tasks he has set before us as a nation.

Barone on GWB’s Second Inaugural

The consistently informative Michael Barone has penned a well-timed and well-articulated editorial today on what to expect (and not expect) from President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address tomorrow. (Alas, it’s not available on-line unless you are already a Wall St. Journal subscriber.)

Entitled "The 16th Second Inaugural," the essay reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly from previous "second inaugural" speeches, and observes that second inaugurals mark a "hinge point" of what previous two-term presidents "expected to be an eight-year administration." Bush clearly approached his first term as if he were invested for the long haul.

At bottom, Barone expects a speech that is part Wilsonian and part Lincolnian--the former for its "vision" of America’s role in promoting peace and democracy in the world, the latter for its biblical allusions and cadences.

Condi Rice hearings

Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to in favor of sending the nomination to the full Senate. John Kerry and Barbara Boxer were the only two voting against her. I saw some of the hearings, including some of Boxer’s outrageous performance and some of Kerry’s typical shuffling about. Boxer is lean-witted and mean spirited. And Kerry’s performance, I think hbis public one since the loss--was done like--as Shakespeare has Joan of Arc say of her French soldiers--a Frenchman: turn and turn again. Does anyone seriously think this man would have made a good president?

John Keegan on the elections in Iraq

John Keegan packs a lot into this op-ed for the Telegraph. He explains the reason for the war in Iraq, the unexpected aftermath, what all this has to do with Sayyid Qutb, and why the elections are important, and why our success is probable. For a good overview of Sayyid Qutb’s thought, see this Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis writen last year by Luke Loboda. He is now a high school teacher. This is the thesis, "The Thought of Sayyid Qutb: Radical Islam’s Philosophical Foundations," in PDF format (32 pages).

African-Americans and the faith-based initiative

This article is worth reading, contributing to my judgment that the faith-based initiative is both good policy and good politics. Indeed, if the larger theme of the "ownership society" bears its promised fruit, good policy will produce even better politics. I’m guardedly optimistic.

Update: Ken Masugi (not Matsugi, as Anne Norton’s indexer would have it) has more over at the Claremont Institute’s Local Liberty blog.

Michael Gerson yet again

I posted on Bush’s speechwriters ages ago here and here. Now the New York Times gets in on the act, writing about Gerson’s involvement in drafting GWB’s Inaugural Address. (Dare we call it his "Second Inaugural," with all the reverence that that implies?)

There’s another fun, but longish, tidbit here--a transcript, finally, of the conference on which the WaPo’s Alan Cooperman reported back in mid-December. If you suffer, as I do, from presbyopia, there’s a bigger-print version of it here.

Here are some of the many wise words in the transcript:

Every society, it seems to me, needs a standard of values that stands above the political order, or the political order becomes absolute. Christianity is not identical to any political ideology. It has had great influence precisely because it judges all ideologies. It indicts consumerism and indifference to the poor; it indicts the destruction of the weak and the elderly; it indicts tyranny and the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come from freedom. And that leads me to certain conclusions. When religious people identify faith with a single political party or movement, they miniaturize their beliefs and they’re reduced to one interest group among many. When society banishes the influence of faith, it loses one of the main sources of compassion and justice.

And my view is summarized best by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that the church should not be the master of the state or the servant of the state; it should be the conscience of the state.

There are clearly some dangers here at the crossroads of religion and politics. The danger for America is not theocracy. Banning partial birth abortion and keeping the status quo of hundreds of years on marriage are not the imposition of religious rule. But religious people can develop habits of certainty that get wrongly applied to a range of issues from economics to military policy. The teachings of the New Testament are wisely silent on most political issues, and these are a realm of practical judgment and should be a realm of honest debate.

Read the whole thing, when you get a chance.

What a phony Ph.D. might get you

Paul Sperry tells an outrageous tale of phony Ph.D.’s from non-universities, important federal positions held, promotions offered. Lies, cheating, arrogance. The only thing missing is sex, well, maybe that’s there too, indirectly, think White House, Lewinsky era. Fun read, albeit a bit disheartening. Also see this on the so-called Dr. Callahan. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Cows, Constitution, and the Ten Commandments

My father-in-law just e-mailed me these, so God only knows how long they’ve been flying around the internet, but I thought they were funny:


Is it just me, or does anyone else find it amazing that our government can track a cow born in Canada almost three years ago, right to the stall where she sleeps in the state of Washington, and they can track her calves to their stalls.

But they are unable to locate 11 million illegal aliens wandering aimlessly around our country. Maybe we should give them all a cow.


They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don’t we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it’s worked for over 200 years and we’re not using it anymore.


The real reason that we can’t have the Ten Commandments in a

You cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians...

it creates a hostile work environment.

Demos a la Gingrich?

This David Brooks op-ed is useful. There are some Democrats (contra the Clintonistas’ instincts) who are going to oppose Bush’s Social Security reforms totus porcus. "They feel that Social Security is to Bush what health care reform was to Clinton - the big overreach that will allow the opposing party to deliver a devastating blow to the president, and maybe even regain control of Congress." The Democrats, therefore, should become disciplined and angry and practice a scorched earth policy against all GOP actions. Brooks thinks this would be a big mistake; their premises are wrong.

Anne Norton’s book on Leo Strauss

I’ve been busy writing a review of Anne Norton’s book on Leo Strauss and some Straussians. It is awful in many ways--gossipy, mean-spirited, ideological, and (it goes without saying after all that) sometimes just downright wrong.

She purports to raise up the "real Leo Strauss" for use against his narrow-minded conservative epigones--above all, Allan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz, and Leon Kass. Do not expect actually to learn anything about these three figures from the book.

I can’t post my review yet (the editor gets first crack at it), but you can find Leslie Friedman Goldstein’s excellent review here, either by searching by author ("Norton") or by browsing through the December 2004 reviews.   (For the review, not the book.)

Life in Prison Too Harsh for a Killer?

AP has a story about Wilbert Rideau, who in 1961 robbed a bank and took three employees hostage. He shot all three, and stabbed teller Julia Ferguson to death. He confessed to the crime, and was sentenced to death. Pre-trial publicity marred his case, and an appeal created a landmark Supreme Court case in which his conviction was thrown out, and he was granted a new trial. Because of racial irregularities in the trial process and changes in the law, he was granted a total of three new trials, the last of which followed his sentence being commuted to life in prison in 1970 as a result of the Supreme Court temporarily striking down the death penalty. In his most recent trial--the first to feature a racially mixed jury--he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and has been released based on 44 years of time served.

Now, there were multiple, serious problems with his case, including pretrial publicity, the racial composition of the grand jury, and the racial composition of the jury. But one thing never changed: there is no question that he committed the crime. He has never denied it. Nonetheless, the Left has become quite enamored with his case. You see, he is a respected writer. He has even been on the speaker circuit from prison. He narrarated an NPR documentary. He’s Oscar nominated! Oh, and by the way, he has never denied that he shot and stabbed Julia Ferguson--a mother, a caretaker for her invalid father, and a Sunday school teacher.

I know that there are many with strong feelings about the death penalty, but this is not even a death penalty case (at least, not after his sentence was commuted in 1970). No, this is a case which asks whether life in prison is a fair punishment for someone who admittedly killed a woman in cold blood. (As best as I can tell from the articles, his sole defense was that he stabbed her because he felt rushed, and that he didn’t walk in the bank with the intent to do that. But it is black letter law that intent can be formed in the twinkling of an eye--or, in this case, in the raising of a knife.) A friend who has been involved in multiple death penalty cases once commented to me that if the death penalty were abolished, the left would then target life-in-prison as being too severe. One needs look no further than the statement of Rideau’s lawyer to see that case being made already: "The stabbing of Ferguson was ’a terrible act, a criminal act, one for which he deserves great punishment, but not one for which he deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life,’ [Rideau’s attorney Juilian] Murray said."

The, ahem, new natural law

I’ve just gotten around to reading the transcript of the exchange last week between Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. As I promised, here’s the "more later."

Hindrocket nails the decisive point in the post I cited earlier. Here, once again, is Justice Breyer, if you missed him the first time:

I usually think, and I think Justice Scalia does too, that in the United States, and this is perhaps unique to the United States, or almost, law is not really handed down from on high, even from the Supreme Court. Rather, it emerges. And we’re part of it, the clerks are part of it, but only part. And what really survives every time is the result, I tend to think of a conversation. I think that’s the right word, conversation among judges, among professors, among law students, among members of the bar, because you need people to put things together, you need people to decide cases, you need people to tell you how it works out in practice. And out of this giant, messy, unbelievably messy conversation emerges law. And that means you have to have the conversation. And then I think we participate it, even at a general level, not just when we’re deciding cases.

Breyer thinks he’s being modest by saying that the Supremes are not oracles, speaking as gods or for the gods. They are part of a larger "law-making" community--judges, professors, law students, and members of the bar--who discuss and argue. On one level (and I’m being charitable here), this is a good thing: if your regard the conversation as rational (remember, I’m being charitable), then law is a product of reason. A very charitable Thomist might say that this "human law" depends upon our apprehension of natural law, which is given to us through our reason. And since every rational human being has access to natural law, why not consult any smart, thoughtful person who has considered the issues that we’re confronting? This is the burden of Justice Breyer’s argument: opinions in foreign courts might bring additional voices into the conversation, enhancing its comprehensiveness and thereby its reasonableness. (Remember, I’m being charitable here.)

If I were writing a treatise on natural law or making some recommendations for how (legislatively or personally) to approach moral questions, I’d wouldn’t quarrel at all with Justice Breyer. Mary Ann Glendon did just that thing a number of years ago in her wonderful book, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.

But there are at least three things that trouble me about Breyer’s argument. The first is the supreme arrogance underlying his humility, nailed also by Hindrocket. I’ll just quote the latter’s post:

I’m not sure I would have believed that if I hadn’t read it: "The law emerges from a conversation with judges, lawyers, professors and law students." No mention of the language of the Constitution; no mention of statutes enacted by Congress or the state legislatures; no mention of American customs, traditions, or popular opinion.

Gee, I always thought it was legislatures that "made law," or perhaps voters by popular initiative, or "the people" through the processes of constitution-making or constitution-amending. Nope, it’s the legal community, answerable ultimately to no one but themselves. (If I were charitable, I’d say "answerable to no one but God," but I’ve ceased being charitable.) Breyer may be speaking loosely here, calling constitutional interpretation law-making, but I really think that he is ultimately indifferent to the authority of the document itself. This is a classic example of "results-oriented jurisprudence," as Scalia points out when he argues that Breyer and his colleaues always cite only those foreign cases and opinions that support the result they want to reach.

My second misgiving is a variation on the first. It absolutely makes sense to consult any wise head when you’re dealing with a moral or philosophical difficulty: philosophers, poets, statesmen, essayists, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, my grandmother, my wife’s late Uncle Alec, eloquently eulogized by his two sons today, even lawyers, law professors, and judges. (I draw the line at law students.) And I obviously wouldn’t limit myself to people alive today, but would mine the wisdom of the ages. Given his approach, in other words, Breyer doesn’t cast his net widely enough. In his defense (O.K., I’m being a little charitable), I’d say that he’s not running a seminar or even re-writing Grotius, but engaging in "legal reasoning," so that it makes sense to narrow the conversation. It’s also obvious that courts can’t take forever to decide cases. But legal reasoning isn’t the same as legislation or "lawmaking." Lawmakers should consult more sources (including, obviously, but not exclusively, their constituents), they’re not bound by the rhetorical, argumentative, or evidentiary conventions of a particular approach, and they’re not resolving a dispute between two parties. They often (but not always) have more time. Breyer should be more modest about what he does, and leave the lawmaking to the lawmakers.

Finally, there is, I think, another reason why Breyer professes to consult only the living. He is a "progressive." Our problems and issues can only be illuminated by those who confront similar problems and issues. And Scalia hits the nail on the head here, in describing the difference between his approach and Breyer’s:

Now if you’re following an originalist approach, you ask, what did the framers believe constituted due process of law? And if you find something there and I don’t like it, it’s too bad; I am chained. I -- because of my theory of the Constitution, that’s what due process was and that’s what it is today, unless you amend it. Whereas if you just say due process of law is an invitation for intelligent judges and lawyers and law students to imagine what they consider to be due process and consult foreign judges, then, indeed, you do not know what you’re saying when you swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. It morphs. I mean, under our current Constitution, changes.

So what is the "new natural law"? It is the "law of nations," selectively cobbled together by judges from the opinions of their fellows all around the world, for the sake of producing results those judges find congenial. I think I’d prefer "the atrocious Grotius" to this. He at least cast his net more widely and found merit in the wisdom of the ages.

More Potential Terrorists Bringing Razor Blades on Planes?

Michelle Malkin has the story here. Because her first post, which describes a flight attendant finding razor blades that were apparently left by the plane’s cleaning crew for 5 Middle Eastern travelers, lacked some key details which would permit corroboration, I was a bit reluctant to link to it. But in her last update, she writes that several Federal Air Marshals have written her to offer some support for the story she heard. Notably, one Air Marshal states: "We have seen this scenario happen a few times and have also found razor blades on the plane before passengers have boarded."

The vote in Iraq

About a week ago, Larry Diamond argued that not postponing the Iraqi elections will hold democracy back in Iraq. This is largely in line with the MSM’s unstated but pernicious assumption. I disagree, and rather think that the upcoming elections will go a long way toward legitimizing the rule of the people (and law). Furthermore, I think the elections will go more or less as planned, and even the MSM will be forced to give the Iraqis (and us) some long overdues credit. I expect turnout to be around 60%, with perhaps as high as 25% in Sunni areas. While it is true, as Diamond argues, that it may be possible for moderate Sunni leaders to, say, over the next three months, to talk their people into reducing the level of violence, and then to have elections that are more likely to be violence-free, I don’t think the Sunnis ought to be trusted enough to be given the opportunity. We have given them every opportunity to participate, and have even set up a kind of proportional representation for them even if they don’t! Enough is enough. If the Kurds and the Shiites become full participants in the process (as they are), and if the Sunnis only partially participate (say 25% of them vote), I think that is enough for legitimacy. The Sunnis are quite put out, I know. On the other hand they have been running the country for generations, and they think they have a natural right to it. They are only going to give that idea up if there is a legitimate Iraqi government in place that can claim to speak for the whole country, and even this will not come overnight. Diamond thinks that the election will lead to further polarization. I don’t. And if it does, it doesn’t matter; things can’t get much worse unless every Sunni takes up arms, which they won’t. It could also get worse if every neighboring Sunni state gets into the act on behalf of the Iraqi Sunnis, but this we are preventing. The Sunnis have been placated enough; it’s time to vote. The Belmont Club has some thoughts on this matter. Note the importance he gives to the city of Mosul (and Nineweh Province), where the elections can be held only with great difficulty; electoral workers have been intimidated and what’s left of them need protection. Mosul has about two million people and is one of Iraq’s most ethnically diverse urban centers, about half Sunni; it is surrounded by Kurds, but--obviously--Kurds cannot be brought in to fight the Sunnis. So there are over 10,000 American troops in the city to try to stabilize the city. Worth watching.

Hillary’s run in 2008

Washington Whispers (U.S. News): "You don’t have to take it from us about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ’s desire to run for president. Her brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, say it’s true. Friends tell us that the two are cheering Sis on and say she’s making all the moves to get ready for the race--presuming she is re-elected by New Yorkers in 2006." (A few clicks down)

Good News from Iraq

Arthur Chrenkoff continues his good work by noting all the good that’s going on in Iraq; many good links to follow. The point is that the vast majority of Iraqis are very interested in making this thing work, and are working hard at it. As a number of linked newstories reveal, the folks running the elections are quite organized and determined. It goas almost without saying that what the ordinary MSM news should emphasize is how remarkable it is that this is taking place at all, rather than placing the emphasis on how the turnout in a few provinces might be minimal. After all, why should we expect their elections to be on par with Cook County Beverly Hills at the first go?

Perspective from abroad

Tim Hames in the London Times has this advice regarding GWB’s inaugural address:

George Washington offered the shortest inaugural address to his fellow countrymen. In his first, he had stunned them by announcing that he would not accept a salary (only John F. Kennedy in recent decades has been similarly inexpensive). In his second, however, with a similar spirit of economy, he produced a mere 135 words. Yet, if inclined, George W. Bush could comfortably beat that record in Washington on Thursday. He might legitimately stand up and state in five blunt words: “I own this town now” and then sit down again.

He explains:

for Mr Bush to dominate the American (and hence, global) scene for almost two years more is an extraordinary achievement. Most second-term presidencies are pale imitations of the first four years in power. They have, historically, been undercut by three factors: agenda exhaustion, personnel depletion and congressional erosion.

. . . .

None of these constraints applies to this President. He still has plenty of proposals for domestic policy left in him. These range from making permanent tax cuts that were passed in his opening term and the partial privatisation of American pensions to his ambition to curtail the outrageous costs of the US legal system. His new Cabinet members are not noticeably weaker than his previous colleagues. His party runs each branch of Congress and, thanks to the November election results, with greater majorities. For the first time since 1937 a re-elected president who has been in Washington for four years starts again with congressional enhancement, not erosion.

The piece’s title? Back for four years, more powerful than ever. Who’s calling Bush an idiot now?

Read the whole thing. 

WaPo Bush interview

Here’s the transcript. This is my favorite exchange:

The Post: In Iraq, there’s been a steady stream of surprises. We weren’t welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven’t found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn’t gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I’m grateful.

Listen, in times of war, things don’t go exactly as planned. Some were saying there was no way that Saddam Hussein would be toppled as quickly as we toppled him. Some were saying there would be mass refugee flows and starvation, which didn’t happen. My only point is, is that, on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.

And the point is, there has to be a flexible strategy that will enable our commanders on the ground and our diplomats to be able to adjust strategy to meet the needs on the ground, all aiming at an eventual goal, which is a free and democratic Iraq, not in our image, in their image, according to their customs. See, we haven’t been -- we’ve been there -- sovereignty was transferred in June of 2004. So this has been a sovereign nation in its new form for less than a year. I’m optimistic about it, and so are a lot of other people who were there in Iraq --optimistic about that, being optimistic about the emergence of a free government.

I’m also mindful that it takes a while for democracy to take hold. Witness our own history. We weren’t -- we certainly were not the perfect democracy and are yet the perfect democracy. Ours is a constitution that said every man -- a system that said every man was equal, but in fact, every man wasn’t equal for a long period of time in our history. The Articles of Confederation were a bumpy period of time. And my only point is, is that I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. And therefore, I am more patient than some, but also mindful that we’ve got to get the Iraqis up and running as quickly as possible, so they can defeat these terrorists.

The election, the President says, was a referendum of sorts on the war in Iraq. And, for all the accusations about being rigidly ideological in his approach, he’s got his eye on the ball--the consent of the governed.

There’s a lot more in this long interview. Read the whole thing.

What Bush reads

CNN has an oily piece on Bush’s reading habits. It mentions that sometimes he meets with authors he is reading (e.g., Natan Sharansky, Bernard Lewis, John Lewis Gaddis). Gaddis says that he was surprised that Bush was reading something that is critical of him, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Gaddis has an essay in the current Foreign Affairs, called Grand Strategy in the Second Term, which is worth reading. Note the emphasis on Bismarck, "The most skillful practitioner of shock and awe" who, Gaddis notes, didn’t "assume that the pieces would simply fall into place as he wished them to: he made sure that they did through the careful, patient construction of a new European order that offered benefits to all who were included within it. Bismarck’s system survived for almost half a century." I note in passing that I have been re-reading into Woodrow Wilson for a class I’m teaching and came across his essay on Bismarck written in 1877, while he was an undergraduate (he graduated Princeton in 1879). He praises Bismarck, "now the foremost figure in Europe" for his "uncommon wisdom in action," for his "genius and force of character," for being a "master-statesman, and for his will. Wilson: "In Bismarck are united the moral force of Cromwell and the political shrewdness of Richelieu; the comprehensive intellect of Burke, without his learning, and the diplomatic ability of Tallyrand, without his coldness." Wilson’s essay is not avaliable on line, it is in the first volume of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson.

North Korean hair

I tried to get a haircut yesterday (my mother told me to do it last week). Too long of a wait, so I’m going today. Amusingly enough I just noticed this BBC report on the campaign for short hair in North Korea. It is worth reading just to reflect for a moment on the insanity of ideology, then go back to reading Wodehouse.

Tsunami aid

Note this this description of a French TV news broadcast praising the American military’s efficiency in getting aid to survivors of the tsunami, while it castigates the French military’s utterly futile response. Very informative. (via Instapundit). Also note this good column by Mark Steyn on the broader theme of our aid that inevitably leads to the question, "why do we like them?" "Most citizens in the West look at the tsunami’s victims and recognise our common humanity." Bruce Sanborn comments on Steyn’s piece.