Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Togo crisis, and a note on languages

Gnassingbe Eyadema, the president of Togo and Africa’s longest ruling leader, has died of a heart attack. The army has installed his son as the head of state in order to "maintain stability."
This is the BBC’s
coverage. And this is the CIA’s recently updated factbook. Note that the country--sandwiched between Ghana and Benin--a former French colony, is smaller than West Virginia and, while French is the official language, there are almost three dozen languages used in a country of about five and a half million. This is a good language map of Togo. Most people use a pidgin French to communicate between different groups. The word pidgin is a Chinese corruption of the word business.

The large number of languages in Togo reminds me of something I recently read. The island of New Guinea (part is an independent country called Papua New Guinea and part is part of Indonesia) has more languages than any other area of the world. It is about twice the size of Britain, has about five million people, and just under one thousand languages, i.e., about twenty percent of all the languages on the earth!
See this
(just for Papua New Guinea). The explanation for this is that the place is so hilly and sparsely populated, with very primitive agriculture, that people have had (until recently) very little contact with each other. So each language is spoken by only a few hundred or a few thousand people at most. A kind of common language has developed over the years called Tok Pisin (as in the English "talk pidgin"). As in all cases, the root of this pidgin language began at a port, a center of commerce and exchange where various ethne came together and had to find a way to talk to one another. Its vocabulary comes mainly from English. Very interesting, see this pidginist. The Australia Broadcasting Corporation even has programming in Tok Pisin.

More on Oil-for-Food scandal

The scandal has rocked the United Nations, no question. And there will be more to come. Bill Safire posed some very interesting questions early on, and as facts are being revealed, he was right on the money, so to speak. Note the Annan-Primakov connection. Kofi Annan’s documents are being scrutinized. Boutros Boutros-Ghali says that Annan’s contribution to the mess is more than his. Manhattan District Attorney has launched his own criminal investigation against Benon Sevan.

While I’m at it....

Win Myers also has an excellent roundup of stories and opinion about the execrable Ward Churchill. I was tempted to make a crack about UVM, but I wouldn’t wish Churchill on them.

A collegiate underground railroad?

Win Myers over at Democracy Project has a devastating commentary on the efforts of northern universities to recruit students in my adopted hometown of Atlanta. (To be clear: I was born and raised in blue states--California, New York, and Maryland--and in an even bluer country--Germany--while Win is a native Georgian who happens to live in Delaware.)

Here are my favorite paragraphs (one from the New York Times article Win is discussing):

It seems that college recruiters from states with shrinking student-age populations are looking around the nation, and especially to states like Georgia, for kids with parents who’re rich enough to pay out-of-state tuition up north. That not only brings in more money for the schools, but fills their increasingly empty classrooms. It doesn’t seem that folks in Vermont are producing enough children to do that on their own, and so they have to go shopping.

But not just any God-fearing, straight-laced kid with a Southern drawl will do, you see. You have to find those who, like Miriam, have the attributes necessary for life in enlightened places that don’t have the economic or demographic power to make it on their own.

One might think some bright folks might put two and two together and understand that, perhaps, the attitudes necessary for success in Vermont must be found outside the state in order for said attitudes to, er, thrive.

"You have to think that there are tens of millions of blue voters in red states," said Daniel M. Fogel, president of the University of Vermont. "There are plenty of people who are culturally attuned to us. In fact, we’ve tended to sell more on our location and ethos than on our academic caliber."

That last sentence pretty well sums up the problems with modern liberalism. It’s not about academics -- all that intellectual, cerebral stuff. It’s about attitude and affectation. Not much to go on, it seems.

Vermont’s a nice place to visit (my folks have a time-share at the

Trapp Family Lodge), but I wouldn’t want to live there. Too many people who haven’t left the Sixties behind, like Ron Jacobs, a fellow army brat with whom I went to high school.

Campus diversity

Let us all praise Brown University President Ruth Simmons for her remarks and hold her accountable for living up to them. Here’s what she said:

Simmons began by telling the audience that one of the questions she receives most frequently when visiting Brown alums and parents around the country is, "What is the University doing about the lack of diversity of opinion on campus?" She said that students on campus of all political stripes have told her of "a chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought."

Such a chilling effect is detrimental to education and intellectual inquiry because "we are often creatures of habit when it comes to learning," Simmons said.

"Familiar and appetizing offerings can certainly be a pleasing dimension of learning, but too much repetition of what we desire to hear can become intellectually debilitating," she said.

As for concrete actions the University will take to improve civil discourse, Simmons pointed to the forthcoming Brown University Community Council, which will be composed of faculty, students, staff and alumni and will serve as a "standing platform" to discuss "issues of importance to our community." She also announced the creation of a fund that will be devoted to bringing a wider variety of speakers to campus and will be open to requests submitted by students and faculty.

While I can’t speak for other Ashbrook Center fellows, my speaking fees are relatively modest and I would be happy to contribute to intellectual diversity at Brown.

Hat tip: Don Herzog at Left2Right, who called this "an encouraging story."

Mothers, Wives, and War: part II

Adding some anecdotal evidence to Peter’s point below: My son’s pre-school teacher has a 26 year-old son who is a Marine and just left for his second tour of duty in Iraq on Sunday. Adding even more emotion to this parting is the fact that his wife just gave birth to their second son in mid-January.

In talking to her about it, however, she will accept offers of prayers but no show of pity. Her own husband escaped Castro’s Cuba and has told her what it is like to live without freedom. They raised their kids to respect what we have in this country and to understand that it is our responsibility to protect it.

She related the following story of her son’s emotional departure: All of the kids ages 10 and up were summoned and it was pointed out to them that though they were being asked to sacrifice some time with their fathers they had been blessed with the inestimable gift of having been born in a free country. It was also pointed out that that would not have been possible without the sacrifice of many other fathers before. It was further noted that the children of Iraq had not been equally blessed but that their fathers were great heroes for helping to make freedom a possibility for those kids as well as for them.

Great stuff and further proof that we Americans are not made of sugar candy.

A Patriot’s History of the United States

I heard one of the authors of this book, Larry Schweikart, interviewed yesterday and it sounded terrific so I went to Amazon and ordered it this morning. Here’s an interview with the same author posted at FrontPage magazine. If anyone has already read this book, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

New Deputy National Security Advisor

I just noticed that J.D. Crouch, ambassador to Romania, has been named the new deputy national security advisor. He is a very smart, tough, and thoughtful man. Good move. Here is his State Department biography.
And this is the President’s announcement of his appointment.

Mothers and wives and war

The Washington Post tells a good story of the unscripted hug between Janet Norwood and Safia al-Souhail during the State of the Union. One lost her son, the other her husband. John Podhoretz has some thoughts, as does John Kass. Frailty, thy name is not woman.

The other bookend

Peggy Noonan has weighed in on the State of the Union Address. She liked it, in part because it was "calibrated" and "less messianic" than the Second Inaugural.

Fortunately, the President spoke the very next morning, which is to say yesterday morning, in tones that are not at all messianic but express the very sort of argument I was calling for here. The setting? Why, the National Prayer Breakfast, of course. (By the way, John Kerry was there, "suppressing numerous yawns," as the Washington Times reporter observed.) Here’s the President’s finest moment:

In these great moral challenges of our times, our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are providing the vision that is changing lives. I’ve seen some of their miracles up close. Last June, I met Veronica Braewell, a 20-year-old refugee from Liberia. As a 13-year-old child, Veronica witnessed armed men killing children in horrific ways. As she fled this madness, Veronica left -- was left for dead atop a pile of bodies, until her grandmother found her. In August 2003, Catholic Social Agency helped resettle her in Pennsylvania, where Veronica is now completing the circle of compassion by working in a home for elderly in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and studying to become a certified nursing assistant.

When Veronica told me of her story, it was through the kind of tears no young woman should ever know. And when she finished, she dried her eyes and said, "Thank you, Mr. President, for my freedom." But I told her, it wasn’t me she needed to thank, she needed to thank the good hearts of the United States of America. The America that embraced Veronica would not be possible without the prayer that drives and leads and sustains our armies of compassion.

What leads to these generous attempts to liberate others--not by the force of arms, but by the force of (can I say it without sounding irredeemably sappy?) love--is that "[w]e recognize in one another the spark of the Divine that gives all human beings their inherent dignity and worth, regardless of religion."

You might, of course, respond: what else could or should one say at a prayer breakfast? Any politically-responsible hypocrite could utter such sentiments. Fair enough. But there’s a good bit of evidence that this President means what he says here. These words express his mind and inform his political vision. Good speech, Mr. President. Let’s see these sentiments--"calibrated," of course--in other settings.

Some politics

Jonathan Chait, senior editor of The New Republic, doesn’t ask whether the Demos are "suicidally crazy," but "why" they are so. He explains why Dean is even less suited to run the DNC than he is to run for president. Ryann Lizza explain how Dean won.

Bad sign for the Demos’ chances in future elections.

Also note that just six Democratic Senators joined the Republicans to vote for Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. Note the stem-winder delivered by Senator Christopher Dodd against Gonzales.

In the meantime President Bush
was in North Dakota and Montana yesterday, pushing Social Security reform. Note that Bush won North Dakota by 27 points, and Montana by 21 points. Democratic Senator Kent Conrad (ND) is up for re-election in 2006, and Max Baucus (MT) is up in 2008. The Ray
C. Bliss Institute
released a study (they do one every four years) showing that Bush took the Catholic vote 53-47; the mainline Protestant vote split evenly, best showing for a Democrat ever; Bush had a 31 percent gain among Hispanic Protestants. There is more. See the full study (PDF file, circa 18 pages) by clicking here.
Also note that Senator Russ Feingold continues to talk about running for president in 2008. It sounds to me like his begging for support, so far without success.

Volcker’s UN Report

Paul Volcker’s Interim Report on the UN’s oil-for-food program. (PDF file, over 200 pages) It does seem that the program was corrupt to the core; but this report will not be the end of it. Senator Norm Coleman said, "There is more than enough probable cause to believe Benon Sevan’s actions constitute criminal activity." It is said that Kofi Annan has ordered "disciplinary action" (whatever that means) against Benon Sevan and one other.

Chaos in North Korea

The London Times Online runs an article that claims that Kim Il Jung’s rule is on the verge of collapse. It is a report from the inside and the description of the country and the penury of the people is nothing short of horrible.

Religion in the State of the Union

We have come to expect soaring, religion-tinged rhetoric from President Bush. Michael Gerson has defended this language as an essential part of American culture, without which our political speech would be impoverished. I’ve discussed these matters here, here, here, here, and here.

That said, there were almost no explicitly religious moments in yesterday’s SOTU Address. The only one I can find is a reference to "the road of Providence" at the very end. Others have noticed as well, some with somewhat mean-spirited glee, some with perhaps a little concern. Terry Mattingly would like to see a broadening of the rather narrow focus of the President’s "culture of life" language, perhaps further in the direction of the Roman Catholic social teaching from which it is drawn. I don’t think he’s holding his breath, unless he’s happy with Michael Novak, whose latest book is The Universal Hunger for Liberty, and doesn’t long for the soothing words of J. Bryan Hehir.

The good folks at Christianity Today are also concerned:

Viewers who had to tuck their kids into bed may have missed the President’s brief remarks on life issues, wedged as they were between the speech’s far more detailed sections on Social Security and political freedom. Does this suggest that now that Mr. Bush, who ran on a pro-life platform, has safely won a second term, he is less than eager to spend some of his "political capital" to defend the sanctity of human life and marriage? We hope not.

Yet, in an hour-long address, the President devoted but two short paragraphs to what we’d broadly call "life issues" (for lack of a better term). The words were good, but they were too few if he is really serious about building a "culture of life." This brevity in the midst of the nation’s unfolding moral confusion is unsettling. Why is he bold and visionary on economic issues that may affect our children and grandchildren, but strangely reticent on the very definitions of human life and community? While "values voters" certainly care about Social Security, they didn’t return Bush to office on this basis.

Granted, the President is not the nation’s senior pastor. But his words and actions can set a tone that allows a culture of life to flourish.

And there’s this:

Political issues such as reforming Social Security and encouraging democracy overseas are worthy challenges—both of which in broad terms we support. But we dare not neglect the issues that touch upon the foundations of human dignity and the family. What will it profit us if we gain retirement benefits and freedom and lose our national soul?

I am at the moment willing to give the President a bit of a pass. There are more appropriate venues to elaborate on and defend the culture of life. But there do need to be speeches to explain the deeds. Most promising will be, I think, opportunities to connect human dignity and human liberty, about which I’d like to hear more. Mr. McGurn, are you listening?

This is the Enemy

Today’s Washington Post features this story about Dutch politicians who dare to criticize Islam fearing for their lives. In other news, Power Line brings us word that the terrorists in Iraq are now using mentally retarded young men to carry out suicide bombing attacks. Remember, these are the men whom Michael Moore has compared favorably to the Minutemen of the American Revolution.

Marine General,

Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis got himself in some hot water by saying the following:

A senior U.S. Marine Corps general who said it was "fun to shoot some people" should have chosen his words more carefully but will not be disciplined, military officials said on Thursday.Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who led troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, made the comments at a conference Tuesday in San Diego.

"Actually it’s quite fun to fight ’em, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up front with you, I like brawling," said Mattis.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

Another religion and politics survey report

The religion and politics "Gang of Four"--John C. Green, Corwin Smidt, James Guth, and Lyman Kellstedt--has produced another report of the American religious landscape, post-2004 election. There are no huge surprises here, though the report will gratify those who like to see the electorate sliced and diced (demographically, not the way one of Zarqawi’s thugs would do it).

There remains ample evidence of a split across the board between religious traditionalists and modernists, a split that has pushed the mainline Protestant center of gravity in the direction of the Kerry camp (mainline Protestants, now only 16% of the population, split 50/50 in the survey). Non-Latino Catholics went for Bush, largely on the strength of 72% traditionalist and 55% centrist support. Evangelicals went for GWB over JFK 78-22, with 88% of traditionalists and 64% of centrists supporting the President. Latino Protestants, a small (2.8%) but growing portion of the electorate, supported Bush by a 63-37% margin.

Social issues loomed relatively large for all traditionalists, but not so much for others. Economic issues loomed largest for Latinos (Catholic and Protestant) and African-Americans. Others either responded most emphatically to foreign policy concerns or split pretty evenly between foreign and economic policy concerns (centrist evangelicals and Catholics, modernist mainline Protestants).

According to the survey, fully 27% of Bush’s overall support came from traditionalist evangelicals. By contrast, African-American Protestants comprised 13% of the Kerry coalition. Both numbers strike me as high water marks for the parties. It’s hard to imagine the 2008 Republican nominee getting more than 88% of the traditionalist evangelical vote, and I suspect that we’re seeing the beginning of an African-American migration away from total fealty to the Democrats.

I am nonetheless hopeful about the Republican future (though my crystal ball is famously cloudy). In 2004, things were exploitably bad for Bush on both foreign policy and economic fronts, and are likely to be better down the road (I’m an Iraq optimist). Bush’s future accomplishments in both arenas will be rewarded by constituencies who care about them. And his allies in the culture war won’t be swayed by the ritual and meaningless religious invocations, such as those offered last night by Reid and Pelosi, nor by HRC’s efforts at triangulation.

More on Howard Dean

Andrew Busch reflects on what the Howard Dean era as DNC chair may mean for the Democrats. Thoughtful essay, and note this:

This point is part of a broader illustration: what Dean’s ascent (or re-ascent) says about the current status of the Democratic Party. While some individual Democrats have taken the hints offered by the 2004 (and 2002) election, the party as a whole has either not come to grips with its recent defeats or has chosen to interpret those defeats as the result of insufficiently clear liberalism. The replacement of Clintonites like McAuliffe with Dean, following the 2002 replacement of Richard Gephardt with Nancy Pelosi, would signal that Democrats as a group have made a conscious decision to shift back hard in the direction of McGovernism. One might even declare the era of Clintonism within the Democratic Party to be over or at least suspended until further notice. Dean’s rise—whether he ultimately wins the DNC vote or not—may also be evidence of the depletion of talent on the Democratic side.

Grudging words of praise for GWB

From David Corn:

He produced grand and effective political theater. In the middle of the address, he transformed the war in Iraq--which even after the historic election there arguably remains his largest liability--into a single, powerfully poignant moment. Exploiting the tradition of inviting symbolically significant guests to sit with the First Lady, Bush introduced the mother of a US Marine killed in Fallujah and an Iraqi human rights advocate whose father had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and who had voted in Sunday’s election. With the House chamber awash with emotion, the two women hugged. Bush was near tears. Members of Congress--perhaps including those legislators who had dyed their index fingers purple for the event--were crying. In a nutshell, here was Bush’s story of sacrifice, liberty and freedom. Sentiment--sincere sentiment--was in full synch with spin. The not-too-hidden partisan message: Match that, you naysayers. This was a triumph of political communication. And it was a reminder that despite the apparent difficulties Bush faces in his top-priority effort to partially privatize Social Security, he should hardly be counted out. This man does what it takes.

From Harold Meyerson:

What a time for George W. Bush to learn how to deliver a speech. Compared with his past performances, he was a g-----n [pardon my delicacy, but this is a family blog]Demosthenes during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

That’s in good part because he had more to say. Last year’s State of the Union is memorable for abandoning Mars and declaring war on steroids. Now, it’s the Bush agenda that’s on steroids.

For one thing, the election in Iraq has finally made it possible for the president to point to a positive consequence -- however transient it may prove to be -- of his decision to go to war recklessly and wage it stupidly. Unlike past years, when Bush came before Congress insisting ridiculously that Iraq posed a mortal threat to the United States, he came before Congress and teared up as an American mother who’d lost her son embraced an Iraqi daughter who’d lost her father. The moment was not just the emotional center of the speech; it was the emotional center of his presidency, imparting to his tenure in office something it’s lacked since the United States ousted the Taliban: a plausible raison d’être.

These are, of course, straws in the wind, but the successful election in Iraq has silenced the critics, or at least made it difficult for them to say anything "bold." Witness Nancy Pelosi’s plastic performance last night: if you do what we say (that is, what you’re already doing), then the next round of elections in December will be significantly better. Gee, that’s tough talk!

Lest we forget John Kerry (who won’t let us, however much we try):

But the greatest tribute to the memory of the fallen is an exit strategy called success.

I think the President said that, more clearly and elegantly. On Iraq and foreign policy in general, the Democrats do not have a plausible alternative.

A New Definition of "Solvency"

In scanning the AP piece that Peter called our attention to below, I noticed an interesting couple of paragraphs:

Declaring Social Security will go broke if nothing is done, Bush said that by 2042, "the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt."

In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (news - web sites) forecasts Social Security as it is would be able to pay 73 percent of benefits in 2042 and stay solvent for 10 years beyond that.

So in other words, the system will remain "solvent," assuming that benefits are reduced by over one-fourth? Is that supposed to make those of us who will be thinking about retirement at around that time feel better about the health of Social Security?

Voter Irregularities in Wisconsin

While certain members of the tinfoil hat wing of the Democratic Party continue to make accusations about the vote in Ohio, it seems that more tangible evidence of voter fraud has emerged in Milwaukee. In no less than seventeen wards there were over 100 more ballots cast than there were registered voters. In two of these wards the gap was larger than 500. Of course, these were wards that went overwhelmingly for John Kerry and, you may recall, Kerry’s margin of victory in Wisconsin was extremely narrow--much narrower than the margin of the Bush victory in Ohio.

State of the Union

Bush’s State of the Union address was strong, straightforward, and effective. The moment of the hug of the American mother and the Iraqi voter was full of eloquence and meaning. That a dead Marine’s mother could hug the woman for whom he gave his life explains everything and it is that idea and image that explains the Cowboy’s actions and the reason why. Ineradicable moment. A very fine speech altogether. Social Security reform is the politics of this season and judguing by the Demos response, Bush will win this one too. I note in passing that Harry Reid talked about a Marshall Plan for America, and if you think of the devastating effects of the war on Europe and the growling bear from the East and what the Marshall Plan did--and then think of America as you find it today--you will realize that Reid said something very stupid and very revealing about where the Democratric Party stands today, what they are thinking about, and why they are going to continue to lose elections.
I am absolutely confident that the sensible part of that Party are embarrased by that comment. I note in passing that President Bush kissed Senator Lieberman, unscripted. It is no wonder that my young son said, "I love this guy."

Here is Lucas Morel’s quick take on the speech. Also note comments by Richard Reeb, Joe Katzman, and note this AP report on the speech; it’s really an editorial. Amazing. And, in case you still think Bush is an idiot with no sense of humor, note this comment from the WaPo’s Reliable Source, as reported by Tom Brokaw:

We already knew about the President’s opening quip to the former Bill Clinton aide -- "Welcome back to the White House, George. We’ll have to make sure that we count the silverware" -- but Brokaw recounted an even sharper jape. Discussing his upcoming State of the Union address, Bush told the assembled media heavies: "I’m prepared. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to sit in the back of the limo on the way to the Capitol and rewrite my speech. Know what I mean, George?"

Yesterday, Stephanopoulos told us: "If I’m going to go through my rookie hazing, it might as well be from the commander in chief." [This refers to Clinton’s tendency to have sections of his speeches re-written in the limo on the way to the event, including the State of the Union.]

Eason Jordan and CNN

Eason Jordan, the CNN reporter famous for admitting in 2003 that he had NOT reported many horrible things about Saddam Hussein in an effort to keep CNN in Iraq, apparently stepped in it again during a speech he gave at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Jordan claimed, without any evidence offered, that the US military targeted and killed at least a dozen journalists. He also claimed that the US Military tortured journalists in a separate accusation two months ago. Read the details here and follow Hugh Hewitt for continuing updates on this story which has the potential to be even more explosive than the Rather scandal.

Party matters

The New York Observer notes that it seems as though Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton will, in an uneasy partnership, will define the Democrat Party for the next three years. The N.Y. Times claims that Dean is "almost assured" to become the DNC Chairman. Regarding the possibility of some bipartisannship, which Bill Frist claims to want, I was amused to read this quote by him: "I can play hardball as well as anybody. That’s what I did, cut people’s hearts out. On the other hand, I do it to cure them, to heal them, to make them better." See this N.Y. Times article. This L.A. Times article focuses on Bush’s agenda during the next four years, especially placing a limit on jury awards in lawsuits against doctors and businesses. "President Bush’s agenda for the next four years, much of which he will highlight in his State of the Union address tonight, includes many proposals that would not only change public policy but, the GOP hopes, achieve an ambitious political goal: Stripping money and voters from the Democratic Party and cementing Republican dominance for years after he leaves office." In other words, realignment in motion.

Ramirez Cartoon

More on Resnick

More on Justice Resnick’s DUI arrest from the Toledo Blade. Not pretty.

The Nobel Peace Prize to Bush?

Youssef M. Ibrahim writes that "As things stand right now, the whole Middle East political map is up for change." It’s a nice outline of some of the effects of the real regime change going on Iraq, the awe it has created in the Mideast, and some of the likely consequences. This, and the announcement that Sharon and Abbas are going to meet in Egypt next week--the start of things to come since this is the highest level meeting in four years--leads me to a thought. It is probable that this thought will lead you to think that that my wits begin to turn, as the Poet might say. But, maybe not. For it is obvious that the Bush guys are not being given enough credit for things already accomplished in the Mideast, nor is it assumed that they are capable of accomplishing more. This is wrong. Their design is working, and while I don’t think Bush is fortune’s knave, it has fallen in line with his purposes.

So I pose a question. What are the chances that President Bush will receive the Nobel Peace Prize before he leaves office? I think the chances are very much in his favor. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that unless an unseen catastrophe happens in the region, he will receive the Prize. I don’t say this because I think it is important that W. get the prize so that he may be in the company of Kofi Annan (2001), Jimmy Carter (2002), or Shirin Ebadi (2003), but because I look forward to the time when even the international Left will be forced to recognize his accomplishments. Wouldn’t that be something? Yes it would. Fortes fortuna adiuvat.

It’s Not Your Mother’s Tupperware Party

When I was a kid, my mom and her female friends would get together for card club, baby/wedding showers and, occasionally, that heralded institution: the party to which you are expected to come and buy some item that you don’t really need and is over-priced to boot. Tupperware was a perennial favorite and, living in Ohio as we did, Longaberger baskets were quite popular too.

Now that I am the Mom, I understand the popularity of this phenonmenon. It is an excuse to get together with the girls, meet some friends of friends, have a few glasses of wine, and escape the responsibilities and stresses of motherhood for a few hours. I have attended parties of this variety hocking everything from kitchen goods to jewelry.

But evidently, that is all old-school. Today I have learned that there are no limits to the scope and variety of these parties as an invitation to a "Passion Party" arrived at my doorstep. I am no prude--but really. Is this what passes as sexy today? Hyped up lingerie and sex toys?

I think I need to join a card club.

What do John Howard, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush have in common?

Answer: they are all overtly religious. And at least two of them--I don’t know about Blair--are reviled by the religious Left in their countries. I wrote about Bush and the religious Left here. You can find a somewhat critical review of Marion Maddox’s God Under Howard here.

Here’s an example of the publisher’s puffery:

How has American-style evangelicalism become so prominent in secular Australia? Why are abortion, creationism and family values now on the political agenda? Why is religion no longer a private matter for public figures?

In God Under Howard Marion Maddox explains how John Howard has harnessed the conservative social agenda and market-based ideology of American fundamentalists in order to stay in power. As a result, she argues that Australia’s democratic, egalitarian culture is now under serious assault.

Here are the more modulated tones of the review:

The radical Right in Australia just doesn’t stack up as the sinister, US-style force Maddox depicts. The chapter titled The Politics of Death charts the success of the anti-euthanasia push, which she characterises as "the staged unfolding of the next act in the Right’s carefully scripted culture wars". She seems furious that committed Christians within Australian politics are treading carefully and strategically, downplaying their fervency with often-legitimate appeals to natural law. But are they not entitled to a sound political strategy? Regardless, the 1997 Euthanasia No campaign was not a Coalition conspiracy, being co-ordinated by, among others, Tony Burke, a NSW Labor Right MP. To be just, the culture wars are not being waged only by the social conservatives.


John Howard talks, the French listen

AFP reports: "An accusation by Australian Prime Minister John Howard that France was guilty of lingering ’anti-Americanism’ drew sharp words from Paris during a visit by the Australian foreign minister.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, standing next to his Australian counterpart Alexander Downer, told journalists he was ’very, very surprised’ to hear Howard’s remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on the weekend."

A note on democracy

Robert Conquest argues that "democracy" arrived only after a "law-and-liberty polity" (or "culture") had emerged. In explaining this he--in his sort of moderate Burkean way--asserts that "habits of mind" and following the "traditional rules of the political game" are the most important things
in political life, rather than institutions or a "mere word" or "abstract human rights definitions." These latter are utopian and lead to despotism (note what follows the French Revolution). What he calls "political civilization" is "thus not primarily a matter of the goodwill of leadership or of ideal constitutions. It is, above all, a matter of time in custom." All well and good, of course. Time in custom, especially for the Brits, is important. Yet, we cannot really keep what he calls the "high-midedness of the Continental Enlightenment" entirely at bay. Since he quotes a line from Federalist #1, I’ll just remind the reader of the first paragraph, wherein Publius tries to appeal to the people’s justice, on the grounds of equality, for the sake of liberty and self-government, and yet not in a utopian way:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

I quite understand Conquest’s concern with moderation and habit (mind or heart) as well as the need for an evolution of important changes in the body-politic, and sometimes even in regimes. But there is the crux. There is not just evolution and custom and adhering to rules, and the creation of strong states by a civic order. Sometimes such accidents are painful, and they are almost always enforced. There is reflection and choice, and that is connected to natural rights. There really are regimes and such things--in reflecting the ever human qualities of their creators and participants--always determine which part of the "community" rules. It is not merely a set of rules that come about from custom. Here the people rule through the Constitution which they themselves established. And they rule for the sake of their freedom, and this becomes a way of life and we think it is the best way of life, and is connected more closely to happiness and freedom. And it is founded on natural rights. Now I do not think this all that abstract, although it is revolutionary, and it is so argued for by those who framed this regime and government. This doesn’t mean that Conquest’s attempt at measure is without value, yet it is incomplete. It might be too bad that we call this regime a democracy nowadays, but that’s just an example of how a "mere word" has life and brings forth its own children, through consent.

Republicans and African-Americans

During the election campaign, I wrote about GWB and the African-American churches here, arguing that we were witnessing the beginning of a shift away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans. More evidence can be found in this article. According to U.S. Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.), this development could spell disaster for the Democrats:

Even if it [African-American support for Republicans] rises 5 percentage points, Owens said, "the Democratic Party will be paralyzed."

Owens said the GOP strategy of courting church leadership was on target. "The churches are the last institutions alive and breathing in some of these neighborhoods, and people look to them for leadership," he said.

He added:

"I am frightened by what is happening," said Rep. Major R. Owens, an 11-term Democratic congressman from New York who has been conferring with colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus. "Our party is in grave danger. This Republican movement is going to expand exponentially unless we do something."

"Doing something" would seem to require actually working with African-American churches, rather than merely exploiting them for political gain during election campaigns and taking seriously the moral concerns raised by black pastors.

In my view, the next two years are crucial. If the Democrats do not get their act together and the Bush Administration does not implode, there could be a substantial exodus from the former to the latter. We live in interesting times.

The website for one of the groups mentioned in the article can be found
here. Another website of interest is here.

Update: Ken Masugi has further thoughts.

Update #2: Here’s the L.A. Times story about the event. According to the reporters, it focused on gay marriage.

Soros’ Open Society, no, really

George Soros is a very deep thinker, as you know. He hates Bush and loves what he calls the Open Society: Paradoxically, the most successful open society in the world, the U.S., does not properly understand the first principles of an open society; indeed, its current leadership actively disavows them. The concept of open society is based on recognition that nobody possesses the ultimate truth, that one may be wrong. Yet being wrong is precisely the possibility that Bush refuses to acknowledge, and his denial appeals to a significant segment of the American public. An equally significant segment is appalled. This has left the U.S. not only deeply divided, but also at loggerheads with much of the rest of the world, which considers its policies high-handed and arbitrary.

Never mind self-evident truths, or even propositions. But enough. I’ve laughed my way through the whole day. I have to compose myself.

Andrew Sullivan’s blog is finished

Andrew Sullivan has announced (click down) that he will stop blogging. He is a busy and energetic fellow with much on his plate, and I don’t blame him for wanting to retire from blogging. I thank him for many good years, and regret that the last year or so was a decline. He went overboard with his gay agenda, with a pretty serious and, to my mind, uncalled for, anti-Bush screed, so I stopped reading him because I learned ever less and his elegant style was covered by anger. In the early years I would read him daily, and in the end--maybe--monthly. Too bad. He was, at his best, a great writer, and great writers are always worth reading even when you disagree with them. His essay on September 11, "Why did it have to be such a perfect morning?", is one the best things ever written on the attack. Read it here.

One reader cares about this

Rick Myers, current Vice President for Academic Affairs at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick probably would like to know that this past weekend Russ Churchwell shattered the SCAC men’s career rebounding mark.

Rick would also like to know whether our old friend Dave Foster is still tearing up the basketball courts.

Liberal penance about Iraq?

Mark Brown, an opponent of the war in Iraq (and Bush) begins to ask himself some tough questions after having watched the brave Iraqis vote. Could Bush be right about Iraq? What, then do we Liberals do? Some kind of penance, he suggests. I’d like the New York Times to ask itself similar questions. Perhaps in an editorial? I’m waiting.

A DUI for an Ohio Justice

Alice Robie Resnick, a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, was arrested for driving under the influence.

The ownership society and the investor gap

Here is short and very informative piece by James K. Glassman explaining what the Ownership Society means. He claims that Bush’s idea--and this is no surprise to you--goes way beyond the Social Security issue, etc. The investor gap has profound implications for electoral politics, as well. Scott Johnson & John Hinderaker explain that because of the personal income tax, a large majority of citizens are not inclined to restrain the growth of government. The title of their piece is, "Broad ownership needs broad taxpaying."

Blue to red counties

This USA Today article attempts to figure out why this happened: "153 counties that voted Democratic for president in 1996 and 2000 chose Bush in 2004; only 11 chose Democrat John Kerry after voting Republican in 1996 and 2000." And, is this evidence of a spreading of GOP dominance? The article examines four counties in four different states. It basically reports on the interviews of citizens they conducted, and, is therefore, imprefect, but still worth a look. The thrust of it, if there is one, is that the war and Iraq, and being a tough leader were the most important factors. Note the nice map.

Not unrelated, Democrats
are distancing themselves from teddy Kennedy’s remarks on Iraq as Vietnam, but are still calling for an explicit "exit strategy." Also note that Christopher Hitchens explains, once again, why Iraq is not Vietnam. The Vietnam/Iraq babble is, from any point of view, a busted flush. It’s no good. It’s a stiff. It’s passed on. It has ceased to be. It’s joined the choir invisible. It’s turned up its toes. It’s gone. It’s an ex-analogy.

General education and the life of the mind

I sympathize with some of what Mark Oppenheimer says here, but take issue with more of it.

Here’s a snippet:

Our students have lost the space in which to act with purpose, which I think of as narrow but deep attention, not quite obsession but a healthier version of it. The ideal is now versatility, four years of learned attention deficit disorder (except in sports, where the three-sport dilettante has been replaced by the highly directed thoroughbred one-sport stud). As activities have multiplied, the curriculum has diversified, which is both a cause and an effect. Choosing from a menu of activities – academics, sports, student government, community service, etc. – students spend less time on academics, and what time they do spend is forcibly divided among various disciplines or “distribution groups.”

Yes, our students often behave as if they have attention deficit disorder, but the culprit is not the requirement that they be liberally educated as well as specialized. Oppenheimer’s strictures apply to cafeteria-style distribution requirements that have no organizing principle for any student other than scheduling convenience, the relative easiness of the material, or the popularity of the professor.
Katie Newmark is right when she observes about her own experience that

Duke’s gen ed requirements, which the students pejoratively refer to as "The Matrix," are designed to give students breadth of knowledge. But many people regard The Matrix as a burden; they look for the easiest classes that will fulfill the requirements, taking them not out of intellectual curiosity but just to meet the requirement, and they don’t take these Matrix classes seriously.

But students can come to appreciate a coherent core curriculum, where they achieve depth over time, amounting to what we at Oglethorpe sometimes call "a second major." Yes, an intellectually serious experience of specialization is a good thing, but by itself--without the perspective afforded by a coherent, genuinely liberal education--it is stultifying, illiberal, and ultimately subject to the kind of lampooning Nietzsche offers in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where he describes Zarathustra’s encounter with the man who is an expert on the brain of the leech.

Charlotte Simmons again

Betsy Newmark’s daughter Katie, a Dupont, er I mean Duke, University alumna, had this interesting post about Tom Wolfe’s book.

Teenage recklessness

Forgive me for the unrestrained laughter in reading this report from the WaPo on teenage driving. Remember, Vicki and I have four children (16 to 26). Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have discovered "that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation’s driving laws." The psychiatrist leading the study said this:
"We’d thought the highest levels of physical and brain maturity were reached by age 18, maybe earlier -- so this threw us." He then adds that that makes adolescence "a dangerous time, when it should be the best." There is more rocket science here. For example, it was discovered that the judgment of teens further deteriorates with distractions. Another said, with Solomonic wisdom, "Teenagers’ brains are not broken; they’re just still under construction." The next thing we’ll hear is that there might be some differences between men and women regarding such matters as risk taking. Read the whole thing and amuse yourself.   

Iraq election

Some choice quotes from this morning’s Washington Post. Here’s one, the concluding paragraphs of an article on election security:

Still, in the long term, those working to establish stability in Iraq counted Sunday as a big win.

"They tried to stop us doing Fallujah," the diplomat said. "They failed. They tried to stop planning for the elections. They failed. They then set out to stop the election. They failed.

"Sooner or later, these failures add up."

Here’s one, from an article assessing Bush Administration reaction to the election:

It was a big, climactic moment in history, which this clearly was because it had a lot of dramatic consequences and will be unfolding for many years," said historian Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Certainly at this point, you have to say that the Bush administration’s critics have made as many mistakes as the Bush administration in assessing Iraq."

article noted this ironic Arab reaction:

But many Arab leaders were mute or urged election winners to ensure that power would be shared fairly among religious and ethnic groups.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said in a statement that the elections were "an important step toward launching an effective political process in which all components of the Iraqi people can participate."


E. J. Dionne can’t be a totally wet blanket:

But even opponents of the war and critics of President Bush should not be cynical about the immense courage shown by so many Iraqis, and by the troops protecting them. Nor should they -- we -- be cynical about the obvious superiority of even a flawed form of democracy over dictatorship. As John F. Kennedy might have put it, we observed on Sunday not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom.

George Will can have the last word:

Forty years ago Kennedy suffered a continuing brain cramp. He and an aging but vocal portion of his party have no prism to see through and no vocabulary to speak with other than Vietnam. Hence they see the Iraqi insurgents as another iteration of the Viet Cong. But the Viet Cong had a marketable model for organizing the modern world. Marxism -- "scientific socialism" -- is today as vanished as a pricked bubble, but when Ho Chi Minh was in Paris, it was considered the last word in modernity, and found a mass market. Zarqawi’s "program" is a howl of rage against modernity, promising only different boots -- clerical ones -- on the same faces.

Americans are understandably weary of hearing, "Now comes the really hard part." But those who said that after Baghdad fell 22 months ago were right, and those who say it after Sunday might be. Nevertheless, getting to, and through, Sunday was hard, and those -- Iraqis, Americans and other coalition forces -- who did it might yet pull that country into modernity. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

The other coalition

The leaders France, Germany, and Russia are saying nice things about the elections in Iraq, and are looking forward to being more helpful. Chirac said that the "the participation rate and the good technical organization of the elections were satisfactory." Javier Solana, the foreign affairs chief of the EU said

the Iraqi people "are going to find the support of the European Union — no doubt about that — in order to see this process move on in the right direction." In the meantime, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chief of the U.N.-backed International Mission for Iraqi Elections, said that
"the Iraqi elections generally meet international standards." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi makes clear that he is still an enemy of democracy. President Bush will be in Europe in a few weeks.

Democratic Party matters

USA Today runs an edited conversation between Matthew Dowd and Joe Lockhart (moderated by Susan Page) on Iraq, Social Security and who they think the nominees might be in 2008. Dowd only mentions McCain and Guilliani, while Lockhart mentions Kerry, Edwards, and Hillary Clinton. Russ Feingold is testing the waters, as are Wesley Clark and Evan Bayh. I’m sorry to report that Hillary Clinton collapsed during a speech this afternoon in Buffalo. She has the flu and seems to be OK. And Donnie Fowler has been endorsed by the Association of State Democratic Chairs, perhaps the first sign that Dean’s candidacy is not a given. Their recommendation will have to be endorsed by the entire association next Monday.

Satire of the MSM

This amused me from Scrappleface.

News reports of terrorist bombings in Iraq were marred Sunday by shocking graphic images of Iraqi "insurgents" voting by the millions in their first free democratic election. Read the rest.

Patriot’s history

This is an interview with Larry Schweikart, a history prof at the University of Dayton, about his new book, A Patriot’s History of the United States. I haven’t read into yet, but I’m betting that it’s better than most surveys, and if it’s any better than Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People, I’ll buy dozens! It almost goes without saying that it has to be better than Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, but I admit that is a low standard by which to judge.

Albanian resort

This is an interesting and informative report on the development of a Club Med in Alabania.
I have long argued that places like Albania, Bulgaria (never mind Hungary and the others), have a great opportunity in attracting tourists, especially to such resorts. Good for them. This is the recently updated CIA
World Factbook on Albania.

People Power, Regime Change

David Kaspar reports that the German media is giving a less positive report on the Iraqi elections than the Arab media. Arthur Chrenkoff gives a very useful (and rather long) report on the good news from Iraq under the title, "Happy Birthday." He has many good links you might follow. John Podhoretz slams those who are not admitting that the elections in Iraq are significant. Roger L. Simon thinks it’s about time for the MSM to stop calling terrorists "insurgents." Good idea. Amir Taheri rightly argues in the London Times that the elections proved the doom-mongers wrong and is a major defeat for the terrorists. Also see this largely positive stories from the L.A. Times and the Washington Post.

I know it is fashionable, and sometimes politically necessary, to say that this election in Iraq is not the end of mischief and terror. I know that. But it is a milestone, nevertheless, and that is what has to be admitted. The reports on television--the interviews with Iraqi citizens, their heartfelt joy being expressed in words and song--about this great event moved me deeply and should move anyone who is prejudiced in favor of liberty. These people got up and walked to their polling places despite all. Is this not an act of courage? Is this not an act of hope? Is this not a revolutionary act? Is this not a great example of people power? The regime has changed, and the rest are details. And everyone knows this, except maybe the likes of John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy, and Juan Cole. These people cannot overcome their sad defeatism, and/or their hatred of Bush. Too bad for them. Let them wallow in their bitterness and pessimism, and let the rest of us rejoice at the event, taking it for what it was and what it represented: A people shaking off the tyrannical past and giving themselves authority on behalf of freedom. In another time and under other leadership this would be called people power and even the Liberals would be rejoicing, as they did in 1986 in the Philippines. I was there for that. But, as they say, the times have changed and the corruption of the so-called progressive forces in American politics is near complete. They don’t know what they stand for, who they are, and they don’t know the difference between good guys and bad guys. Oddly, the moral relativism--their inability to see the difference between regimes--that they expound will have greater consequences in this country than abroad. The progressives continue to de-authorize themselves, to make themselves ever less significant in America politics. Indeed, if this weren’t so serious, we would be laughing. But the rest of us can take great pleasure in seeing the Philippinos, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Ukranians, the Iraqis, and the others to come, begin to take pride in being free. I congratulate these people and wish them well.

Ignatieff on Iraq

Michael Ignatieff manages to say very little in today’s New York Times Magazine commentary. But he does deliver this remarkable admission:

Establishing free institutions in Iraq was the best reason to support the war -- now it is the only reason -- and for that very reason democracy there has ceased to be a respectable cause. The administration’s ideologues -- the ones who wrote the presidential inaugural and its image of America in the service of ’’the Author of Liberty’’ -- have managed the nearly impossible: to turn democracy itself into a disreputable slogan. Liberals can’t bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neoconservative bombast. Meanwhile, antiwar ideologues can’t support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions. Finally there are the ideological fools in the Arab world and even a few here at home who think the ’’insurgents’’ are fighting a just war against American imperialism. All this makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates. The right name for such people is fascists.

You read that right: Bush hatred has gone so far that many Democrats can’t bring themselves to support democracy in Iraq (or elsewhere). They would rather give aid and comfort to the enemy--"objectively," as Marxist grad students used to say, supporting Zarqawi--than admit that anything good can come from the Bush White House. This from a man of the (moderate) Left.

Perhaps then GWB ought to embrace the entirety of the 2004 Democratic platform (speaking in secret evangelical code to let the Republicans know he doesn’t really mean it), thereby driving the Democrats into absolute opposition to everything they once stood for. Works for me.

Is the planet (especially the West) on a non-sustainable course?

Gregg Easterbrook reviews Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and, in doing so, he gives a very good overview of Jared’s previous book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and how the two books are connected. Diamond argues that all variations in societies are not caused by the societies themselves, but by "differences in their environments." Some of this sort of thing is interesting, of course, but Easterbrook does a pretty good job in showing how problematic it is in the end. Just one paragraph:

Diamond’s analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture, especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view is explaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. This happened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change. True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? China’s embrace of a change-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism. Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivation. Yet Diamond considers ideas to be nearly irrelevant, compared with microbes and prevailing winds. Supply the right environmental conditions, and inevitably there will be a factory manufacturing jet engines.

Arab reactions to the Iraqi elections

It will be interesting to see what the other countries in the region will make of the elections in Iraq. Some information is starting to come in. This AP dispatch is quite informative, and largely positive. Note the title of the piece, "Arabs Mesmerized by Iraqi Elections." The last line of the story is especially revealing. A student being interviewed in Egypt was asked about the growth of democracy in Egypt. He looked around and said: "Let’s talk about Iraq. Let’s stay away from talking about Egypt." Here is the President’s
statement on the Iraq election.

Scalia again

Nicholas Thompson joins the swelling chorus of voices urging the nomination of Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice. His wrinkle?

If the religious right is salivating over the prospect of Scalia as chief when the seriously ill William Rehnquist retires, accede. Just demand that the president nominate a moderate associate justice in return and threaten filibuster and gumming up of the Senate in other ways if the deal falls through. This would be better than an even-up trade, since replacing Rehnquist’s slot with Scalia, and Scalia’s slot with a moderate, would ultimately swing some 5-4 decisions away from the conservatives.

This will never happen, I say hopefully. Even if Scalia is elevated to CJ, the Bush Administration will never cut that kind of deal with the Democrats, I say hopefully.

The article does contain a glimmer of hope that some liberals are coming to their senses about the judicial protection of abortion:

Scalia is also a federalist and, as Democrats are quickly starting to realize, federalism is nectar to the federally powerless. Oklahoma can pass whatever reactionary laws it wants, while New York passes the opposites. In a worst-case scenario, the right could overturn Roe v. Wade and see abortion banned throughout the South; but that wouldn’t mean blue states would have to follow suit. Scalia has sometimes abandoned federalism (and other principles) when he’s got big political or personal fish to fry. But it would require serious contortions for him to shun the 10th Amendment here. "If a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law," Scalia has said. There’s no reason not to take him at his word on that.

And then there’s this:

The last reason Democrats should support Scalia is the most important and the most complicated: He’s smart.

The high court has long been viewed by many as a bunch of political hacks who only got there because the president considered them pliant or sought to reward blind loyalty. That view coexists uneasily with the image of justices as the sage interpreters of our nation’s laws—who got there because they’re the wisest people in the land. Lately, the political-hack view has dominated, and that’s a bad thing. Counterintuitive as it may seem, Democrats should work toward establishing a respected court, even if it’s still dominated by GOP appointees.

If citizens believe that the grandest interpreters of our laws are merely black-robed political partisans, it’s easier for the administration to treat them that way: The White House can choose candidates based on how loyal they are and how well they’d help the GOP in future elections. That’s the way it is now, and that’s why we’ve reached the peculiar situation in which Gonzales is a more likely nominee than, say, Richard Posner or Frank Easterbrook—conservatives who are also among the smartest appellate judges in the country.

Scalia’s elevation would be a useful tonic. He thinks through issues logically and, unlike Thomas, he asks tough questions during hearings and writes terrific opinions. In the recent decision United States v. Booker and United States v. Fanfan, striking down congressionally written mandatory sentencing guidelines, while allowing judges to continue to consult them, Scalia’s opinion is by far the most readable and logical. Scrapping the key elements of the sentencing regime but keeping the rest is "rather like deleting the ingredients portion of a recipe and telling the cook to continue with the preparation portion," he wrote.

Scalia is a conservative and an originalist, yes, but his core ideology is, and has always been, legal clarity. In the short term, this might seem bad for Democrats. The upshot of the Booker decision, for example, is a muddled decision liberals can fall in love with. The Washington Post editorialized that the decision "did not produce an entirely coherent result from a legal scholar’s point of view, but as a policy matter the outcome was the best that could have been expected."

That’s OK, as far as it goes. But if the Supreme Court sees its mandate as making good policy decisions that are logically muddled, Democrats are sunk in the long term. Many of the court’s future issues will come directly or indirectly through actions taken by the large Republican congressional majorities. With that likely docket, Democrats should attempt to seat a conservative court whose polestar is logic, as opposed to a court whose polestar is the White House.

While I suspect that Thompson wouldn’t be writing this if President Kerry (shudder!) were contemplating elevating a liberal judge or Senator to the Supreme Court, but would be supporting the results-oriented jurisprudence he professes to disdain here, I will offer him provisional membership in the club of those favoring judicial restraint and a respect for constitutional principles and provisions. If he stays long enough, he may actually join the inner circle of "originalists."

Gerson and McGurn again

The Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution had this piece on the transition from Michael Gerson to William McGurn in the Bush speechwriting team. It’s a solid article, better than most of what I’ve seen.

My major complaint is its focus on McGurn’s opposition to abortion, surely the most readily accessible of his opinions. I’d like to have seen a little deeper digging to figure out something about McGurn’s voice on other domestic policy issues. Can he help GWB explain that "a heart for the poor" doesn’t require a massive expansion of the welfare state, that compassionate conservatism is not oxymoronic window-dressing?

Democratic matters

Barbara Boxer is now the new Liberal flamethrower, and some want her to run for the nomination in 2008. The NY Times reports that the campaign for DNC chair is as intense as a presidential contest. And Democrats, according to the Post, are becoming concerned that a recurring theme of many items on Bush’s second-term domestic agenda is that if enacted, they would weaken political and financial pillars that have propped up Democrats for years, political strategists from both parties say. Robert Novak thinks that Sen. Evan Bayh’s vote against Rice’s confirmation was an attempt to appeal to Liberals in the party. He is posturing for 2008.

Soros on Kerry

I watched a good bit of John Kerry on Meet the Press this morning. Quite unimpressive and, you’re right, I wan’t surprised. He has a dull and boring mind, full of self-justification. It would have been tough having to listen to him as president; very tough. Bill Clinton was not. He was amusing, full of himself in the same way the Poet’s Richard III was. Never boring, loved to laugh at his way, his problems, his flaws. Kerry has no mirth in his soul. A Macbeth figure. I was amused to hear that George Soros, who spent about $26 million to get Kerry elected--he says he doesn’t regret it--said this: Kerry did not, actually, offer a credible and coherent alternative. That had a lot to do with Bush being re-elected. And then this foolishness. He said the Kerry campaign tried to emphasize his role as a Vietnam War hero and downplay his role as an anti-Vietnam War hero, which he was. Had he admitted, owned up to it, I think actually the outcome could have been different. He also said that he doesn’t know what the Democratic Party stands for.

GWB: "Statecraft as Soulcraft"

George F. Will has a lot of interesting things to day about the domestic portion of Bush’s Second Inaugural, with which I appear to be obsessed. Here’s the conclusion:

It cannot be said of Bush, as was famously said of Martin Van Buren, that he rows toward his goal "with muffled oars." Bush has said "I don’t do nuance," and his "ownership society" agenda -- from Social Security personal accounts to health savings accounts to tax cuts -- is explicitly explained as soulcraft. Its purpose is to combat the learned incompetence of persons who become comfortable with excessive dependence on and supervision by government. His agenda’s aim is to continue, in the language of his inaugural address, "preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society."

That is the crux of modern conservatism -- government taking strong measures to foster in the citizenry the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for increased individual independence. That is what the Homestead Act did, out in what no longer is the Great American Desert.

Read it all.


You gotta love Tony Blair

Jay Nordlinger heard this in Davos at the World Economic Forum:

President Bush’s inauguration speech last week marks a consistent evolution of U.S. policy. He spoke of America’s mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny to the world. Leave aside for a moment the odd insistence by some commentators that such a plea is evidence of the "neoconservative" grip on Washington — I thought progressives were all in favor of freedom rather than tyranny. [Go ahead — read that line again. You know you want to.] The underlying features of the speech seem to me to be these: America accepts that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. The more people live under democracy, with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it. This may be open to debate — though personally I agree with it — but it emphatically puts defeating the causes of terrorism alongside defeating the terrorists.
Secondly, by its very nature, such a mission cannot be accomplished alone. It is the very antithesis of isolationism; the very essence of international engagement. It requires long-term cooperation.

And it is based on enlightened self-interest. Freedom is good in itself. But it is also the best ultimate guarantee that human beings will live in sympathy with each other. The hard head has led to the warm heart.

None of this means the hard head won’t still be applied. America, as is perhaps inevitable being the world’s only superpower, who in the end is expected not just to talk about the world’s problems but to solve them, approaches all issues with a propensity to question what others assume, treat the pressure groups with resistance, and ask others to share responsibility, as well as demand it of America.

But no one could say the inauguration speech was lacking in idealism.

Let’s make the British P.M. a Knight Commander of the American Empire. (Oops, I shouldn’t have let the secret neocon plan out of the bag!)

Iraq votes

has a great photo from Iraq of some men who had just voted. I have been watching CNN, et al, for the past half hour or so and the coverage, predictably, is awful. All the reports from Iraq start with the violence (relatively limited) and then how many polling places were never opened (a few) and then mentions finally how the number of people voting seems to be much higher than everyone expected. They sometimes mention that Iraqis are happy and there is a party-like atmosphere (one reporter said similar to a wedding) around voting booths. The few such reports that I saw, including some interviews with voters, were very moving. The official Iraqi estimates are that about 70% have voted, which would be tremendous. Almost all the reporters I have seen are saying that the turnout is higher than expected. I did see an interview with a UN election official on FOX News (maybe named Valenzuela, can’t remember), and his report was quite optimistic and informative; he gave special thanks to the election commission and the thousands who were working the polls. He claimed to be very impressed. It is going to be hard to argue that this election was not a success. Even Reuters
is admitting that the brave Iraqis have spoken with a loud voice: Even in Falluja, the devastated Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a slow stream of people turned out, confounding expectations.
A member of the Electoral
was exultant and said: Freedom has won. We have conquered terrorism.