Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Credit where credit is due

Win Myers links to an essay by William Schambra on the manner in which blogs can shine light on the role ostensibly neutral but actually left-leaning foundations play in the public policy debate. Schambra rightly credits Win with helping break the story of the "philanthropic" role in generating the astroturf roots of agitation on behalf of campaign finance reform, though I think he mischaracterizes him as a "scrappy, individualistic insurgent" "relatively unfamiliar" with the field of philanthropy. I’ll grant him the scrappy, but not the other descriptors, at least not without qualification.

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

Update: Here’s an on-line version of Schambra’s article.

Oglethorpe’s commencement

I’m always sad on these occasions, for reasons John Seery describes so eloquently in his book. One of my favorite of this year’s seniors is Catherine "Cat" Lawler, only daughter of Peter and Rita Lawler. Cat won (and deserved to win) the James Edward Oglethorpe Cup as the female graduate who best exemplified the ideals of Oglethorpe University. Demonstrating the old adage that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak, as President of the Senior Class, Cat gave one of the best speeches ever given from the podium in our quad. Is anyone surprised that the central figure in her speech was Alexis de Tocqueville? Great job, Cat! And thanks, Peter and Rita, for sharing your daughter with us for four years.

Among the other graduating seniors I’ll miss are Ashish Bohringer, a Jesuit-educated Indian who’s off to law school; Carlissa Carson, who will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant after she completes law school; Lisa Pettee, who I’m sure will be reading Plato to the baby she delivers later this summer; Philip Jones, who will take his upper Midwestern political street smarts into a public policy program somewhere; Linda Dreilinger, the most deserving Jack Kent Cooke nominee I’ve assisted; and Amy Lester, known to my son and many of her friends as "Snake," who wants to be a filmmaker or screenwriter.

"Government schools"

That’s what the dean of Atlanta’s radio talkers calls them. And here is one of the reasons why I’ll be spending the afternoon here. Good teachers aren’t permitted to use their independent judgment. Political power is deployed to protect mediocrity. But you’ve heard this all before.


This is hard to resist. John J. Miller at NRO puts Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia out as word of the day. It means fear of the number 666. Miller thinks that even Bill Buckley has never used it. I propose this as the word of the day: idiolect, which the OED defines as "The linguistic system of one person, differing in some details from that of all other speakers of the same dialect or language." Or maybe this word, considering Joe’s note below, inveiglement. Clearly, I have too much time on my hands!

Deprogramming David Brooks

Lucas Morel called our attention to this column by David Brooks. Now, joining Morel and Richard Reeb, Peter Lawler is piling on. A snippet:

Brooks doesn’t let us see clearly or dwell upon the fact that while the abolitionist evangelicals may well have been imprudent, they were clearly to the left of Lincoln and on the right side of history on the slavery issue. Brooks only alludes to this best example for his otherwise vague conclusion that "the evangelical tradition is deeply consistent with the American creed." The abolitionist evangelicals, in their enthusiasm, thought the principles of the Declaration should trump even the Constitution.

That example also shows us that Lincoln and Brooks are right to add that "evangelical causes can overflow the banks defined by our constitutional documents." The abolitionist evangelicals were at war with what our Constitutional actually said.

Brooks then goes on to compare their abolitionist enthusiasm with "the social conservatives’ attempt to end the judicial filibuster." But doing away with the filibuster won’t produce a civil war. The filibuster isn’t in the Constitution or any of our constitutional documents. It is merely part of the way the Senate regulates itself and has no constitutional or founding status at all.

Like Reeb and Morel, Lawler is, of course, right. Brooks seems to have been inveigled into believing that threatening the judicial filibuster is the same as threatening the constitution, which is what the Democratic obstructionists want us to believe. As Peter says, "Don’t be seduced!"

Update: Let me take this opportunity also to invite readers to take a look at my
op-ed on some of these matters over at the main Ashbrook site.

Law schools and student groups again

Ken Masugi takes us back to first principles with respect to a case on which I posted here. Ken admits that his arguments are unlikely to prevail in the courts, which I agree is unfortunate. But perhaps it’s time, not just for legal pressure but also for political pressure. I wonder what California (and other) state legislators think about law schools that in effect take sides in the culture war? While positive support for traditional religion and morality might be "too much to ask," couldn’t state legislators tell public universities to cease and desist from effectual hostility?

Political diversity in the Congressional Black Caucus

This article notes that members of the Congressional Black Caucus no longer vote in lockstep for progams only a liberal Democrat could love:

The changes have played out on a series of votes this year, such as passage of the Republican-led bankruptcy bill, which 10 members of the caucus voted for, and elimination of the estate tax, which drew eight votes from the 41-member caucus.

Five members, all Democrats, voted for both measures: Reps. David Scott and Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia, Albert R. Wynn of Maryland, Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee and William J. Jefferson of Louisiana.

The key seems to be representing districts that aren’t racially homogeneous and having ties to or experience in small business. Whatever the appeal of the faith-based initiative to some African-American pastors and voters, this hasn’t yet translated into legislative support. None seem to have supported the Job Training Improvement Act, the only legislation connected with the faith-based initiative in this session.

My tentative conclusion: the bankruptcy and estate tax votes are more about "economics" than "politics" for these legislators, while the faith-based initiative actually does pose a political threat to the Democratic Party. Support for the former pieces of legislation might help keep wealthy African-Americans in the Democratic column; support for the latter helps Republicans recruit African-American support.

France as a seagull

Dominique de Villepin has a new book out, The Shark and the Seagull. This book, and others he has written, is taken for an elaborate manisfesto that he hopes will help him become France’s leader. No Passaran! has a few choice words about the author and other related matters. Very informative with good links.

Greenspan’s warning

Fed Chairman Greenspan: "I’m getting increasingly disturbed about some of the pressures of protectionism that are emerging in the world because, were we to get a rigidifying of international market forces, I’m fearful of what the implications could be to the American economy and, of course, to the world as a whole."

Russia never annexed Baltics

Russia denies annexing, or illegaly occupying, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) in 1940.

Other Baylor news

Whatever the meaning of the appointment of William Underwood as interim President means, this surely is good news:

Regents today also approved [a] new academic [program] - a doctorate in political science.... The political science doctoral program, while focusing on the history of political thought, issues of citizenship and democratic theory, will emphasize the traditional political science fields of political theory, American politics and constitutional law, international relations and comparative politics.

Not only is this a straw in the wind regarding the Regents’ support of Baylor 2012, but it also means that my friend, the indefatigable Mary Nichols, once again has a venue for training excellent graduate students, like Denise Schaeffer, Natalie and Flagg Taylor (Flagg, your webpage needs some work!), and David Alvis, all of whom taught at Oglethorpe at one time or another, thanks in large part to Mary’s good offices.

Arnold and the teacher union

Governor Arnold wants to do away with tenure for school teachers in California. If the Democratic legislature won’t act, he says he will go--again--straight to the people.

Bad guy captured

This is good news: The Lybian, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, has been arrested in Pakistan. He was the number 3 guy in al Qaeda. Note that he doesn’t look that good in the photo. Chrenkoff
has photos showing the consequences, as he says, of pissing the U.S. off. This is the Washington Post story on the capture.

Liberalism vs. religion

J. David Velleman makes a couple of revealing admissions in the course of a longish post deprecating conservative "people of faith."

First, there’s this:

Although I don’t think that moral seriousness requires religious belief, I do think that it requires faith.

What he means here is that moral seriousness requires faith in reason.

Second, there’s this:

I now consider myself an atheist, not because I think that I have conclusive reason for denying the existence of a personal God, but because I take His nonexistence, as it were, on faith. My willingness to embrace this indemonstrable vision of the universe is of a piece, to my way of thinking, with my commitment to the incommensurable value of persons as ends in themselves, the value that underwrites my moral code.

It turns out that his atheistic faith in reason is intimately connected with his "commitment" to human dignity, i.e., a kind of Nietzscheanized Kantianism. But is it not possible--just possible--to regard human beings as having dignity because they are created in God’s image? If that’s possible, then liberalism and religion are not inimical and Velleman’s atheism needs another explanation, since his isn’t sufficient.

David Brooks "Stuck in Lincoln’s Land"

NY Times columnist David Brooks reminds us why Lincoln remains, at least for most Americans, the lodestar of political principle and practice in today’s op-ed entitled, "Stuck in Lincoln’s Land". Perhaps it is just a sign of the times, but Brooks feels compelled to tout Lincoln’s moderate credentials as the genius of his statesmanship, even as he affirms Lincoln’s devotion to the Declaration of Independence. Somehow, "Lincoln the Moderate" doesn’t quite do justice to the traditional (and correct) appellation, "Lincoln the Great Emancipator." One hopes we can agree that there were a few things Lincoln was not moderate about, and foremost among these was his belief in human equality.

Benedict XVI a Straussian?

Asks Ken Masugi. He quotes an article in French about a debate between Habermas and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, where the latter cited Strauss. He also provides this link to the opening statements in German. I’ll read and translate bits of the latter when I finish all my grading.

All of this persuades me that Karl Rove--who I am said (at least by bibulous Oglethorpe alumni in a bar in Austin, Texas) to resemble--is behind the election of Benedict XVI. The next step is for Paul Wolfowitz to convert to Roman Catholicism, win ordination (I hear the church needs priests), and be appointed Cardinal so as to be in line for succession.

Update: My, er, I mean our, plot has been revealed by the self-admitted oenophile Win Myers, who confesses to drinking wine from a country at least nominally (perhaps only nominally, if George Weigel is to be believed) Catholic.

Another excellent review of a bad book

Clifford Orwin’s scathing review of Anne Norton’s bad book is posted here. In case you’ve forgotten, my review is here. Orwin elegantly wields a stiletto in slicing and dicing the hapless Norton. By contrast, I am merely an earnest hacker.

Thanks to the folks at the Claremont Review of Books for posting the review.

Defining the mainstream

A typical move on the part of those who oppose conservatives is to claim that they, not the conservatives, are in the mainstream. Here courtesy of RealClearPolitics is someone who thinks this is dirty pool and that folks like James Dobson are a lot closer to the mainstream than, say, Al Franken is.

A new kind of red army

Win Myers calls our attention to the lawless actions of "a shadowy group of extremist producers known as the Crav, Comité Regional d’Action Viticoles (Regional Action Committee of Wine-growers)," who destroy perfectly good Spanish red wine.

Win, however, enjoys a good bottle of wine now and again, though he’s paying too much for the privilege.

Pigs fly

On the WaPo op-ed page, John McCandlish Phillips, a former Timesman, questions the WaPo/NYT orthodoxy concerning conservative evangelicals and Catholics. While reading MoDo is, he confesses, "one of life’s guilty pleasures for me," she, Krugman, Rich, and others have gone off the deep end in their columns about religion in America.   

Baylor’s interim president

Baylor has an interim president, William D. Underwood. Some aren’t sure this is good for Baylor 2012, about which I’ve blogged here, here, here, and here. You can read news reports here and here.

Here’s an account of a debate between Underwood and Provost David Lyle Jeffrey, a strong supporter of Baylor 2012. Let’s just say that neither seems to have convinced his opponent to rethink his position.

Update: One of the perils of being the man of the hour at Baylor, as Underwood now is, is that articles like this one can be written. It seems that he sent his children to and financially supported this program, sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Central Texas and co-sponsored by his church, which is affiliated with the liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I wouldn’t as the leader of a Christian institution want to have to defend the book, It’s Perfectly Normal, that was sent home with the kids. For criticisms of the book, go here and here. Underwood’s response to all this is to say that "he is aware of the book but hadn’t examined it or used it with his children." I don’t read everything that comes home with my kids, but I think I would have taken a look at a book that (a) discussed human sexuality and (b) was at the center of a heated controversy. Not that it matters, but Underwood loses points with me here. I could have respected a straightforward defense of his family’s privacy or even (for its honesty) an endorsement of the book’s content. But an evasion? Come on!

Religion and politics in the U.K.

I wrote about this a while ago, but Jeremy Lott brings us up to date.

Hispanic armies of compassion

Jason DeParle has an interesting article on Hispanic groups that are benefiting from the Compassion Capital Fund. While some critics regard the faith-based initiative simply as a political slush fund, DeParle is a bit more even-handed.

Hat tip: Religion Clause.

Germany’s SDP

David’s Medienkritik reflects on Germany’s Social Democratic Party’s full blown attack on capitalism. Note the poster and the good charts. The truth is Germany is in a deep economic slump (GDP growth under 1%) and they are not getting out of it soon, and the SPD is preparing itself for a loss of power and a scapegoat. Then, when they lose the next election, they can become full blown leftists again. That will make them feel better about themselves.

European weird

This is a very good Newsweek column by George Will on the interesting and dismaying facets of the European mind. It begins with Putin’s incrediable statement of a week or so ago on the collapse of the USSR: "The greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Chirac’s weirdopinions are also noted, and Will notes John Paul II’s contribution, as well Benedict XVI’s nearly impossible task.

Europe’s spiritual malaise

George Weigel reflects on the spiritual, and demographic, decline of Europe. It is a summary of his new book, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God.

Europe, and especially Western Europe, is suffering from a crisis of civilizational morale. The most dramatic manifestations are not Europe’s fondness for governmental bureaucracy or its devotion to fiscally shaky healthcare schemes and pension plans, its lagging productivity or the appeasement mentality that some leaders display toward Islamist terrorism. No, the most dramatic manifestation is the brute fact that Europe is depopulating itself.

Europe’s below-replacement-level birthrates have created situations that would have been unimaginable when the European Common Market was being created in the 1950s. As recent demographic studies show, by the middle of the 21st century, 60% of Italians will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle or a cousin; Germany will lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany; and Spain’s population will decline by almost one-quarter.

Newspaper decline continues

Newsspaper circulation has dropped 1.9 percent at major U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in March, marking one of the worst declines in recent years. The circulation of the Los Angeles Times dropped 7.9 percent from the prior year. Drudge has the stats on the top 20 papers. Only USA Today went up slightly. Wall Street Journal also reports on the phenomenon. In the meantime, Pajamas Media is being organized. Also see this.

President of Ashland University retires

G. William Benz, the 27th president of Ashland University, has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2005-06 academic year. By the end of his tenure he will have served thirteen years. He announced his retirement at a meeting of faculty and staff yesterday morning, and was honored for his service by a heartfelt and well deserved standing ovation.

Shocking News: Laura Bush Has a Sense of Humor

This is news among the MainStreamMedia. Laura Bush has a sense of humor, she can laugh at herself, make fun of her husband, her friends, and colleagues. Gee, are people of faith allowed to do that? So wonders this reporter in today’s "New York Times.’

Reality-based commentary on the faith-based initiative

My long-awaited review of these two books is on-line here.

Liberal and conservative think tanks compared

Katie Newmark links to and discusses a paper that compares the organization and behavior of liberal and conservative think tanks. The conclusion? Conservative think tanks are winning the "war of ideas" because they’re more politically adept and nimble, not because they have the better ideas. Since the author seems to be in the business of advising "progressive" think tanks (in the guise of neutrality, of course), I guess that’s not a conclusion he’d venture.

V***** but No P**** Monologues at Roger Williams University

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry when reading this. Where’s Aristophanes or Shakespeare (Tom Wolfe won’t quite do) when you need him.

If you are sending a child to college soon, you should read this. If you are sending a child to college soon, you’re more likely to cry after reading it. In any event, it seems College administrators at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island who give every kind of support to sponsorship of the ’Vagina Monologues’ and related workshops and advertising, can’t tolerate the ’Penis Monologues’ as an alternative. Here’s Christina Hoff Sommers report from ’National Review OnLine.’

Roger Williams University is only one of hundreds of Colleges who sponsor the ’Vagina Monologues’ and related activity across the country.


I’m back from a three day stint in Miami. Spoke on a panel at the Heritage Resource Bank meeting; most enjoyable and useful. I learned much from the hundreds who attended. They represented a variety of good organizations, think tanks, etc., all on the right side of most issues. Good program, well executed. I also attended the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Society, of which I have been a member for many decades. The theme was "What is an American?" This topic, as you know, is both important and dear to my heart and mind. There were some good papers, and some good conversations. On the other hand, there was a much too visible inclinination of some to talk as if the U.S. was an ordinary nation, as one wag said, based on our common soil. Another said he found no references among our "Founders" (he couldn’t use the that term, or "Founding," because we don’t have one, hence the quotation marks) to natural rights or natural right. It was not clear what he found, but he thought it was worth looking. Most such at the meeting just talked about "culture," in more or less the old fashioned way (habit, growth), but some made very clear that there is only culture, no politics, nothing for which we have stood, and may continue to stand. And all men love what is their own, and so do we. No difference. Human nature and creed were nasty words for some. Not clear what the Constitution is, according to this understanding, although some favorable references were made to it; I guess because it’s ours. Most such people confused themselves by collapsing the French Revolution with the American, and in thinking that the progressive revolution in American politics is different from the regime established by the Founders. I say all this more in sorrow than in anger.

Student groups and university regulations

Howard Friedman has a useful report on the questions raised by the Christian Legal Society’s lawsuit against Hastings College of Law.

Here’s how Friedman states the question that is still to be resolved:

Is student body diversity, an aspect of academic freedom, just as compelling as the interest in eradicating racial discrimination? If so, law schools would be able to do what broader state governmental units, like the state of New Jersey in Boy Scouts, cannot do.

But student body diversity is consistent with homogeneity in student groups, is it not? If so, then compelling student chapters of the CLS to be as "diverse" as the student body as a whole is not the "least restrictive means" of accomplishing the university’s end.

Southern Appeal has more.

Update #2: There’s more here.

African-Americans and Republicans

Here’s another piece suggesting that African-Americans may migrate in the direction of the Republican Party. Beyond the now usual suggestions regarding the role of moral issues and the faith-based initiative, this columnist argues for the importance of school choice.

Fifty years ago...

A young American G.I., himself a recent immigrant from Rijswijk, a suburb of The Hague, married a lovely young Austrian woman in this church outside Salzburg, which you might recognize from the opening scene in this movie.

Within the next twelve hours or so (it’s roughly 10 p.m. EDT, on May 1st), they’ll be renewing their vows at the same church and then celebrating with the remaining European relatives from both the Austrian and Dutch sides of the family.

Happy 50th, Mom and Dad!

Tone Deaf at the NYT

This article in the NYT suggests increasing energy savings by dropping the speed limit to 55. Leave it to the NYT to find a solution that I would guess will be even more unpopular than raising the excise tax on gasoline.

Break out your burqas

Here’s an article about this conference, which purports to examine "the real agenda of the religious right." Here’s the program and speaker bios, and here are some of the websites they operate. Still, the whole conference wasn’t altogether "fever-swampish":

If we are going to ask the Christian right to stop engaging in demonization, we need to inspect some of our own language," Chip Berlet of the human rights watchdog Political Research Associates said in his talk Friday night.

"I’m uncomfortable when I hear people of sincere religious faith described as religious political extremists," he said. "What does that term mean? It’s a term of derision that says we’re good and they’re bad. There is no content."

Afterward, in an interview, Mr. Berlet added: "The Democrats do just as much name-calling as the right. It’s great for fundraising. [But] it’s a heck of a way of building a social progressive movement."

I couldn’t agree more. For more on Berlet and the conference, go

Update: There’s more from Powerline and Michael DeBow at Southern Appeal.