Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Interpretive genius at the WaPo Book World

Roughly a month ago, the WaPo published this review of a book on Chuck Colson, deconstructed by the Power Line guys here and here. One of the bones of contention was the reviewer’s meritless claim that "Colson’s coffers" were "filled" by grants from the faith-based initiative.

In tomorrow’s WaPo, you’ll find this exchange, with Mark Earley, PFM’s President and CEO explicitly denying the reviewer’s claim. Here, in full, so you can see its interpretive mendacity, is the reviewer’s (David Greenberg of Rutgers University) response:

Pages 411-412 of Jonathan Aitken’s Charles W. Colson , along with many news reports, make clear that Colson’s involvement with George W. Bush’s "faith-based" program in Texas inspired the president’s current policies at the federal level.

Earley is correct that the book doesn’t claim Colson’s groups take federal funds, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I took care not to assert, contrary to Earley’s letter, that Prison Fellowship receives "federal funds" -- merely to quip that Colson’s "coffers" have received money from faith-based initiatives. On rereading, I can see why Earley interpreted my language as he did, and I regret that I wasn’t more careful and precise in my wording. My phrase "cashing in" was meant as a lighthearted pun on the meaning of "redemption," and I regret that in my glibness I offended Earley.

The real question isn’t one of taking "federal" money but rather of government’s entanglement with religion. News accounts have reported that Colson’s outfits have financially benefited, directly or indirectly, from state programs, including in Texas under Bush. In Iowa, a Colson group’s receipt of taxpayer funds occasioned a lawsuit. Hence, my larger point stands.

It is apparently O.K. to make a misleading claim in a book review so long as one is on the side of the separationist angels. It is O.K. to impugn Chuck Colson’s character so long as one is thereby promoting a particular vision of the separation of church and state. This from an author whose
book on Nixon won a prize. Makes me wonder about the book and about the organization that gave the award.

Update: Over at Power Line, Scott Johnson has much more, taking Greenberg the the woodshed once again.

The Indians

This story on the Indians-White Sox game last night is pretty good. It should probably be harsher on the Indians, actually. They had a man on third with one out twice in the ballgame and couldn’t score. Bad show. Here is the story from the Plain-Dealer. The two scenarious for the Indians to get in the playoffs are these:

If the Indians win the last two games of the season, they can win the wild card outright if the Red Sox or Yankees lose the last two games of their series.

If the Indians win the last two games, they could force a one-game playoff if the Yankees and Red Sox split the last two games of their series.

Louisiana’s history of corruption

This New York Times story on corruption in Louisiana is important. It’s the first MSM article I have seen on it, so people can now begin talking about how to try to get the billions of federal dollars in the right hands, rather than corrupt government officials (how is LA like a thrid world country?) without sounding politically incorrect.

King of chavs

The most famous resident of a market town in England is a young ne’er-do-well. He wins the lottery, and, surprise, his character doesn’t change, he stays coarse and obnoxious--the Brits call them chavs--but is now a millionaire. An interesting read, especially if you are bored by the Indians-White Sox game.

Ginsburg on the next justice again

I’ve written about this before, but now we have Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking out again.

For a different sort of outspokenness, go here. Hat tips: Southern Appeal and Bench Memos.

Flat tax

John C. Goodman thinks that he has a tax reform proposal that will satisfy both the left and the right in Congress. It is a flat tax of 14% (rather than Steve Forbes’ proposed 17%, which Goodman thinks is really a consumption tax) and is more friendly to low income folks.

Public Opinion and the Korean War

I’ve been working on a lesson plan for the NEH on the subject of the Korean War, and I was interested to find at the Eisenhower Presidential Library site this poll data summarizing the public’s views on the Korean war in early 1953. I think that most today would deem this a worthwhile war, inasmuch as it blocked the outright aggression of North Korea, and sent a message that such aggression would not be tolerated in the future. However, as these poll number shows, this was not the attitude held by most Americans at the time. When asked on four different occasions, between October 1952 and April 1953, whether the war had been worth fighting, a clear majority said no in every case.

Roberts as judicial leader

Christopher Levenick hunts for clues regarding Roberts’s approach to leading the court, finds a few, and likes what he sees. So do I.

Lesson Plans on World War II

Some of you might know that I’ve been directing a three-year project for the National Endowment for the Humanities, designing lesson plans on U.S. history as part of EDSITEment, the NEH’s site for teachers. I’m happy to report that the first set of lessons designed under this project have been posted. The title is "The Proper Application of Overwhelming Force", and it deals with the military history of U.S. involvement in World War II.

If there are any high school teachers reading this, I’d like to hear what you think. I hope you’ll also consider using these lessons in your classrooms.

Roberts confirmed

Judge John G. Roberts, Jr., has been confirmed by the Senate to be next Chief Justice of the U.S. The vote was 78-22.

Charitable responses to disasters

Ken Masugi and Richard Walden want to start a national debate about how best to respond charitably to national disasters. Should we be giving as much as we are to big bureaucratic first responders, like the American Red Cross, or more to local groups focused on long-term recovery, not just immediate short-term relief? Good question.

Marriage and loyalty

James Q. Wilson meditates on marriage and
loyalty. A bit complex, maybe a bit too dependent on sociological studies, yet it is thoughtful and full of insights. 

Louisiana is dysfunctional

Investor’s Business Daily has a few thoughts on dysfunctional Lousiana, and why former FEMA director Brown was right to call it that.

Democrat malaise (or not)

Howard Fineman muses about the demoralized Democrats and why they don’t have much faith in their party’s prospects.

But, of course, with DeLay’s indictment, some, like Dan Balz of the WaPo, can talk about how the GOP is in trouble. Not especially persuasive.

A much more persuasive argument can be found in the paper issue of National Review (Oct 10). There, John J. Miller explains how and why the GOP is in trouble in Ohio, and why Ken Blackwell (for governor in 2006) is their only hope. If Ohio falls to the Dems, so might the country. If Blackwell wins, it will fire up the conservative base, and cut into the black vote. This piece should be read. Keep your eye on Ohio.

Hanson on college presidents

Victor Davis Hanson yields a mighty sword. He takes on four universities and their presidents and diversity. The sort of stuff we hear from Hanson on a regular basis, yet it remains powerful still and never dry.  

Unreason among Arabs

Fouad Ajami condemns the "moral emptiness" of "official" Arab life, and its "great silence" regarding Zarqawi’s terror is Iraq. He praises the Shiites for their "attachment to sobriety" and he thinks that will continue. The op-ed is both a plea to the U.S. to continue its work, and a reasonable optimism about the outcome. He is persuaded that a new order for the region is being drafted.

Facelift for has a new look to it, much better than the old, and also easier to navigate. An altogether useful site, from news to opinion. Take a look.

University ideology

James Piereson has a long piece called "The Left University" in the current Weekly Standard. It is very good. I may have a comment or two on it after the mandatory re-reading of a serious piece.

DeLay indicted

The Republicans will have to look for a new leader in the House: Rep. Tom DeLay has been indicted by a grand jury in Texas.

Iraq: the big picture

Fouad Ajami tells us what’s going on in the Arab world, and David Frum surveys the American scene. We should be grateful for both pieces. 

Lawler on American individualism

Peter Lawler writes more than is humanly possible. The introduction to his forthcoming Stuck With Virtue: The American Individual and Our Biotechnological Future is available online here.

A sample:

To give [Mark] Lilla his due, evangelical Christians do not tend to give reality-based arguments to defend their relatively reality-based lives. They tend to think in terms of opposing “worldviews,” biblical and secular. And they often claim that if it were not for the absolute truth of biblical revelation, relativistic individualism would be the truth we would all share in common. Our evangelicals lack the confidence to say that what we can see with our own eyes about nature and human nature supports their dissent from the individualistic excesses of our time. They concede too much to the individualism they criticize, and the result is that they do not really engage in dialogue with their fellow citizens, such as Lilla, about the human goods we all—believers and nonbelievers alike—share in common. Lilla is right to criticize them for their faith-based secession from the intellectual life of our country. But that does not mean that our evangelicals have nothing real and valuable to offer that life. According to the astute British observers Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait, America, largely because of the influence of religion, is the only reality-based nation in the enlightened world. They write in The Right Nation (2003) that Europeans tend to live in a postreligious, postfamilial, and postpolitical fantasy, and that they do not think clearly with their futures in mind. By contrast, we relatively conservative Americans think of ourselves as parents, creatures, and citizens, as well as free and productive individuals. So we refuse to reduce all moral questions to merely technical ones, and we take responsibility for our futures as real human beings. The evangelicals’ dissent from the dominant libertarian sociobiology of the intellectuals is actually connected to the truth about the way people really are.

The essay is long, but it is worth reading, as, no doubt, will be the book.

Katrina vouchers revisited

Katie Newmark brings us up to date. Some folks would apparently prefer direct aid to vouchers. This isn’t as paradoxical as it sounds, since the aid would follow students in a manner analogous to vouchers, thereby also avoiding the ostensible First Amendment problems with direct aid. The reasoning supporting this program can be found in Mitchell v. Helms, which upheld limited per capita aid to parochial schools in--guess where?--Louisiana. The limits, predictably, came from Sandra Day O’Connor helped by Breyer), while Thomas, Scalia, Rehnquist, and Kennedy would have supported a much further-ranging program of non-discriminatory aid.

For the record, I think Katie is right about the politics of this proposal. It is a risk, but because it’s less likely to empower parents in an "addictive" way, it may have less long-term influence than a straight voucher program.

South Dakota: open for business?

I wonder how many former residents of New Orleans and other ex-coastal dwellers our friends in South Dakota are prepared to take.

Update: Jon Schaff has a new tourism slogan for South Dakota: "Great Faces, Great Places, No Hurricanes."

New Orleans follow up

This Washington Post editorial gets it exactly right: It calls Louisiana’s congressional delegation
"looters" for trying to get another $250 billion for the state (circa $50,000 per person) from Congress.

I saw last night that CNN was reporting on how bad the initial "hyperbolic" reporting of all the media was the first few days of Katrina, especially around the dome and the convention center: Unverified rapes, inflated body counts, etc. Now the Los Angeles Times picks up the story, as does the AP.

I note without comment that Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA and the one held responsible for everything that went wrong, said this to a House panel: "My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional."

ANSWER is pro-war

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t pull any punches on the so-called anti-war march in Washington. ANSWER and the others are in fact pro-war, just on the other side. It is wrong (vide New York Times) to call such organizations and rallies "anti-war."

Science and religion

At a time when we’re going to court over intelligent design, it’s worth remembering that there are other potential points of contact and conflict between science and religion.

DoD as, ahem, first (federal) responder

Here’s a sample of the new American Spectator group blog. I share Jed Babbin’s concerns about the trial balloon the President floated.

It is nonetheless true that those who criticized the federal government’s Katrina response--and largely overlooked or exempted their political allies in Louisiana--to some degree brought this on themselves. It’s hard to blame a leader who wants direct control over the response mechanisms when his adversaries exploit every shortcoming for their own political purposes. A more forgiving political environment (too much to ask, I know) or a more nuanced accounting of who was responsible for what (also too much to ask) would likely not have prompted this response.

Still, that the President’s proposal is understandable in light of his circumstances doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Yes, the DoD has a role to play. But let’s fix FEMA, DHS, and, if it’s possible, Louisiana before we give DoD yet another responsibility.

The Bible in American public life

Wheaton College’s Mark Noll brings his vast learning to bear on the role of Scripture in American public life. While he begins with the usual suspects (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln), he soon takes us far afield to French Jesuits, Quebecois Catholics, American Jews in the early 20th century, and African-Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Read the whole thing.  

And you thought academia was bad

The latest issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education features an article entitled "The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian" [sorry, subscription required]. Last year David Brooks investigated the ratio of Kerry campaign donors to Bush donors within academia, and it was in the neighborhood of 11:1--but among librarians it was 223:1.

The author of this piece, David Durant, knew back in 1997 that the profession he was getting into was made up predominantly of liberals and leftists. That didn’t matter to him--he prized himself on his ability to get along with everyone. The problem arose after September 11, and particularly after the Iraq War. At that point, he writes, the profession became "overtly politicized":

One of the most disturbing aspects of the situation is the way in which the supposedly nonpolitical American Library Association has become a platform for left-wing partisanship. The ALA’s Council, its elected governing body, is dominated by left-wing activists who recently passed a resolution calling for the United States to leave Iraq.

It is, of course, the right of the vast majority of my colleagues to hold positions I disagree with. But it’s a very different matter when the major professional association in librarianship takes openly political stands on issues that have no direct bearing on the field.

Proponents of the resolution on Iraq argue that abandoning the country to Al Qaeda would allow us to spend lots more money on libraries here at home. I believe that allowing radical Islam to run rampant in the Middle East would be utterly disastrous for libraries and intellectual freedom, both here and abroad. It is for individuals to choose between those positions; a professional organization like the ALA has no business adopting such a blatantly partisan resolution.

Compensating faith-based hurricane relief

This WaPo article detailing a FEMA proposal to compensate churches for their hurricane relief work (only when it was undertaken at the request of state or local goernment) canvasses the usual issues, but also contains a couple of interesting nuggets.

Here’s one:

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, religious charities rushed in to provide emergency services, often acting more quickly and efficiently than the government. Relief workers in the stricken states estimate that 500,000 people have taken refuge in facilities run by religious groups.

While we can argue about whether the governments (notice the plural) set an adequate standard of speed and efficiency, this is nonetheless a remarkable statement that provides evidence to support the President’s claims about the faith-based initiative.

Then there’s this from Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

"The good news is that this work is being done now, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that a lot of these organizations are actively working to obtain federal funds. That’s a strange definition of charity," he said.

Does the man not realize that many charities--like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army--are also big-time government contractors? Federal, state, and local money helps expand the scope of their works, with contract and reimbursement dollars supplementing private contributions and enhancing volunteer efforts. Lynn’s statement--about which he can’t be serious (or if he is, he’s living in some alternate universe)--envisions a world in which the government does not contract out any of its social services or does so only with for-profit contractors. That would revolutionize--and cripple--the delivery of social services in this country.

Mansfield on free speech and the university

It is impossible in a brief blog post to do justice to this characteristically Mansfieldian rumination on free speech and the university. His review of Donald Alexander Downs’s Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus is, as usual, chock-full of pithy paradoxes.

Here’s a taste:

Downs notes that the difference between free speech and academic freedom is that the latter, unlike the former, relates to truth. A society can have free speech, pace the ACLU, if it does not challenge its own basic presuppositions, like those in the Declaration of Independence. But a university must, in pursuit of truth, hold those presuppositions open to inquiry. To carry out such inquiry, a university would seem to have greater need of diversity than a society. A university would not want to foreclose questions that a society might consider settled.

Conservatism is therefore closer to the mission of the university than liberalism is. Liberals, insofar as they are progressives, believe that it is possible to eliminate prejudice from society. When prejudice is gone, truth prevails, and there is no need to reconsider the errors of the past. Progress is irrevocable, and inquiry shrinks to whatever questions remain unsettled. Conservatives, believing that it is not possible to eliminate prejudice, are more tolerant than liberals; they expect society to be, and remain, a mixture of truth and untruth.

Read the whole thing.

Conservatism in Canada

It’s great to see Tom Cerber back in the blogging saddle, providing intelligent commentary about matters north (and south) of the border. Here’s a paragraph that religious conservatives on both sides of the border need to ponder:

One of the reasons why religious conservatives don’t obtain wider support is that they fail to connect their socially and morally conservative message with the principle of liberty. While it’s true that they’re like preachers in the whorehouse, trying to preach moderation to an immoderate and hedonistic society. At the same time, they also need to do a much better job demonstrating that the immoderate and hedonistic policies that the other side supports undermines liberty. Too often they allow themselves to be portrayed as the enemies of liberty, when in fact the best arguments for social and moral conservatism sustain liberty understood as the “ordered liberty” of the responsible individual.

Read both posts.

The left university and its successors

James Piereson--about whom more here--offers a nice and concise summary account of higher education in America, from the first colleges through the "liberal university" and the "left university." What he’d like to see is this:

These developments represent just the leading edge of a growing movement to challenge the practices of the left university. The purpose of such efforts is not to give representation to conservatives on an equal footing with other campus interest groups. Intellectual pluralism, the search for truth, and respect for the heritage of free institutions are neither conservative nor left-liberal ideals. Jefferson, indeed, understood these ideals to be at the heart of the university, and central to his vision of a "republic of letters"; Humboldt, too, saw his liberal university as the means of carrying forward the principles of liberty, free inquiry, and the unimpeded search for truth. The effort to restore these ideals on campus is thus something that both conservatives and liberals should applaud. The left university should not be replaced by the right university. It should be replaced by the real university, dedicated to liberal education and higher learning.

As usual, Piereson encourages us not to focus exclusively on politics and policy, and not to respond to ideology with more ideology. The strength of traditional approaches to higher education is the manner in which people of varying political orientations can find a common ground in the mutual exploration of our humanity. To that end, I would commend
this organization to his attention.

O’Connor Vacancy

According to CNN, Diversity on High Court Desirable, President Bush said this of his imminent nomination to replace the retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: "I will pick a person who can do the job. But I am mindful that diversity is one of the strengths of the country." If only this country had a decent definition of diversity. Would that we could get back, all the way back, to the diversity of the individual spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. This diversity derives, interestingly enough, from the equality we share in the possession of rights as human beings. I know at least one sitting justice who understands this. The president would do well to stick to his campaign commitment to nominate justices like Thomas and Scalia.

Louisiana and corruption

Kudos to John Fund for making public the endemic problem of corruption in Louisiana. Not a small issue now, considering the big bucks that will flow into the state over the next few years.

"Put bluntly, the local political cultures don’t engender confidence that aid won’t be diverted from the people who truly need and deserve it. While the feds can try to ride herd on the money, here’s hoping folks in the region take the opportunity to finally demand their own political housecleaning. Change is past due. Last year, Lou Riegel, the agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans office, described Louisiana’s public corruption as ’epidemic, endemic, and entrenched. No branch of government is exempt.’"

Hillary and the International Freedom Center

A few months ago I posted about the grassroots fight against the construction of an International Freedom Center on the former site of the World Trade Center. According to the group Take Back the Memorial, the IFC will become a center for "anti-Americanism" and will distract attention from 9/11 by focusing not specifically on the attacks, but on oppression worldwide, including presumably Abu Ghraib.

Take Back the Memorial had already attracted the support of the Uniformed Firefighters Associations, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and several prominent New York Republican politicians. Now, apparently, it has won the favor of Sen. Hillary Clinton. "I am troubled by the serious concerns that family members and first responders have expressed to me," Sen. Clinton told The Post exclusively yesterday. "The [Lower Manhattan Development Corp.] has authority over the site, and I do not believe we can move forward until it heeds and addresses their concerns. Therefore, I cannot support the IFC."

The organization is still hoping for support from Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. George Pataki, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Asks the New York Post,

What’s it going to take to convince them? An endorsement of the IFC from Osama bin Laden?