Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Let Me Put it Another Way

I’ve heard liberals complaining alot about how Alito defined his role as a judge (i.e., to be an impartial interpreter of the law) and dismiss that as alot of bologna. Some have even gone so far as to imply that the hearings are a waste of time because we should know that conservatives will appoint conservatives and liberals will appoint liberals--that’s just the way it is. If you want your guys in, win the election. Well, there’s a certain amount of truth in that. And you’ve got to admire the libs who have the gumption to say that. It’s factual, anyway. But there is more to the whole truth than a simple recitation of the facts.

Many liberals don’t buy that Alito is serious about his job description not because they think he is a liar (though some may think that as well) but because they have a distorted understanding about the nature of politics that breeds cynicism and does not permit it. Politics, to them, is a power struggle only. It’s not about an attempt at impartial application of justice. They do not really believe that impartiality is possible because they think that judicial philosophy is nothing more than your positions on the issues. A confirmation hearing to them should be about spouting your positions on the issues and garnering the votes you need for confirmation based on whether enough people agree with your positions. They do not see that Alito really does believe that his personal positions on the issues do not matter. He can’t argue them from the bench unless the law calls for it. If you tell them that Roe v. Wade is bad law, they look at you with a blank face. You must be "pro-life" then. That can be the only reason you have that opinion. These libs think politics is only a power struggle because they do not believe that people are capable of reasoning from a point that is not tied up in their own self-interest. They certainly do not respect the constitution as that starting point--because they think it was meant to change as tastes in hairstyles change. To them, American politics is just interest combating interest until someone ends up on top.

That’s why liberals think they’re the better people all the time. They think they are "championing" the little guy in this tug-o-war of interests. We argue that we are only interested in "championing" justice--we don’t wish to play the game. Because they assume that ignoring the game is impossible, they say we’re engaged in nothing more than a covert operation to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful. There is no such thing as true impartial "justice," they argue. As evidence, they cite one of the hundreds of ways justice has failed some particular group or person. "Whose justice are you talking about anyway?" they always ask. But this proves nothing except (now, I know this is going to be a shocker!) life and politics are hard--and sometimes unfair. But that doesn’t mean fairness is impossible. It only means we have to keep plugging along and working harder to achieve it. We don’t get it by devising schemes to screw the over-dog half the time and screw the under-dog the rest of the time.

But I digress . . . the long and short of it is that I wonder if it is even possible sometimes to engage in conversation with these folks because we’re not speaking the same language or coming at the conversation with anything like the same assumptions about politics. We say one thing and they hear another--and vice versa. Maybe the hearings are a waste of time on some level. We can only hope they were useful to those watching/listening to them (especially the young). One thing is certain, it will not be to the Democrats’ benefit to keep this thing on the front page another week! That’s what I mean about being beholden to interests--they have to try this in order to satisfy their way-left base of donors. It will fail and they will be exposed even more.

Yet another evolution lawsuit

This one (complaint here) has been filed against a course being taught in Lebec, California.

Given the course’s history, the folks at the Discovery Institute think that the the case is a loser from their point of view. The issue here appears to be as much young earth creationism as it is Intelligent Design, and the precedents clearly favor AU.

Playing politics

Despite their agreement to a timetable last November, the Democrats want to delay a committee vote on Samuel Alito. Since the outcome--at the committee level and even in the Senate as a whole--is a foregone conclusion, this seems to be the pettiest sort of politics. The groups that couldn’t lay a glove on Judge Alito all week still want their pound of flesh.

What the Hearings Displayed

Democrats do not have big thinkers. As Peter mentioned, it appears that all they care about is abortion. That’s part of the story. It’s certainly their biggest issue. But what I think they are really afraid of is how powerful and persuasive and serious people like Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas are. Of course they looked silly and juvenile--even purile. But that’s really not the issue. Republicans have their hacks as well.

I think I have come around to the belief now that these guys no longer have faith in their own roots. They don’t even take themselves seriously--on an intellectual level. They have so lost their capacity to respect reason that they are in a total malaise. Anything could be true. That’s why they cower in the face of the radicals among them. When anything can be true the guys with the biggest stick or the thickest wallets win. They certainly don’t put forward very many serious people who can argue from the old-line Democratic beliefs. They do not have the equivalent of the conservative movement, with thinkers and scholars who inspire people. The are beyond post-modern. They are inspired by nothing and they really don’t believe in much beyond a lazy adolescent cry for "freedom" and "rights." They can’t articulate what that means in any sensible way.

We are in the position now of arguing with people who have no argument. It’s almost not even fun. Maybe that’s why I’ve been much more interested in international politics lately!

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for December

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Andrew Kinney

Deanna Ducher

Wes Cannon

Robert Baker

Katy Arnn

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter January’s drawing.

Mansfield on executive power

Don’t miss Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s latest, a characteristically elegant and incisive look at the novelty and importance of the American executive against the backdrop of the NSA kerfuffle.   

Hat tip: Tom Cerber.

Update: The comments call out attention to this exceedingly hostile response by David Luban. I don’t yet have the energy to engage in a point-by-point response to Luban’s nastiness, but I’ll give you a taste of his argument and of how I’d respond on Mansfield’s behalf. (I hasten to add that HCM is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.)

Here’s Mansfield’s statement:

A republic like ours is always more at ease in dealing with criminals than with enemies. Criminals violate the law, and the law can be vindicated with police, prosecutors, juries, and judges who stay within the law: At least for the most part, the law vindicates itself. Enemies, however, not merely violate but oppose the law. They oppose our law and want to replace it with theirs. To counter enemies, a republic must have and use force adequate to a greater threat than comes from criminals, who may be quite patriotic if not public-spirited, and have nothing against the law when applied to others besides themselves. But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force.

Here’s what Luban says:

"But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force." A total non sequitur. Worse: mere games with words. A pickpocket is extra-legal, but it in no way follows that he needs to be faced with extra-legal force.

Mansfield begins with an overarching distinction between criminals and enemies, the former generally containable within the rule of law, the latter not self-evidently so. A criminal doesn’t aim to destroy a government, merely to break the rules for his own benefit. An enemy obviously aims to destroy the entire system of law. Must a government use only "lawful" means to deal with such a threat? Mansfield doesn’t think so. Neither does Abraham Lincoln who asked Congess on July 4, 1861, "are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" And if to define by law is to delimit, what are we to make of this statement by Alexander Hamilton?

The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, and the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite, and for this reason no constitutional shackles can wisely be imposed on the power to which the care of it is committed. This power ought to be coextensive with all the possible combinations of such circumstances; and ought to be under the direction of the same councils which are appointed to preside over the common defense.

Mansfield, Lincoln, and Hamilton are all grappling with serious issues of national defense and national self-preservation. Luban is the one playing games with words.

Bush and the wiretaps

John Eastman, in brief, vindicates Bush’s wiretap decision.

Thoughts on the Dems and Alito

A couple of things have become clear from the Alito hearings. First, the Democrats cannot stop the nomination from going forward. Just as with Chief Justice Roberts’ hearings, they have no argument against Alito. And, Alito has been able to show the world that he is a very smart guy, and has given the Chief a run for his money. So the deed is done. Good for Bush, good for the country, good for the Constitution. Which brings me to my second point.

The Democrats have revealed (once again) that all they care about is the abortion issue, and what they call a woman’s right to choose, or, so called privacy. And this is a problem for them. A big problem. While the Republicans--including their nominees to federal courts--can talk about upholding the Constitution, interpreting it according to the original intent of the framers, the difference between legislating and judging, and so on, the Democrats are relegated to talking about the necessity of upholding precedent (read, saving Roe v. Wade). You must admit that this is a little weird considering that they have poured what intellectual capital they had since the Progressive Era into something called "the living Constitution" (read, interpreting the thing as you please). They really can’t allow a Republican dominated Supreme Court to agree that the Constitution is a living, breathing, changing thing now can they? The Democrats are in a bind for sure and the political effects are that these hearings do not give them the opportunity to put forward their view of how to interpret the Constitution, or what the real work of the Supreme Court should be. In fact, all they can do (read, Kennedy) is bark and bray and howl and distort and make good wives cry. I bet they are praying (read, hoping) that there are no other retirements from the Court because the same thing will happen.

Alito and Democratic impotence

Tom Bevan has a few things to say on the tantrum Ted Kennedy threw yesterday. His screeds and distortions against Robert Bork in 1983 worked, but he is now a defanged old lion relegated to watching Alito take a seat on the Supremes. Robert Novak agrees that Kennedy was "shooting blanks." Peggy Noonan sums it all up:

"But this one is all kind of over, isn’t it? It definitively ended when Mrs. Alito walked out in tears. But to me it seemed over on day one. The Democrats on the committee seemed forlorn in a way, as if they knew deep in their hearts that nobody’s listening. Two decades ago they could make their speeches and fake their indignation and accuse a Robert Bork of being a racist chauvinist woman hater and their accusations would ring throughout the country. But now the media they relied on have lost their monopoly. Everyone who’s fired at gets to fire back, shot for shot."

Iran’s nukes

The Russians have announced that they will not block our attempt to take Tehran’s nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council. While this is a bit of good news, and the only bit of good news in a while, it will not make

John Keegan happy. He thinks that
diplomacy must be tried and all peaceful methods--economic and political ostracism, sanctions, and so on--must be pursued, but

what will happen when the diplomacy fails? "This is a bad and worrying time in world affairs," he concludes. Read it.  

His mouth as his Achilles heel

Richard Cohen at his best. "The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth." He elaborates.  

The tears and the smiles

The extraordinarily shrill attempts to discredit Sam Alito as a racist, sexist, liar, etc., has not worked. The Dems are grasping. If you are a GOP partisan you just love Kennedy! It’s over. Alito is in. Do you doubt this? Well, that doubt should have left when Mrs. Alito left the room in tears.

The Dems’ chances of stopping this nomination walked out the door with her. That’s why she came back smiling.

The Goldwater myth

Was Barry Goldwater a conservative? Was he a different kind of conservative than Reagan, or Bush? Was he always a libertarian on social issues, or only in his old age? Andrew Busch has the answers. And those liberals who liked the old Goldwater, but not the one that ran for president, will not be happy with Andy’s answer.

The "disposition" of teachers

George Will is hard hitting in this Newsweek column: "The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education." Harsh, but worth reading. 

Lieberman vs. Weicker

A Quinnipiac University poll just released finds that Connecticut voters approve of Sen. Joseph Lieberman 62% to 24%, and Lieberman would beat former Gov. Lowell Weicker (I), 65% to 21%. Lieberman would get 67% of the Democratic vote, 72% of the Republican vote and 60% of the independent vote.

Photo from the hearings

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution has made an appearance at the Judiciary Committee hearings. I regret that a Rules of Civility was not to be found in the room.

Blogging is bad for your health

First Schramm, then Knippenberg (in a very minor key). Who’s next?

My uncharacteristic silence of late (welcome, I’m sure, to some) was caused by an unexpected hospital stay, which was caused by unexpected surgeries. I’m on the road to recovery, having lost a week to something that I thought was going to cost me a day, but so far out of the loop (well, I did catch a few minutes of the hearings now and again, but couldn’t tell if what I was seeing was real or the effect of my medications) as to have nothing to add to the ongoing conversation. But I’ll get the wheelchair up to speed as soon as my drug-addled mind permits.

Alexander Hamilton

Mac Owens notes that today is Alex Hamilton’s birthday. Doe he like Hamilton? Does he praise him? Well, yes indeed. Mac concludes his good piece like this:

In "Alexander Hamilton: American", Richard Brookhiser makes the case that, of the Founders, only Washington was greater than Hamilton. Because the United States has become such a successful nation, it is sometime easy to forget that it is great only because of the vision, nobility, and virtue of the Founders, none of whom exceeded Hamilton in the possession of these attributes. Hamilton was the sort of man described by the Athenian stranger in Plato’s Laws: "let us all be lovers of victory when it comes to virtue, but without envy. The man of this sort—always competing with himself but never thwarting others with slander—makes nations great."

As Mac writes, Brookhiser’s book is good, and so is Chernow’s wonderful biography. The New York Historical Society’s on Hamilton is pretty good, and will be travelling all year; see "About the Exhibition." I think it is in Columbus, OH, in September, for example.

The lies and the bombast

Jonah Goldberg nails down the meaning of the Alito hearings, what they reveal about what the Court has become, and what Liberals have become in less than 700 words. Read it. 

Truth Check on Concerned Alumni for Princeton

Senator Biden got the call to grill Judge Alito on his affiliation with the long-defunct Concerned Alumni for Princeton ("CAP") organization, which has been accused of being anti-black, anti-woman, and even anti-Jew. The latter charge, made on air today by Erwin Chemerinski, is apparently based on the fact that some in the organization touted the group’s mission as seeking a return to the "old Princeton." Apparently, a really, really old Princeton, like many Ivy League schools, had a despicable cap on admission of Jewish students. But no one has produced a shred of evidence to suggest that CAP ever supported a Jewish quota. In fact, what got campus liberals so incensed about the group was that it opposed racial quotas of any kind--that’s the source of the anti-black charge. And the anti-woman charge? It is apparently based on two grounds. First, the "old Princeton" was, at one point, single sex, so the alumni group’s devotion to the "old Princeton" is said to be, impliedly, support for abolition of the coed move of the University. And the other? CAP dared to support continuation of the all-male eating clubs/fraternities (and also the all-female sororities), which ran afoul of the radical feminist political correctness on campus at the time. This was hardly the neanderthal organization that Senator Biden claimed it to be, but in any event, Judge Alito apparently paid his membership fee and subscribed to the group’s newsletter because it supported keeping ROTC on campus. Now there’s a disqualifying position for any federal judge--actually do something to help defend the freedoms we prize in this country!

Arnold and bikes

I knew that Arnold rides bikes, but I didn’t know he still did it, as governor. Well, he rides still. And, he got into a small accident (fifteen stiches on his lip) and it was discovered that he doesn’t have the proper endorsement on his California driver’s license to operate a motorcycle. Because the bike was attached to a sidecar, he is probably OK (no fine). Yet, it is clear that all the years he has been in the USA (arrived in 1968) he has been riding his bikes illegaly. Amusing. I would say that about 4 out of five people who ride do not have the proper endorsement. Some don’t care, some can’t pass the test. Look for new laws to be passed; look for no humor. Too bad.

In favor of propaganda

Reuel Marc Gerecht is right in everything he writes about propaganda. I just regret that such a converstion is so public. Here is a long story from the L.A. Times from late November on one of the propaganda operations that became public. Too bad.


I am having another busy day, hearing Alito in the background--he really is a nerd, isn’t he? perfect for a justice?--I am seeing students all day and doing some last minute preps for my Lincoln Seminar this evening. I also met with my Human Being and Citizen class this morning. It is good to be back in class!

Belafonte, past hope

The times are wild, confusion is back, as are the students! So I am not at leisure. But I could not help noting that Harry Belafonte (with Cornel West of Princeton) is in Venezuela, saying this: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution."

MSNBC Beyond Dreadful

Someone joked a while ago that if Osama bin Laden hid out at MSNBC he’d never be found, because nobody ever looks there. This morning I made the dreadful error, while channel surfing the news channels, of catching the last few minutes of MSBNC’s newest offering, "Weekend with Maury and Connie," as in the husband-and-wife team of Maury Povich and Connie Chung.

It was beyond pathetic. I caught a closing segment called "Quick Hits," which I figured out was supposed to be funny. But even the most rabid liberal would have found their attempts at topical humor to be groan-inducing. (It is not worth the bandwidth to pass along an example.) Their quips, to borrow the old critic’s phrase, "wouldn’t make a sub-moron’s mouth twitch." Look for this show to have a very-short life on MSNBC. Paid infomercials would be more watchable.

It is hard to believe that Chung was once Dan Rather’s co-anchor at CBS News. On second thought, not it’s not.

"Noises Off"

If I’ve been quiet here at NLT lately, it’s because I’ve had a much busier Christmas break than I’m used to. The reason for this is that I’m in the midst of rehearsals for the Mansfield Playhouse production of the classic British farce "Noises Off", which opens this Friday evening, 13 January, at 8:00. There are also performances on Saturday the 14th, the following Friday and Saturday (20th and 21st), and a matinee on the afternoon of Sunday, 22 January. I’m playing Lloyd, the director, no doubt due to my uncanny resemblance to Michael Caine

I don’t usually promote my shows at NLT, mostly because I have no idea what proportion of our readers are local. But if you happen to live near Mansfield, and are a fan of the theater, I hope you’ll consider coming to see it. And if you’re a fan of NLT, or at least a friendly critic, I hope you’ll come downstairs after the performance and say hello.