Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Maryland gay marriage again

Maryland Republicans seem to have failed in their effort to bring a state defense of marriage amendment to a vote. While it’s possible to complain about the high-handedness of the Democrats in the state legislature, the fact is that they have a substantial majority.

"Now everyone knows where we stand," [House Majority Leader Kumar P.] Barve said. "The Republicans can complain about the outcome, but the bottom line is, it takes a majority of votes to get something passed here, and they did not have the votes."

Perhaps so, but might the voters not begin to see this as a problem?

And then there’s this article, which notes that the next governor, incumbent Republican Robert Ehrlich or his Democratic challenger, will be in a position to nominate three judges to Maryland’s highest court. While even three "conservative" nominations would unlikely decisively change the judicial status quo in Maryland (apparently the three judges slated to retire are more or less conservative), it’s hard to image that the gay marriage judicial decision will not have an impact on the November election, with or without a defense of marriage amendment on the ballot.

The evolution/I.D. debate

This fine article covers the waterfront and includes some revealing quotes from Richard Dawkins:

Being "pro-life in debates on abortion or stem cell research always means pro-human life, for no sensibly articulated reason," he once wrote. The fact that humans think of themselves as altogether distinct from other animals -- and the biblical notion that humans have dominion over other animals -- is a sort of racism, Dawkins said. Evolution shows that fox hunters and bullfighters are tormenting their own distant cousins, which is why the biologist sends money to anti-bullfighting groups in Spain, and why he notes with pride that fox hunting was banned on the family farm. "The melancholy fact," Dawkins wrote in an essay called "Gaps in the Mind," "is that, at present, society’s moral attitudes rest almost entirely on the . . . speciesist imperative."

Darwinian ideas about natural selection are also freighted with moral import because they show that nature, while spectacularly beautiful and ingenious, requires prodigious amounts of ruthlessness and suffering to achieve its ends. The grace of the cheetah, the beauty of a butterfly’s wings and the complexity of the human brain were all achieved by the same general process that allows bacteria to evolve into a resistant strain -- they required the death of those less quick, less strong and less smart.


Dawkins believes that, alone on Earth, human beings can rebel against the mechanistic indifference of nature. Understanding the pitiless ways of natural selection is precisely what can make humans moral, Dawkins said. It is human agency, human rationality and human law that can create a world more compassionate than nature, not a religious view that falsely sees the universe as fundamentally good and benevolent. That is why, Dawkins said, he donates to disaster relief efforts -- work that is "un-Darwinian" -- and why he is a stickler for human laws, even the unimportant ones: When riding his bicycle, he stops at red lights even when there are no traffic and police officers present.

"I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining how things are, but I am an even more passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics," said Dawkins, who comes close to describing himself as a pacifist. "Let us understand Darwinism so we can walk in the opposite direction when it comes to setting up society."

Alhough he says that one can’t have a "two spheres" view when it comes to science and religion, he claims that one can when it comes to science and morality or politics. I’m not sure what the ground of this "human exceptionalism" would be. How and why are we "free" to attempt to overcome our natures? What guides us in that attempt? Is "anti-Darwinian" human morality simply an act of will? Are we able thus to "play God" only after we’ve used Darwinism to dismantle any normative system that might not comport with our own personal preferences? I could ask lots more questions, but I’ll leave it at these for now.

But read the whole article: it’s thorough and fair-minded.

Finally, the Yanks are coming

This article on Romania is revealing in a couple of ways. First, it gives the correct impression, in a tender way, that Romanians are looking forward to having Americans permanenetly stationed in their country, and gives some reasons why. This will be the first U.S. base in a former Warsaw Pact country. Second, it alludes to more geopolitical relationships wherein some of the details should be more of a secret than the article allows. Too bad. The deal with Romania was signed by Rice in December, and there will be another similar deal with Bulgaria. I have spent a little time in both countries, but I’ll have to go into that at another time. Both deals are good for us, and them. This is a WaPo four-minute video on the base in Romania.

Bono’s sermon

Get Religion calls our attention to the remarks Bono made at the National Prayer Breakfast this past Thursday. While praising the U.S. and its churches for all they have done to address poverty and the AIDS crisis in Africa (which he described as a tsunami a month), he called upon the government to devote 1% of ita annual budget (amounting currently to $26 billion) to "the poorest people in the world."

Seems reasonable, no? A small price to pay, no? A drop in the bucket, no? He certainly meant it to be all these things--a tiny stretch for a nation that is already generous, a first step on the long road to dealing effectively with "the least of us" all over the world.

Of course, the devil, as they say, is in the details. Bono did speak of effective foreign assistance. I have it on pretty good authority that the money, by itself, very likely won’t make a difference. So long as African governments are mired in corruption, too much of the aid will be stolen or wasted.

I suspect that Bono knows this, which is why he used the word "effective." But he was in the business of bearing prophetic witness, not making a real policy recommendation. Real policy might require addressing Africa’s political problems before its health and economic problems can be effectively addressed. Some might say that political health flows from economic health, that the economic comes first. But if the politicians are kleptocrats, there can be no economic growth and prosperity without changes at the top.

And of course, when we’re talking about the AIDS crisis, Bono also knows that government money can’t necessarily be effectively spent, either by the government or by the various and sundry NGOs, as they’re currently configured. What to do?

Reeb on Henninger on ideology

I can’t improve upon Richard Reeb’s response to Daniel Henninger’s Friday Opinion Journal column. Where Henninger says that voters want "ideology" rather than pork barrel politics, Reeb writes about principle and prudence.

Here’s Henninger:

At a time when the Democratic elites no longer have a vibrant ideology and the Republicans in Washington are deserting theirs, the public across the spectrum seems to be screaming for recognizable signposts, shared political principles.

Here’s Reeb:

I do not believe for one minute that Henninger concedes anything to the leftist ideologues, but by putting the right’s "ideology" on a par with the left’s, he unnecessarily grants the left more credit than it deserves. What makes conservatism a wise choice for Americans is not its unanchored theories but its appreciation of what in America needs to be conserved--and extended--for the sake of "the perpetuation of our political institutions." Abraham Lincoln called our nation "the last, best hope of earth," by which he explicitly meant, as did the founders, that America is a model for the rest of the world. Rightly there is a debate about the prudence of extending self government in this or that area of our national life or in this or that region of the world, but it is always an option. Lincoln emphatically meant that America must strive always to put its own house in order so that it may be the example the world needs.

But whether it be foreign or domestic policy, true conservatism consists in doing the most good in the circumstances, holding fast to the "self evident" truths and republican habits at our nation’s foundation, without conceding non-existent virtues to any anti-republican doctrines. Prudence can thus usher in boldness no less than caution if public opinion is ripe for wise measures that "provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare."

Henninger makes the all-too-common error of identifying ideology and adherence to political principle, forgetting or overlooking the role of reason and hence of prudence in the latter. Not all compromises are unprincipled or merely pragmatic. And not all "theoretical" positions are reasonable. An "ideology" closed to experience and conversation hardly counts as principled. After all, principles ought (in principle, one might say) to be shareable with others.

The American Enterprise

Selections from the new issue are available online. They include editor Karl Zinsmeister’s latest report from Iraq (worth reading for the clarity it brings), an interesting interview with historian David Hackett Fischer, and James Lileks’s appreciation of Judge Judy.

Princeton’s James Madison Program

The quality of its conferences makes me wish I lived in New Jersey. (Well, almost. I’m pretty happy where I am.) Upcoming events include a conference on civic religion in the U.S. and Europe and one on Jewish philosophy in America. The conference held last December on conservative movement, keynoted by Steven Hayward and David Brooks is now viewable online.

Hat tip: Michael DeBow.

Jim Boehner info

A useful place to start looking into what Jim Boehner is all about. From the information I garnered here he sounds like a solid guy. My best sources assure me that is true.

Pass the Stuffing . . .

Rush read most or all of this terrific editorial by Daniel Henninger and about why "ideology" is what voters crave in their politics these days. I wouldn’t exactly call it ideology, if I were smart enough to write about this, but people certainly do seem to be searching for the real meaning of American politics--there is decidedly less policy wonk talk these days. One reason, to be sure, is that policy is boring--it can only excite the mind when it is tied to a notion of right or wrong. The problem the Dems are having with their "young intellectuals" (as Henninger calls them) who blog to the point of obscenity about their leaders in the political world stems from the fact that Dems no longer understand (or perhaps have basic awareness) of their "ideology."

These young bloggers and "intellectuals" understand that their policy preferences come from something--an idea about the good or an idea of what America should be. Leading Democrats tend to take it as a given that a majority of Americans agree with their aims--they think politicians just have to work out the details of how best to accomplish Democratic aims and prove to us that they can do it. They don’t get that the reason they’re getting defeated is that we don’t like where their policies are headed. We disagree about the aims. The emerging liberal intellectuals understand that basic point of non-conversation between themselves and us. They want Democrats to defend their ideology and engage with and rally the public behind them on that point. But the Dems can’t do it. No, seriously, they really can’t. They can’t because they’re not capable and they can’t because--even if they were capable--it would blow a cover that is at least as old as FDR. Possibly older.

I mean to take nothing away from FDR’s success as a wartime leader or suggest that he was anything other than a patriot in his intentions. But FDR was a master at disguising Progressive ideology in the clothes of American ideas of equality and liberty. Whether he did this because he actually believed that Progressivism was the true meaning of America or because he was a clever usurper of the idea, I’m not smart enough to say. In the end, his intentions don’t really matter. But I do suspect that Roosevelt may have been too clever by half if he wasn’t simply misguided. The Dems today don’t understand America because they think America is Progressivism. They don’t know that there is a competing vision of what America is out there. They don’t know that there is a still small voice in the American breast that hears the words "liberty" or "Constitution" or "Washington" or "Lincoln" or "equality" and gets in some real and deep way that Dem ideas do not exemplify them. They are not worthy of them. Roosevelt’s success may spell their doom. Perhaps he fooled his own party--but he’s not fooling us anymore. Liberal bloggers are sensing this and it scares the pants off of them.

Intelligence matters

CIA chief Porter Goss claimed in hearings yesterday that unauthorized leaks of classified information about agency activities have caused "severe damage" to the CIA’s operations and that journalists who report leaks should be questioned by a grand jury. Gabriel Schoenfeld asks if the New York Times has violated the Espionage Act. This is the New York Times report on yesterday’s Senate hearings. I saw a few minutes of it. I was not impressed with Rockefeller or Levin’s comments.

Cartoon politics

Here is a slideshow of the Danish cartoons that are causing all this Muslim anger and protest. The BBC has more.

Lawyers and friends

Scott at Powerline brings to our attention this New York Times article on the modest and reclusive

Harper Leee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and this thoughtful comment by Wilfred McClay. He rightly connects all of this to his good essay on Lincoln as a Lawyer. Thanks to him. A nice read for the early morning.

New website worth bookmarking

David Schaefer of Holy Cross and some colleagues have started a opinion website and newsletter. Among the current offerings are a piece by Schaefer on Supreme Court nominations, one by David Lowenthal on Intelligent Design,and Schaefer’s brief commentary on Spielberg’s Munich.

Here’s part of the mission statement:

We stand for the defense of constitutional self-government in opposition to the endeavors of judicial activists, self-styled “public interest” advocacy groups, and overreaching Congressmen and bureaucrats. We recognize the need for an effective social "safety net" and government regulations to effectively protect the environment; but, remain suspicious of overregulation and reject redistributive schemes of misguided egalitarianism.

Our guide is Alexis de Tocqueville, who endeavored to show how the principle of democratic equality can be harmonized with the spirit of political liberty and individual liberty under law without subjecting a democratic citizenry to bureaucratic or judicial despotism.

Looks like it’s worth a bookmark.

And Now for Somethng Completely Different

I’m at the airport in Oklahoma City killing time before a flight, so here’s today’s diversions.

First, a rare sign of wit from the ACLU. But I think some of their nanny-state members will find it generates conflicting sentiments.

And then, for any disaffected Anglican-Epsicopalians out there, there is this apparently genuine radio ad, which gives cause for hope.

"Lo-kantian" realism

Discussing the failings of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Joseph Loconte makes a recommendation that Immanuel Kant, properly understood (see my now ancient dissertation) would have embraced: the condition for participation in an effective international organization is having what we in the U.S. would call a "republican form of government."

Loose Barbies? Lose Sales.

Mattel Inc.,(the maker of my favorite childhood toy--Barbie) announced on Monday that their fourth-quarter profits are down as a result of her slumping sales. Barbie’s sales are down about 11 percent but their American Girls brand had sales that climbed up 12 percent. This is not a new story. Mattel announced the same problem during the first quarter--but it’s been a long time coming. Back in 1997 Mattel announced that Barbie would have a "makeover" to make her measurements more "realistic" (yeah, right--although her chest is decidedly less pronounced, Mattel’s reality is apparently much skinnier than mine) and her grin became less "toothy" and more subdued. I argued then that it looked Prozac-induced. Since the time that the plastic surgeons of politcal-correctness got ahold of her we have also seen Barbie in all kinds of "non-traditional" professions and in all kinds of ethnic permutations. There were still variations on the old theme--Barbie as a princess, Barbie as a bride, etc.. I’d venture a guess based on my own field research (as a mother of a six-year-old girl) that those products continued to do well. But we’ve seen, more recently, Barbie trying to compete with the new kid on the block--Bratz.

For the uninitiated, Bratz are a kind of slut/gangster version of the fashion doll. Their exaggerated head and lip size combined with their fitting, but unflattering, name made them an unpopular item in my household before I even had the chance to ban them. But there is a segment of the population that seems to think these dolls are appropriate for their daughters (the same segment that delights in dressing their pre-pubescent girls like American Idol contestants). Mattel’s "My Scene" dolls and the accompanying slut attire--seemingly launched to keep up with Bratz--has done them no favors in my view. People who like what Bratz has to "offer" will buy Bratz. People who like the more wholesome and attractive things that Barbie has always offered have given in to purchasing Disney Princess dolls from the Disney Store--even though the quality of the hair and other features is quite inferior. Mattel should ask themselves why American Girls had a surge in sales and Barbie did not. American Girl dolls sell well--despite their $100 price tag--because they are wholesome. They are appropriate for little girls. They do not encourage them to become sassy, disobedient, and vamped-up teenagers. I used to look forward to the day that my daughter and I could enjoy playing Barbie dolls together. We do still enjoy Barbies--but it’s hard to find suitable attire for them. Between finding clothes for my daughter and finding them for Barbie, I’m getting awful tired of sewing. Mattel should get a clue.

There’s No Need to Bring Love Into It

This shocking story (at least it’s still shocking to me) about the so-called "cuddle puddle" at Stuyvesant High School (one of New York’s best magnet schools) offers some frightening insights into just how far gone things are getting in the culture wars--especially in the battle for the hearts and minds of teenagers. Of course, we’re talking about New York City. But if it’s happening there, it’s happening. The sexual ambiguity, the dabbling in homosexuality, the licentiousness and the unabashed assertion of these things in a public way have nothing over the saddest part of the story. These kids emphatically admit what I chose as the title of this post: "There’s no need to bring love into it." Mug -worthy but fill it with something stronger than coffee.

Update: I don’t know why but the link is not working well. Try this.

Hillary’s big problem

Dick Morris is concise. Hillary does better when she is quiet. She is not doing well lately. I am reminded that the other night when President Bush mentioned--in an amusing way--that two of his father’s favorite people (he and Bill) are Boomers the camera panned to Hillary and she was frowning and making faces. She should have smiled or laughed at the remark. Her political instincts are wrong. I still maintain that she cannot be stopped by another Democrat from winning the Democratic nomination, yet almost any Republican will be able to defeat her. She will not become president.

Peggy Noonan on the Democrats

Today’s PN column meanders around the topic of political polarization in a way that is poignant, amusing, and illuminating. Her observation about the Democrats is not novel, but it is well-said:

Conservatives are always writing about the strains and stresses within the Republican Party, and they are real. But the Democratic Party seems to be near imploding, and for that most humiliating of reasons: its meaninglessness. Republicans are at least arguing over their meaning.

The venom is bubbling on websites like Kos, where Tuesday afternoon, after the Alito vote, various leftists wrote in such comments as "F--- our democratic leaders," "Vichy Democrats" and "F--- Mary Landrieu, I hope she drowns." The old union lunch-pail Democrats are dead, the intellects of the Kennedy and Johnson era retired or gone, and this--I hope she drowns--seems, increasingly, to be the authentic voice of the Democratic base.

How will a sane, stable, serious Democrat get the nomination in 2008 when these are the activists to whom the appeal must be made?

Republicans have crazies. All parties do. But in the case of the Democrats--the leader of their party, after all, is the unhinged Howard Dean--the lunatics seem increasingly to be taking over the long-term health-care facility. Great parties die this way, or show that they are dying.

Humbler than thou

Today’s Washington Post offers a flattering portrait of former Missouri Senator John Danforth, who has spoken out against the religious right and on behalf of religious moderation.

In Danforth’s view, the religious conservatives are the dividers. He and his fellow moderates could get along with everyone:

[M]oderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God’s truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God’s work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today’s politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord’s table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love.

This embrace of broad-thinking and toleration comes pretty close to saying that those who have other views--those who, for example, restrict the Lord’s Supper to those who have made a profession of faith in a particular denomination--aren’t genuinely following God’s word. Those who don’t share Danforth’s vision of humility and all-embracing love, and the practical consequences drawn from it, must be arrogant and un-loving.

It’s also easier to be tolerant if you can call yourself pro-life, but not see what all the fuss is about when it comes to stem cell research:

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.
Messing with the building blocks of life--playing God, so to speak--is no big deal. Only a crabbed, purely and narrowly religious person, moved by pride, not humility, and without a shred of compassion, could hold a view contrary to Danforth’s.

It’s also easier to be tolerant if you say that you favor traditional marriage, but argue that you can think of no reason other than a mean desire to humiliate people to enshrine that opinion in the Constitution.

Perhaps the best explanation of Danforth’s position comes from
another WaPo profile, this one on the occasion of Ronald Reagan’s funeral:

If he sticks to his usual form today, Danforth, who declined to be interviewed for this article, will mention God once or twice near the end of his homily. But he can be counted on not to cause a stir by freelancing an impolitic mention of Jesus, as Franklin Graham did at George W. Bush’s inauguration. He will likely perfectly embody Washington National Cathedral’s other role, not as an Episcopal chapel but as the closest thing we have to a national church, a place where faith is present but muted, as on the dollar bill or in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Jack will deliver a little homily," says Alex Netchvolodoff, his former chief of staff and close friend. "It’s not deep theology. He knows that funerals are for the living; they are gatherings of people to celebrate a life, that they should be upbeat, full of hope."

Official Washington likes its religion beige, interfaith, tastefully alluded to rather than shouted from a mountaintop. Danforth will oblige: "He won’t step on any toes," says Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "People who don’t have any religious sensibilities will feel comfortable with him."

Now read that last sentence again. All are welcome at John Danforth’s table, except those he perceives as intolerant.

It is of course true that there are folks on the religious right who are smug and self-righteous, just as there are on the secular right, the religious left, and the secular left. There also seem to be some in the religious center.

Sam Brownback, theocrat?

So says this hit-piece in Rolling Stone. Small prayer and support groups are revolutionary cells. Meetings where representatives from like-minded interest groups communicate and coordinate activities are somehow sinister and conspiratorial. A passage from the New Testament (Matthew 7:16) is turned into an anti-gay slur. And a theologically sound understanding of how a Christian is answerable ultimately to God is said to be anti-Democratic, an insinuation that predictably sets off the irritable Andrew Sullivan, who is rebuked by Richard John Neuhaus.

The, er, "secret" document to which the author refers can be found here, and an earlier article making much the same argument now applied to Brownback can be found here. One wonders whether Brownback and his press people did their homework.

Ashbrook Center

New Ashbrook Podcasts

We have a new batch of podcasts available. My podcast features Steven Hayward this week. Steve and I discussed a wide variety of topics, starting with Bill Clinton's claim that climate change is the biggest issue facing the world and ranging into many other things including Al Gore, Hillary, and the likely outcome of the upcoming mid-term elections.

Our Events Podcast features Judge Alice Batchelder's 2005 Constitution Day lecture, while our Teaching American History Podcast features the first in a four-part series of lectures from Gordon Lloyd on the Constitutional Convention.

As I hope you can tell, we are always doing good and interesting and new things at the Ashbrook Center. I hope our work, our students, and our cause merits your support. And, by the way, if you are one of those who hasn't given us support for the last twelve months, please know that through the generosity of a donor your gift will be matched up to $5,000. That is, you give us $1,000, we get 2,000; you give us $100, we get $200. Thanks for considering it.

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Ashbrook Center

Churchill and America

The relationship between Churchill and America is a wonderful theme, and not only because Winston once said of himself, "I am myself an English-speaking Union." The Ashbrook Center and the Churchill Centre have organized a Churchill and America National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for high school teachers. It will run from July 23 to August 5 at Ashland University. The co-directors for the program are Professors James Muller (Alaska) and Justin Lyons (Ashland). They, and the other distinguished faculty may be found here. Here is how to apply. Thirty teachers will be selected to attend. Graduate credit may be received for the course. It will be a tremendous seminar. Pass the word.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Senate fund rasising

Senate Democrats have raised more money than the Senate GOP in 2005, $44 million to 35. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is run by Schumer, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is run by Elizabeth Dole. Hillary Clinton "raised $21.4 million last year for her re-election campaign in New York and has $17 million in cash on hand."


I like Mona Charen and I think her critique of Bush’s speech at NRO has much to offer the Administration as a heuristic device for future speeches and policies. She argues that Bush missed an opportunity last night to shore up his conservative base to and make a reasonable argument about the limits of democracy (e.g., Hamas winning Palestinian elections and, therefore, democracy does not always equal freedom). The problem with her argument, it seems to me, is that it--while correct in a strict sense on some levels--misses the big picture. Shoring up the conservative base is important--to be sure--but it is not the most important function of a SOTU speech. Besides, we conservatives were on the heels of getting Alito and the now more or less certain knowledge that we’ll probably get at least one more before Bush’s term is out. The Dems are committing political suicide all around us. We should’ve been shored up enough yesterday to bear with him in this speech. Calm down.

The biggest political problem we face as a nation--and no one sees this more clearly than Bush in my view--is the success that Dems have had in dividing us from each other and misleading the people about our purposes in the world. Painting the Dems as new-fangled isolationists (put another way, a new take on yet another discredited idea) was a brilliant strategy. There are too many well-meaning but misguided Americans who do not support the idea that America must be engaged in this war on terror or in the world generally. Never mind the details of how we wage the war or how we are engaged in the world for now. It will be impossible to sort through all of that if we don’t have enough support for the idea that we must be in it in the first place. I am heartened that Bush seems finally to have taken Dems out on the carpet for their fool-hardy politics. He is reminding people that the Dems are the masters of stupid policies that, if followed, will get us killed (after they sink us into poverty). I think it was brilliant to link this neo-isolationism in foreign policy to its twin policy in trade--protectionism. People know on a gut level that the world is changed forever by faster communications and emerging markets. My children will have to compete in a marketplace dominated not only with the leading lights of their generation in America--but with kids growing up in straw huts somewhere in China or India. It’s a bigger, more complicated world, than the policies born out of mid-20th century labor politics can handle. The Democratic party of today is so mired in its past that it is not only incapable of leading--it is nearly irrelevant. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, saw and heard that last night.

Mona is right that more (much more) will need to be done to make Republicans equal to the challenge. But the Democrats aren’t even in the right starting gate. A couple days of basking in this glow are in order. We need to see the big picture clearly before we move on to the harder work Mona proposes. Win the mid-terms and then get to work making our party stronger, smarter and more effective.


Caspar Weinberger is in favor of closer ties, both economic and political, with India. The transition to more freedom in India, is not simply smooth, of course. Unions (and communists) are protesting privatizing the the two largest airports in India (Delhi and Bombay).

The Hollow Dems

This National Review editorial is not fully satisfying on Bush’s speech last night. There are better opinions at this NRO Symposium. It was a perfectly good speech. Generally well delivered, even eloquent at times, and certainly hard enough, in my opinion. I watched the Dems more than I have before. I’m trying to figure out what they are up to. So to me the most revealing and interesting moment came when W. made a reference to the fact that his initiative on Social Security didn’t get off the ground last year and the Dems got up applauding and laughing. That was wonderfully revealing! What are they thinking about? That clip of Hillary standing up and grinning will be replayed during her campaign for the presidency a hundred times. It will reveal how unserious and imprudent she is because Social Security reform will be a major issue for the next decade or two, and Bush is taking it seriously. I thought that moment wrapped all the vices of the Dems in one revealing augenblick: Here we are, kind of like the leech-brain experts at best, like the last men, blinking. They are hollow to the core when it comes to the big and pressing issues, but willing to support federal benefits for soldiers who have served with honor, but shy away from talking about what they ought to be doing to serve. Oh, these are hollow politicians, these Dems. Very revealing, very discouraging, but also a great opportunity for some Democrat who is smart and decent and ambitious to have a great effect on a once great political party. I wonder if it can happen in my lifetime. It certainly isn’t going to happen by 2008.

Ashbrook Center

Higher education and civic eduation

Whatever might be the case with their peers elsewhere, folks associated with the Ashbrook Center are likely to find little that is novel or surprising in Robert George's eloquent and learned plea for genuine civic education in America's universities. A taste:

For all their academic achievement, students at Princeton and Yale and Stanford and Harvard and other schools that attract America's most talented young people rarely come to campus with a sound grasp of the philosophy of America's constitutional government. How did the Founding Fathers seek, via the institutions that the Constitution created, to build and maintain a regime of ordered liberty? Even some of our best-informed students think something along these lines: the Framers set down a list of basic freedoms in a Bill of Rights, which an independent judiciary, protected from the vicissitudes of politics, would then enforce.

It's the rare student indeed who enters the classroom already aware that the Framers believed that the true bulwark of liberty was limited government. Few students comprehend the crucial distinction between (on the one hand) the national government as one of delegated and enumerated powers, and (on the other) the states as governments of general jurisdiction, exercising police powers to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the general welfare. If anything, they imagine that it's the other way around. Thus they have no comprehension as to why leading supporters of the Constitution objected to a Bill of Rights, worried that it could compromise the delegated-powers doctrine and thus undermine the true liberty-securing principle of limited government.

Good students these days have heard of federalism, yet they have little appreciation of how it works or why the Founders thought it so vital. They've heard of the separation of powers and often can sketch how the system of checks and balances should work. But if one asks, for example, "Who checks the courts?" they cannot give a satisfactory answer.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Michael DeBow.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Straussians in Canadian politics

I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at the alleged malign "Straussian" influence on new Canadian P.M. Stephen Harper in my latest TAE Online op-ed. My conclusion? It’s basically a re-run of the same conspiracy-mongering that occurred on our side of the border, traceable on large part back to a political theorist who has made a career of "outing" Strauss and alleged Straussians. She’s making less and less sense as she goes on, and, as you can see from this commentary, never made much sense to begin with.

Still, Harper’s, er, "Straussians" (actually Voegelinians, Hayekians, and students of students of Strauss) are an interesting bunch, sure to enliven Canadian political discourse. As John von Heyking has ably shown, however, we shouldn’t look for an atheist elitist theocracy north of our border anytime soon. Disappointing, eh?

New site for old book review

Last year, I wrote a review of Anne Norton’s Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, which was posted on a website that has recently fallen into disuetude. Thanks to the good offices of Ashbrook’s Ben Kunkel, my orphan book review has a new home.

Alito Confirmed as 110th Supreme

The final vote was 58-42:
CNN Wire Report.

SOTU tonight

Take the quiz. Win valuable prizes.

Conservative editorial pages

These folks are compiling a list. Drop them a line if they’ve missed a paper.

Cloture on Alito

72 - 25. Reuters can’t bring itself to mention the actual tally. Here and here are the most complete stories I can find.

Update: Here’s the roll call, courtesy of Southern Appeal. Democrats voting for cloture include all the "red staters" (except Reid), Lieberman, Kohl of Wisconsin, both Senators from Hawaii, Salazar of Colorado, Carper of Delaware, and Cantwell of Washington. If I’m not mistaken, Kohl is the only SJC Democrat to vote for cloture. All the Democratic members of the "Gang of 14" voted for cloture (which explains Inouye and Salazar). There’s more analysis here.

Blackwell ahead in Ohio

Sometimes it’s not the facts that makes a story interesting. We have known the facts in this story for a while. It’s the publication of it that is interesting. Timing is everything. An Ohio GOP Poll "in the race for governor shows that Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has opened a 10-point lead over Attorney General Jim Petro among likely GOP primary-election voters," according to the Columbus Dispatch. Read the article and tell me that you don’t get the feeling that the Petro camp is in a bad way (in a free fall, panic, slow moving train, as you please). Look, they spent about a million and half bucks running TV ads trying to show the conservative side of Petro. Did these ads work, do Petro’s numbers go up? Then Montgomery pulls out. Do Petro’s numbers go up now? What do you do if the answer is "no" to each question. Now, if you look at the article with a bit more care than you normally might, tell me if Petro is not beginning to attack Blackwell for being a (social) conservative, and even calls himself a moderate? Now that’s a sign of desperation, is it not? And then Bob Bennett, the chairman of the Ohio GOP, says that he did not ask either man at this meeting of the GOP Central Committee to quit the campaign? Would he ask someone who is leading in the polls? On the other hand, Bennett says that he wants to avoid "costly and rancorous battle between two of his party’s stars," as the article puts it.

Add all that up, and I will say you conclude that Petro’s train has a hard time leaving the station, or, if it’s left, is already stopping at every station along the way. Huckleberry trains are too slow. I think Petro’s finished, and at their next meeting the CEO of the Ohio GOP, Bob Bennett, will ask him to pull out.

Abusive Feminism

Much could be said about this piece by Maggie Gallagher concerning the two extremes that result from a culture ladeled in the orthodoxies of feminism. It reminds me of a Wall Street Journal editorial--more than a decade old--lamenting the removal of moral "guard-rails" and the devastating effects this sort of libertine ethic had on the poor. Read the article and comment if you wish. I find it all too sad. We can only hope that Gallagher’s favorable juxtaposition of Kate O’Bierne to Kate Michelman proves lasting and true.

Confirming the Obvious

Yet another study does exactly that.

Denmark and Muslims

Good morning. Because the Danish government will not act against a newspaper, or apologize for the satirical cartoon it published, Libya has closed its embassy in Copenhagen. Some other Muslims are deeply offended. Boycotts are talked about. This is serious. Main news for this Monday morning.

Reeves on Reagan

Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist kindly mentions my book on the rise of Reagan in his New York Times Book Review piece on Richard Reeves’ new book, President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination.

Both the review and Reeves’ book are pretty good. (I read Reeves’ book over the Christmas holidays.) Reeves is an old liberal of the New Deal variety, and though he makes clear he doesn’t agree with Reagan’s ideology, he says he shares Reagan’s attachment to American exceptionalism, which is the key dividing line between right and left today, as most liberals today are uncomfortable with American exceptionalism. It says a lot in favor of Reeves that he has raised his overall estimation of Reagan. In 1979 he wrote in Esquire magazine an article called "Why Reagan Won’t Make It," and then in 1983 he published a book called The Reagan Detour, arguing Reagan was a mere interlude between liberal hegemony in American politics.

I debated Reeves back in 1994 in Santa Barbara, and twitted him about these two publications, but overall I found him enormously likeable and fair-minded, which comes out for the most part in his new and more favorable revision of Reagan.

The page before the Wooldridge review (if you have the dead-tree version of the book review) contains a nasty and unfair hack job of a review of Don Critchlow’s fine book on Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly ranks up next to Joe McCarthy for the ability to make liberals start frothing at the mouth. Good for Don for getting reviewed in the Times, I suppose, but despite Sam Tanenhaus’s worthy efforts to balance the book review, it still fall short now and then as this review makes clear.


David Warren thinks that the victory of Hamas, "the openly terrorist party" is kind of clarifying: The vast majority of Palestinians want Israel driven into the sea. Probably true. Yet, Warren doesn’t tell us what to do now. Inj a soft piece, Fareed Zakaria thinks we shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were. He thinks we will be surprised again, unless we start supporting the liberal, secular groups. That sort of goes without saying, but in the case of the Palestinians, what has become clear is that they are less interested inh having their own state than in ending the state of Israel.

The Belmont Club says that following the money will not necessarily make you into an optimist. Sixty percent of the Palestinian Authority’s money comes from foreign donors (see his chart), with $368 million coming from the U.S. and $ 338 from the European Union. He notes that since November ’05, the European Union has witheld
$42 million in aid payments to the PA as punishment for missed fiscal targets. That, combined with Fatah having padded its payroll with young militants to win their votes ahead of the polls, and you are at the start of a bankrupt "government." Read the whole of it to see what they he is driving at. Is it possible that Bush will hold fast on not deal with Hamas and be able to hold the Europeans, the U.N., as well as Jordan and Egypt, with him? Can they support Israel, and demand that the government ruled by Hamas accept the prior Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements? Hard decisions will have to be made. The hard distinctions between democracy and justice, still have to be worked out. We can incline them in a certain direction based on their interests, but they will--somehaow--have to walk the last miles by themselves, in their own way. I hope that walk will not include a civil war. Khaled Meshal, speaking from Damscus, said
asked the world to respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people -- which he called an example for the Arab and Muslim world. And then, this:

"The world raised the slogan of democracy, and now it should respect the results of democracy. If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy, then the American administration should punish Americans for choosing President Bush." Hard work, all this, but I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. Also note this.

Politics as positioning

The Dems’ Left is pushing and shoving everyone around, by of preparing their party to lose in 2008. So Hillary will vote in favor of a filibuster against Alito tomorrow to show everyone that she is a woman of the Left. This is a good move on her part because, of course, her vote is meaningless, and she knows it. But today she is in San Francisco trying explain why she voted in favor of the war, a more meaningful vote than the one she will cast tomorrow. Code Pink may still not be impressed. Meanwhile, also in California, the famous and serious and articulate peace activist (is that what I should call her?) Cindy Sheehan is threatening to run against Dianne Feinstein because she voted for the war: "She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won’t call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops...I think our senator needs to be held accountable for her support of George Bush and his war policies." (But note that Sheehan can be critical of Clinton, as well.) A spokesman for Feinstein said she "doesn’t support George Bush and his war policies." And Bush, according to some, has latched unto the NSA issue and made it his own, so far to his advantage.

A book on France?

I’m not a Garrison Keillor fan by any means (actually, haven’t heard him in over ten years, didn’t know he is still around), but this review of Bernard-Henry Levy’s American Vertigo is very funny, and judging by the Atlantic articles I read that became the book, on the money. 

Ivan’s War

A review of two books on the Red Army in the Times Literary Supplement.

Good Goliath

Rich Lowry reviews Michael Mandelbaum’s, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the 21st Century. Mandelbaum is a liberal, who might overstate some aspects of U.S. internationalism. Example, we provide "public goods", security, economic stability, etc., to the world in much the same way a government provides these things to its citizens. Yet, Lowry writes that the book is important and even wise for it reminds everyone (should be required reading in France and Germany?) how important U.S. power is, and how good it is to have a bipartisan consensus in favor of it.

"But the core of Mandelbaum’s case -- that U.S. power is so important to the world that the international order would badly fray without it -- is provocative and valuable, given how pervasive the notion has become at home and abroad that the United States is the world’s parasite, or predator, or both. Strained analogies aside, Mandelbaum’s analysis is generally sure-footed and often original."

Tunnels and dangers

The discovery of a 2,400 yard tunnel from a warehouse in Mexico to one in the U.S. a few days ago was dramatic. Although this half-mile tunnel is not the first that has been discovered, it is the longest. This was not made by a couple of guys with spoons. Then add the incident of men in military type uniforms (said to be Mexican military, by some observers and reporters) unloading marijuana from an SUV in broad daylight within the U.S., and the mind begins to focus. Border security and illegal immigration will become political issues for the 2006 elections and beyond.