Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Kos convention in Vegas

Matt Bai reflects on this event, taking place next week. His conclusion: the new politics of the "netroots" will come to resemble the old politics. It’s not so much that all politics is local as it is that all politics must become tactile.

Politicians know that politics is, by its nature, a tactile business. New technology may change the way partisans organize and debate, and it may even spawn an entirely new political culture. But at the end of the day, partisans will inevitably be drawn to sit across the table from the candidates they support or oppose, just as votes will still be won and lost in banquet halls and airport hangars and all the other seedy, sweaty stalls of the political marketplace. Online politics can’t flourish in the virtual realm alone, any more than an online romance can be consummated through instant messaging.

He must, then, be hopeful about the domestication of the Kossacks, or indifferent to the effects of "disinhibition" on our political life.

Commencement at West Point

GWB delivers a stirring speech, honoring West Point’s Class of 2006, whose members enrolled after 9/11. He names the struggle--"the long war with Islamic jihadism"--and compares it to the Cold War, and himself (at least implicitly) to Harry Truman. As this article notes, the President "left it unsaid that Truman was deeply unpopular at the end of his two terms in office and that it took a generation to appreciate his achievements." A journalist who recognizes that he or she is writing the proverbial "first draft of history" ought to remember not only the first part of the sentence, but also the second part.


Robert Conquest reviews Geoffrey Hosking’s book on Russia. Also see Stephen Kotkin’s review of books on Russia in the current The New Republic (on line for subscribers only).

Machiavelli’s Suit

Nicholas Antongiavanni is a masterful writer, a deep thinker, and a man of wit. It is also possible that his soul is his clothes. Anyway, I got my first four copies of The Suit on Thursday; they were stolen by my friends by Friday. I ordered more, and advise you to do the same. I read into it enough to know that it may be akin to a sartor resartus of our time. It is a replay of
The Prince, chapter by wonderful chapter.
It will teach you style, and you will want it because Antongiavanni so desires it. I am now persuaded by style’s own knight and have become a lover of neckties! The book is an argument for a week, laughter for a month, and a good jest forever. If you lack wit in your mind and mirth in your heart then read it for the sake of power. As Mark Twain said: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." I love this book!

Rauch on federalism and gay marriage

Jonathan Rauch argues that the Marriage Protection Amendment is unnecessary, especially given the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. This is unpersuasive, since (of course) a subsequent President could reshape the character of the Court in any number of ways, some of which would permit the very thing proponents of the Marriage Protection Amendment fear--the federal judiciary imposing one state’s marriage regime on all the states, or imposing its own marriage regime on all the states.

Rauch’s other arguments are also unpersuasive. Consider, he says, abortion. Opponents of abortion want a federal solution there. Why not accept his federal solution here? My response is that, yes, many opponents of abortion argue that, absent any explicit Constitutional language, abortion ought to have been left for state regulation. But the Court, they also argue, was willing to impose a national solution on abortion. Why wouldn’t the Court be willing to impose a national solution on gay marriage? The language of equal protection seems more likely to yield that result (and the pieces--Lawrence v. Texas and Romer v. Evans--are in place) than in the case of privacy and abortion, which required a great deal more, shall we say, judicial ingenuity. So if everyone could be confident that no federal court would find any basis for imposing gay marriage on the nation, they might not be interested in an amendment. But Rauch’s reassurances, given his own position in the debate, are hardly comforting.

Rauch also argues conservatives are supposed to be friends of the legislature, but an amendment would take matters out of legislative hands. Sort of. After all, state legislatures would be called upon to ratify the amendment. At most, in other words, it would take matters out of some state legislatures’ hands (those that wanted to enact legislation providing for gay marriage).

But the bottom line concern remains the behavior of the judiciary, which Rauch tries to downplay or dismiss. I would prefer to make all these arguments in the legislative arena, but judges have a habit of not letting me do so.

I’ll concede Rauch’s point that the amendment is highly unlikely to attract 67 votes in the Senate, but so what? That doesn’t make it a merely political measure. If you’re trying to influence the wider culture, then this is precisely the sort of thing you do. And if you wait until the courts have presented you with a concrete problem, it may be too late effectively to do anything about it.

Searching Congressional offices

Truth be told, this brouhaha surprised me. House Speaker Denny Hastert’s initial position seemed untenable, and he’s come close to conceding as much. The best analysis I’ve seen is here and here.

Kmiec on the federal marriage amendment

Noted legal scholar Douglas Kmiec adds his voice to the chorus of concern about the threat that approval of gay marriage poses to religious liberty.

More Patrick Henry College

NPR’s Terry Gross interviews Michael Farris and fails to get him to say anything outrageous, though I suspect that more than a few regular NPR listeners might find him oddly chilling or chillingly odd. That isn’t to say that you’ll agree with everything you hear.

I mentioned before that the incoming Dean, Gene Edward Veith, blogs. He has posted his thoughts on his new job here and here.

Looking for a good book on Katrina?

This isn’t it. Any reader of Brinkley’s other works could have predicted as much.

Georgia evolution sticker case

A three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has sent the case back down to the District Court, finding that the records of the trial proceedings are so incomplete as to preclude a ruling on the merits of the appeal.

We have concluded that the unfilled gaps in the record, coupled with the problematic nature of some of the district court’s factfindings, prevent proper appellate review of the merits of the important constitutional issues raised in this
case. For reasons we will explain, we have decided the best thing to do is remand
the case to the district court in order for it to conduct new evidentiary proceedings and enter a new set of findings based on evidence in a record that we will be able to review.

The panel, which included long-filibustered Bush nominee William Pryor, left it up to the lower court judge as to whether to conduct an entirely new trial:

[W]e leave
it to the district court whether to start with an entirely clean slate and a completely new trial or to supplement, clarify, and flesh out the evidence that it has heard in the four days of bench trial already conducted.

I think that it’s hard to predict how the panel will rule when it has a complete record before it. (I was amazed, on reading the opinion, as to how many problems there were in reassembling the evidence that apparently was before the trial judge.) In any event, the trial judge’s opinion (which ruled that the textbook stickers describing evolution as a theory, not a fact, "endorsed" religion, thereby violating the Establishment Clause) turned in large part on the sequence of events leading to the School Board’s adoption of the sticker. When I wrote about this decision before, I wasn’t impressed by the district judge’s opinion, which seems to take any outcome favored by religiously-motivated people as an impermissible endorsement of religion. For him, the question is simply whether the Board responded to their pressure in adopting the sticker. If they’re accommodating in anticipation of objections, that may be O.K., but if they’re responding to objections, that’s apparently not O.K. His opinion assumes the latter set of facts, but the record currently available doesn’t seem to support it. That the appellate court wants to have the facts straight does not mean that it will necessarily support his reasoning, assuming that the facts (as he understands them) can be established or reestablished.

If you want more, you can go here, here, here, and here. The pro-evolution folks at Panda’s Thumb anticipate an opportunity for the district court judge to apply the Dover ruling, which I criticized here. One of the commenters offered this nice little bit of bigotry:

Actually, I would welcome it if the Georgia crackers decided to allow the stickers. It would mean a Supreme Court case, which would kill ID once and for all, nationwide.

Update: The Discovery Institute has more analysis here, and there’s a very good article in the local Marietta paper here. This AJC article is more complete than the one linked above.

Debate over slavery in Ohio Senate

The Columbus Dispatch runs this article, "Senate Debate turns nasty," that tries to explain a "racially tinged" confrontation between Senator Ray Miller ("a black Columbus Democrat") and Senator Jeff Jacobson ("a white Republican from suburban Dayton"). Because it is not a long story you should read it yourself just to note how confusing it is. This may be a good exmaple of how not to write a news story. The article makes everything clear but the most important things: What was the cause of the confrontation and why was it racially tinged? The cause, somehow, had to do with "Lincoln’s actual view on slavery." Yet, this is not elaborated upon at all, save to say that the confrontation had to do (somehow) with a bill to declare September 22 Emancipation Day in Ohio (no further explanation is given) passed 33-0. The claim that the debate was "racially tinged" seems to have something to do with the fact that the President of the Senate (Sen. Bill Harris) put an end to the disorder (he called for a 10 minute recess). While Miller doesn’t claim that Harris is a racist, he says this: "What we have to be care of at all times is not to engage in some action that is racist, whether it is intended in a malicious manner or not." Another Democrat, C.J. Prentiss, however said this: "We absolutely perceived racist behavior. We’re not calling Bill Harris a racist, but it was racist behavior." I get it now. Thanks for the clarification. Why was it "racist behavior"? Perhaps this paragraph explains it:

"Democratic senators said they objected to Jacobson’s questioning Miller’s view on black history, including Lincoln’s stance on slavery. And they objected to Harris gaveling Miller out of order but allowing Jacobson to continue, even violating Senate rules by moving from behind his desk to continue the debate."

Well, maybe it doesn’t explain it, after all. I sure would like to know Miller’s opinion on "Lincoln’s stance on slavery" and what Jacobson’s objection to it was. Now, that would be interesting! Just for the record, Lincoln was always against slavery.

Update: A video of the exchange can be found here. The video does, however, end before the state troopers are called in.

Economy booming

The economy
"shot forward at an upwardly revised 5.3 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the fastest growth in 2-1/2 years, as companies built up inventories and exports strengthened."

Some Sources on Immigration

This article claims that "evidence that immigrants have harmed the opportunities of less educated natives is scant." This one suggests that immigrants’ effects on wages are minimal. Alan Krueger has demonstrated the same thing. Here’s a paper that goes so far as to suggest that the reverse is true; that "overall immigration generates a large positive effect on the average wages of U.S.-born workers."

Tyler Cowen tells us, in this op-ed, that "Americans have heard from politicians for more than 200 years that immigration will cause the sky to fall. Yet each time it has only made us stronger."Rachel Friedberg writes in the Quarterly Journal of Economics that mass immigration into Israel has had no adverse economic effects. Several other economists have reached the same conclusion. Richard Vedder and Lowell Galloway demonstrate here that native-born Americans are far more likely to become public burdens than are immigrants.

Did someone claim that there was no scholarly literature showing that immigration was anything but bad for the economy?

More commencement follies

I’m interested in readers’ comments about this speech and the ensuing brouhaha. Note that the speech was given at a Catholic institution by a graduating senior, chosen by students and faculty as an embodiment of the institution’s ideals and character.

At Dickinson College, the commencement speaker was alumnus John E. Jones, III (’77), the judge in the Dover Intelligent Design case. Here’s some of what he had to say in Carlisle this past Saturday:

As has been often written, our Founding Fathers were children of The Enlightenment. So influenced, they possessed a great confidence in an individual’s ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason. And that reason was best developed, they clearly believed, by a broad based liberal arts education that caused its recipients to engage the world by constantly questioning and persuading others.

Ironically, but perhaps fittingly for my purposes today, we see the Founders’ ideals quite clearly, among many places, in the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This of course was the clause that I determined the school board had violated in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. While legal scholars will continue to debate the appropriate application of that clause to particular facts in individual cases, this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.

As I hope that you can see, these precepts and beliefs, grounded in my liberal arts education, guide me each day as a federal trial judge. I am daily exposed to many disciplines, I must learn and relearn things constantly, and I am at risk of deciding a case incorrectly if I accept that which is presented to me at face value.

And so what are the lessons for you in all of this? You are not children of The Enlightenment, but you are now the product of the closest we can come to approximating that---recipients of a strong liberal arts education. So allow me to then suggest these lessons. First, the fundamental idea behind what you have now accomplished is that you are leaving here with all of the tools, but you must use them wisely. The love of learning that I hope has been instilled in you, the tendency to question all that is around you, and the ability to engage the world, all of these things must not be left on this beautiful campus as you depart this weekend. These traits, now inculcated, must endure and be cultivated. Remember that Thomas Jefferson, throughout his life, accumulated a library of almost ten thousand books. George Washington died with nearly a thousand volumes in his collection. These gentlemen read voraciously, including daily newspapers and periodicals.

I find myself in agreement with Judge Jones on at least this: "the practice of law ought to rest on a foundation of liberal learning" (which is what I said he appeared to lack in his Kitzmiller opinion).

I would say that his liberal education left him a dogmatic rationalist (mistakenly attributing that stance as well to all the founders and assuming that it alone animated the Establishment Clause), but there’s also this:

Joseph Campbell was a lifelong student and teacher of the human spirit and mythology. Some of you may have studied him. He said something that I read once and never forgot. It has guided me in my life, and I would suggest that it should guide yours. Campbell said this: "I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time--namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be."

When he reaches for spiritual depth, he gets Joseph Campbell and following one’s bliss!!!! So he’s not simply a dogmatic rationalist. He’s aware, however dimly, of the limits of rationalism, but its aridity (at least as he experiences it) has left him nowhere interesting or profound to turn. This is unfortunate, given Dickinson’s roots.

Update: Christianity Today notes that Jones’s views are contrary to those of John Dickinson, his alma mater’s namesake, which of course isn’t sufficient to refute his view of religion, but may be adequate further to question his view of history. A belated hat tip to Rob Vischer.

More higher ed stuff

Vincent J. Cannato reviews this book on Harvard, which probably ought to be read in conjunction with Ross Douthat’s Privilege, about which I blogged here.

The conclusion of the new book seems to be that Harvard is solipsistic, standing for nothing other than itself:

The core of this book, though, is a defense of the idea that universities should be about something. What makes an educated person? Unfortunately, too many professors and administrators, if they ever bother to think about it, would have difficulty answering the question beyond the pabulum found in most university brochures.

So how does Harvard define an educated person? A Harvard education, the university states, "must provide a broad introduction to the knowledge needed in an increasingly global and connected, yet simultaneously diverse and fragmented world." Mr. Lewis, rightfully dismissive, notes that the school never actually says what kind of knowledge is "needed." The words are meaningless blather, he says, proving that "Harvard no longer knows what a good education is."

Such institutional incoherence has consequences. In his sharpest criticism, Mr. Lewis charges that Harvard now ceases to think of itself as an American institution with any obligation to educate students about liberal democratic ideals. As the school increasingly focuses on "global competency," the U.S. is "rarely mentioned in anything written recently about Harvard’s plans for undergraduate education." In the absence of agreement on common values or a core curriculum, anything goes. Echoing Allan Bloom’s critique of relativism, Mr. Lewis writes that at Harvard "all knowledge is equally valued as long as a Harvard professor is teaching it."

I’ve written before about the vacuousness of Harvard’s educational "ideals," which, I fear, will, er, inspire imitators across the country.

I’ve also written about the thinness of moral community on our college campuses, which (I fear) reflects but also informs the society at large.

All of this leads me back to commencement addresses. I think that commencement speakers should be chosen carefully, because they are supposed to embody the characteristics the college or university honors. I think that the argument made by those who objected to Condoleezza Rice as a commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient should be taken seriously. The university should stand for something, and why not "the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions" and "humanistic values"? (I know, I know: let’s spell it out, rather than relying on shorthand; and let’s avoid overused and vacuous words like "values.") This ought to be the subject of a serious discussion, before the commencement speaker is chosen, not the subject of a subsequent protest (outside the bounds of university procedure, with no likelihood of actually influencing the decision and every likelihood of simply enabling political posturing).

While I disagree with those off campus who protested Secretary Rice’s presence, they’re just doing what Americans are entitled to do. On campus, however, the decision has been made, the arguments have been conducted. It’s time to be a graceful and respectful host, recognizing that this is not the time to flaunt one’s opinions.

Bottom line: let’s have serious discussions of the good life everywhere on college campuses. If we have them, we’ll likely make better decisions, not only about who to invite to speak at commencement (not that I object to the invitations extended by BC and New School University), but also about how we should conduct ourselves as citizens of these United States.

Ceasar’s essay

Joe Knippenberg brought this Jim Ceasar essay to our attention a few days ago (and I noted his book Nature and History a few months ago). I finally got around to reading the essay on the ideas that move American politics. It is very good, and I recommend it. I think he has it essentially right.   


This is hard to resist, from The Onion. (Hat tip: NRO)


Edwin Meese considers the amnesty question by reminding us of the debates in 1986. 

The awful German language

Do the Garmans have a sense of humor or not? Maybe they cannot, given the structure of the language. Mark Twain may be relevant here.

New Blog

Daniel McKivergan has a good post on China (and note the India reference and link at bottomn) at the Weekly Standard blog. Take a look.

Gephardt’s doubts

Former Rep. Dick Gephardt said something intelligent the other day. When asked if the Dems could take back the House he said this: "If the election were today, we’d win back the House, but it is not today."

Commencement follies

Is the title of this week’s TAE Online column. There are plenty of complicated issues here, and I only broach some of them. What I will affirm without question is that Condoleezza Rice and John McCain were more grown-up and indeed closer to the spirit that ought to prevail on campus (not necessarily in their conclusions but rather in the way that they encounter disagreement) than were their detractors, some of whom had received their college degrees a long time ago.

Democrats and evangelicals yet again

The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus weighs in, worried that Democrats might go too far in wooing evangelical voters. A snippet or two will give the flavor:

The risk is that, in the process of maneuvering, Democrats’ reframing and rebranding could edge into retreating on core principles. It was unsettling to hear Dean -- in the process of cozying up to evangelicals -- mangle the party platform, saying, incorrectly, that it states that "marriage is between a man and a woman." In fact, while deliberately silent on marriage, the platform supports "full inclusion of gay and lesbian families . . . and equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections."

This would be the Democratic Party whose President in 1996 signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, and 118 of whose House members and 30 of whose Senators (including such luminaries as Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Tom Harkin, Herbert Kohl, Patrick Leahy, Harry Reid, and, yes, even the late Paul Wellstone) voted for it. In 1996 taking this stance was the expedient thing to do; now expediency can be served just as well by silence.

But wait, there’s more:

Likewise, it’s fine for Hillary Clinton to talk about the "tragedy" of abortion, or for Democrats to emphasize the importance of reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. But I get awfully nervous when Redeem the Vote’s Brinson says of abortion, "As long as the national Democratic Party makes that a centerpiece of their platform or something they’re advocating, as long as that’s front and center and they’re saying women have a right to do this, it’s going to turn off religious voters."

So, by all means, let Democrats woo evangelicals and cast the message in a way that speaks to religious voters. But in doing so, keep in mind: What does it profit a party to gain a demographic but lose its soul?

Read that last sentence again: support for abortion is the "soul" of the Democratic Party. Ramesh Ponnuru, call your office.

No post-Katrina gas gouging

Michael DeBow has the rundown.

The state of the GWOT

Ralph Peters offers the following midterm grades:

Our global report card right now? A for effort. B for results. C for consistency. D for media integrity. And F for domestic political responsibility.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Hat tip (because a curtsy would be unmanly): Wheat and Weeds.

They’re Assimilating

Among the enemies of American Kultur is Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who recites a few inconvenient facts:

The states with the largest Hispanic population are the ones with the lowest unemployment rates.

A third of Hispanic Americans have average household incomes over $50,000, and the rate of growth in purchasing power among Hispanic Americans over the past ten years is triple the national average.

Eighty-three percent of Hispanic Americans speak English, and 60 percent of them were born in the United States.

Hispanic Americans are learning English faster than did Italian and Polish immigrants a century ago, and 30 percent of Hispanic Americans are marrying non-Latinos.

Gore and Perot

Here is the New York profile of Al Gore (is he running?). Do note, as Byron York does, this comment by Gore on the Perot factor in ’92 and ’96:

"In both 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton and I were very fortunate to have a significant third-party candidate that drew virtually all of his votes from the Republican nominee. By contrast, in 2000, there was a third-party candidate drawing from me."

The great immigration question

Here is Mark Helprin on the immigration debate, and the coming together of political opposites. A left that disdains America and a business right both is "similar to the self-satisfaction of those who would have sold Lenin the rope with which he planned to hang them. This is the lobby, strange as it may seem, for illegal immigration." The importation of labor, he asserts, is the essence of the illegal immigration question.

Update: You had also better read Mark Steyn on why this is really NOT an illegal immigration issue at all.

Yes, and that’s exactly what worries us!

Hillary Clinton to the New York Post (commenting on the musical selections on her iPod):

"I’m a child of the ’60s and ’70s."

Is this political Hell yet?

Are there more GOP House seats in play now than there were a month ago? Are the House races being "nationalized"? Adam Nagurney says yes to both questions. Richard A. Viguerie (surprise!) thinks that conservatives have been betrayed and, "Sometimes it is better to stand on principle and suffer a temporary defeat." He is willing for that defeat to come. He cites examples, but, of course, his examples are incomplete. Still, he wants to feel good about himself, and he likes being angry. So, not only are white conservatives moving away from Bush and the GOP, but so are Latinos, according to Thomas Edsall. There are some stretchers in the article for sure, yet there is something to all this drumbeat. On the other hand, nothing stays the same in politics. Pretty soon the Dems will have to start talking and taking positions; that will be telling.