Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Booker T. Washington Symposium

I will be in Chicago at the Booker T. Washington symposium for a few days, and will be back late Wednesday. I’ll check in Thursday. Our son John graduated high school today! I can buy a new bike next year if I felt like it!

The sky is falling

So says this Chicken Little, whose new book details the ways in which the Christian Right threatens almost everything she holds dear. It’s on my shelf, and I’ll let you know how much I think you ought to be worried once I’ve read it.

In the mean time, you might consider the political program she proposes to deal with the threat. For example,

Ultimately, a fight against Christian nationalist rule has to be a fight against the anti-urban bias built into the structure of our democracy. Because each state has two senators, the 7 percent of the population that live in the 17 least-populous states control more than a third of Congress’s upper house. Conservative states are also overrepresented in the Electoral College.

According to Steven Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy, the combined populations of Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Alaska equal that of New York and Massachusetts, but the former states have a total of nine more votes in the Electoral College (as well as over five times the votes in the Senate). In America, conservatives literally count for more.

Liberals should work to abolish the Electoral College and to even out the composition of the Senate, perhaps by splitting some of the country’s larger states.(A campaign for statehood for New York City might be a place to start.) It will be a grueling, Herculean job. With conservatives already indulging in fantasies of victimization at the hands of a maniacal Northeastern elite, it will take a monumental movement to wrest power away from them. Such a movement will come into being only when enough people in the blue states stop internalizing right-wing jeers about how out of touch they are with "real Americans" and start getting angry at being ruled by reactionaries who are out of touch with them.

After all, the heartland has no claim to moral authority. The states whose voters are most obsessed with "moral values" have the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates. The country’s highest murder rates are in the South and the lowest are in New England. The five states with the best-ranked public schools in the country -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Wisconsin -- are all progressive redoubts. The five states with the worst -- New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi and Louisiana -- all went for Bush.

Or this:

Liberals can use this strategy too. They can find issues to exploit the other side’s radicalism, winning a few political victories and, just as important, marginalizing Christian nationalists in the eyes of their fellow citizens. Progressives could work to pass local and state laws, by ballot initiative wherever possible, denying public funds to any organization that discriminates on the basis of religion. Because so much faith-based funding is distributed through the states, such laws could put an end to at least some of the taxpayer-funded bias practiced by the Salvation Army and other religious charities. Right now, very few people know that, thanks to Bush, a faith-based outfit can take tax dollars and then explicitly refuse to hire Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims. The issue needs far more publicity, and a political fight -- or a series of them -- would provide it.

She’s also concerned that "secularists lack the right’s propaganda apparatus." I guess she’s never heard of the MSM, so she’s at pains to invent it: "Liberals need to create their own echo chamber...."

Hat tip: Touchstone’s David Mills, who offers some commentary as well.

Blue vs. red again

I mentioned this conference some time ago. Here’s the transcript, for your leisurely consumption, all 39 pages of it. As soon as I’ve read it, I’ll offer some comments. Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

Update: I had a chance to read the transcript. There are some real disagreements as to whether the polarization expressed by us chatterers is present in the electorate at large. People like Bill Kristol and David Brooks don’t seem to think so. Brink Lindsay had this to say:

Are we as a people, beyond the political classes, fundamentally divided into red and blue camps? On the
fundamental questions, I would say “no.” I would side with people like Morris Fiorina and others who certainly see a great deal of division, diversity, and conflict in American society, but it doesn’t line up neatly into a red-versus-blue cleavage. In other words, the distribution of
opinions and values isn’t bimodal—two big humps—but rather bell-curve shaped, and there’s a big central hump that dominates the tails on the left and the right.

And I think that that central hump is located in a rather different place than it was a generation ago, and in fact it is not torturing the language too much to say that it is a kind of libertarian, centrist consensus that prevails. On the one hand, there is a very deep attachment to traditional, middle-American values like patriotism, law and order, the work ethic, and family life; on the other hand, there are very heavily counter-culture-influenced attitudes on race, sex, on authority
in general, and on the kind of fervent, almost absolutist embrace of relativism, of which tolerance is the key and cardinal virtue. There is a kind of aversion to preachiness or absolutist truth claims
of any kind.

I’m not persuaded that this basically, but not necessarily essentially, libertarian position is coherent, stable, and sustainable, though I do think that there’s a logic underlying it that militates against some of the commonsensical things to which "we the people" are attached. I explored this issue many moons ago here, concluding:

I fear that our moderation is unstable because it is unprincipled, or rather, because it is ultimately immoderate. Its most culturally compelling element, at the moment, is sovereign individual choice, which recognizes no limits and is by definition infallible.

I remain impressed by the conclusion of Jim Ceaser’s essay, which served as a point of departure for the discussion. Can we be a nation without a foundation, or a nation founded only on the bare assertion of individual autonomy? Some of the panelists (Charles Murray comes to mind) spoke of European non-foundationalism as a real and really dangerous temptation for Americans. I’m inclined to agree and to think that Europeans can actually live longer and better with non-foundationalism than we can, in large part because they are products for the most part of particular national cultural traditions, albeit ones that are rapidly diminishing (for more on this theme, see this Pew Forum transcript, noted here). We, on the other hand, are constituted as a nation by a particular kind of theoretical act, which we forget or whose significance we diminish at our peril.

There’s lots more in this very interesting and wide-ranging discussion. Read the whole thing.  

Protecting marriage again

Volokh conspirator Dale Carpenter has written (or rather rewritten) an essay against the Marriage Protection Amendment. He tries to reassure us that there is no immediate national judicial threat to traditional marriage, because, after all, federal courts rarely depart that far from public opinion. Of course, he also indicates his belief that public support for experimentation in marriage (to put it mildly) is increasing. Proponents of an amendment thus "undemocratically" mistrust (evolving) public opinion. Stated another way, his opposition to an amendment (dealing with, as he puts it, a hypothetical) is a holding action until public opinion catches up with elite opinion. In other words, our push for an amendment protecting traditional marriage is only justified when it’s too late, when the supermajorities that might support it have vanished.

If your only values are democracy and the expansion of rights, you might find Carpenter’s argument congenial. He is officially a big fan of federalism as well, as long as it leaves room for the rights he cherishes. Thus for example he does note that states have traditionally been given free rein in family law, and we’ve tolerated the (relatively minimal, by comparison with what’s in the offing) differences between them. The one major instance of Supreme Court intervention (leaving aside polygamy in Reynolds v. U.S.) is Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated that state’s anti-miscegenation law. As he puts it,

The decision altered state law to uphold individual rights and to make the institution of marriage more inclusive, not to derogate individual
rights and to make marriage more exclusive.

I can imagine him defending a Supreme Court decision overriding state attempts to protect traditional marriage in precisely the same language.

He offers some interesting concerns regarding how the language of the amendment might be interpreted (which I regard as appropriate, even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of them). I find that it’s just a little curious that arguments about hypotheticals are appropriate when opposing the amendment, but not when favoring it.

He seems to suggest that a more narrowly tailored amendment (ruling out judicial activism above all else) might not be subject to his objections, though I wonder whether he’d support even that.

For all the relevant Volokh Conspiracy posts, go here, which will also send you to these posts on Bench Memos. Ed Whelan’s conclusion is worth noting:

Libertarians make very important contributions to public policy, but it seems to me that too many are blind to the accumulation of moral capital in a society that makes it possible to have limited government—and to the possibility of rapid and permanent depletion of that moral capital. The traditional institutions of marriage and the family are the best means discovered for building up that moral capital and producing citizens capable of self-government. As the damage already done to those institutions in recent decades shows, well-intentioned reforms (e.g., no-fault divorce and welfare policies that inadvertently encourage fatherless families) can have dramatic negative consequences.

The string at Bench Memos also calls our attention to these pieces: two articles by Stanley Kurtz, a piece by AEI’s Michael Greve proposing a "Constitutional DOMA," and this exchange at the Yale Law Journal’s The Pocket Part.

This ought to keep everyone busy for a while.

Cognitive benefits?

You might understand that my prejudice is against video games, especially if someone plays it for hours on end (my youngest is eighteen!). But Brian C. Anderson thinks that such games are not only O.K., but offer
"positive moral lessons and cognitive benefits." Maybe. Certainly worth reading. You might remember Anderson’s book, South Park Conservatives.

But How Do You Feel About the Facts?

I once heard that the distinction between the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times was that at the NY Times, the editors asked reporters "What do you think about the facts?", where at the LA Times editors asked, "How do you feel about the facts?"

Well, Jonah Goldberg and the good folks at The American Scene direct our attention to this op-ed in today’s NY Times that argues for a disjunction between the real economic facts of our time and how we feel about things, and points out that these (mis)perceptions can have serious political consequences. 

I’m Confused . . .

I thought it was supposed to be a good thing to lie about sex . . .

What is She Thinking?

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Peggy Noonan’s. She’s a beautiful and witty writer. She’s smart, funny, and intelligent. I think she has deep insights into the political soul of the nation and into the souls of the regular people who made the nation great. But sometimes she doesn’t seem to put her insights to the best use. Put another way, her prescriptions aren’t always the best medicines for the diseases she diagnoses. This is one of those times. While she may be right about the problems boiling beneath the surface of the Republican party--is the election of more Democrats a solution? Because I know she can’t be delusional enough to think that a third party would take off and win big. And I know that she is sensible enough to know that the time it would take to build such a third party as she describes is more time than we have to trust our security to Democrats (who would be what we got in the absence of a united Republican party).

America has a two party system for very good and very legitimate CONSTITUTIONAL reasons--even though the parties might be said to be "extra-Constitutional." The two parties still perform a constitutional function in focusing our minds on the issues of that Constitution. That’s why wierd parties (like the Greens, for example) never do well in America--they seem to be out to lunch because they disregard our system in favor of some other ideology. If an American party wants to do something that is outside of the bounds of our Constitution--they at least have to wear the window dressing of constitutionality. They have to stretch the bounds of credibility by employing the talents of "constitutional scholars" who can find "legitimacy" for their arguments in that venerable document. Fortunately for our republic, the great thing about stretching is that even if the thing stretched gets alittle mishapen, it still retains its form. We can deal with stretch marks if we keep our soul.

Berkowitz on Ponnuru

The tireless Peter Berkowitz reviews Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death, which I also reviewed here and further discussed here.

Berkowitz attacks (that’s a little too strong a formulation, but I can’t think of a better at the moment) Ponnuru’s rationalism in the name of what he describes as a more subtle and nuanced public opinion. In his argument Berkowitz flirts with the position articulated by Jeffrey Hart, though with more respect for the role that principled argumentation can play in influencing public opinion.

As yet, I’ve seen no response from Ponnuru, though there’s sure to be one at the Corner.

Update: Here are responses from Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg, and John J. Miller, as well as some commentary from the pseudonymous QD at Southern Appeal and from Claremont’s Richard Reeb.


I young reader sent me this. Amusing.

"cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at
Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod
are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the
rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit
a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by
istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot
slpeling was ipmorantt!"

Kurtz on marriage issues

Stanley Kurtz has been a busy guy. This article surveys the European and American sociological literature on gay marriage, concluding:

Shifting to a broad “menu” of experimental family forms may feel liberating to some, but it is really a recipe for thinning out society’s commitment to children. Each unconventional experiment reinforces the others, ultimately yielding a significantly less stable family regime. Which is to say, gay marriage undermines marriage. Or, as we say in some precincts, the “queering of the social calls into question the normativity and naturalness of heterorelationality.”

This one focuses on polygamy and polyamory, raising serious questions as to whether those marital forms are consistent with democracy (I’d say democratic republican self-government).

Both are worth reading.   

Haditha and the Hurry to Condemn

Michelle Malkin nicely summarizes the facts and evidence that we now have concerning the alleged atrocities in Haditha. Without excusing what could be a horrific finding (if what is alleged turns out to be true) she argues, persuasively, for patience as more facts come in. But for perspective, her last line is her best and more or less says it all: ". . . I will remind you that while the murder of civilians is and remains an anomaly in American military history, it is the jihadists’ way of life."

"Anchors Away"

Nationally syndicated columnist Mona Charen’s latest column on immigration focusses attention on our argument challenging the popular myth that the Constitution mandates "birthright citizenship." People down on the border know that "birthright citizenship" provides a powerful incentive for illegal sojourns into the United States for purposes of giving birth on U.S. soil. Here’s how Austin Bay, editorial writer for the Houston Chronicle, reported what he calls the "baby predicament" in a May 20, 2006 column:

"At the first indications of impending birth, a pregnant Mexican woman crosses the border in a car. As her labor begins in earnest, her driver drops her off at the hospital. The doctors confront an immediate challenge: A baby is definitely being born. In the typical case, the soon-to-be mother has had no prenatal care. However, she has had a plan — her child will be born in the United States, come political hell in Washington or high water in the Rio Grande."

Talk to any doctor in El Paso, or any border town, for that matter, and you’ll get the same story. There is even a "birth tourism" industry in southern California, as recently reported by the Los Angeles NBC affiliate in a major expose, following an old 2002 Los Angeles Times story about South Koren "birth tourism" trips to the U.S.

All from a misunderstanding of our Constitution’s Citizenship Clause. We’ll keep pressing the point, because our very sovereignty, and the principle of government by consent, is at stake. My testimony on birthright citizenship before the House Immigration Committee in September 2005 is available here.

Politics, adjudication, and same-sex marriage

I thought a little more about Jonathan Rauch’s recent column, first discussed here, and put the result, for what it’s worth, in this week’s TAE Online column.

More Thoughts on Dress

All this talk of Nicholas Antongiavanni’s fine book, The Suit, reminds me of George Washington’s The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" (a list of rules which Washington copied and amended as an adolescent). In it, rule #52 instructs the reader that: "In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration; keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and places." The point being that "style" ought to make one look good and respectable rather than to draw unnecessary attention to oneself. Thus Antongiavanni’s point is well taken that the mistake of "fashion" is very often the mistake of the young--who, lacking something more substantial to bring attention to themselves, seek out easier paths to glory (or "self-expression" as we now say). The only thing I regret about Mr. Antongiavanni’s fine book is that it is limited to style advice for men . . . but then, knowing the author as I do I can say with confidence that he has wisely so limited himself! But a companion volume for women is sorely needed!


Dan Balz has a lengthy piece in today’s WaPo on Hillary. Note this:

"On balance, most of those around Clinton say her hard-to-pigeonhole profile is a political asset -- the product, they say, of a curious intellect, the absence of rigid ideology, an instinct for problem solving and a willingness to seek consensus even across party lines. Her detractors see her career as the work of an opportunistic politician who has sanded the sharp edges off her views, so much so that there is little sense of authenticity when she speaks."


John Derbyshire reflects on citizenship, illegals, and Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt. 



Memorial Day

This is my 2004 Memorial Day Speech at the Ashland Cemetery, as a podcast. Remember the honorable and the brave on this Memorial Day!

Style, not fashion

My favorable mention of neckwear, which I disliked until having read The Suit, brougt forth some mirth. So a quick expansion of my sentiment. In The Suit Chapter XXI is called "Of Neckwear." It begins thus:

"The first conjecture that is made of the style of a man is to see his ties, for these ’come into the room almost before the man’; and when they are tasteful and suitable, he will always be reputed smart because he has known how to recognize them as tasteful and to wear them when suitable. But if they are otherwise, one can always pass unfavorable judgment on his tastes, because the first error he makes, he makes in this choice."

And Chapter XXV of The Suit is entitled, "How Much Fashion Can Do in Sartorial Affairs and in What MOde it May be Opposed." It ends thus:

"I conclude, thus, that as fashion varies from season to season, those men are well dressed whose prudence enables them to resist her charms, and those who cannot resist, ill dressed. I judge this indeed, that it is better to risk being thought hidebound than to entrust yourself to fashion, because fashion is a harlot; and it is necessary, if one wants to protect oneself, to beat her back and spurn her enticements. And one sees that she will try to trick you with siren songs, exposed flesh, and blown kisses. And so always, like a harlot, she is more successful in trapping the young, because they are less cautious, more impetuous, and lack the confidence to eschew the current."

The last chapter of The Suit is entitled, "Exhortation to Seize Dress and to Free It from the Vulgarians."

Truman and us

I heard Bush’s West point speech and agree with Joe that it was stirring. I am glad that he has brough Truman into focus so clearly. For more on how Truman was specifically American (rather than Wilsonian) see Elizabeth Edwards Spalding’s very fine book, The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism, just published. She also, by the way, has an article called "True Believers," in the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly. She examines religion in the White House by comparing the presidential faiths of George W. Bush, Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman. (Not yet on line) The best bigraphy of Truman is by Alonzo Hamby.

Saddam: From Criminal to Clown

Meanwhile in Iraq, the trial of Saddam Hussein goes on, and Richard Cohen laments that it has become a "sputtering charade." Instead of bringing to light Saddam’s horrendous crimes, the trial is becoming more about George W. Bush:

I suppose the handwriting was on the wall when Michael Moore failed to mention Hussein’s crimes at all in his movie "Fahrenheit 9/11." Years from now, someone coming across the film could conclude that the United States picked on the Middle Eastern version of Switzerland. Now, all the weight is on one side of the moral scale.

Cohen would also like to know how many of those who opposed the Iraq War on moral grounds can, with clean consciences, support U.S. intervention in Darfur. Come to think of it, so would I.