Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Happy Anniversary

Glen Reynolds reminds us that this is the 60th anniversary of the bikini. This article includes a slide show!

Podcast with Marc Landy

I had a conversation with Marc Landy (Boston College) yesterday on Katrina and federalism. Marc is beginning work on a serious study of Katrina. Very good.

Ramirez Cartoon

Hamdan ruling

The Supremes ruled 5-3 against the Bush Administration. There’s discussion here (Andrew McCarthy’s "pre-mortem"), here, and here (another pre-analysis).

After I’ve had a chance to read the opinions, I might have something more to say.

Update: You can read the syllabus, with a little commentary, here and this WaPo article (which, it strikes me, doesn’t say everything that needs to be said). The opinion (all 185 pages) is here.

Economy at 5.6%

"The Economy sprang out of a year-end rut and zipped ahead in the opening quarter of this year at a 5.6 percent pace, the fastest in 2 1/2 years and even stronger than previously thought."

Chemical weapons in Gaza?

Here’s the Reuters story. Here’s one aspect of the context. Here’s another. Perhaps it’s possible to connect the dots here or here.

To be sure, this could all be a bluff on the part of the Palestinians, or they could really have produced the chemical agents themselves. Or a few of the unaccounted-for WMDs could have found their way from Iraq to Gaza. If and when they’re actually used to some effect against Israel, I can’t imagine what the Israeli response will be. I fear I know what the world’s response will be.

Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg.

(Cost-)effective compassion

William Tucker explains.


Last night I saw the new Superman movie (or most of it, my son’s broken arm started bothering him during the last 10 minutes and we had to leave) at a special "Red Cape Screening" for the Hugh Hewitt show. If you like this kind of movie, you’re going to love this one. It was entertaining in every respect. But it was not without problems.

First, I should have known better because of its PG-13 rating, but nostalgia for the old Christopher Reeve movies (they were among the first real "grown up" movies I saw as a kid about my daughter’s age) and the discovery that the action sequences of the Spiderman movies did not disturb our little ones, made me think that the rating had more to do with "violence" than with any other elements of the story. I rarely worry about violence in and of itself if the story is one of good triumphing over evil--as Superman surely would be doing. Well, this PG-13 rating is earned for many reasons. The violence was breathtaking and the pace a bit too frenetic for my taste. But, again, most movie-goers will like that. The real problem is with the plot.

Superman is, of course, "returning" after a 5 year soul-searching mission on what’s left of planet Krypton and Lois Lane has moved on. She has a kid. She has a live-in boyfriend--NOT a husband. This sub-plot of the story deepens throughout the movie so I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say that it required some serious explaining that I would have prefered to put off for awhile. So, if you have kids, you might want to keep this in mind.

Much has been made about the Daily Planet editor’s, refusal to talk about "truth, justice, and the American way" but instead invoking "truth, justice and all that stuff." There is no doubt that the omission was intentional--the makers of the movie have admitted as much. For my part, however, I think I might have been more disturbed if he had invoked the famous phrase. First, the Planet is clearly a literary version of The New York Times and the editor of the Planet, like good old "Pinch," is a major league sleaze-ball more interested in sensationalizing the news than reporting it. He wouldn’t know the "American way" if it bit him in the . . . So I didn’t miss the invocation if it was supposed to come from him. But there was also nothing of the American way anywhere else in the film. Superman seems to be a kind of post-modern hero--worried about his love-life, worried about his purpose and nature, worried about the nature of mankind and doubting his ability to improve upon any of it. He is depressed and brooding in this film. I found him a bit self-indulgent.

I won’t go so far as to say that I did not like the film. I did and I wish I could have seen the end--maybe it redeemed itself. But the 70s version was better for me. Maybe I’ll try to go rent that tonight.

Democrats: no big ideas, please

Well, it’s actually only one Democrat: Jonathan Chait, who all by himself vindicates the theses of James Ceaser, John Seery, and the editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Chait seems to be happy with a kind of pragmatism aimed solely at winning elections. Debates about big ideas, he concedes, favor conservatives.

I’d say: gotcha! But I think he’d have a counterargument, which would go something like this: we’re so smart we don’t need ideas. Which suggests to me that the real Platonic guardians or would-be philosopher-kings in American politics are not the evil Straussian neo-cons (that’s beginning to run trippingly off the tongue), but the liberal mandarins populating the Clinton Administration-in-exile. Ideas are for dummies.

Scott Winship, who seems to be the principal contributor to The Daily Strategist, thinks he disagrees with Chait, but really doesn’t. He doesn’t want big ideas, he just wants catchy slogans. Would Bill Galston please set him straight!?!

The evangelical future: disengagement, flexidoxy, or...?

That’s perhaps the most interesting question discussed in this conversation, featuring James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe.

Food for thought

If this piece is any evidence, Woody Allen has relocated the Muse that once made him funny.

Hat tip: Wheat & Weeds.

Black-Latino tensions

This Newsweek article is not great, but the fact that it appears is significant. I have been watching these post-Katrina racial tensions and they are being noted.

Flag Amendment

Flag Desecration Amendment failed yesterday by one vote. That’s fine by me. I like this paragraph from Jonah Goldberg:

"Since readers keep asking me whether I agree with the editors and/or the GOP on the flag-burning amendment, I figured I’d tell you: No, I don’t. NR’s editorial is well-taken and I agree with much of its analysis. I think it should be perfectly legal to ban flag burning on the state and local level and I see nothing inherently scary in the desire to amend the Constitution to bar it. Indeed, I find liberal horror at the deeply democratic amendment process but love for deeply undemocratic judicial whims to be maddening. But as a political matter, I think the effort is proof of its own futility. Any respect for the flag that requires a constitutional amendment or congressional statute is respect in name only. Also, I think the editors’ arguments are too suffused with exasperation with the role of the Supreme Court rather than the actual merits of the amendment. I share their exasperation, but I think there are better avenues to act on it."

The parent gap

In this week’s TAE Online column, I take a look at one aspect of Will Marshall’s proposal to "Raid the Red Zone."

New Lesson Plans for High School History

I’m proud to announce that eleven lesson plans which Lori Hahn and I wrote over the past year are now available at the NEH’s web site, EDSITEment. These lessons include:

The American War for Independence (a set of three lessons)

The Origins of the Cold War, 1945-1949 (a set of three lessons)

"Police Action": The Korean War, 1950-1953

"The Missiles of October": The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Witch Hunt or Red Menace? Anticommunism in Postwar America, 1945-1954(a set of three lessons)

I hope the high school teachers out there will consider using these lessons in their classes. I further hope that anyone who does so will let me know how they work out.

Prosecuting leakers

NRO’s Andrew McCarthy makes sense of the politics, both popular and judicial. His conclusion: aggressively go after the leakers, immunize the journalists, and threaten them with contempt-of-court jailtime if they don’t reveal their sources. His concluding paragraphs:

Chances are that the journalists who have exposed leaked national-security information over the past several months do not want to spend 18 months in prison. If they were put in that position, we would very likely learn who did the leaking. Those officials could then be indicted. A prosecution against government officials does not entail the same free-speech complications.

On the other hand, even if the subpoenaed reporters flouted the law by never giving up their sources — even if they took the incredibly arrogant position that their secrets take precedence over the nation’s secrets — 18 months’ imprisonment is a powerful disincentive. Fewer reporters would run the risk. Fewer would-be government leakers would bank on a reporter’s perseverance. The leaks would dry up in a hurry.

That ought to be the goal here.

Read the whole thing.

Seery on Coulter on liberals

My friend John Seery seems to take a perverse pleasure in provoking the liberal readers of the Huffington Post. This time, he--sort of--endorses Ann Coulter’s latest, er, literary rant, though he indicates that others have done long ago and much more profoundly what she does so ham-handedly. Here’s a taste:

If Ann Coulter wants to deride Cindy Sheehan, the 9-11 widows, pro-choice proponents, evolutionary scientists, and secular liberals generally for their (concealed) presumptions of infallibility, then she ought to practice what she preaches, rather than adopt an asymmetrical "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" position. That is to say, if secular liberals ought to accommodate, respect, and even embrace religious belief within public discourse, then such civic interrogation ought to proceed in both directions. Religious thinkers need to explain and defend their views better, opening them up to challenge, rather than simply asserting them as sacred and thus off-limits. If Ann Coulter is going to disqualify Cindy Sheehan’s trump card of infallibility, then Ann Coulter cannot simply play her own trump card in response.

Unfortunately, all too many of Seery’s commenters can’t get past the headline, preferring to inveigh against Coulter than to engage with his more, er, seerious point.

Family Courts, Irreconcilable Differences, and the Interests of Children

This op-ed out of Rhode Island presents some astonishing and frightening details about how family courts and laws making divorce "easier" actually operate. Although it goes against the grain of the usual conservative mantra that divorce and custody laws normally harm the rights of fathers more than those of mothers (and that creates a whole host of other social ills as a result of fatherlessness, etc., etc.) it offers an important perspective. The facts recounted here, have no real ax to grind. And, I think it actually gets to the heart of the real problem.

Does it really matter, in the end, whether it’s mothers or fathers who suffer most in the current system? I think it is safe to say that the real problem here is that the laws and the system we have created usually harm the children. None of this is to say that parents do not have rights when it comes to the rearing of their children, but when people abuse their rights they can forfeit them. The real problem seems to be a reluctance to present the facts of the cases before the court and deliver a judgment that passes judgment. We seem to be incapable of saying that bad things are bad and that people who do bad things ought to have fewer people worrying about their "rights" and more people worrying about the best interests of their childen.

California’s Governor Race: Update

I guess I haven’t been watching enough T.V., but after an exhausting day (which included a trip to the E.R. for my son who broke his arm!) I collapsed in front of the tube last night and saw this great ad. The link will take you to a page where you can choose to play one of two commercials put out by the California GOP. The one you want to see is the one called "Quote."

It does precisely what I was talking about below, i.e., hammer Democrat Phil Angelides as a tax and spend liberal. The commerical depicts Angelides walking backwards and quotes his opponent from the primary, Steve Westly, delineating all of the things Angelides would tax if given the chance. The commerical ends by asking: "What if Steve Westly was right?" It’s very good and very effective. I hope it gets alot of play in the coming months. I still can’t help but wish, however, that more of this type of thing was coming directly from Arnold rather than indirectly from the GOP. Well . . . this is California.

WalMart Alert

Over at RCP, Ryan Sager writes about WalMart voters tilting away from the GOP.

The most amazing factoid to emerge from the article is that 85 percent of frequent Wal-Mart shoppers voted for President Bush’s reelection in 2004, while 88 percent of people who never shop there voted for Sen. Kerry. (I wonder how Target shopper fall out?)

Maybe WalMart should change it principal color to red. 

Vermont Decision

People wanting a decoding of today’s confusing Supreme Court decision on the Vermont campaign finance case need look no further than right here.

California’s Green Governor’s Race

For those of you outside the "Golden" (or is it Green?) state, Arnold and his newly nominated Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides, are in an all out sprint to prove who is the Greenest One of All. Arnold’s campaign bus is painted green, and he’s all over T.V. lauding his environmental cred. Phil Angelides and the Dems are still running full throttle to disavow the anti-environmental claims made against him during the primary by opponent and former E-bay executive, Steve Westly.

During the primary, (which Angelides won by a very thin margin) Westly ran ads which played up Angelides as a bald-faced environmental hazard. After all, he has been a dreaded "real-estate developer"--a term that seems to be synonomous with the devil out here in California. Worse, Westly claimed that Angelides had been involved with a project that polluted the hallowed waters of Lake Tahoe. Even though our sainted Senators, Ms. Feinstein and Ms. Boxer, have condemned these claims (as have most of the Democratic hierarchy) they seem to have made a deep impression on environmentalists.

This article from Salon magazine details some of the finer points in this story. But I have some even more interesting anecdotal evidence to suggest that Arnold may not be entirely wrong in playing this hand. Some good friends of mine who are pretty committed Democrats and hard-core environmentalists made the argument at a party yesterday that they could never believe that a "real-estate developer" (and the term was uttered with dripping contempt) was pro-environment. Although they had voted for Schwarzenegger in the recall election, they were deeply disappointed in him because of the budget cuts for education (which were, in fact, just cuts in the rate of growth). So they were pretty torn. They wanted to get a Democrat back in the governor’s chair--but they wondered which candidate (Arnold or Angelides) was the best Democrat. Another couple who are committed Republicans but also strong environmentalists were energized by the Arnold juggernaut and excited that Angelides was the opponent. They readily agreed with my Democrat friends that "real-estate developers" were evil envirnomental degraders.

I thought that was all very interesting in its way. And though I like Lake Tahoe and love Yosemite, I am more interested in allowing off-shore drilling to reduce our dependence on foreign oil so my kids and their kids can live to enjoy those places in freedom. So I had no common ground upon which to enter the discussion with folks who reflexively put "environment" ahead of all other considerations.

As for the campaign, it may, in some small way, help Arnold win re-election, but I don’t think it is good policy to play it up to greens. Further, I don’t think this side-show will slam-dunk the election for either candidate. I still think that what is going to kill Angelides’ efforts in the end are the commercials that Westly ran painting him as an unreformed "tax and spend" liberal. Schwarzenegger ought to play that up big time, and soon. Both liberals (who are regular working folk, and not idealogues) and conservatives have had enough with the taxes out here.

Boy Crisis

"A study to be released today looking at long-term trends in test scores and academic success argues that widespread reports of U.S. boys being in crisis are greatly overstated and that young males in school are in many ways doing better than ever." I hope this is true, but I am not yet persuaded.

Explaining the Peter Pan Complex

Have you ever wondered why there seem to be so many adults who seem to be, well, immature? A new scientific theory purports to explain this. Bruce Charlton, a biologist at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, suggests that today’s society places a premium on flexibility. Ours is a mobile culture on which people may change jobs, and even careers, multiple times in their lives. This means learning new skills, adapting to new locations (workplaces, cities, or even countries), and making new friends.

A “child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge” is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

But along with the virtues of childhood come its vices:

"People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”

Come to think of it, this might explain why I get along so well with my pre-teen nephews.

Illegal music downloads?

Alberto Gonzales was asked if his kids ever downloaded music illegaly: "Of course not. I remind them: I AM the law!"

Alter on Smith on Strauss

Robert Alter, who at least some people think of as a neocon (he publishes in Commentary and was once president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, the non-trendy alternative to the Modern Language Association), reviews Steven Smith’s book on Leo Strauss for the NYT. (Cliff Orwin reviewed it for Commentary.)

The virtue of Alter’s review is his insistence on Strauss’ rejection of "the very idea of political certitude that has been embraced by certain neoconservatives" and his "strenuous" resistance of "the notion that politics could have a redemptive effect by radically transforming human existence." He’s right, I think: the human condition, for Strauss, is fraught with tensions that we can’t resolve.

But I’m not sure I would go as far as this:

Liberal democracy lies at the core of Strauss’s political views, and its basis is the concept of skepticism. Since there are no certainties in the realm of politics, perhaps not in any realm, politics must be the arena for negotiation between different perspectives, with cautious moderation likely to be the best policy.

In Alter’s hands, skepticism seems to become a kind of absolute, which I don’t think it is for Strauss, who is made here to sound a little like a certain kind of contemporary legal theorist (or a high school student who thinks that because the truth is unknowable, we have to be tolerant, which, as any serious reader of Nietzsche knows, doesn’t follow at all). Strauss certainly takes seriously claims made on behalf of natural right, and I don’t think that liberal democracy could survive if those claims were altogether discounted in the name of skepticism.

I’d insist on the primacy of certain commonsensical moral truths for Strauss, who, as Orwin noted, had no trouble calling evil by its name. If simple skepticism is the necessary ground of liberalism or liberal democracy, Strauss is no liberal. He is surely a friend of liberal democracy, recognizing that, as practiced in the United States, it makes claims about the truth and hence welcomes those who take those claims seriously, generously tolerating them even if they are not in complete agreement with "the American way." But Americans also have the resources, cultural and intellectual, to recognize evil when they see it. While Strauss would never have insisted--as GWB seems to have, on at least a couple of occasions--that evil could be eradicated, he would certainly have insisted that it has to be resisted. He would, of course, have left the particular means of resistance to the prudential judgment of statesmen, who wouldn’t have had to read Plato or Strauss to know what to do.

Hat tip: Powerline’s Scott Johnson, who has other bones to pick with Alter.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has his own view: Sullivan’s Strauss is a skeptic, though we’ll have to wait for his book to learn precisely what he means by this. I was about to write something snide, but I’ll simply shut up. If you want to read an elaboration of my own views, they can be found in this book. I’m also looking forward to this book, as well as this one.

Update #2: Here’s still more from Sullivan, though it consists largely in an email from someone who studied with Straussians, admired Strauss, but did not "[become] part of the (very real!) cult following." The emailer distinguishes between Straussian "gentlemen" (Joseph Cropsey) and "Nietzscheans" (Allan Bloom). Both groups, it is claimed, are essentially skeptical, a claim of which I’m skeptical. One can be skeptical of anyone’s current claims to possess or embody the truth without being skeptical of the claim that there is a truth. Stated another way, you can claim that we all live in a cave without denying that there’s sunlight somewhere. Sullivan comes close, it seems to me, to affirming the more thorough-going denial. Here’s his self-consciously paradoxical claim:

My [forthcoming] book is really an attempt to accept Strauss’s skepticism, while retaining much more faith in ordinary people’s sense and judgment, and far more faith in the constitutional order set up by the deeply skeptical American founders. And this is the struggle for the soul of conservatism now under way: between cynicism and trust, between lies and moderation, between executive hubris and constitutionalism.

In other words, he seems to want to use Strauss alleged skepticism to drain ordinary people’s "sense and judgment" of any profound moral and religious content in the name of a limited government that rests on nothing more than faith in profound skepticism. Sounds like a closeted Nietzschean Straussian to me. For my response to an earlier version of Sullivan’s position, go here.

NYT: Threat to national security?

I’m coming around to the view that its reckless indifference to the necessity for secrecy in the pursuit of terrorists is prosecutable. For more along these lines, go here, here, here (just keep scrolling), here (once again, just keep scrolling), and here.

Here’s the NYT article, along with one in the LAT. Here’s the transcript of Tony Snow’s press conference yesterday.

Today’s NYT contains an editorial defending its publication of the story. The concerns are all hypothetical and the safeguards are all concrete. Administrative subpoenas have been used, though Arlen Specter wonders if they’ve been overbroad. And when members of Congress are briefed on a secret program, the folks at the NYT worry that the obligation that they have to keep it secret ties their hands. In other words, it the NYT’s world, there should be no secrets. All goods are subordinate to transparency. But the First Amendment is not the only text that’s part of the Constitution. And security is an important consideration, as any responsible political leader knows. Perhaps the folks at the NYT would argue that a free press is part of a system of checks and balances. Fair enough. But no part of such a system should itself not be subject to checks. There are laws that control the revelation and publication of classified information. The Bush Administration should certainly go aggressively after those who spoke with the reporters. But as I said earlier, I’m not so sure that the newspapers themselves should be immune.

Finally, a last word on the politics of this latest revelation: my impression is that every time word gets out about a Bush Administration program to pursue information in an attempt to trace terrorists, people approve of the program. This tends to help the President. If it were only about politics, the President ought to welcome such reports, because they bolster his standing with the American people. They also give him an issue on the basis of which to pick a fight with the press, which, in the court of public opinion, he’s likely to win. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Karl Rove is behind the whole thing.

Political Scientists--More Fun Than a Barrel] of Reporters

More evidence that Jon Stewart is an enemy of democracy!

This just shows that the vast neocon conspiracy is so good that even the seemingly liberal shows contribute to Keeping People Down.

Yep . . . That About Sums it Up!

Democrats probably can’t win in ’06 according to Victor Davis Hanson in this sweeping but clear essay. Of course, what he says assumes that Republicans won’t do anything so massively stupid as to change the current trend. On the other hand, I think that’s a rather safe assumption. With the recent patch of good fortune for the GOP, all they have to do is do nothing (and they’re pretty good at that). Still, it would be nice (and probably prudent) if they at least tried to do a few good (read: conservative) things to seal the deal. And I, for one, would hope that they were more serious and substantive things than flag burning amendments.

Into the storm

Roger took me over to Wooster (20 miles East) to pick up my old bike yesterday afternoon (1983 GL 1100, undressed) from All Seasons (I had the brakes fixed before handing her over to her new owner). We knew a storm was coming from the West and on the way back we would be riding into it. We assert our manliness, no cowards, not us, as we decided we could get back before it hit. I ride my trusty old iron horse (she has over a 100k on her) on highway 30. It’s hot and humid and she is purring. While I don’t deny my new found love for Isabella, I am reminded why I loved this black beauty and how well she treated me for over thirty thousand miles sweet miles from South Carolina to Vermont. She is moving fast heading into the storm we don’t see yet. Roger follows in his heavy SUV, puffing on a Romeo y Julieta, confident and safe. I am happy on my steed as we come over the last hill before turning off on the 60 to head North to Ashland. And then the black nothingness is upon us and a ton of water is emptied on me on the off ramp. I stop, as do all cars around us, I cannot turn North toward home. It is not possible. So I turn left toward Hayesville. There is a gas station 100 yards away, maybe I can make it. Thirty yards from the station the trees begin bend deep, and ten yards in front of me things are flying in the air, large things--a top of a barn maybe and a very large trampoline--and I cannot hold the bike as I brace into the wind. Things spin. I stop. I hold the bike upright, barely. Stay with her, I think, she is fat and heavy and her weight might save you, as you save her. The wind gods are angry and I am glad that there is nothing to my right but alfalfa fields. Nothing flying from there, but everywhere else chaos, tree limbs and stuff pushed and shoved about without mercy. We spend minutes waiting and gripping on the edge of things. I can barely see from the water and wind. Finally I move toward the building thinking I will lay her down and save her, and then go in and save myself (should have looked for a ditch, of course!). As I approach, a bearded man screams at me and waves, put her here, it is safe! So I do, between two buildings she will be safer, next to his pretty Harley. We hustle in and we are out of water in the dark room with the other refugees. Roger joins us. The storm lets up, we leave the bike, drive home, and count our selves lucky. I see that Roger’s cigar-end is well chewed, understandably. This morning Christopher Burkett--he now owns the bike--helps me pick up the bike (in the rain) as we discover that a tornado had indeed touched down, and most buildings in Hayesville were damaged, still no electricity, and trees are in the streets still. What a mess. What luck. What an adventure! Got home dripping wet, told Johnny and Becky that cats were barking, and cows were flying, and started talking about other unnatural things, but then I realized that there was no reason to exaggerate about the unruly day and those unnatural troubles. The truth would do for any storyteller. I can tell you I especially enjoyed the nutty aroma of my Henry Clay that night, and understood why Kipling said he liked the Clay’s calming effect.

This guy wins Pulitzer Prizes for his cartooning?

Mike Luckovich is the Atlanta paper’s editorial cartoonist. I’ve never really liked his stuff, regarding it as unsubtle and ideological, but, hey, that’s partly just the nature of the medium. This one, however, is beyond the pale for a cartoonist associated with a "major" daily. It appeared on the day news was published of the brutal torture and killing of the American GIs in Iraq.

Luckovich ought to be looking for another line or work, or perhaps another employer.

"as good as 9/11"

Here is the WaPo story on the indictment of seven who were planning to blow up the Sears Tower, among other things. Some of the most interesting details are yet to emerge. But one thing already is clear: most of these guys are supporters of Islam and U.S. citizens. Not good.

The Media Is SO Smart

Headline out of Australia: Lack of Sex Blamed for Low Birth Rate.

Hat tip: Tim Blair.

Ramirez Cartoon

Bush in Hungary

This is the President’s speech in Hungary. A couple of words in Hungarian too! (Although one is misspelled.)

The progressive idea well

I threw my bucket in, and out came this article on "The Progressive Case for Military Service." Not surprisingly, much of it consists in Clinton-era national service rhetoric and arguments (which I always sort of liked), just applied to the actual military. The author can’t quite bring herself to confront in any sort of realistic way the actual security threats the nation faces--that, it would seem, isn’t progressive--so the war on terror gets short shrift and we’re offered in its place this rationale:

Although the war in Iraq dominates the headlines, today’s military is less about fighting wars and increasingly about deterring them, enforcing international protocols, peacekeeping, nation-building, democracy promotion, and a wide variety of activities, precisely the tasks that a hypothetical "progressive military" would undertake. Indeed, the range of missions and responsibilities of the U.S. military have grown steadily with globalization and great power status. As military sociologists have pointed out, in the beginning of the twentieth century, the job of the U.S. military was to manage violence; by the Cold War, the job was to manage defense; and in the new century it is to manage peace. In other words, the military is the main manager of our attempts at global security in the world today–far outnumbering, for instance, the number of diplomats we have deployed on the international scene.

While she doesn’t march all the way to blue helmets, she comes pretty doggone close.

Still, even if I object to her understanding of national security, I applaud her recognition (although she doesn’t quite put it this way) that one of the nations built by our military is our own.

Picking up on this theme in a somewhat different way is Alan Wolfe, who reviews Madeleine Albright’s book on faith and foreign policy. He finds many ways in which secular liberals and, yes, even conservative people of faith can make common cause in foreign policy (so long, presumably, as there are no guns involved).

From the other journal, I read this piece by Will Marshall and William Galston’s response to all the articles in the first issue. Not surprisingly, both agree that the Kos strategy of mobilizing the liberal base is a non-starter. Here’s Marshall:

The party’s core problem is not a pandemic of cowardice among its leaders, it is that there are not enough Democratic voters. Since the late 1990s, Democrats have been stuck at about 48 percent of the vote in national elections. Moreover, polarizing the electorate along ideological lines plays into Karl Rove’s hands because conservatives outnumber liberals three to two. Democrats need to win moderates by large margins, but moderates by definition resist strident partisanship and ideological litmus tests. The politics of polarization repels them.

Marshall offers a number of interesting suggestions, beginning with a serious attempt to address national security issues and an effort to reach out to parents who feel embattled by a culture that celebrates extreme hedonism. In a different context, he proposes school choice, but doesn’t take it out of the public sector. I’m inclined to think that for many parents, public schools that aren’t responsive to their moral and religious concerns are a kind of dangerous terrain. Unless they’re willing to loosen their alliance with a public school establishment that addresses parental concerns only when necessary, Democrats won’t effectively be able to close the "parent gap." V-chips and warning labels on records won’t cut it. Weakening ties with Hollywood and teachers’ unions will help.

That’s all I’ve had a chance to read thus far. More later, if I come across anything else interesting.

This may be interesting

Democracy: A Journal of Ideas bills itself as "a new progressive quarterly journal." Here’s a statement of editorial intent, of which this is an excerpt:

What could be more anachronistic–in the media culture and political climate of 2006–than the founding of a quarterly journal of ideas? In light of the venomous screeds, discourses on "framing" and political positioning, or any of the other obsessions progressives have adopted of late, who would think that there was an appetite for a meaningful discussion devoted to facts and the basic questions of progressive philosophy? It’s almost as if we were to announce the return of poodle skirts and pet-rocks. But we believe that, to regenerate the strength of the progressive movement, big ideas are vitally important. And Democracy represents our bet–and the bet of our supporters–that they will matter.

National Review "stands athwart history, yelling Stop," wrote William F. Buckley in its first issue. The conservative consensus forged, to a large extent, in those pages–along with the neoconservative ideas that came out of the Public Interest, Commentary, and the National Interest–was built on a foundation of serious thinking by serious people grappling with essential questions about how the world works and how it should work. They embarked on this process in order to challenge the dominance of New Deal progressivism. And four decades later, the consensus and the ideas developed in those journals and honed over the years have transformed America.

I’ve registered (that’s free) and am bookmarking the site. I welcome serious engagement by serious people on the left.

No time to read anything right now, but I’ll dip into it and offer some reactions later today.

Update: WaPo columnist David Broder notes this journal, as well as this one, which seems to involve many of the same people, though with a focus on politics rather than ideas. I wonder if the presence of an article by Jerome Armstrong in the latter is evidence of an effort by "serious" people to engage and, er, "domesticate" the Kossacks.

A new moral orthodoxy?

Joseph Bottum reflects on the case of a Maryland transportation commissioner who lost his job, fired by a Republican governor for his conservative (or, if you will, orthodox) religious opinions.

An Inconvenient Truth for Libs: WMD Found in Iraq

Senator Rick Santorum (R., PA) has prevailed upon the administration to declassify some of this information regarding WMDs in Iraq. It turns out that much has been discovered. It’s also true that not everything we know is being revealed to the public--for obvious reasons. Is it finally time for the mantra "Bush lied, people died" to go quietly into that good night? Talk about inconvenient truths . . .

McConnell on Breyer

Here’s a long (32 page pdf) review of Stephen Breyer’s book by someone I still hope will be his colleague someday. Hat tip: Southern Appeal.

The Trouble with Assimilation

Maggie Gallagher takes a bracing look at one of the problems WITH the assimilation of illegal immigrants. It echoes some of the arguments made in Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia, a version of which can be read here. All of this remind me again of the argument presented here by Peggy Noonan. The problem with assimilation has many facets to it but the biggest obstacle, it seems to me, is us. We’re not doing it right, we’re not prepared to do it right, and what we are doing is a disaster. We’re assimilating people into everything that is least admirable about ourselves while we deny or attempt to detract from everything that made us great. This is the kind of thing that destroys a nation and a people. The trouble with assimilation is that WE are not assimilated to our own history and virtue.

Presbyterian follies

One of Hugh Hewitt’s favorite God-bloggers, Mark D. Roberts, writes this about decisions taken by the current General Assembly of the PCUSA. These sorts of decisions help explain why the Knippenbergs left a PCUSA church whose congregants we loved. Here’s a taste of what Roberts has to say (you can guess where he’s going, I think):

It looks like my denomination, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., felt envious over the recent attention given to the Episcopal Church as it faces the possibility of schism. Thus we decided to get our fair share of the spotlight by acting rather like the Episcopalians.

Read the whole thing, if you have an interest in the PCUSA or in the continuing evolution (or devolution) of mainline Protestantism in the U.S.

Bush in Hungary

President Bush will be in Hungary tomorrow to honor the 1956 revolution (fifty years ago this October). Charles Gati (at Johns Hopkins) gives the Hungarian view of American politics and geopolitics as cynical and nothing but during the 1956 crisis. The piece is, shall we say, a bit incoherent, but standard fare on the subject, I’m afraid.

Ayn Rand U?

This probably qualifies as old news by now, but apparently some Objectivists are trying to open for-profit (what else?) liberal-arts colleges in Maine and North Carolina. The first is, so far, on track to open in the fall of 2007.

Encyclopedia of Conservatism

The NYT’s Jason DeParle describes this massive tome, but neglects to mention that there’s an entry on the Ashbrook Center. Hat tip: NRO’s John J. Miller.

Contending originalisms

That’s the title of this week’s TAE Online column. I write about efforts on the part of the secular Left and the religious Right to claim the mantel of the founding generation.

Guelzo on Wilentz

Allen Guelzo reviews Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy in the current issue of the

Claremont Review of Books. It is not avalialable yet on line. Buy a copy asap, and frame it. It explains in a few thousand words what Wilentz is up to, what he doesn’t understand, what he hides, and thereby explains the soul-flaw of the Democratic Party. Thank you Professor Guelzo!

UPDATE: The Guelzo review, "Good Democrats and Bad Democrats," is now online here. Do read it.

Crunching cons

Claremont’s Douglas Jeffrey takes Rod Dreher to the woodshed (which I assume is a kind of crunchy thing to do). A taste:

Crunchy Cons now and then touches on an important and compelling question: Does the tremendous wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in America today make it harder to cultivate virtue? Does the lack of necessity in our lives make it harder to remember our obligations to God, our families, and our fellow citizens? The supreme irony is that in counseling a retreat from politics into a comfortable private life at a time of great danger to our country and our civilization, Dreher becomes Exhibit A in his own indictment of America.

In its discussion of food, Crunchy Cons quotes a nutritionist: "’Our food is a sign of what we’ve lost in general. I think if we could start…rebuilding the quality of our plates, we could start rebuilding what we’ve lost in our culture.’" There is no equally strong statement in the much briefer discussion of education, which deals only with the virtues of home-schooling and of teaching religion (both fine and good, as far as they go). For reasons by now clear, Dreher does not address citizen education, education in politics and history, or higher education, which America’s founders understood first and foremost as the education of statesmen. Elsewhere in the book, Dreher indulges in a "thought experiment": he imagines himself a presidential speechwriter who draws on Jimmy Carter’s infamous "malaise" speech (1979), which he has come to admire. He writes for a president who is a scold: "The truth is, we Americans have lost our way. We used to believe in hard work, in family, in our communities, and in sacrificing, when necessary, for the greater good of all…. But our power and prosperity have made us spoiled and self-indulgent, and we have given ourselves over to the idea that we can find our greatest happiness in unbridled consumption."

Compare this imaginary presidential speech to a real one delivered in 1923, by Calvin Coolidge—whose portrait Ronald Reagan, the only conservative Dreher criticizes by name in his book, ordered placed in the cabinet room of the White House in 1981:

It is necessary always to give a great deal of thought to liberty. There is no substitute for it…. Unless it be preserved, there is little else that is worth while…. Individual initiative, in the long run, is a firmer reliance than bureaucratic supervision. When the people work out their own social and economic destiny, they generally reach sound conclusions. This is by no means saying that we have reached perfection in any province; it is merely a consideration of some of the things that the liberally educated ought to do to promote progress.

We have reached the antithesis of the asceticism of the Middle Ages. There is no tendency now to despise self-gratification or to hold what we call practical affairs in contempt. To adjust the balance of this age we must seek another remedy. We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself…. The success or failure of liberal education, the justification of its protection and encouragement by the government, and of its support by society, will be measured by its ability to minister to this great cause, to perform the necessary services, to make the required redeeming sacrifices.

Rod Dreher comes across in Crunchy Cons as a good-hearted man. He loves God and his family above all. He has many sensible concerns about our country. One suspects that if he would read more about our tradition—and given his concerns, where better to begin than the speeches of Calvin Coolidge (who spent his spare time translating Dante and Cicero into English; as Dreher might say, "How crunchy con is that!")—he would discover that Western civilization and America are not so indefensible; that we have come through times as difficult as these before; that what it takes is more and better politics, not less; and that the key is education, which is what makes a writer more than a writer, and his books worthwhile.

Read the whole thing.

Hayward podcast on Gore

Al Gore has been an omnipresent god-like presence everywhere for the past few weeks. I’m not amused by it. But Steve Hayward is. I just did a podcast with him. Excellent stuff, and, unlike Gore, Steve isn’t tedious.

The Kos Democrats have to bear

Matt Labash and Matthew Continetti attended the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, as did Byron York. Two interesting thoughts, the first from York on press coverage of the DailyKos and its founder:

[A]t some point, coverage of the DailyKos phenomenon will move into a new cycle. In politics, no person, and no movement, can attract as much attention as DailyKos has received recently without eventually attracting scrutiny. And that will likely bring attention to what is said—and who says it—on the website.

The obvious focus will be on DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas himself. While his writings—and the controversies they have caused—are an old topic in the blogosphere, they have remained largely unexamined in major media outlets. For example, one of Moulitsas’s most famous statements, involving the brutal murders of four American contractors in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004—“I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.”—has been the target of extensive criticism on conservative blogs and in conservative media outlets, but, according to a search of the Nexis database, has never been mentioned in the Washington Post. (It was quoted, once, in the New York Times, deep in a September 2004 feature story on bloggers.) Nor has it been reported in any major newsmagazine or been the topic of conversation on any major television program.

The other is from Continetti, reflecting on the Kossacks and their approach to politics:

:In some sense, the YearlyKos conference was an exercise in social differentiation, a way to say, I am not that, whether that is a religious nut who votes conservative or a neocon warmonger. For many attendees, the answers to all political questions were self-evident. While the politicians were working to tap a new source of campaign money, the bloggers, it seemed, cared more about being with people who agreed with them and dreaming of future Democratic victories. At the moment, the netroots is a political movement with only the fuzziest ideology.

Just listen to its founders. "I’m not ideological at all," Moulitsas once told the Washington Monthly’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells. "I’m just all about winning." In Crashing the Gate, Armstrong and Moulitsas write, "It’s not an ideological movement--there is actually very little, issue-wise, that unites more modern party activists except, perhaps, opposition to the Iraq War . . . "

And yet, if Armstrong and Moulitsas are correct, their movement is not a substantive engagement with the issues facing the country. It eschews serious persuasive argument in favor of coalition-building. And this coalition is unconcerned with convincing anyone beyond its borders.

The activists say they take their cues from the right, which, in their view, gave up short-term political victories in favor of a generational march toward partisan realignment. So, while the netroots build their coalition and bide their time, they are content to let what they call the "Democratic establishment"--the Democrats who aim to govern beyond the echo chamber--suffer defeat. At a moment when Democratic candidates face close races almost everywhere in the country, one of the party’s most influential constituencies is looking only for politicians who emote, who oppose, who rail against Bush, the GOP, and the war.

I can’t help but think that Markos Moulitsas is ultimately a liability for Democrats actually interested in winning and governing. He and his supporters seem less interested in making arguments and building winning coalitions than in venting spleen and excoriating, not only conservatives, but moderate Democrats. In the short term, press attention can’t be good for them and for the politicians who court them. (I can imagine, for example, running ads against Mark Warner that force him to differentiate himself from the sentiments expressed by the various loose cannons on the DailyKos site.) In the long run, of course, there’s some possibility of evolution (they like that word) in the direction of political responsibility and seriousness. But if the average age of YearlyKos attendees is 40-45, I’m not sure how much more growth and maturation is possible.

Hanson on the Trouble with Oil

Victor Davis Hanson writes a clear-headed explanation of the central factor in the rising influence of thug nations (such as Iran and Venezuela) and of the perceived economic woes of Western nations. Oil, of course, is the heart of it all. Without oil, Hanson argues, tyrants like Mohammed Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez would be nothing more than whining little lambs in the wilderness.

But the problem of rising oil prices is deeper than that, Hanson argues: ". . . huge petroleum profits don’t just empower dictators, subsidize nuclear proliferation, and curtail economic reform. They also have pernicious psychological effects. Americans hit with gasoline price hikes of nearly a dollar a gallon have fallen to despairing over our economy." Further, it warps our foreign policy as we must dance around not offending "allies" like Saudi Arabia and the like.

Hanson concludes that clearer thinking is needed on this issue on both sides of the aisle: "Next time we whine that we cannot drill in the Arctic or off our coasts, that nuclear power is too dangerous, that government-encouraged conservation violates free enterprise, or that gasification from coal and shale is too costly, we should remember: There are insidious--and dangerous--costs in today’s oil trade too." In short, perhaps we all need to give in a little here. Conservatives should be more open to conservation measures and Liberals need to wake up to the reality that demands we shake our dependence on foreign oil by producing our own.

Connie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Way back in January, I noted the dreadful debut of "Weekend with Connie and Maury," the new MSNBC show with Connie Chung and hubby Maury Povich. The attempts at humor were several orders of magnitude below the worst yucks on "The Daily Show." Now the show has mercifully been cancelled, but not before Connie Chung offered this musical number in farewell. To borrow the great quip from the late Randall Jarrell, you have to see it, not to believe it.

As you watch, recall that Connie was once paired with Dan Rather as the co-anchor of the nation’s supposedly premier network news broadcast. On second thought, it is now obvious that she was the idea co-anchor for nutjob Dan.

Hat tip: JPod at The Corner.

Justice Kennedy Moves to Center Chair

As many predicted, Justice Samuel Alito’s replacement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has moved Justice Anthony Kennedy to the ideological center chair on the Court, and the Justice’s opinion concurring only in the judgment in Rapanos and Carabell today proves the significance of the “swing-vote” power he now wields.

The two cases involve expansive claims by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the federal Clean Water Act to control local land use decisions many miles from navigable waters of the United States. Justice Kennedy joined with the outcome reached by Justice Scalia (writing for a plurality of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito) remanding for further consideration, but notably absent from Justice Kennedy’s opinion is any recognition that the limits of the Clean Water Act are defined not by a significant pollution nexus, as Kennedy prefers, but by the Constitution itself, which extends power to the federal government in order to regulate commerce among the states.

Chief Justice Rehnquist well understood the importance of interpreting environmental statutes against the constitutionally-authorized purpose, when in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he devoted an entire section of the opinion to the Commerce Clause analysis. Justice Kennedy joined that opinion without reservation, but he now treats that important section as though it had never been penned. Justice Scalia’s opinion here picks up on the late Chief’s theme, noting that the Corps’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act “presses the envelope of constitutional validity.” The simple fact is that regulation of water pollution is, in our federal system, a function for the states and not for the federal government unless the pollution interferes with interstate commerce (and even then, for regional problems the Constitution’s sets out, as an intermediary step before nation-wide regulation, the ability of adjoining states to enter into multi-state compacts to deal with their common regional problems).

Ignoring the Constitution’s text is not a hopeful sign from any Justice, but it is particularly troubling from one who holds “swing-vote” power.

More discussion of the constitutional authority (or lack thereof) of the federal government to preempt state environmental laws under the supposed authority of the interstate commerce clause is available in an article I published last year in the CATO Supreme Court Review, which is available online at SSRN (click on download icon on the upper left).


Writing over at the Corner, Michael Ledeen brings to our attention this interview with Paul Berman, author of the worthy book Terror and Liberalism.

Ledeen especially notes this passage:

...the liberal idea comes at a terrible cost in political understanding. In the pre-modern age the rational and the irrational could both be understood. It was possible to think and to speak about such things as the soul in political terms, and to think about distortions and perversions of the soul. This became impossible after the rise of liberalism. Political language became impoverished. If you read Plato, his idea of tyranny is very different from a modern liberal idea of tyranny. For Plato, tyranny is not a system based on bad institutions. It’s a perversion of the soul. The tyrant is someone who has lost the proper discipline over his soul and so is lost to his appetites and desires. There is even a fleeting passage or two where Plato mentions the tyrant might succumb to an appetite for cannibalism. This is amazing to see because it means Plato has already identified a cult of death as a temptation, one of the possible perversions of the soul that can take place. This is exactly the kind of thing that—after the rise of liberal ideas—it became harder for people to understand. We took all the questions of the soul, and of virtue, and of the perversions of the soul, and removed them to a corner reserved for religion or psychology. In a different corner we assigned political questions. In the political world, just as in the economic world, we wanted to accord everyone rationality, so we took all the questions of irrationality and put them in a different place entirely. It became very difficult to conceive that people might be behaving in irrational ways or might have succumbed to the allure of a cult of death.

I’ve long thought Berman was one of the handful of thoughtful leftists worth paying attention to. (Remember that Berman was one of the few on the Left who broke with the party line about Nicaragua in the mid-1980s.) But doesn’t Berman realize that by embracing this critique of modern liberalism, he is halfway to becoming . . . gasp! . . a neoconservative?    

Race matters

This column by Clarence Page, attempting to talk about the GOP and race, shows how mired in a confused past liberals are on this issue. The political world has gone way beyond this sophomoric level of discussion; Joe Fabrici down the street knows more about how to think about race and politics than this self-proclaimed liberal deep thinker: the issue has nothing to do with whether the government is the enemy or not.

Dems and Iraq

Although he doesn’t let the GOP off either, John Fund has harsh words on the Dems’ views on Iraq and their performance in last week’s debate. He concludes:

"Given the bland and limited language of the resolution, it is astonishing that 80% of House Democrats felt compelled to vote against it. If President Bush has staked the future of his administration on the outcome in Iraq, Democrats appear to have placed their political bets on the war continuing to go badly. Given the death of Zarqawi, the formation of a unity government in Baghdad, and possible developments in the search for WMD material, that is starting to look like a risky wager.

"Democrats might recall they made similar bets that they could win the political debate over Iraq in both 2002 and 2004. They lost both times, and last week’s Iraq debate in Congress shouldn’t give them confidence that they have any better approach in this election year."

Michael Barone thinks that Bush is stronger than he seems. I agree. And would add that it is not possible for the Dems to take control of either house if they can’t do better than they did last week. And they can’t, so they won’t.

Al Qaeda and the gas attack

Here is the now-everywhere Time Mag article on Suskind’s book: "Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps. They were stopped not by any intelligence breakthrough, but by an order from Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda." Happy father’s day.

Karl Rove and 2006

Two WaPo biggies write on Karl Rove and the 2006 elections. Now that he is cleared in the CIA case, will he be able to salvage his reputation, and the well-being of the GOP? That sort of thing. File it for later use. Just thinking "rolling realignment" and try to figure out if this is rocket science for Rove. And, by the way, how come 42 Dems voted with the GOP in Iraq yesterday if the Dems are so sure that eeveryone is against Bush’s Iraq policy, and therefore they will win back the House? Fred Barnes says Karl Rove laughs last.

Blackwell-Strickland money

Front page, above the fold, article in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer about the bucks raised by Blackwell and Strcikland. The focus is on the out-of-state dollars (Blackwell gets a bit more than Strickland), but the whole thing is worth a read. I’m waiting for the old Republican Party men to step up to the plate (they’re hesitating) and give Blackwell more; and they’re waiting for him to be more "party" friendly. Fun to watch. There is a good state (bucks by zip code) map in the print edition.

Evangelical evolution?

E. J. Dionne, Jr. wonders whether evangelicals are mellowing. His reflections need to be read in conjunction with this, this, and this.

Michael Gerson to leave White House

Michael Gerson, virtually my favorite Bush Administration staffer, is leaving. Here’s one assessment of the significance of his departure, of a piece with Andrew Busch’s thoughts, albeit substantially less sympathetic to the overall enterprise.

Gerson may, of course, continue to be an effective and eloquent advocate for his point of view from the outside, and I find it hard to believe that he won’t continue to be an influential voice.

Update: For more, go here. Gerson, we learn, attends the Falls Church (yes, that one), which may part company with the Episcopal Church.

Vast right-wing conspiracy

Fellow conspirators,

We’ve been outed by Pitzer College’s Alan Jones.

If the caliber of Jones’s "research" in connecting the dots is indicated by this howler--"the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in turn evolved from William Bennett’s Madison Center for Educational Affairs and the Institute for Educational Affairs founded by Irving Kristol"--then we conspirators have little or nothing to worry about. What’s more, the vaunted superiority of American higher education--allegedly under attack by our Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy--would seem to be in some doubt.

For the record, this is the evidence on which Jones relies for his howler. Here’s the readily available truth.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: the evil genius behind all this is the super-secretive Leo Strauss, the hidden imam of the VRWC.

American Graffiti

I have always hated graffiti. In my small Ohio hometown, there was always one small, out of the way underpass that was covered in it. There, and only there, kids knew that their "art" would be untouched. So it tended to contain itself and it seemed to be limited, more or less, to local high school rivalries. But even then and in that limited context, I found it ugly, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

But now I live in Los Angeles and I have seen this policy of tolerant containment prove to be pretty ineffective. The rivalries here are stronger and over things much less innocent than which high school football team is the "baddest". Sometimes it involves gangs, and sometimes just bored kids with nothing better to do and no one intelligent enough to give it to them. Whatever the case, it scars the community and supports a culture of slovenliness, disrespect, and despair. Nevertheless, it continues to have its advocates. This link is courtesy of a relative who is a long-time employee of Cal-trans and has a very different view of these matters than the one described here.

To call these vandals "artists" (whatever their accomplishments post-criminal activity may be), strikes me as patently goofy. Why glorify something that is so destructive to the rights of others? Why glorify something that is so destructive to the well-being of the community. Rudy Giuliani’s "broken windows" theory is absolutely correct in this instance. If people want to paint in a graffiti style--God bless them. But get some paper.

World Cup and American character

Some have commented on this that I wrote before we played the Czechs: "I make no prediction other than to say that given our talent as a team, combined with the American character, we should advance." Of course, we lost 3-0, so I am ordered to explain myself. Very simply it is this: We don’t have any great individual players on our team, but we have many excellent players. They are (we have been told, and led to believe by their pre-Czech play) also very fit. They also play well together, that is, as a team. This latter point is not insignificant in soccer...The Czechs showed both characteristics. Our boys did not exhibit that aspect of the American character which is especially appealing to me: doggedness, a determination to win, a never give up attitude, always showing great courage. And so on. When I played soccer in London, while at the LSE, there were just four Americans on the team (inlcuding me). Three of us had never played soccer before. I put us on the back line. Nothing got past us. Nothing. These American boys would have rather died than allow that and--given that they did not know the game out of habit--they had to play much harder than anyone else. And they did. A Pakistani player said in awe, "Look at those Americans. They never give up." That’s the character I am looking for, and when we show it, we "should" advance.

World Cup

The U.S. loss to the Czech Republic (3-0) was well deserved. We were full of fear and we were lazy. I have no idea why we played like that. I think we can do a lot better, and we must. Saturday against Italy will be our last game unless we win. We must do exactly the opposite of what we did we the Czechs. We must have courage and we must attack, and then attack again, and then continue the attack. Always the attack.

Iraq notes

I like this George Will Newsweek column. Lost in the good news last week about Iraq was this: Montenegro completed its dissolution of the union with Serbia. The last of Yugoslavia is gone. Both Yugoslavia and Iraq were created after World War I. Will Iraq also dissappear? While I don’t think it will, it’s a clever way to ask the question.

Iraq’s national secuirty advisor, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said a "huge treasure" of documents and computer records was seized after the raid on terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s hideout, giving the Iraqi government the upper hand in its fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. And there have been 452 raids since last week’s killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed during those actions.

President Bush, even the New York Times is forced to admit, is having a good week or so: He shows up in Iraq, Zarqawi is dead, the new government is in place, and Karl Rove is cleared. Things are back on track for the administration and we will see continuous improvement in Bush’s polling numbers.

More on sartorial reasoning

I did one more podcast with Nicholas Antongiavanni yesterday on his book, The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style. The emphasis in this twenty-two minute conversation is on Machiavelli and why he is aping Machiavelli’s style. Why did Machiavelli write the way he did, and why the parody of it, why follow the chapter by chapter plan of the Prince so closely (and I suspect even follow his plan within chapters)? Why write a treatise that is really more of a puzzle when you are providing (on one level) an education in sartorial reasoning? Listen to it at

You Americans.

Is this compassionate? Conservative? Crunchy?

Rev. Timothy Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, part of this socially conservative evangelical denomination, writes about a "new kind of urban Christian." Christians, he argues, should live in cities (rather than fleeing them for the allegedly family-friendly suburbs and exurbs), form a "dynamic counterculture" "to show how sex, money, and power can be used in nondestructive ways," and "be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole."

Given what she has to say about socially conservative evangelicals, I wonder if Keller’s vision would make
Michelle Goldberg’s head explode. (Yes, I’ve finished reading her book, from which the column on which I commented earlier was drawn. I’ll have more to say in a formal review published somewhere.)

What distinguishes Keller’s "countercultural" vision from that offered by Rod Dreher is its focus on work, rather than home. Dreher seems to encourage a certain kind of withdrawal, Keller a kind of engagement. Whatever one ultimately thinks of Dreher’s book, he’s at least drawing on a tradition that offers a wealth of intellectual resources to support the kind of resistance he proposes. I’m not sure, on the other hand, whether Keller and his people will transform the world or be transformed by it.

Update: I missed this post by Acton’s Jordan Ballor.

After compassionate conservatism?

Andrew Busch has characteristically smart thoughts in the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Hat tip: Powerline.

The libertarian center?

I worried about it. Cato’s David Boaz is happy it’s here. Over at the Corner, Jonah Goldberg, Ramesh Ponnuru, and John Podhoretz weigh in.

An Unconvincing "Apology"

This NRO column by John Derbyshire has been getting quite a bit of attention. In short, Derbyshire is sorry that he ever advocated intervention in Iraq. In the juiciest passage he writes:

One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we’d just rubbled the place then left. As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away. Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs—that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.

What to make of this? For one, I have trouble understanding why destroying a regime and leaving would have really improved the U.S. position in the Middle East. The question that begs to be asked is what would emerge as Saddam’s successors? The most likely answer is, whoever had the best organization and the most guns. The best case scenario would have been another Lebanon or Sudan, the worst would have been a country wholly owned by Al-Qaeda or Iran.

But leaving this aside, if Derbyshire really thought that the United States was going to perform the equivalent of a drive-by shooting in Iraq, he must be extremely naive. What precedent is there for the United States destroying an enemy regime and then going home? I cannot think of a single instance of this. Indeed, I cannot think of a single example of ANY country doing so in the modern era. Either a military victory ends with concessions from an enemy regime, or, if that regime is destroyed, with occupation or outright conquest of the defeated nation. "You break it, you own it," appears to be as solid a principle as any in international affairs.

If Derbyshire wants to avoid taking the blame for how the war is going, that’s fine. But his attempt to do it while simultaneously hanging on to his credentials as a hawk--indeed, by seemingly out-hawking the administration--strikes me as disingenuous.

James Webb in Virginia

James Webb won the Democratic primary in Virginia, and will oppose George Allen in November. Just over 3% of voters went to the polls. Here is Mac Owens’ piece on him when he announced. While I do not think he will win, it will be an interesting to watch. Note the electoral map in the WaPo article. Is this the way the Dems should go in the future? Should they get an old-fashioned un-Lincolnian conservative Southerner, with isolationist tendencies and pro-military passions, to pick up their fallen standard(or what’s left of it)?

Faith-based prison units

The Acton Institute’s Jordan Ballor asked me what I thought of this decision against Iowa’s contract with Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative. My answer is in this week’s TAE Online column. If after reading it, you find yourself thirsting for more, you can find it here.

Update: I should add that an important feature of the judge’s opinion was his unprecedented requirement that Prison Fellowship pay back the $1.5 million it has received from the state of Iowa, something that these analysts regarded (three years ago) as "extraordinary" but possible. The judge reasoned, in effect, that Prison Fellowship should have known better and has deep pockets. While I’m not sure that this part of the order will hold up under appeal, I am sure that it will encourage other lawsuits and encourage PFM and other groups to get out of this business.

My analysis in the TAE piece substantially agrees with this one, which I’ve just had the opportunity to skim. The authors, Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle, know this field better than just about anyone else.

Patrick Henry College revisited

If you want to continue to follow the saga of Patrick Henry College, from a point of view sympathetic to the departing faculty, you can visit this site.

Lawler’s same-sex marriage amendment

Peter Lawler tells Jonathan Rauch that he should propose the amendment to which he (Peter Lawler) has been alluding in his comments here at NLT.

While I’m at it, here’s my excuse for light blogging: I’m teaching two summer school classes (five hours a day, four days a week) and playing my role as a rabid swim parent. Two meets, two victories for the Vermack Vikings, the East Germany of Dunwoody, Georgia summer swimming. But don’t worry, we’re set to receive our comeuppance from an even more evil swimming empire next week.

Troops scare illegals

"The arrival of U.S. National Guard troops in Arizona has scared off illegal Mexican migrants along the border as a whole, significantly reducing crossings, according to U.S. and Mexican officials." Along the Arizona border, once the busiest crossing spot, detentions have dropped 23 percent.

Barone on California’s Primary and the Dems Dimming Hopes

Michael Barone had a great post yesterday analyzing the results of California’s primary election of last week. What those outside of California probably don’t realize is that California had two propositions (you know, those crazy relics of the Progressive era that have attempted to re-introduce direct democracy and made our state legislature even more unaccountable for their actions--but I digress) that went down to defeat. They were huge defeats for liberal Democrats. The first would have created universal preschool for all 4 year-olds by placing a special tax on individuals making over $400 K and couples making over $800 K. The second was a bond measure for public libraries. These are issues that warm the hearts of most liberals and, because the Democrats had a primary for Governor, more Democrats showed up for this election than Republicans. Early polls in the election season showed the first initiative way ahead. But both propositions were soundly defeated. Why?

Could it be that people--even your average liberals--are becoming skeptical about the ability of government to run programs like these? Phil Angelides, the liberal Democrat who won the primary (barely) against former E-Bay executive Steve Westly probably sealed the deal for Arnold in November. Westly’s ads attacked Angelides for his liberal spending and taxing--but made a case for his own environmentalist bonafides. Granted, Westly had big dollars to wage his fight against Angelides, but he almost pulled it off and that’s significant.

Barone argues that:

Liberal Democrats like to believe that government programs can improve people’s lives and that it’s a good idea to redistribute through taxes money from the rich to the presumably less well off. But in practice the redistribution they support turns out to be from the pockets of taxpayers generally to public employee unions and thence to the Democratic Party. In California this has been facilitated because a lot of affluent people in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas are happy to vote for Democrats because of their liberal stands on lifestyle issues like abortion and because they are so well off that they don’t mind paying more in taxes.

In other words, many of our metropolitain liberals don’t mind paying higher taxes for these stupid programs because they are already so rich they don’t feel it and they don’t have to use the public facilities (like schools) anyway. They cheerfully pay the taxes for us peasants so that they can get support for their pet social issues. He might also have added that by paying these taxes such liberals also buy their way out of actually having to think about solutions to social problems that might work--like hearkening back to social norms that encourage hard work, industry, and public morality (and thereby cut against their pet social issues). But I digress again . . .

Blackwell Interview

I almost always listen to Michael Medved when I’m running errands in the afternoon with the kids, but I missed this interview with Ken Blackwell last Wednesday. If you missed it too, follow the link and hear for yourself why Ken Blackwell will not only be the best Governor the state of Ohio has ever had but why the Dems would do well to watch out for him.

The Liberal’s Week

Elections last Tuesday produce nothing but disappointment. Zarqawi killed. Haditha not drawing the kind of criticism they had hoped for as the American people remain fair-minded and the jury is still out. A triumphant Bush goes to Iraq. Rove, not indicted. Give your liberal friends a hug today. Feel their pain.


Sometimes my students wonder why courage comes first in the discussion of the virtues. Why is it so important, they ask? After an elaborate ruse, the press discovered that President Bush went to Iraq today. Good move.

Update: Here is the Newsweek version on some of the details (ignore the bias), this from USA Today.

Right. On.

The president of the University of North Dakota tells the NCAA to stick it with its demand that the UND change its mascot name from the "Fighting Sioux."

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for May

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

Uncle Guido

Lisa Lattea

Thomas Frick

Larry Hartog

Jenna Tower

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

Now if it were in Hungarian...

But it’s not. Kudos to John Eastman.

Gay marriage and religious liberty again

The NYT’s Peter Steinfels looks at the same papers that Maggie Gallagher examined, and arrives at roughly the same conclusion. There’s more here.

Rights for great apes?

Spain’s thinking about it. Peter Singer is happy. But some have their doubts:

Professor Steve Jones, of London University, says the idea is an "overstatement of what science, what biology can tell you".

"As most people know, chimpanzees share about 98% of our DNA, but bananas share about 50% of our DNA and we are not 98% chimpanzee or 50% banana, we are entirely human and unique in that respect," he said.

"It is simply a mistake to use an entirely human construct, which is rights, and apply it to an animal, which is not human. Rights come with responsibility and I’ve never seen a chimp being fined for stealing a plate of bananas."


Archbishop of Pamplona and Tudela Fernando Sebastian said he could not believe it was even being proposed.

"We don’t give rights to some people - such as unborn children, human embryos, and we are going to give them to apes," he said.

Achenbach Update

Joel Achenbach, about whom I blogged below, appeared today on Hewitt’s radio show to respond to the response his blog post on the death of Zarqawi inspired. I felt sorry for him. The more I listened, the more it seemed to me that this may very well have been a simple case of sloppy writing. It reminded me of a similar incident that happened to me back in college when I was a freshman reporter. Of course, I had to admit my mistake and submit a correction. It was very embarassing but the kind of thing one hopes is behind you before you start writing for a major American newspaper! Achenbach, on the other hand, tried to defend himself and his writing and did not do a credible job of it--but he also said nothing to persuade me that he is capable of the kind of mental gymnastics and moral bankruptcy required to equate Zarqawi with American bombers. I say this not to excuse Achenbach but in the interest of fairness and clarity in the argument. I don’t think this man meant to imply what his writing implied.

But while I am glad (for Achenbach and his children’s sake) that he is not as morally confused as Michael Berg or Bill Mahr, there are (sadly) plenty folks ready to stand in for him.

It wasn’t up when I last checked, but the transcript from the interview with Achenbach should be posted at Radioblogger and this live blog during the interview gave a pretty fair assessment of Achenbach’s performance (though it was too interested in the question of whether or not he ought to have given the interview from a narrow self-interest point of view). In sum: Achenbach stepped in it. He should avoid this cow pasture in the future and stick to being a humorist.

Measure for Measure

It is now becoming clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was alive for at least a few minutes after the Americans (the super secretive Delta Force, it would seem) got to him. While I know that in the court of justice none might see salvation, and also know that the severest justice might not always be best policy, yet, in this case, policy and justice and salvation are attached. Zarqawi saw the Americans with his own eyes before he died. Good.

Austin Bay has some clear thoughts on the Z-Man’s death, as does Daniel Henninger. This long profile of Zarqawi from The Atlantic is also worth reading.

Also note that the same day Zarqawi was killed, the Iraq government finished forming itself: The cabinet positions in the departments of the interior and defense were finally filled. This is also excellent news. Remember when the MSM was pushing the civil war in Iraq? Well, we are not there, and we are less likely to get there today than ever. There is in fact good reason to be optimistic. They have a complete and full, and relatively decent government for the first time, ever. Impressive.

Michael Berg, Joel Achenbach and Moral Equivalency

Michael Berg, father of the be-headed American Nick Berg, has been all over the media condemning the killing of al Zarqawi as simply the "revenge" of George W. Bush. He has equated the revenge of Bush with the revenge of Zarqawi. Leaving aside, for the moment, whether the killing of Zarqawi actually had anything to do with revenge (for I think our national policy is driven more often by loftier considerations) let’s take what Berg says at face value. Is there really no difference between the revenge of the just and the unjust? Only if your thinking has been so corrupted by the sophisticated sophistries of the West that you no longer recognize the difference between the just and the unjust.

Hugh Hewitt brought this blog post from Joel Achenbach (the most popular blogger at The Washington Post to our attention yesterday, wherein Achenbach seems to make the point that there is a moral equivalence between the killings of Zarqawi and the killing of Zarqawi by American bombers. But Achenbach actually takes it a step further--at least his words do. He seems to say (as you may remember that Bill Mahr did stupidly say some months back) that the killings of Zarqawi and other insurgents at least have the virtue of being more manly because they are more personal. That is, Zarqawi actually got his hands bloody while American bombers just punch a button. I find it very difficult to believe that Achenbach (or Mahr, for that matter) actually believes what he implies here. But it is symptomatic of the perverse attempt to appear above the fray and devastatingly clever that has captured the popular imagination in this post-modern era. Frankly, I’m not afraid to say that I find it disgusting. And, what’s more, it’s also pathetic.

I’ve been re-reading Leo Strauss’ great work What is Political Philosophy in recent days and this great quote more or less sums up what this kind of stupid commentary really is:

"His ’ethical neutrality’ is so far from being nihilism or a road to nihilism that it is not more than an alibi for thoughtlessness and vulgarity: by saying that democracy and truth are values, he says in effect that one does not have to think about the reasons why these things are good, and that he may bow as well as anyone else to the values that are adopted and respected by his society. Social science positivism [what’s really driving the thinking of these folks]fosters not so much nihilism as conformism and philistinism.


Soccer and character

Total war, total soccer. The World Cup is on, Germany beating Costa Rica as I scribble. Watching the Germans for the first fifteen minutes reminded me of this brief essay from 1986 by Henry Kissinger on soccer and character. Read it all, but here are a few sentences on the way the Germans play. (A note to young people: once upon a time there was a West Germany and an East Germany, now there is just one.)

"West Germany, a finalist today, is, with Italy and Brazil, the most successful team of the modern era. West German soccer entered the postwar era with no particular legacy. Postwar Germany’s newly professional soccer being as novel as the frontiers of the state it represents, it could adopt total soccer with a vengeance. The German national team plays the way its general staff prepared for the war; games are meticulously planned, each player skilled in both attack and defense. Intricate pass patterns evolve, starting right in front of the German goal. Anything achievable by human foresight, careful preparation and hard work is accounted for."

The USA plays the Czech Republic on Monday at Noon.
I make no prediction other than to say that given our talent as a team, combined with the American character, we should advance.

Podcast with Antongiavanni

This is my "You Americans" podcast with Nicholas Antongiavanni, author of The Suit. Terrific stuff. Wish it lasted an hour instead of twenty five minutes, but I’ll be talking with him again soon.

A note on the pronunciation of my name

No, Knippenberg is not pronounced "idiot" or "fascist." But after I was on NPR a friend sent me an email joking about the host’s mispronunciation of my name. For the record, in Knippenberg, the K is not silent.

Which, I suppose, explains a lot.

Political theory and the political (not academic) Left

My friend John Seery, last mentioned here, has written in response to James Ceaser’s "blue vs. red" paper. From his own vantage point left of center, John agrees with Ceaser’s observations regarding the relative dearth of theory in liberal/leftist Washington thinktanks:

While one could certainly argue that egghead wannabe-politicos are best left on the sidelines, Ceaser’s observation about the conspicuous dearth of institutionalized (albeit non-academic) political theorizing on the left ought to be taken seriously--and it may help explain the current "idea deficit" or "vision deficit" among the Democrats. Sure, a few political theorists served as advisers to Bill Clinton (Benjamin Barber, William Galston), and Cornel West was a prominent adviser to Bill Bradley’s 2000 Presidential campaign--but there’s nothing structurally comparable to the quasi-organized Straussian (or libertarian, or evangelical) presence throughout the Washingtonian ranks of quasi-officialdom. From my limited vantage, I see that if a young conservative Ph.D. in political theory, hailing from Chicago, Harvard, Duke, or the Claremont Graduate University, fails to land a tenure-track teaching post, he or she may still find gainful theoretical work, without much retooling. If a Berkeley, Princeton, Northwestern, or Johns Hopkins Ph.D. specialist in political theory doesn’t find a teaching appointment, forget it, the career is over.

He further notes how regrettable this is, taking as his example The New Republic’s Peter Beinart, whose efforts to get Democrats to take a more sober stance in foreign policy have been much noted.

Here’s an author who clearly is insufficiently informed about the classic critiques of political liberalism put forth by Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schmitt, Strauss, and Kojève. My progressive postie friends would cringe at his clunky attempts at defining a national purpose by demonizing and scapegoating an Other. Beinart desperately takes a crowbar to the work of political theorists Michael Walzer and Hannah Arendt in an attempt to dignify his case that the war on terror ought to be seen as continuous with earlier wars against communism and fascism. But my undergraduates, drawing more thoughtfully on Arendt, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Foucault, would have an easy time dismantling his adamant but woefully antiquated notion of totalitarianism. Such a book will not engage or inspire my undergraduates, because--should I say it baldly? --it is theoretically impoverished, something of an embarrassment to read. It is not worthy of their intellectual efforts. Is this the best we can do?

responses to John’s piece are mostly of the "we don’t need no stinkin’ theory" variety, born either of a post-modern "mistrust of metanarratives" or of a kind of anti-intellectualism. Even if all of his friends aren’t my friends, his "enemies" are mine as well.

There are two questions I’d like to ask him, however. First, how easy does he think it would be for left-wing academic political theorists to find a way constructively and effectively to inform political debates? In his HuffPost piece, he mentions Bill Galston, Benjamin Barber, and Cornel West, but I wonder about those whose theoretical work is, from my limited perspective, more heavily invested in jargon and self-conscious challenges to common sense. Second, might it not be possible that the true channel, such as it is, of influence for liberal and Leftist academic theory is through the law schools and the courts?


It was a good day. I got back from Chicago yesterday. Waited for my mother’s flight from L.A., had a nice late lunch with her, got home, slapped the brats around, took Isabell around the block (she hates to be ignored), smoked a cigar with friends, went to bed late. Awoke at 3 a.m. or so, turned on the news and heard about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, et al. Slept the sleep of the just for three more hours, then got back to it and talked with a couple of great students this morning. I spent a few hours on The Suit, in preparation for tomorrow’s podcast with Mr. Antongiavanni.

The Chicago conference was very much worth attending, even though it was over-regulated and under-attended. Loury was what I expected, Carol Swain was charming but a bit too self-consciously self-contradictory, Robert J. Norrell is a good historian and will end up producing the best biography of Booker Washington, Mark Bauerlein is smart, and Ishmael Muhammad, well, let me just say that he is a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. The hero of the conference was William B. Allen. He showed that history is not a chronicle of waisted time, that manly rhetoric can yet be used by the valiant, and he would never allow the low and the incomplete to roll over the just logic of the conference. He stepped in many times and proved to us that sometimes a man can speak both the truth and the whole of things. No slander against freedom stood. His mind was all conquering. His response to someone who wanted an apology for slavery from the (any) president of the United States was to gracefully remind her of the brothers’ war and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It was masterful. He poetically or deeply--as needed--offered up the American standard as the shaper of our souls and the cause of the country’s character. Booker T. Washington was proud.

Death Taxes and their Proponents

The Wall Street Journal has a tightly written and persuasive editorial today on the Death Tax. The big proponents of the Death Tax, according to this piece, are the life insurance lobby (which could lose billions of dollars as the need for policies written to avoid the effects of the tax are lost) and the super-rich who can afford to shelter their assets. Repealing the Death Tax remains popular with a large majority of voters and with a majority of both houses in Congress--although the WSJ warns of a possible Democrat-led filibuster attempt in the Senate in order to avoid the repeal.

In 2006 the Republicans in Congress and Republicans aspiring to be in Congress would do well to make lowering or, better yet, eliminating the Death Tax a centerpiece of their message to voters. It has popular appeal, not just because it has to do with lowering a tax--which is always popular but could be said to be so because of narrow self-interest--it has popular appeal because it has to do with a fundamental issue of justice and the American people understand that on some very basic level. Hand Democrats the rope with which they will hang themselves trying to make a case for the justice of a thing that is patently unjust. It is one of those things that will tell the voters all they need to know about that party.

Zarqawi is dead

In case you haven’t heard, The New York Times reports that US forces have killed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the top Al-Qaeda man in Iraq. Of course it won’t end the war, but it’s an important victory and proves what one Marine said in the same paper last week but is sometimes hard to remember in the coverage of all the terrible daily attacks: the coalition forces are the hunters, not the hunted.

More same-sex marriage stuff

As expected, the Senate today failed to invoke cloture on the Marriage Protection Amendment.

As to why anyone should care about this, the best articulation I’ve seen can be found in this document, whose signatories include Hadley Arkes, J. Budzizewski, James Ceaser, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David F. Forte, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Leon Kass, Peter Lawler, David Novak, Marvin Olasky, Jeremy Rabkin, James Stoner, and Christopher Wolfe, to name just a few.

A sample, taken from the executive summary:

We affirm the following ten principles that summarize the value of marriage- a choice that most people want to make, and that society should endorse and support.

Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good

Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.

Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.

Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.

Marriage protects and promotes the wellbeing of children.

Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.

Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.

When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.

A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.

The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

"Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

This understanding of marriage is not narrowly religious, but the cross-cultural fruit of broad human experience and reflection, and supported by considerable social science evidence. But a marriage culture cannot flourish in a society whose primary institutions-universities, courts, legislatures, religions-not only fail to defend marriage but actually undermine it both conceptually and in practice.

Read the whole thing.

Exposing Non-Foundationalism and Moral Confusion on the Left

If you missed Hugh Hewitt’s interview yesterday with columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and University of Colorado law professor, Paul Campos go read it now. Some of it is a bit tedious in the reading, so you can skip around a bit. But when read in conjunction with Joe Knippenberg’s fine article (about which he blogged below), it is quite instructive.

The most telling part is toward the end when Campos is at pains to explain why he can’t say that the United States is morally superior to the theocracy of Iran or a country like Zimbabwe. He claims that rhetoric like Lincoln’s calling America the "last best hope of mankind" is dangerous. That’s because, in his view, there’s a certain percentage of humanity that (given the right circumstances) is capable of any measure of unimaginable evil--though he doesn’t use such a morally charged term. None of us is really better than anyone else in that regard, he claims. He refuses to use language that implies better or worse with respect to any regime--saying that regimes are just whatever their people are. And since we’re all the same in our susceptibility to crazy things given the right conditions, I suppose he thinks that regimes are just whatever their circumstances lead them to be. Apparently, human beings and their regimes are nothing better than rats in the laboratory to Campos.

For Campos and his ilk, it is not at all significant that our regime has been (or believes itself to be or tries to be) striving since its inception toward an idea of the good. We delude ourselves if we believe that we are doing anything other than responding to the circumstances within which we operate. Everything we call good is just the result of accident and fortune or, to his mind, perhaps some injustice we’ve perpetrated on someone else. Of course, how something may be called unjust in this construct remains unclear to me. What is bad if there is no good? For example, it seems to be nothing more than Campos’s own prejudice and preference that leads him to say such things like it was good we won in World War II--but he’s even flaky about that claim (saying that the world would not have been lost had we not won). Worth a read and a mug! 

Our libertarian center?

In this week’s TAE Online column, I use the Hudson Institute panel discussion to follow up on Peter Lawler’s oft-repeated suggestion that too many of us are basically libertarian, with consequences well worth deprecating.

The calling of Sam Brownback

WaPo reporter writes a long profile of Sam Brownback, but doesn’t quite know what to make of him. What seems to her paradoxical might begin to make sense if she gave some thought to the notion of calling or vocation. In addition, though this comparison may not be terribly helpful to Brownback at the moment, some of his attitudes about himself and his office are remarkably similar to those displayed by GWB.

Amendments, same-sex marriage, and polling data

This polling report (about a year old, but still indicative) suggests that there’s not much support for amending the U.S. constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. When you look at these results (see questions 50-52), the trends are hard to make out. As nearly as I can guess, opposition to same-sex marriage has probably declined somewhat, but the numbers bounce around a good bit, perhaps in response to things like attempts by local officials to offer gay couples the opportunity actually to marry and like a national debate. So we don’t know what public opinion would look like at the end of an extended and focused national debate. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we’d be at 70-30, but 60-65% opposition isn’t out of the question. (Thus the percentage opposed was 53% in July, 2003, but bumped up to 63% in response to Gavin Newsome’s antics, falling back down to 53% in July, 2005, after many months of no news.)

But as the Pew analysts note, opposition to gay marriage doesn’t translate into support for amending the Constitution. I would, however, add: at least as long as there is no federal judicial provocation, which might send opposition to gay marriage and support for a constitutional amendment soaring.

Of course, state constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage tend to be big winners wherever they’re offered. "The people" may agree with Rauch that this is a matter for states. Left to their own devices, many, perhaps most, states would legislatively or constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage and a few would permit it.

This leads me to offer some unsolicited advice to advocates of same-sex marriage, on a point on which I hope we can agree. The surest path to establishing same-sex marriage is through a legislature. Litigation, or anything that appears similarly high-handed, courts (so to speak) a backlash, likely increasing support for legislation or constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage. What’s true at the federal level is in these cases likely to be true at the state level as well. In any state where a court decision favoring same-sex marriage is likely to withstand the inevitable backlash, the legislature would have been likely to pass it in the first place. So stick with legislation. I’ll argue with you...civilly of course. And I expect you to return the favor.

Update: Here’s more recent polling data, not substantially different from the Pew data, though a little more encouraging for proponents of an amendment, and here’s the write-up of the polling data.

Fradkin on Iran again

Hillel Fradkin, whose views on Iran were previously discussed here, has this to say about upcoming negotiations with Iran:

Actual possession of nuclear weapons would aid in the survival of the clerical regime - as the North Korean case made clear - and protect Iran’s efforts to involve itself in radical endeavors elsewhere in the Muslim world; indeed, the enormous prestige of being a nuclear power would enhance the latter project.

In short, Ahmadinejad has no good reason to agree to our condition to suspend enrichment. Thus it is most unlikely that there will be negotiations on our terms.

If there are negotiations, they are likely to be among ourselves - among the United States, the Europeans, Russia and China. There may be several subjects of these negotiations, but the most crucial will be whether to drop our demand for a cessation of enrichment.

While I’m persuaded that Iranian "civil society" is interestingly pro-American in some respects, Fradkin has me convinced that Ahmadinejad is not the marginal figure some claim and that Iran is likely to be "our" problem for quite some time.

The situation in Iran

Reinforcing what Joe just said, here is a review by Vali Nasr of the memoir of Shirin Ebadi, the recent Nobel Prize winner from Iran. It was originally published in New Republic On-line.

Besides criticizing Ebadi for not being able to really, fully break from the Khomeini revolution, Nasr provides a long and detailed account of the internal situaton in Iran. The conclusion is sobering but leaves some room for hope:

"What, then, of the search for democracy in Iran? It seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. There is no other country in the region more suitable for the nurturing of the sapling of democracy. Iranians want democracy, and they cherish democratic practices. But there is no simple and straight path to democracy in Iran. The battle lines are unclear, and as the elections last year showed, open political contestation has favored populist authoritarianism over democracy, albeit through the ballot box. Talk of democracy in Iran is rife, especially in the West; but the reality is that Iran now has a stable authoritarian regime, and there is no obvious way to dislodge it.

It will be difficult to make up for the opportunity that was lost during the Khatami years. Building a viable movement for full and politically secular democracy will take time. It needs organization and coalition-building; but above all it needs a convincing and uncompromising message -- one that breaks absolutely with the legacy of the revolution and the nostalgia for its promise, and rejects any half-hearted attempts at reforming the theocracy."

NPR’s Talk of the Nation

I’m supposed to speak to some folks from this show, responding to this Jonathan Rauch piece. My response to another Rauch piece is here, with further discussion here and here. The program should be online this evening; you can check to see whether and when it will be broadcast in your area here.

Update: You can listen to the portion of the program, which I shared with Jonathan Rauch, here.

The Jinxed Keyboard Player--No. 4, RIP

Time to reach out and link arms with NLT Troll Fung (aka, FMG, "Fung the Moral Giant") over the passing of Vince Welnick, the fourth key boardist for a certain California rock and roll band of repute (though their website is odd right now, even for them). I thought Welnick was a better keyboard player and vocalist than the band’s Number 3 keyboard player, who died, naturally unnaturally, of a drug overdose in 1991.

That was more flamboyant than Keyboard player Number 2, who was the best of the four, and who died in a car crash in 1980. Keyboard Player Number 1 died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage in 1972 (yeah--sure he did).

I always thought the "jinx" of Grateful Dead keyboard players was the inspiration for the exploding drummers in This Is Spinal Tap, one of the greatest film satires ever made. (Too bad Rob Reiner can’t spoof himself; there’s so much material to work with. Oh, wait. . .)

Anyway, if you’re in the market for some good free live tracks, see this site, which offers MP3s from 46 different shows, from the late 1960s through to the last tour in 1995.

Border security and immigration policy

I have, generally speaking, been a proponent of comprehensive immigration legislation (though not of the bill that passed the Senate), of which border security has to be a crucial part. The debate has focused for the most part on our southern borders, but we can’t forget threats that come from the north. No, I’m not worried about a surreptitious invasion of loggers from British Columbia, wheat farmers from Saskatchewan, or fishermen from Newfoundland, nor am I worried that French will replace English as the, er, lingua franca of New England. (I do, however, remember occasionally watching NFL games on the CBC French service, which featured Les Patriots de Nouveau-Angleterre.)But these guys seem to have had contacts in the U.S. And the millenium bomber came from Canada.

If people can come this close to success under the nose of a relatively efficient and cooperative government, not to mention how horrifically successful they were under our own noses, imagine what might happen south of our border.

Without a substantial commitment to increased security on both borders, no immigration deal should (or, I expect, will) pass muster.

Update: Arnold Beichman writes about these matters for The Weekly Standard, indicating that we probably should have seen these arrests coming.

New recruit to the blogosphere

My favorite Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist has decided to start a blog.

Religious Coalition for Marriage

This is a fairly broad coalition, assembled by Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Gerard V. Bradley, and Robert Bork, and further described here.

This is a somewhat narrower coalition on the other side.

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.