Alberto Gonzales was asked if his kids ever downloaded music illegaly: "Of course not. I remind them: I AM the law!"
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.
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.
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.
Democrats probably cant win in 06 according to Victor Davis Hanson in this sweeping but clear essay. Of course, what he says assumes that Republicans wont do anything so massively stupid as to change the current trend. On the other hand, I think thats a rather safe assumption. With the recent patch of good fortune for the GOP, all they have to do is do nothing (and theyre 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.
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. Its hot and humid and she is purring. While I dont 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 dont 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 Rogers 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.
Mike Luckovich is the Atlanta papers editorial cartoonist. Ive never really liked his stuff, regarding it as unsubtle and ideological, but, hey, thats 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.
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.
This is the Presidents speech in Hungary. A couple of words in Hungarian too! (Although one is misspelled.)
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.
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.
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.
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. Its 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 . . .
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 Hansons 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. Were not doing it right, were not prepared to do it right, and what we are doing is a disaster. Were 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.
One of Hugh Hewitts 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. Heres a taste of what Roberts has to say (you can guess where hes 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.
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.
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.
Thats the title of this weeks 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.
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.
Claremonts 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 weve lost in general. I think if we could start…rebuilding the quality of our plates, we could start rebuilding what weve 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 Americas 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 Carters 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.
Al Gore has been an omnipresent god-like presence everywhere for the past few weeks. Im not amused by it. But Steve Hayward is. I just did a podcast with him. Excellent stuff, and, unlike Gore, Steve isnt tedious.
[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.
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 dont 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 todays 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.
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 nations 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.
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).
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. Its 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.
Ive 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 doesnt Berman realize that by embracing this critique of modern liberalism, he is halfway to becoming . . . gasp! . . a neoconservative?
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.
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.
Here is the now-everywhere Time Mag article on Suskinds 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 Ladens deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda." Happy fathers day.