Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Conservative culture?

Rick Perlstein is right about a few things and wrong about many others. He’s right that what unites conservatives is for the most part a common aversion to liberalism, but then he professes to see some contradictions in "conservatism," as if the same people worship, so to speak, at two mutually contradictory altars.

My account of this would begin a little differently: most people are at least somewhat confused, including many conservatives. Consistency, if it’s going to be found anywhere, will be found in the best and most thoughtful proponents of a position, who are (for the most part) aware that that among their practical political allies are perhaps many with whom they have substantial disagreements. They’re sober and prudent enough to recognize that at least some of those disagreements may have to be papered over in order to win elections. Of course, they don’t always judge short-term political victory as the only end, and may sacrifice it if the cost is too high. This is not confusion or self-contradiction; it’s how one acts prudently on the basis of principle in politics.

So yes, what unites (many) conservatives at the moment, is the prospect of a liberal victory in 2006 or 2008. That some (mostly social conservatives) wouldn’t want their daughters dressing or behaving like Ann Coulter isn’t surprising. That others cheer her on also isn’t surprising. I don’t even think it’s necessarily hypocritical or confused to take both stances (though I’m no fan of Coulter). Anyone who thinks that the shocking can’t be in the service of the conservative has never read (or understood) Aristophanes.

Perlstein’s last point--that conservatives revel in their marginalization despite their political successes--has something to it, but less that he thinks. If liberals didn’t so often feel and express their smug superiority, especially from the commanding heights of many of our culture-making and influencing institutions, conservatives wouldn’t have a beef and wouldn’t enjoy, when they do, tweaking liberals’ noses.

Optimistic India

A crisp essay on the optimism that is India, where people are making things and spending money. Socialists no more.

ADDITION: Also note this Ashton B. Carter essay from the current Foreign Affairs on our strategic relationship with India. There are two others on India in the same issue, but are not available on line.

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.