Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Compassionate conservativsm 2.0

After being subjected to a hatchet piece roughly six months ago, Sam Brownback is featured on the cover of the current Weekly Standard and profiled by Terry Eastland, who does quite a nice job. A snippet:

Brownback’s compassion agenda is still in development. The senator recognizes that "people can have good hearts," but "come out a lot of different ways" on policy means and ends. Brownback allows that policy abroad, whatever else it may achieve, is supposed to further the national interest. Asked why America should be so deeply concerned about Africa, he says we can’t deny our interest in a part of the world with so much suffering, especially when we have the capacity to address it, and especially when, if we aren’t there, making positive relationships, we will be ceding Africa to the Chinese, who are "all over" the continent in search of natural resources, and also to terrorists looking for headquarters. Neither of those prospects, he says, can be in our national interest. Meanwhile, Brownback tends to address the question of means from the standpoint of efficiency. For example, he wants to make sure that dollars appropriated to combat malaria are used not for conferences and meetings, but for bed nets and insecticide sprays.

Regarding the domestic side of the compassion agenda, Brownback shows the influence of his late colleague Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who famously said: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Brownback agrees that politics can change a culture, and he believes that poverty can best be addressed through a politics that (in general outline) encourages people to get married, get a job, and not to have children out of wedlock. He wants policies with "measurable results" and cautions against ones that create "dependency." Here he may be trying to distinguish his compassion agenda from that being discussed among Democrats, at least some of whom (John Edwards, Barack Obama) are now invoking religious faith as the motivation for new action against poverty.

Eastland also calls our attention to
this speech, which lays out Brownback’s agenda and aspirations quite nicely.

The Battle for Connecticut

This Washington Post article details the all-out struggle that the Democratic Party’s left wing has been making to unseat Joe Lieberman. Some longtime Lieberman supporters have abandoned the incumbent in favor of his challenger, Ned Lamont, and just yesterday the New York Times threw its support to Lamont as well.

The stakes here are critical, not just for 2006 but 2008, too. If Lamont can pull it off, an emboldened left might well have the clout to have one of its own (in other words, not Hillary Clinton) win the party’s presidential nomination. This would, of course, be good news for the GOP--but is it good enough to offset the loss of a genuinely good man in the Senate?

The Gates Foundation and the Future of American Education

Diane Ravitch has an informative and thoughtful article in The Los Angeles Times about the good the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could do (or not) for American education now that they have such a huge endowment. With education one of the foundation’s top priorities, Ravitch examines what has been one of their guiding principles when it comes to "improving" it. It seems the foundation has focused on creating so-called "mini-schools" of 500 or fewer pupils when high schools are deemed overcrowded.

Read further into Ravitch’s article, however, and find out about the law of unintended consequences and rediscover the meaning or irony. Since one of the large purposes of Gates & Co. in creating these mini-schools was to improve math and science education, it is worthy to note that the results in many of places their formula has been tried are mixed at best. In many of these places, math and science electives have had to be cut. Students show improved English and graduation rates, but lower math scores than their peers at the bigger schools. For some students, that’s a good trade. For others, it could be devastating.

For my part, I will not argue for big schools or for small schools. I came from small schools and I’m choosing them for my own children--but I do realize that they have their limits. Some parents and students may find a large school more to their liking and better suited to their needs. I would not presume to tell Mr. Gates and his foundation how they ought to spend their money. But if I had that kind of money to spend for improving education in this country, I think I might refrain from presuming to tell school districts and parents whom I had never met what size of school best suited their children.

So many of these so-called "problems" in education could be solved by one simple thing: choice. If every parent had the same ability that I have to choose the kind of school he wants for his children, I think alot of this nonsense would work itself out in a way that suited the most people in the best possible way. Not every person will make the best choice (Lord knows the jury is still out for me and my kids!). But, in the end, won’t more of them be pursuing their own happiness and isn’t that what freedom really means?

Shouldn’t we trust parents and local school administrators more than we trust Bill Gates (or the Department of Education for that matter) with the education of our own kids? Bill Gates is a brilliant and generous man--but no genius (not Bill Gates, not a federal bureaucrat, not even my own mother) is brilliant enough to tell me what is best for my kids. Perhaps they can offer useful opinions, but I think I and my husband can decide what works best for us. At bottom, I think that presumption on the part of public schools and their administrators is the one thing that most drives me away from them. I resent having government experts telling me what to do with my kids. If I’m going to take that kind of condescension from somebody, I want to know that I am the one choosing them and I can fire them at a moment’s notice! I think that is the healthy attitude for all freedom loving Americans. But I also know that I am fortunate to be able to afford that freedom. But I don’t think one should have to be fortunate or think of freedom as a luxury. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that our public schools need less "help" from the experts and the do-gooders and more freedom and choices for the parents. When it comes to education I say, "Power to the People!" And especially, to the parents.

I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Michael Gerson

If this interview is any indication. A taste:

Until recently, the Republican Party and Christian conservatives have complained that government is the problem. Is that a view they will likely return to?

I think it’s a temptation, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. One reason is because of what’s changed in evangelical political involvement.

I think there are lots and lots of young people, in their 20s to 40s, who are very impatient with older models of social engagement like those used by the Religious Right. They understand the importance of the life issues and the family issues, but they know the concern for justice has to be broader and global. At least a good portion of the evangelical movement is looking for leaders who have a broader conception of social justice. President Bush has provided that in many ways. He ran his initial campaign on education and on faith-based answers to poverty and addiction. And then he’s led the international efforts we’ve undertaken, both on the development and disease side, but also on the spread of human liberty.

You’re starting to sound like Jim Wallis!
No, because I also don’t think the answers can be found in the Religious Left. I don’t think we can minimize some of the traditional issues. I don’t believe it’s possible to be concerned about social justice without being concerned about the weakest members of the human family. I also think that America can play an active and positive role in the world and that we’re not at fault for everything.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Here are excerpts from another Gerson interview. Two interesting bits:

The president was not and is not a cultural warrior. He didn’t come from the background of, say, a Richard Nixon with the Hiss case or Ronald Reagan as a leader of the conservative movement. He came as a fairly moderate governor with an inclusive government style.


"On the religion side, I think we have been very careful to have a principled pluralism, not to have a sectarian rhetoric. The goal is to be welcoming to the role of all faiths and not to single out any faith or preference. That kind of sectarianism is deeply destructive, it is destructive to faith as well as government, when any religious group becomes a tool of those in power.... [On gay rights] I would only say on the side of the homosexual rights question, I see it from the inside. This is a case where this was an issue that was pushed upon us by aggressive courts."

I think that GWB is a sort of a cultural warrior, though not with a hard rhetorical edge. There’s a good bit of evidence that he was and is troubled by the legacy of the 60s and that both his compassionate conservatism and his emphasis on the "ownership society" were intended to win back some of the ground in civil society that was won by the nihilistic Left in the 1960s. He is nothing if not a proponent of individual responsibility, albeit in a Christian rather than libertarian sense.

Here are a couple of passages from David Aikman’s
A Man of Faith that bear this out.

George W. first met [Marvin] Olasky in 1993, and Olasky’s views reinforced in the governor’s mind those of leftist-turned-conservative writer and commentator David Horowitz, who views the 1960s as the source of social policy based on guilt and on calls for massive governmental welfare spending. This approach, according to Olasky, ensured the continuing existence of a permanently dependent underclass. [Karl] Rove had discovered Horowitz and another influential debunker of the 1960s, Myron Magnet, and urged George W. to read their works. Rove was very taken with Magnet, whose book The Dream and the Nightmare reinforced Rove’s notion, shared by George W., that one of the disastrous cultural errors in the United States during the 1960s was the view of society as one great morass of "victims." [pp. 100-101]


My dream is to usher in what I call the "responsibility era"--an era in which each and every Texan understands that we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life; that each of us is responsible for making sure our families come first; that we’re responsible for loving our neighbors as we’d like to be loved ourselves; and that we’re responsible for the communities in which we live.

Government can help. Government can help usher in the responsibility era. After all, we can pass laws...that say, as we did in the Juvenile Justice Code, "If you break the law, there will be a consequence." The Juvenile Justice Code clearly says, "You’ll be held responsible for the decisions you’ve made." That’s a conservative approach. By the way, it’s a compassionate approach to say to our young that discipline and love go hand in hand.


Cultures act of compassion at a time. That’s how cultures change. And each of us must participate. We must promote good values in our homes and in our public institutions. We must not be afraid to tach our children right from wrong....

We must teach our children bedrock values--not the values of one religious denomination over another, but Judeo-Christian values that have stood the test of time. The importance of family. There are obligations to love your nighbor, give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages. Don’t lie, do not cheat, do not steal. Respect others. Respect their opinions, and remember, it’s you who are responsible for the decisions you make in life. [pp. 210-211]

The last few paragraphs are taken from a sermon GWB preached in 1999. They make it tolerably clear that he wanted to roll back the legacy of the 1960s.

The non-religious case against gay marriage

Over at Mere Comments, Anthony Esolen has initiated a series of posts making the non-religious case against gay marriage. His first two points are:

The legalization of homosexual “marriages” would enshrine the sexual revolution in law.


It would, in particular, enshrine in law the principle that sexual intercourse is a matter of personal fulfillment, with which the society has nothing to do.

The whole series ought to be worth reading.

One of the commenters links to this article, describing this initiative, fully articulated here. Basically, it’s a vision of an extensive welfare state supporting the fullest possible array of possible relationships, animated by the following understanding:

So many people in our society and throughout the world long for a sense of caring community and connectedness, and for the ability to have a decent standard of living and pursue meaningful lives free from the threat of violence and intimidation. We seek to create a movement that addresses this longing.

So many of us long for communities in which there is systemic affirmation, valuing, and nurturing of difference, and in which conformity to a narrow and restricting vision is never demanded as the price of admission to caring civil society. Our vision is the creation of communities in which we are encouraged to explore the widest range of non-exploitive, non-abusive possibilities in love, gender, desire and sex – and in the creation of new forms of constructed families without fear that this searching will potentially forfeit for us our right to be honored and valued within our communities and in the wider world. Many of us, too, across all identities, yearn for an end to repressive attempts to control our personal lives. For LGBT and queer communities, this longing has special significance.

E pluribus unum has been hard enough to achieve, to the extent that it even has, but e pluribissimus unum? Pardon me if I don’t sign on to an experiment that self-consciously in so many ways tests the limits of human nature in the "construction" of community.

Wedge issues

The general conclusions of this Pew paper confirm my back of the envelope calculations, undertaken immediately after the election.

A Victory for Homeowners

As Steve Hayward’s post below suggests, the Ohio Supreme Court issued its ruling today in Norwood v. Horney, one of the first cases to address the scope of eminent domain following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. Among other things, the Court held that economic development does not, standing alone, satisfy the “public use” requirement of the Ohio Constitution. The Court also found that “Ohio has always considered the right of property to be a fundamental right” and stated that property rights “are strongly protected in the Ohio Constitution.”

Norwood is an important victory for property owners everywhere. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, this was “the first major eminent domain case to reach a state Supreme Court since Kelo.” It will serve as a bellwether for other states looking to protect property rights.

The full text of the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is here. A summary (for those who do not want to read the full 56-page opinion) is here. The Ashbrook Center’s brief, which supported the homeowners and argued that the Norwood takings were unconstitutional, can be found here  

More unsound legal reasoning

It would seem that President Bush’s exercise of the veto power has driven a portion of the legal academy bonkers (a technical term here meaning "feeling licensed to make outrageous and not fully considered arguments"). Rick Garnett points to the latest one. Here’s the core of the argument:

The Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court for the last thirty-three years, does not recognize pre-viable embryos as “human life.” Although there has been fierce continuing debate about when constitutionally cognizable life begins, the law has remained essentially unchanged since the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, when the Court declared that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” The Court further concluded that the government’s interest in protecting a “potential” life is not sufficiently compelling to justify infringing the fundamental liberty to choose parenthood until the point of viability, “because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb.” At the point of viability, in other words, there are two lives deserving of governmental consideration and protection; prior to that time, the liberty of the already born is paramount.


What does all of this mean for stem cell research and President Bush’s veto? First, it means that those who donate sperm and eggs to create IVF embryos have a constitutional liberty, subject to contractual modification, to decide whether those embryos should be born – thus making them parents. They can choose to implant the embryos and attempt pregnancy, freeze them indefinitely, discard them, donate them to others for adoption, or even donate them for medical research (including stem cell research). Under the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, giving these choices to potential parents is necessary in order to honor the “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clauses. This word “liberty” is the source of our freedom to use contraceptives, avoid involuntary sterilization, and even employ IVF or other reproductive technologies in the first place. We have, in short, a constitutional right to decide whether we want to bear or beget children. And there is no such thing, constitutionally speaking, as a pre-viable “child.”

I have three immediate thoughts. First, the most sinister implication of this line of argument is that there’s a constitutional right to clone, not only for therapeutic, but also for reproductive, reasons. If I own my body and all its products (short of viability, however that may be determined by the Courts), then I can do with them what I please. If I can donate them for research, why can’t I sell them? If I can donate them for research, why don’t I have a right to use them in any form I wish for the sake of reproduction? Does Professor Foley really mean this? Is there any way of drawing a line on the basis of this argument before we reach this horrific result?

Second, the argument stretches the notion of parenthood, and the constitutional rights allegedly flowing from it, beyond all recognition (something of course already implicit and perhaps even explicit in the Court’s abortion jurisprudence).

Third, that fetuses are not "persons" in the terms of the Constitution can’t mean that legislatures aren’t permitted to define personhood and offer it some protection under law. Even if one concedes for the sake of argument that an explicit conflict between a woman’s wishes and the "interests" of her unborn child has to be resolved in favor of the woman (at least under certain circumstances), I don’t see how it follows that where the woman’s alleged rights aren’t directly implicated, a legislature can’t offer certain protections to the unborn child. Of course, with his veto, the President is part of the legislature for the purposes of his argument.

Perhaps we can dub this "Stem Cell Derangement Syndrome."

Kelo Blowback

Way to go, Ohio Supreme Court!

Hack Fixed

The Skeptic’s Eye hack linked below has been fixed. It was some whacko Islamist hacker--weird stuff.

Washington state same-sex marriage case

I haven’t read the opinions yet, but the Washington State Supreme Court has upheld that state’s Defense of Marriage Act against a challenge based on the state’s Equal Rights Amendment. Here’s the quickie AP story.


Check out what some hacker did to Skeptic’s Eye.

(Bad?) Faith and Accountability

In this week’s TAE Online column, I take a close look at this GAO report on the faith-based initiative, from which Democrats George Miller and Pete Stark have tried to make some political hay. Despite their best efforts, there’s nothing there that ought to trouble friends of the First Amendment.

Unimpressive legal reasoning

Over at Mirror of Justice, Rick Garnett calls our attention to and comments on these two posts. Geoffrey Stone’s accusation that President Bush’s veto displayed "a reckless disregard for the fundamental American aspiration to keep church and state separate" is particularly egregious, since there was nothing particularly religious about his veto message, nor is there anything necessarily religious about the position he took. I’ll let the law profs have at one another over the rest of it, but will focus as well on this particular statement, offered in response to a House-approved measure depriving the Courts of jurisdiction over Pledge of Allegiance cases:

Note that he [Missouri Republican Todd Akin] believes the state should teach children that it is God, rather than “We the People,” who gives Americans their rights.

Stone apparently believes that "we the people" are the source of our rights. I suppose he’s entitled to be a legal positivist (although I think that that’s a terribly unsophisticated position for a professor at the University of Chicago Law school to be taking), but how, then, could he object to anything of which a legally constituted majority happens to approve (including school prayer, a total ban on abortion, or, perhaps, slavery, as was advocated by a famous denizen of his state some 150 years ago). Indeed, the more I think of it, he’s not even really a simple legal positivist, but rather a mere majoritarian, since he objects to constitutionally sound vetoes that allegedly defy the will of the majority du jour. This, as Aristotle points out in The Politics, is about as far from the rule of law as you can get. And he’s teaching where?

Update: Joseph Bottum has more.

Stem cell politics yet again

TNR’s Noam Scheiber agrees with me. Well, sort of. A taste:

[U]nderlying the stem-cell issue is a deeper debate about the way science is changing our lives. On one side of this debate are those who believe biotechnology is mostly a force for good, and that reining it in is basically reactionary. On the other side are those more troubled by the moral and ethical questions raised by advances in biotechnology. The problem for Democrats is that the American public splits a lot more evenly on these questions than it does on the narrower question of whether to extract stem cells from discarded embryos.

While he doesn’t delve too deeply into this confusion, he does call attention to this very interesting survey.

O.K., Lawler, what do you think?

This Is Hilarious

Growing up in southern California exposed me to the idiotic TV rantings of Bill Press, who had a commentary slot on the local top-rated news show. Now he’s reduced to a satellite radio show, and a blog, where last week he passed along a five-year old internet hoax about George W. Bush supposedly having the lowest IQ of any president. Now, when you’re going to call someone stupid, you shouldn’t let yourself get taken in by an old hoax. Press tried to delete the page and shove it down a memory hole, but Google cache has a screenshot of it here. As the kids say, "Who’s the dumb guy now?"

The American Dream Initiative?

This document contains what Democratic centrists hope will be a first draft of the 2008 party platform. You can read news stories about it here, here, here, and here, and sympathetic commentary here. If you want more, there’s always this.

A few quick observations. First, I noted that Mark Warner, who made a point of attending the YearlyKos meeting in Las Vegas, was not in Denver. Is he trying to run to the left, or simply so confident of his centrist credentials that all he has to do is shore himself up on the left? Second, the DLC worked with other Democratic groups (including the Center for American Progress and NDN) to produce this document, so that it doesn’t simply bear a "centrist" stamp. Given the price tag, and the vague promises about how they’re going to pay for it without rolling back the Bush tax cuts, that’s clear enough. Third, there’s this from a friendly commentator:

To my mind, the best way to frame the entire agenda – from domestic policy to foreign policy to values – is to emphasize a duality that is central to the American Dream Initiative: the linking of opportunity to responsibility. We need to join the American Dream to the social contract, requiring responsibility from parents (for enrolling their children in available health insurance and other programs), non-custodial dads (for paying child support), recipients of means-tested benefits (for becoming self-sufficient), and college students receiving federal aid (for giving back to their communities). Employers must be responsible in their relations with consumers and employees and accountable to them. And the commander-in-chief must be accountable when he or she deceives the citizenry, bungles wars or recovery efforts, and explodes the budget deficit.

Wooing values voters doesn’t require us to become anti-abortion or anti-gay. By embracing the social contract – the idea that in return for providing public aid, society rightly can make requirements of beneficiaries – Democrats can tap into responsibility, a value that is as deeply felt as opportunity in America. And appealing to responsibility can link the American Dream Initiative to our foreign policy critique of Republicans while partly inoculating us against a values-based attack.

While I actually like some of what I read (I had much the same experience during the Clinton Administration, though I never believed that WJC meant a word of it), I’m taking the silences into account. The responsibility talk is all fine and good, but it’s finessing the religious, moral, and cultural sides of responsibility. Perhaps they’ve been omitted for the sake of a left-tilting consensus, and can be added back for particular audiences, but anyone who focuses on health when speaking about responsibility to family is missing an important part of the picture. This is something to which I’ll be paying attention.

Finally, coverage of the DLC meeting noted that relatively little was said about Iraq and foreign policy, which can’t please the netroots. it amy be possible to hope that voters will think that anything will be better, and nothing could be worse, than GWB, but I do think that Evan Bayh is right when he stresses that credibility on national security comes first. Unless and until the Democrats are credible on that issue (something that the netroots will work against with all their might), they can’t win.

(Anti-) Theocracy in America

Ross Douthat offers a very nice tour of the horizon, reviewing a number of books aimed at striking fear in the hearts of secularists everywhere. A sample paragraph:

[T]he rise of the Religious Right, and the growing “religion gap” that Phillips describes but fails to understand, aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters’ prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip:
Jon Schaff.

Stem-cell politics

Joe Knippenberg thinks that the Democrats are over-confident that their position on the stem-cell debate will win them seats in the Fall elections. Joe thinks that the GOP’s morally complicated position is to their political advantage, if they take it.  

A plug

My friend Hunter Baker is now blogging over at the AmSpec site and saying (what some would take to be) nice things about me.

How to do Defense Right

In today’s Investor’s Business Daily Brian Kennedy, president of The Claremont Institute, offers a clear accounting of our missile defense capabilities and an explanation not only of how they’re inadequate, but why. He describes a possible scenario where North Korea attacks Seattle with one of its nuclear missles and what might be the world response to such an attack. Kennedy concedes that many may find the scenario he paints "fanciful" but the fact of the matter is that most intelligent people reading it will find it quite probable. Read it and pass it on to a friend. You may also want to direct your friend to this very useful page.

Reading Between the Lines of Terrorist Response

Victor Davis Hanson persuasively argues that we can better gague the success of our Middle East policy by reading the things that the terror lords are not saying and observing the things that they are not doing. Why, for example, does Hezbollah leader, Nasrallah, call for "war on every level," and complain that Israel is hitting too deep into Lebannon? Hanson also wonders:

"Why do not Iran and Syria — or for that matter other Arab states — now attack Israel to join the terrorists that they have armed? Surely the two-front attack by Hamas and Hezbollah could be helped by at least one conventional Islamic military. After promising us all year that he was going to “wipe out” Israel , is not this the moment for Mr. Ahmadinejad to strike?"

Read the whole thing. It is thoughtful and worth pondering. And, what’s more, if he’s right we have something to smile about.

Israel Losing?

The indispensable Ralph Peters is pessimistic about Israel’s chances.

Linker on Strauss

Peter Lawler wonders why we haven’t been discussing Damon Linker’s review of two recent books on Leo Strauss. My excuse is that I’m in South Carolina--home of E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s favorite Republican--retrieving my children from the clutches of their grandparents.

Having now read Linker’s piece, I think it’s subtly but interestingly wrong about Strauss’s philosophy, and wildly and implausibly wrong about his politics. On the former, I think he underestimates the force of the claim that there are permanent questions and overstates the significance of the "Reason and Revelation" lecture (at least if the extracts he presents are telling). On the latter, there’s much that Strauss says about democracy and gentlemen that Linker doesn’t acknowledge and take into account. Indeed, Plato’s philosopher doesn’t want to rule and hence doesn’t want to sit at the top of a political order, preferring, perhaps to read books and raise rabbits (or rabbis?). I’ll have more later after I return to Atlanta.

The Happiest Place on Earth

Apparently an organization calling itself the New Economics Foundation has done a study concluding that the happiest place on earth is (wait for it)....Vanuatu. You know, that place featured on Survivor a couple of years ago? Anyway, according to the study, "People can live long, happy lives without using more than their fair share of the earth’s resources."

Oh, okay. Turns out that the New Economics Foundation "is a research group that organizes campaigns on environmental and economic issues such as debt relief. It was set up in 1986 to question the agenda of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations." Hmmm, not much of a chance that they’re going to identify any Western nation as particularly happy.

Over at Cato my old friend Will Wilkinson had something to say about this:

There is simply no non-crazy sense in which Vanuatu is the world’s happiest country. And there is no credible empirical reason for docking countries on any kind of index of human well-being for producing a lot of wealth. The evidence says that the happiness of poor populations like Vanuatu’s would skyrocket with swift economic growth. But growth is exactly what NEF is trying to limit. Their pseudo-study encourages us to be complacent about the poverty of Vanuatu, which is, after all, the “happiest” place on our “happy planet,” on the basis of the fact that they use almost no energy. If you really care about the well-being and happiness of the world’s poor, then agressively misleading publicity stunt studies like this one, and the people who author them, deserve nothing but our scorn.

UPDATE:Here is a link to the actual study. Curious what some of the other happy places are? Well, also in the top twenty are Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. So that’s why all those people are emigrating from America to those places!

UN Complicity in Hezbollah Kidnappings

As the chorus rises for the United Nations to send a "peacekeeping force" to southern Lebanon, David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy reminds us of the UN’s history of collaboration with Hezbollah’s kidnapping efforts, as well as the inevitable UN coverup.


John and I rode Isabell to Philadelphia for the start of the

Presidential Academy for American History and Civics. Fine teachers, fine program. The classroom was so set that a hundred yards from us was the visible cause of the country, as Flannery and Lloyd, and Lucas Morel, who is in charge of it all, explained our purpose to the fifty teachers, one from each state.

I did a Podcast with Chris Burkett about the program, how it came about, and so on. They are all now in Gettysburg with Guelzo and McPherson, and then in Washington with Kesler and Williams. Check out the schedule, the readings, the faculty. Good stuff.

Of course, Isabella was a delight. The best distance between two points on a motorcycle is never the shortest, so we rolled for over 1,100 good miles. Heat was everywhere, but so was our pleasure. She behaved perfectly through the whole thing, easy and gentle, safe and comfortable; her kindness is palpable. Took many nice roads, only necessity forced us on to the Pennsylvania turnpike. Went through some odd towns, including Accident, Maryland, and met many who admired Isabell’s form and her throaty sound.

The campus of the future

Naomi Schaefer Riley writes about a conference on the subject. As far as she can tell, there was no deep thinking there, and very little about the core of what’s supposed to happen on campus (an object of eros, but probably not the one they talked about, if they got so far as to talk about that). I only wish that Riley had written about permanent things that included some of the questions addressed in a good liberal education.

What Happens When Technology is not Driven by Morality?

Something like this. There have been lots of reports of organ harvesting in China and other places around the globe. Here is another--more disturbing one. Peter Lawler warned in his recent podcast with Peter (Schramm) that one possibile and probable outcome of allowing the sale of organs would be the harvesting of the Third World by more industrialized countries for the wealthy. Apparently, in China, it is just another way to deal with political opposition--real or perceived. What’s next? If someone looks at you cross-eyed do you punch him in the nose or take his liver?

Terror, Tyranny, and Lasting Impressions

John Mark Reynolds reminds us that July 17 was the 88th anniversary of Lenin ordering the killing of the Romanov family. He argues that, ironically, the godless terror Lenin advocated as part of the Bolshevik revolution is what now drives the advocates of Islamofascist terror.

Money quote: They should realize that they cannot hope to win in this manner. Their very evil will stain their cause. Every child in Israel they kill with their bombs and rockets. . . intentionally targeted at civilian areas. . . creates an image in the mind of the thoughtful that will doom their cause. Well said, indeed.

Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt


Here’s the speech, and here are the WaPo, WaTi, and NYT stories on it.

As a tour of domestic policy, the speech contains references to a number of programs African-Americans ought to like, although I wish he had omitted the adjective in front of "school choice." (I know that it’s late in the day and that he doesn’t have the surfeit of political capital required to make it happen in a big way. I also know that education ought largely to be a state and local responsibility.) I am glad that he emphasized ownership, opportunity, and the faith-based initiative, which have been his constant themes in speeches to organizations like the Urban League (whose national meetings he has addressed three times: see here, here, and here).

I do find myself wishing he had been a little bolder, going beyond self-deprecating humor in adverting to his differences with the NAACP’s agenda, which is apparently permanently statist, where his is--and I know some conservatives will disagree with me here--only temporarily so. As it was, all the differences were implicit, and GWB never explicitly said that there will come a time when the playing field is genuinely level, when, for example, the Voting Rights Act (and affirmative action, not mentioned at all in the speech) will no longer be necessary. Imagine the reaction if he had said that he hoped that this would be the last time that it was necessary to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act! What a powerful demand for accountability and results, not to mention a claim that this is not to be the permanent state of things in America! But the audience would likely have booed him out of the house. Too bad.

Update: Given that his administration is proposing this, I’d say he missed an opportunity to tout a program.


Over the last week, pundits have made a strong case that the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon was intentionally instigated by Iran. The Iranian government hopes to win big political advantages from the current conflict, which it views not just in regional terms, but as part of its larger political war against the United States and its allies. By playing its own allies (Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria) like pawns in a chess game, Iran hopes to avoid direct involvement, and at the same time enhance its reputation as the dominant power in the Middle-East, and counter continuing pressure from the U.S. against its nuclear ambitions (notice that within a week debates at the UN shifted from the question of imposing sanctions against Iran to imposing sanctions against Israel). As Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips noted after Hezbollah militia crossed the border and kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers last week:

With this provocative attack, Hezbollah in one stroke has enhanced its prestige in the Arab world, diverted the world’s attention from a growing crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, and escalated pressure on Israel...The attack also highlights the role that Hezbollah’s patron Iran plays in escalating Middle East violence, and it strengthens the case for sanctions against Iran.

And as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out in an interview earlier this week, Iran’s willingness to supply Hezbollah with funds, guns and long-range missiles ought to heighten concerns about an Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities.

For more on the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria connection in the current conflict, see this longer article from Newsweek about “How Iran is wielding its influence to wage a stealthy war against Israel and America.”

I love Pew transcripts

This one features Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who spearheaded the drafting of the House Catholic Democrats’ Statement of Principles, about which I wrote here and here.

Here’s an interesting bit:

My hope is that we can let faith play a big role in the public arena and in our politics, but without the bitter divisions that we saw two years ago. For my part, I’m wholly comfortable with the clergy guiding parishioners and politicians on issues of morality. That is very different than religious authorities dictating what elected officials and, indeed, voters should do under threat of religious sanction. I was alarmed when some bishops stated that the sacraments should be withheld from certain Catholic legislators because of their votes on public issues. That conflicts with my fundamental beliefs about the role of Democratic representatives in a pluralistic America. It clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution, and those in the hierarchy who cast the stone, I think, put at risk something that was very precious.


Senator Kennedy answered the skeptics who worried about his Catholicism. In his famous speech on September 12, 1960, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association he said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote…I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant or Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source."

His election affirmed the principle that our public life is enriched by the diversity of views that are nurtured in a civil society and are arbitrated in politics to a national conclusion. To be honest with you, I didn’t get elected to public office to undo John Kennedy’s accomplishments. I’m not willing to qualify his commitment not just to Catholics, but to Americans of all faiths whom I represent in this job. And I’m not conflicted on the issue; I’m comfortable with John Kennedy’s vision and with my oath of office. Whatever the issue: immigration, abortion, death penalty; the church should seek to guide us on the right path. But we can not go back on what John Kennedy achieved and have religious authorities dictate what elected officials and, indeed, voters should and should not do under the threat of religious sanction.

Am I right in detecting a tension here?

More stem cells

As expected, the House failed to override his veto. There’s some striking religious (or is it anti-religious?) rhetoric coming from the President’s opponents. Here are some samples.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat and one of the measure’s sponsors, said Bush was setting himself up as a ``moral ayatollah.’’

The veto is not based on constitutional or legal objections, Harkin said. ``He is vetoing it because he says he believes it is immoral,’’ Harkin said. ``Mr. President, you are not our moral ayatollah, maybe the president nothing more.’’


Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, called the House’s vote to sustain the veto "a Luddite moment in American history, where fear triumphed over hope and ideology triumphed over science."

Other Democrats accused Mr. Bush of politicizing science.

"I don’t know who decided they were God and that Congress could not fund this research because their religious thinking trumps the national consensus," said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat and a chief sponsor of the bill.


“This is not some wedge issue; this is the soul of America,’’ said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, who sponsored the bill Mr. Bush vetoed. “And this is a colossal mistake on the part of the president.’’

Jim Wallis and all those (including Hillary Rodham Clinton) who claim that "the budget is a moral document" need to have a "come to Jesus" meeting with Senator Harkin, who clearly hasn’t gotten the memo about reaching out to religious folks. What’s more, he can’t really mean that there’s no room for morality in politics. Republicans need to put him on the hook to explain himself. And Rep. DeGette, who voted against supporting alternative stem cell research, must think that destroying embryos is the "soul of America." The Party of Death indeed!

Progressive Boot Camp

This seminar for young Progressive activists detailed in Frontpage Magazine is interesting to note. While in college my fellow conservative students and I attended many similar seminars for students on the right with groups like ISI and others. You get a variety of people at these types of meetings. Some are serious, others not so much. In recent years (e.g., the last 20 or so) conservatives certainly have had a leg up when it came to organization on the campuses. It has been necessary given the bent of most college faculty and administrators. Now it looks like the left is trying to catch up. Judging from this article, however, attempts to organize progressive students may face some stiff competition. Left wing faculty members have enjoyed so much power on the campuses that groups like this have not really been necessary to get students motivated to support their views. It does not appear that alot of these faculty are going to take kindly to the efforts. But this protestantization of the left’s message has led to much radicalization and a lack of unity.

In order to engage in a truly serious discussion you must have a strong point of agreement. The best debates are always between people who, basically, agree. That’s why the intramural sparring among conservatives can be so interesting. Granted, it is sometimes maddening and self-defeating, but it is always interesting and usually important. But the fighting between liberals almost always seems unhinged. They are always searching for their "core." When you have to look for it, you don’t have one. When everything goes it seems nothing makes any sense. It doesn’t seem serious, focused, or relevant. The description of this meeting does not make efforts at organizing progressive students sound promising. Perhaps they’ll kill each other before they get a chance to kill us. I think that’s likely and, of course, it’s good. (And for the record, "kill" is not meant in the literal sense--unlike Paul Begala’s use of it last year at this convention when he claimed that Republicans “want to kill me and my children”!)

Stem cells

President Bush has threatened to veto, as early as today, a bill said essentially to overturn his stem cell policy. The Senate also passed two other bills (both sponsored by Rick Santorum), one intended to prevent the use of embryos generated specifically for research and the other intended to encourage research into alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells.

The House passed two of the three bills, failing however to assemble the 2/3 majority necessary under the expedited suspension of rules calendar to pass the alternative sources bill.

The Democrats seem to think that this will be an issue in the fall elections, and that the alternative bill is simply political cover. Their hackneyed line will be: "Republicans are anti-science." While this is easier to understand than the more nuanced conservative position, discussed here and here, I’m not convinced that it will produce the political advantage Democrats expect.

This piece makes an interesting point about House Democratic opposition to Santorum’s bill:

This latest attack on other ways to pursue stem-cell research reveals a new and more intolerant side to the ideology of the embryonic-stem-cell campaign. Now it is not enough to include embryo destruction in the category of acceptable biomedical research — one must wed oneself to embryo destruction, forsaking all other avenues. One must insist that stem-cell research must not move forward to advance knowledge or treat diseases unless it involves destroying human life. This is a dark and narrow vision of science that sets it directly at odds with morality and common sense. In the end, it is as anti-science as it is anti-life. Reps. Castle and DeGette may have won a temporary procedural victory in the stem-cell debate. But they have revealed a very dark and narrow side to the pro-embryo-research campaign that should not please patients wanting cures, concerned Americans wanting ethical restraint on science, or constituents seeking common sense on contentious issues.

Here are GWB’s veto statement, as well as the WaPo and NYT stories.

The judicial politics of gay marriage

That’s the subject of this week’s TAE Online column.

Cynthia McKinney in run-off

This result makes me wish that the Republican-dominated state legislature hadn’t drawn my little enclave out of Cynthia McKinney’s congressional district. You’ll have to scroll down a little to find the results for the Georgia 4th, and perhaps refresh to see the latest results. Let it be noted that Hank Johnson, her challenger, is not at all well-funded.

Let it also be noted that I didn’t vote for Ralph Reed, who has conceded defeat in his bid for the Republican nomination for the Lieutenant Governorship.

Update: Here’s a more complete AJC article, which reports the presence of Cindy Sheehan at McKinney’s party. Yeesh!

Update #2: Jim Wooten thinks McKinney is finished, if not this year then in 2008, as her district, already heavily African-American, becomes increasingly middle-class. She’s got the organization to survive a run-off, but don’t be surprised if Johnson gets a lot of money and a lot of help between now and August 8th. Her association with Sheehan ought to be used against her in the run-off, not to mention in the general election, if she survives. I wouldn’t have thought that her Republican opponent stood a chance, but I’m less convinced now.

Religion and human rights discourse

Michael Perry raises some interesting questions, though they are not, of course, new questions.

Teach your children well

Rich Policz reflects on Watership Down and how we can teach our children. His conclusion:

We are locked in a war of ideas. We cannot hide our young away to protect them from this conflict, because that, as Adams would agree, is not life. However, through the stories that we tell our young, we can arm them with imagination, wisdom, and truth, and with those tools they can create a stronger community and a better life.

He’s convinced me to read the novel to or with my kids. But first, we have to work our way through
this series.

This week’s Strauss controversy

This is one of the more sophisticated versions of the "Leo Strauss is a Jewish fascist" arguments I’ve seen. It’s based largely on a letter Strauss wrote to Karl Loewith in 1933, of which this is the most relevant part:

Of course I can’t opt for just any other country - one doesn’t choose a homeland and, above all, a mother tongue, and in any event I will never be able to write other than in German, even if I must write in another language. On the other hand, I see no acceptable possibility of living under the swastika, i.e., under a symbol that says nothing more to me than: you and your ilk, you are physei(3) subhumans and therefore justly pariahs. There is in this case just one solution. We must repeat: we, “men of science,” - as our predecessors in the Arab Middle Ages called themselves - non habemus locum manentem, sed quaerimus…(4) And, what concerns this matter: the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right.To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme(5) to protest against the shabby abomination.(6) I am reading Caesar’s Commentaries with deep understanding, and I think of Virgil’s Tu regere imperio… parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.(7) There is no reason to crawl to the cross, neither to the cross of liberalism, as long as somewhere in the world there is a glimmer of the spark of the Roman thought. And even then: rather than any cross, I’ll take the ghetto.[My emphasis.]

Here’s part of the poster’s commentary on this:

It seems fair to say that fascist thought was appealing to Strauss, otherwise why would he be willing to toy with the label? At the same time, the aspect of fascism that most appealed to Strauss is also evident from the letter: it is the reliance on thoughts of classical antiquity, particularly of the early imperial era of Rome, as they were distorted in the political mirror of the thirties - most effectively by the Italian fascists.

I think that it would be fairer to say that to the extent that "classical antiquity" appealed to Strauss, it was the straight stuff, not as mediated by buffoons like Mussolini. Rob Howse, who has visited NLT from time to time, offers some of the best commentary on the site:

I believe that Strauss’s reading of the political situation in Germany at that time was largely correct (even though I am no expert on Weimar I have read a lot and talked to Weimar scholars extensively in connection with my Strauss research). That is, things had gone so far in an antiliberal direction by the time of that letter that to appeal to liberal principles against Nazism was ridiculous (at least as a matter of political effectiveness). Strauss was probably correct that the only hope--still a hope--was that old style conservativism, even fascism, might displace Hitler (and, yes, he assumed implicitly that even fascism/right wing imperialism would be better than Hitler). I do not believe that Strauss was responding to Lowith not with respect to what was true in principle, the true political morality, but concerning what might be possible in the dark situation in Germany.


Strauss was not an enemy of liberal democracy; as he emphasized, liberal democracy, even in its most permissive egalitarian forms, and perhaps especially in those forms, is favourable to the life of the mind; in letting everyone do and think what they want, at least in principle, liberal democracy is good for philosophy. The questions that seems to have haunted Strausss ever since his Weimar experience were whether a permissive egalitarian liberal democracy would have the backbone to stand up to its enemies and thus defend itself adequately and whether the relativist and positivist strands in liberal theory don’t undermine the moral centre and high aspirations of liberalism itself.

Rob and I might disagree about the status of the last two claims, but I think he comes pretty close to getting Strauss’s practical judgments about the situation in Germany and the situation of "the philosopher" in liberal democracy right.

The poster--Scott Horton--has an extremely simplistic view of the relationship between theory and practice or, if you will, principle and prudence. As other commenters note, "Straussians" (who may or may not agree theoretically) are all over the map in regard to their practical judgments about what our current situation requires. Thus I can speak only for myself here. I agree with Winston Churchill, surely no fascist and as surely a man Strauss admired, largely for "Roman" reasons: liberal democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Its great strength in its Anglo-American varieties is precisely its openness to personalities who are at odds with its fundamental egalitarianism, whether it be "philosophers" or "great-souled men," like Lincoln, who understand and can supplement or overcome its weaknesses. I think I learned from Strauss and his students the "sub-ideal" nature of all actually existing politics and political orders. (One can, of course, learn the same thing from Saint Augustine, albeit from an entirely different perspective.) Horton strikes me as a liberal idealist who has a hard time imagining how a qualified and ironic friend can be something other than an enemy and who--unlike good liberals like John Locke--imagines that the rule of law is adequate to all situations.

Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg, who gets it from Matthew Yglesias, who is, needless to say, quite willing to assume that Strauss is fascist-friendly, as, by extension, are all the so-called Straussians in the Bush Administration.

One last note: One of the least creditable comments apparently comes from this source.

Jesse Jackson’s Brand of Piety

Jesse Jackson is not impressed with the Democrats’ working toward a more pious image. His argument against what the Dems are doing to appear more religious is full of the usual muck about Bush stealing Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. In other words, he thinks the Dems don’t need to appear more religious because lack of piety is not their real problem--they’re working on a false diagnosis. He says that what the Dems truly lack is will. And, in a certain respect, that argument makes sense when you believe (as today’s Democrats at their heart do) that all politics is just a matter of will. It makes even greater sense when you read on and Jackson makes it plain what he means by "piety."

He is right to say that insincere demonstrations of piety--like simply going to Church and advertising your faith--are not going to impress anyone if they are not supported by substance. But the substance of what Jackson thinks is piety (i.e., ever greater expansion of government spending on social ills--did you know that the "nation’s budget is a moral document"?) is not something that the Democrats need particular help in making known to the public either. They’ve been at that for 70 plus years.

The time is ripe then for an open and fair discussion both of the meaning of piety and the purpose of politics. Democrats are vocal and insistent about the need for the separation of church and state when it comes to imposing standards on public behavior but their objection to expressions of piety don’t ring as loud when those expressions involve spending other people’s money and getting more votes for themselves. Funny how that works.

Modern War

This sobering post from Wretchard over at the Belmont Club is worth much contemplation by many and better minds than mine. Is a West committed to precision strikes and everything that implies along with it really ready to face up to an enemy like the one we’re facing? It may be that devotion to such things is a luxury born of our strength and out of our noble principles. But how long can we sustain that devotion without risking (at great cost) our ability to sustain ourselves?

It is not an easy question to answer and, I think, technology is not the only--or even the main-- reason we’re asking it. After all, Hezbollah and the rest of the terrorist thugs around the world are not exactly living in the dark ages of technology. And while they lack our resources, we underestimate their resourcefulness at our peril.

Russia--The Place for Fakes

Here’s an interesting piece from last week’s LA Times. Apparently if you want to buy something fake, Russia is now the place to go. And we’re not talking just about phony Rolexes here--Russia has become perhaps the world’s leading source of counterfeit just about anything, including diplomas, pharmaceuticals (as many as 12% of which in Russia are estimated to be phony), paintings, and doctoral dissertations (Putin’s own was heavily plagiarized, it turns out).

The most interesting, though, are the fake vacations being offered by one Moscow travel agency. For $500 this firm will provide you with "ersatz ticket stubs, hotel receipts, photos with clients’ images superimposed on famous landmarks, a few souvenirs for living room shelves"--making it appear to all the world that you really visited some exotic locale.

Religion and the Democrats yet again

This transcript confirms my view of Bill Galston’s intelligence and political savvy. (I will, however, make an exception for his apparent tilt in the direction of one John B. Anderson many years ago.) There are all sorts of interesting nuggets here, of which this is only one:

Has the Democratic Party learned nothing from the political debacle that followed the military debacle in Vietnam? Have we not learned the difference between questioning a policy and questioning the legitimacy of institutions, or even questioning the country? The Michael Moore Democrats certainly haven’t learned those distinctions.

Is there energy there? Yes. But I have a prediction that national politics is a game for very high stakes, and powerlessness, like power, corrupts. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. But it also is a formula for sobriety. After a very bitter defeat — it’s hard to know whether it was defeat or victory — I think that the center of gravity of the Democratic Party in 2008 will be in a mode of high political seriousness and not inclined to throw away a chance for victory in order to exorcise some ideological demons. I can’t prove that. In the worst possible case — and this goes back to a portion of my answer to Adrian’s questions — if the context for the debate exacerbates the extremes, if we have not begun to move beyond the issue that is so roiling American politics right now, then inside the Democratic Party it’s not inconceivable that it could be 1972 all over again. It isn’t. I doubt it.

Read the whole thing.

Penitents in the penitentiary again

I wrote about this a few weeks ago, coming to a somewhat different conclusion, but Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley are always worth reading.

Confessions of a Young Pyromaniac

Let me start by saying that I realize this would have been a lot more appropriate a week and a half ago.

Long before I was ever interested in politics, or before I’d ever heard the term "nanny state," I chafed against the government’s (in this case, the State of Pennsylvania’s) ban on fireworks. Okay, we could have sparklers, but that was about it. But occasionally one of my friends or I would go on a family trip that would take us through one of the "free states" (South Carolina, Wyoming, and Indiana were particularly good) to load up on bottle rockets, roman candles and M-80s. Then we’d go out to the backyard, break out the police radio (does anyone have those anymore?) and indulged our fire-loving ids (hey, those model airplanes weren’t going to blow themselves up). As soon as we heard something on the police radio about fireworks, of course, we’d gather up our contraband and rush inside until the heat was off. But I couldn’t help but think, what’s more American than fireworks (okay, okay, nearly all of them are made in China, but that’s not the point)? How dare the government interfere with our rights?

Now I’m an Ohioan, of course, and we have some pretty strange rules here. Sure, I can drive north about a half-hour to West Salem, and buy just about anything my little heart desires (including mortars--you know, smaller versions of the fireworks you see in professional displays). The only catch is, then I have to sign a document in which I promise not only that I won’t shoot them off in Ohio, but that I’ll remove them from the state within 48 hours. I suppose that’s so the state can enjoy the sales tax income while still avoiding lawsuits from the parents of some kid who blows his finger off with an M-80.

Anyway, I saw this article at ReasonOnline, so I thought I’d call attention to it. I was especially amused to see that one is four times as likely to be injured from an ordinary household cooking range than by a firework.

More gay marriage rulings

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for those pursuing a judicial strategy on behalf of gay marriage. Last week, courts ruled against plaintiffs seeking to challenge the results of a ballot initiative (Georgia) and to overturn traditional marriage legislatione (New York). Today, a federal appeals court reinstated Nebraska’s sweeping pro-traditional marriage constitutional amendment, adopted by voters in 2000. You can read the appellate opinion here, the original district court opinion here, and a news account here.

Efforts in Tennessee to keep an initiative off the ballot in November have been rebuffed by the state’s Supreme Court.

Volokh’s Dale Carpenter tries to find a silver lining, while discussing in another post a Connecticut ruling that turns back a challenge to that state’s civil unions legislation. (To be clear, the challenge was intended gain the label "marriage" for the arrangement the legislature crafted).

Podcast with Peter Lawler

My latest podcast was just posted. This week I spoke with frequent NLT commenter and Berry College prof Peter Lawler. Our discussion covers a wide range of topics from gay marriage to the selling of kidneys on eBay. Peter and I will talk again another time, but this was a great start.

More on Obama on religion and politics

Here’s an interview he gave to a DailyKos person, whose main concern seemed to be that Obama had misrepresented "progressives" as hostile to religion. The most interesting point B.O. made in the conversation had to do with his strategy:

Part of the purpose of the speech was to dissolve this sharp line between quote-unquote evangelicals and other Americans. The country is much more complex than that. The lines between people who are - let me describe it this way: there is a group that is of fundamentalist Christians who are not going to vote for Democrats or progressives, no matter what, and we can guess whatever that number is. Then there’s an enormous group of people who probably consider themselves swing voters who agree with Democrats and progressives on some issues, on opposition to the war, or what have you, who are also very committed to their church and their faith. From my perspective, the issue is not how do I persuade James Dobson to embrace the Democratic platform - that’s not going to happen - the question is, for those people who are committed Christians or Orthodox Jews or Muslims, who could potentially be open to a Democratic agenda, but also consider faith very important and central to their lives, and evaluate what happens in politics based on those commitments, is there a way to talk to them? I’m certain that of the 70% of the people [in Illinois] who approve of my performance in the Senate, that decent percentages of that 70% fall in that category.

To which I respond: if you really want to reach out to evangelicals, you may have to say something about abortion other than "safe, legal, and rare."

Here’s another interview, this one with his denominational news service. He’s committed, he says, to dialogue that is "fair-minded and respectful." He presumably hopes his interlocutors will either be changed or disarmed by the conversation. Is he willing to consider changing anything other than the packaging?

Democratic fall strategy?

This Democracy Corps memo focuses on a populist approach to economic policy. It didn’t work in two presidential elections. What makes them think it will work now?

What’s more, it seems that they have conceded that Iraq and national security aren’t issues on which they can run to victory. And the response they urge on gay marriage is intended to reassure proponents of traditional marriage.

I can’t imagine that the Kossacks would be happy with this, though so far as I can tell, they haven’t yet noticed.

Obama is everywhere

John Podesta’s Center for American Progress hosted a conference for campus liberals, keynoted by...who else? Here’s a blog describing Obama’s speech. No text, video, or other news coverage yet.

More on "Born American"

Regarding my article, "Born American, but in the Wrong Place," a reader comments:

What if somebody was born in America and felt that he was born in the wrong place? Then you guys would be all over this person proclaiming him to be dangerously unpatriotic. So, perhaps the idea of being born in the wrong place is just plain silly. Isn’t Peter Schramm’s self-congratulary piece on being born in the wrong place a slap in the face to all Hungarians who decided to stay and try to defend the country and improve it? After all, they were born in the same place as Schramm and his father. Certainly, things weren’t easy for those who decided to stay and fight. Maybe "born American, but in the wrong place" was just a euphemism for "I give up. We’ll do what’s easier for us, let others decide the fate of our homeland." Why not stay, fight the Communists at every turn, and work for a Hungary that follows the American model?

…I think such "born in the wrong place" claims could simply be used as convenient justifications for disengaging oneself in shaping the future of one’s native country. If it’s all about "accepting an idea(l) as the basis for a political regime," well, those ideas and ideals can and do change. I see "born in the wrong place" as the flipside to the ignorant "America: love it or leave it" mentality.

A response: I fought the communists at every turn after we left, both here and there; and I returned in the Fall of 1989 (and following) to help finish the job, and we did. I am not in debt to Hungary and the Hungarians. I paid and so have "my people" over the centuries. They tried liberalization innumerable times in their history (not only 1956, but 1820’s, 1830’s, 1848, etc). They always failed. The costs were great. Your great-grandfather is a slave, your grandfather is a political prisoner, as is your father. Your family starves. You remain human. You help those who are even worse off than you. You save a few Jews here and there, you risk yourself and yours. You sacrifice a family member here and there. You think, you brood, you act; you always hope and pray. How many generations of this can you take before you "give up?" How many generations before you become one of them (fascists, Nazis, Communists, monarchists, etc), just to feed your family and have a modicum of peace and tranquility in your life? How many generations of noble action are required before you pay your dues? How many generations of sacrifice before you admit that you are not an angel but merely a man? How many generations of slaughter before you say it is more important to be a human being than a "Hungarian"? How many wars do you have to lose--how many souls debased or extinguished--before you say enough? This is why we all want to come here, and no one (almost no one) ever leaves. God bless this people, and the things for which they stand, and may the country live just so long as there is a mankind. And I am not going to apologize for my love of your people and that on which their freedom is built.

Brave New World

This story about creating sperm from stem cells (which can be either male or female stem cells) and this story about a Japanese gadget that can record and replicate smells, present a host of interesting and complicated questions about what, exactly, we think we’re doing with science and technology today.

I remember a Dominican priest, who taught us ethics and apologetics during my Jr. year of high school, who warned our class that before we were well into adulthood men would not be necessary to produce off-spring. We all laughed at the notion--though some of the more snarky among the girls announced that they relished the thought. I very much doubt that those snarky girls thought much about what they were saying. I doubt it about as much as I doubt that those who devise these kinds of experiments in technology think about the consequences of what they have wrought.

The Rule of the Child-less

This interesting bit from USA Today tells us that in 1976 only 1 in 10 women in their 40s were without children. Today that number is 1 in 5. Another statistic cited: "In 1970, for example, 73.6% of women ages 25-29 had at least one minor child at home; 30 years later, 48.7% did." The article quotes Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (the author of the famous "Was Dan Quayle Right" article many years ago and of many good books since) who points out the obvious truth that this necessarily shapes the culture in a different direction. "People who are rearing children and have children in the household no longer represent the dominant force in society or politics," she says. And that means alot. Everything from what kinds of ads appear on T.V., to what kinds of shows, to workplace policies, to government policies will be affected and are affected by this shift. The character of these changes is still open for debate. I have my doubts about the goodness of them.

Where are all the good men?

John Seery takes note of this long NYT article about the relative scarcity of academically successful young men in college. Lots of explanations are proffered. All strike me as at least somewhat plausible. I do see more male than female slackers, but am unsure as to the cause. Do they not take college seriously because it’s not, in their view, worth taking seriously? Perhaps. I’ve seen some slackers who blundered into law school and then did quite well. I’ve also seen some collegiate slackers who have been exceptionally successful in the business world. I’m not saying that "book learnin’" is a girl thing, but wouldn’t it be worth asking what other than "Grand Theft Auto" excites the passions of young men?

There are also maturity issues with some of them. Not made to shoulder any sort of responsibility, or insulated from responsibilities they don’t like, they don’t yet know what it means to be a man.

John, who is manly and gentle, which is to say gentlemanly, concludes in this way:

I don’t know whether it’s time to ring a bell to alert the country that colleges across the nation seem to be graduating a generation of wimpy, diffident, clueless, unmotivated men (see, I’m participating in that wimpiness by refraining from a manly call to arms). Maybe there’s no cause for alarm, and the emphasis should instead be on women’s gains, not men’s temporary setbacks. What I do know is that the story of gender in America has become more complicated.

I certainly don’t have a magic bullet, though I wonder if more collegiate talk about and study of manly men might not begin to light a few fires.

Religious freedom in law schools

Yesterday, the 7th Circuit granted a preliminary injunction aginst the enforcement of Southern Illinois University’s non-discrimination policy, as applied to the Christian Legal Society chapter. Jeremy Richey has some background on this particular case. I wrote about these issues here. I may have more when I read the opinion.

Upate: MOJ’s Thomas Berg hopes the 7th Circuit’s opinion influences the 9th Circuit in the Hastings case. If not, we may eventually be headed to the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama’s profession of faith

That’s the title of this week’s TAE Online column, hot off the presses. (I finished it about two hours ago. That’s what I call service. FWIW, Ben Kunkel here is just as good.)

Update: From Mark Tooley’s description of the setting of Obama’s speech, not to mention the statements of his fellow speakers, Obama emerges, by contrast, as a moral and theological/political giant.

Update #2: I’m going to give Jon Schaff the last word. Beginning from Tooley’s description of the event, and provoked (especially) by Marian Wright Edelman’s speech, Jon has this to say:

Imagine a meeting of the religious right that used this kind of language? What would we read about them? The claims to moral superiority. The belief that their policy preferences have been endorsed by God. The depiction of their opponents as "weasels."

It seems the honest way to have these debates is as follows. The left can claim accurately that Christ wants us to care for the poor. They can then claim that in their opinion a large welfare state is the best way to obey that commandment. That is different from saying Christ wants a large welfare state. Christ tells us to care for the poor, but he is agnostic on how to go about it. Likewise, all agree that Christ wants us to care for the weakest among us. Religious conservatives believe that includes the unborn. So let’s have a debate about what we owe, if anything, to the unborn.

Barack Obama would have to concede that those are "fair-minded words," unlike the ones apparently uttered by Edelman.

Goldberg on Fukuyama

Jonah Goldberg has a nice long review of FF’s recent book here. A snippet:

Francis Fukuyama, the author of The End of History, is a man constitutionally determined to find the permanent theory of everything. It seems, however, that America at the Crossroads represents less a serious theoretical exegesis than a momentary crisis of confidence by one of the smartest observers around. It is a snapshot taken at a moment of maximum neo-conservative despair stemming from confusion over the Iraq war and the nature of the Islamist threat. In a Huntington age, he is unwilling to relinquish the vision of a Fukuyama world. As such, this book offers useful insights into the internal contradictions within and among conservative policymakers, but ultimately it creates more bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion than it dispels.

Read the whole thing.

For what it’s worth, my own half-baked thoughts on the book are here.

Wicked and mad world

Bombs on seven trains in Bombay kill over 100 people (the toll will surely rise) as the Bush administration "in an apparent policy reversal sparked by a recent Supreme Court ruling, said today it will extend the guarantees of humane treatment specified by the Geneva Conventions to detainees in the war-on-terror."

Statesmanship Theses

Each Ashbrook Scholar writes a senior thesis (Statesmanship Thesis). The best is rewarded with publication and receives the Charles E. Parton Award. For 2006 we had two first class theses, both were recipients of the Parton Award. Lauren Calco’s "Hands of a Healer: Tolkien’s Understanding of Kingship," will be published in a few weeks, and I will bring it to your attention then. In the meantime, the other winner of the Parton Award is out: Deborah O’Malley,
"The Dictates of Conscience:" The Debate over Religious Liberty in Revolutionary Virginia, and here it is in a PDF file (63 pages). I hope you enjoy it. I think it’s very good work. Professor Jeffrey Sikkenga was her advisor.

UN Corruption, Quantified

The Weekly Standard draws our attention to this study of parking tickets racked up by UN diplomats that go unpaid because of diplomatic immunity. The authors find a close correlation between the frequency of parking ticket violations and the level of corruption in the home countries (as measured by several international indexes of corruption). Egyptian diplomats, for example, racked up more than 16,000 unpaid parking tickets between 1997 and 2002.

Gotta love that UN. What was it Lyndon Johnson said about that august body? (Answer in comment thread.)

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for June

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

Matt Mingus

Ian Hanchett

Lisa Cook

Lena Johnson

Karen Valli

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 July’s drawing.

Very funny

Remember the question about the "bulge" in Bush’s suit during one of the debates? Bush Pilot explains it all. Very funny. Knowledge of German not necessary. (Much thanks to Kathryn Lopez at NRO!)

Ramirez Cartoon

I have met Mr. Ramirez (listen to his talk at Ashbrook in

2005), and I have talked with other cartoonists. Look at this cartoon. Think of a mind that could conjure old and somewhat creacky spacecraft, just like my father’s first car: a 1949 Oldsmobile, which he bought in 1957. Perfect. Oddly, in person, Michael Ramirez is an entirely normal human being (as far as I can tell).

Rice at Boston College

Remember the tiff caused by Condi Rice accepting the invitation to speak at the Boston College commencement? Well, Marc Landy was the good guy through it all. I talked to him briefly about it in a podcast and congratulated him for his good work.

Mansfield on Womanliness

I’m late in noticing it, I know, but Prof. Harvey Mansfield was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College this year and you can read the text of his remarks in the June issue of Imprimis. Rather than focusing directly on the question of "manliness" Mansfield, instead, took up the question of femininity or womanliness--and did this, as he put it, by way of suggestion. This method was, for him, both wise and prudent--but it leaves open a host of questions (perhaps to be addressed by others as he seems to both hint at and hope for).

The most compelling "suggestion" Mansfield makes is in the title itself: A New Feminism. The title takes on the dual purpose of "suggesting" both that there is something wrong with the current feminism and--which is more--that there may be something good in feminism as such (or reconfigured, or reconstituted, or rightly understood). Many thinkers and writers have attempted to take on the task of redefining what feminism "really is" in the (vain and, perhaps, vainglorious) hope of saving feminism from itself. Indeed, most books that one reads these days from feminists are books that seek to set feminism on the "right track"--either by harkening back to its "founding" or by insisting that it re-birth itself drawing on principles either missed in its founding or incompletely understood at that time. But Mansfield does not make such an attempt here. Because he merely suggests things, he does not have to enter into the fray of that presumptuous discussion.

What he does do is begin with some different conclusions about the natures of both men and women than those adopted by feminism’s fore-mothers. To put it simply, he notes that men and women are both the same and different. Feminism began by emphasizing the "sameness" of men and women over (and sometimes against) their differences in order to achieve a more equitable situation for women vis a vis the workplace and politics. But the standard of judging its success should not be whether or not that project was successful (it was) but whether or not it has produced greater happiness. A mere glance at the covers of most women’s magazines (and, increasingly, one might add--the men’s magazines) in the grocery line suggests that it has not produced much happiness at all.

Mansfield seems to suggest that the problem with the current feminism’s origins (in Beauvoir and others) is that it was not nuanced enough. In denying the existence of or denigrating the existence of "femininity" we seem to have created a sexless society in which no one really seems to enjoy both our common and different natures. Mansfield seems to pine for a feminism that recognizes and encourages femininity--but emphatically states that putting the genie back into the bottle (especially regarding the workplace and politics) is both impossible and, probably, undesirable. So what then can best work to secure our happiness?

A most telling suggestion about how to get to a better place comes in the section where Mansfield reconsiders the old "Double Standard" regarding sex:

The traditional double standard of sexual morality had been higher for women than for men, but feminists posited that men could get away with anything. Rather than trying to elevate the standard for men’s sexual behavior up to that of women, as nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century feminists proposed, the Beauvoir feminists proposed to lower the standard for women down to that of men. The result of abolishing the double standard has been to do away with any standard. Moderate feminists such as Naomi Wolfe have begun to have second thoughts about this result.

I confess to having thought about this more than I have studied it, but a thoroughgoing study of these very early feminists may prove quite interesting if, as Mansfield suggests, it shows that the problem with today’s feminism is not so much--as conservatives frequently like to argue--that it produces emasculated men (though it can and sometimes does) but rather, that it produces far more masculinzed men and women. Feminism, ironically, has made us all more "manly" but not in a way that is either admirable or conducive to our happiness. Perhaps what he’s getting at is that in some ways, we are all pigs now. What we all need to do, he seems to suggest, is to buck up and act like real women.

Back home

California is now always strange to me. Although the friends and conversations are always good, the heat in the desert is surreal, the traffic is pain-giving, and the numbers of people one sees and the expanse of it all seems exotic, but mostly unpleasant. The local political news is almost foreign to my ears. I am now utterly acclimated to the pleasant Ohio towns and country, and the good tempered folks to be found therein. It’s nice to be home. The dinner with the

Publius Fellows was the highlight of my visit. Impressive bunch.

Religion and the university

This looks like an interesting book, so long as its result is not to (re?)introduce this religion into the university.

Anti-Soccer Rant

Thank God the World Cup only happens every four years. I can’t stand the suspense of high-scoring 3-2 games! What kind of sport is it that wastes such amazing fitness and athletic talent on a game where you can’t use your hands on the ball, where 4 points is a super high scoring game ( was there a single game this year where any team scored 4 goals or more??), and where a tie is settled with penalty kicks instead of the American way, "Sudden Death" overtime?

Can’t use it. Give me the NBA or NFL any time over this typically silly European "sport."

The final injustice: France was--it pains me to say--the obviously superior team. Notwithstanding the joy at seeing France lose for political/cultural reasons, this would never happen in major American sports.

If I have to watch one of these Euro-spawned sports, give me Australian-rules football, which combines the best of rugby, soccer, and American football into one high scoring, low-foul game.

Democrats and religion

This Pew poll analysis provides some context for the interest in Barack Obama. Here’s the conclusion:

As scholars who doubt the existence of a culture war point out, there remains in the United States a (very) large corps of moderate citizens and voters, and these voters truly hold the balance of power in American elections. These voters, and even a large portion of seculars, have overwhelmingly positive views of religion and desire an important public and political role for religious symbols and values. The analyses reported here suggest that even among many of these centrist citizens and voters, the Democratic Party is not seen as friendly toward religion, and these analyses show that this is strongly related to the Party’s general reputation and electoral outcomes.

This second dimension of the Democrats’ problem also suggests an alternative route to overcoming their recent struggles with religion. That is, instead of having to peel away at the conservative Christian base of the GOP, the Democrats may benefit simply from convincing centrists of their general friendliness toward religion. Attempting to convince the public of their friendliness to religion, however, may carry risks of its own for the Democrats. Our analysis indicates that among seculars, who have become one of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, those who view the Democrats as friendly toward religion were actually less likely to have voted for Kerry than were those who view the Party as unfriendly toward religion.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that perceptions of Democrats’ friendliness to religion are the new linchpin of American politics or the single key to understanding electoral outcomes. But in a nation where the electorate is as closely divided as the American electorate has been in recent years, any one of a number of factors could, conceivably, serve to tip the balance in one direction or another. Perceptions of the Democrats’ friendliness toward religion may be one such factor.

In other words, there may be some portion of the electorate for whom Obama’s generally religion-friendly position--despite its predictably liberal conclusions on almost every issue--is sufficient to move them in the Democratic direction.

The one thing that gives me pause, however, is the failure of the Pew analysts to take race into account. I suspect that African-Americans, generally speaking, regard Democrats as friendly toward religion. By not controlling for that factor in their analysis, the Pew folks may, first of all, have overstated the perception of Democratic friendliness toward religion and, second, have overstated the prospects for moving people in the Democratic direction by altering public perceptions.

Of course, as they note, in a closely divided electorate, it doesn’t necessarily take much movement to shift the outcome. This is less true in the House of Representatives, where there are very few genuinely competitive seats, but it could make a difference in Senate races and perhaps even in a presidential race.

Looking at the 2004 state-by-state results, there six states that GWB won narrowly: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and Ohio. Ohio would have been in the Kerry column with a shift of roughly 69,000 votes (1.3% of the electorate), Florida with a shift of 191,000 votes (2.5%). Had 0.43% of the voters in Iowa shifted, along with 0.6% of the voters in New Mexico and 1.3% in Nevada, Kerry would have won the electoral vote (without, of course, necessarily winning the fictitious national popular vote).

Now, factor in a consideration of religious affiliation by state. Evangelicals are the largest or second-largest bloc of potential voters in each of the six states. In two states (Iowa and Ohio), mainline Protestants are the largest; in one (New Mexico, naturally), Latino Catholics are the largest. While there’s all sorts of talk about a leftward drift among evangelicals, I continue to believe that an issue like abortion will continue to loom relatively large for them, as it will for Catholics. The religious voters most likely to be susceptible to Democratic appeals are mainline Protestants, who have been migrating toward the left and diminishing in number (thanks both to the aging of the population in the pews and the well-documented silly trendiness of the denominational hierarchies and/or bureaucracies).

Barack Obama’s appeal strikes me as strongest with the mainliners, and secondarily with the African-American church. (While I share Peter Lawler’s view that "African Americans are easily the most genuinely Christian Americans who vote Democratic," I think Obama’s biography and faith journey are uncharacteristic of that population: his faith seems more cerebral and less evangelical than is typically found in African-American churches.) He looks a little like some of the "seekers" who populate some of the big evangelical churches, but to the extent that he emphasizes social justice at the expense of personal transformation, he may lack a certainly credibility at places like Saddleback Church. Can his appeal make a difference? Perhaps. Has he found the Democratic "magic bullet" destined to diminish the "God gap"? I don’t think so.

The Business of America is Business . . . but What of Politics?

Charles Kesler in the LA Times (or better yet, so as not to serve the interests of that rag) see it in the latest Claremont Review of Books demolishes--for all time, one can hope--the argument that leads Republican types to call for so-called "business experts" to run our government. In so doing, he distinguishes between MBA types and entrepeneurs in a way that shows the clear superiority of the latter. Everyone should read it but you should read it, especially, if you are inclined to sign up for an MBA program. Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . . but you should know about the origins of that kind of program in the Progressive movement. Guess my dad was right to tell me years ago that training in business was little more than training to be somebody’s "boy."

Obama on religion and politics

I’m late to this party, but Barack Obama’s speech on religion and politics has been getting lots of attention. Peter Wood is suspicious of a good bit of it. Kevin Drum is cautiously favorable. At Mirror of Justice, Thomas Berg kicked off an exchange that included a number of interesting interventions, more indeed than I can accommodate without adding these links.

I don’t think I’m quite as suspicious of the speech as Wood is, but I do think that it is an interestingly confused (or perhaps carefully strategic, though I doubt it) presentation by a man likely to be a major force in the Democratic Party. I’m going to give some more thought to it and write something formal for one of my publication venues.

In the meantime, here’s an example of what’s interestingly confused:

over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people’s lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it’s time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that’s deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they’re coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

Can you tell whether he means this as an anthropological observation, a theological observation, or both? Here’s his (sort of) answer:

It wasn’t until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

I was working with churches, and the Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me. They saw that I knew their Book and that I shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst.

And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

And if it weren’t for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church.

For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.

What gives his life meaning, apparently, is working for social justice in this world, through a church, albeit not only or even mainly through a church. If faith were merely "a comfort tp the weary" or "a hedge against death" he might not take it as seriously. There’s more that I need to chew on.

N.Y. and Georgia gay marriage decisions

Here’s the NYT’s not altogether impartial account of the 4-2 decision finding a "rational basis" for a legislative preference on behalf of traditional marriage. I haven’t had time to read the opinions yet.

Here’s the AJC account of the Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in a more technical challenge to the state’s constitutional amendment affirming traditional marriage. Here’s the opinion. For some of the political background, go here.

Hamdan, the Court, and the political branches

Distracted by an Independence Day that included a visit to this historic site, I was late in getting this week’s column to the good people at TAE Online, who wasted no time posting it. Here’s the opening paragraph:

One of the most striking features of last week’s Supreme Court Hamdan decision was the way in which Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the plurality, sought always to understand the current global war on terror in the light of rules developed in and designed for more conventional conflicts. This was especially clear in two instances: when he challenged the very use of a military commission to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, and when he insisted upon the irregularity of the commission’s procedures.

And here’s the conclusion:

One good thing may result from the Court’s willingness to exceed the bounds of its competence and tread on the toes of the politically responsible branches. Everyone seems to agree that Congress now has to step up to the plate and legislate for the military commissions that are supposed to try alleged al-Qaeda members. Given the manner in which national security seems to be the Bush administration’s political and substantive strong suit, the resulting legislation may establish procedures that look a lot like those already in place. On the other hand, the Court’s repudiation of those procedures in Hamdan provides some ammunition to those who have a conventional or law-enforcement view of the global war on terror, which is (I’m sure) what they hoped when they succeeded in passing the buck in the first place.

If the Bush administration (as it ought) chooses vigorously to fight this battle, it can accomplish two things at least. First, its judgments about how to try detainees will in the end be vindicated, thus enabling us to “wage war successfully.” And second, the two politically responsible branches will have repudiated the judgments of Justice Stevens and his colleagues, which would have the salutary effect of reminding the Court of its mere equality with, and the deference it owes to, them.

Both results are worth the expenditure of a great deal of political capital. Both would be a substantial contribution to President Bush’s legacy of not only defending the nation but also defending the appropriate balance between the three branches of government. In connection with the latter legacy, the only thing that could improve upon it would be the appointment of yet another judicially modest nominee to replace Justice Stevens, who has here shown his imperious impatience with the limits of his office.

There’s more in between.

Update: Robert Alt details the liberal overreaction to Hamdan, which may lead one to doubt that cooler heads will prevail before November. A taste:

The hyperbolic reaction of the Left seems particularly ill-advised given that the Hamdan opinion will have little lasting practical effect: Congress has already made clear that it intends to grant the president the authority to utilize some kind of military commission. Despite several prominent Democrats supporting some form of legislation, there is caustic liberal sentiment against granting the president any such option. One of the first comments on the Daily Kos after Hamdan was issued summed up this position: "Democratics [sic] in Congress need to be told in no uncertain terms that they shall not vote to allow these tribunals. We need to put the electoral gun to their heads and make sure they march in the right direction on this." Of course, these orders would march the Democrats right out of Congress.

Read the whole thing.   

Update #2: Brett Marston disagrees with me. Here’s my quickie response:

I don’t think and didn’t say that adjudication is simply the application fo existing rules, though I do think that judges are, and ought to be, more closely bound by existing rules (in other words, less creative or innovative) than are the politically responsible branches. The rule of law, which is limited in certain extreme instances, requires that of them.

I also don’t argue that Congree should simply defer to the executive, though I do think that the executive’s responsibility for the conduct of the war deserves some repect and tends to give it the upper hand in any dispute with Congress.

Finally, I nowhere in the piece make the case for anything that could be called torture. My only concern is how, if at all, we’re going to try members of al Qaeda, given the fact that their respect for our version of the rule of law is at best tactical. (In other words, they’re all over the writ of habeas corpus, but not too fastidious about killing innocents.) I don’t regard battlefields as crime scenes, don’t regard soldiers and intelligence agents as detectives, and think that any rules for holding these folks legally accountable have to be fashioned with these and other such considerations in mind. I think the Bush Administration (leaving aside for a moment interrogation techniques, which I think are a separate issue with which Congress has already dealt in the DTA) has fashioned a plausible set of rules for trying these guys, if in fact they are to be tried. Members of Congress might disagree, and something will I hope be fashioned in the aftermath of Hamdan. If the only plausible option is trying them in accordance with the rules that typically apply to courts martial and/or trials in civilian courts, then I’m not sure how we can assemble to sort of evidence that those venues require. The Bush Administration and its successors would, it seems to me, to be left then with two options (consistent with our national security interests): locking these guys up for the indefinite duration of the GWOT (freeing them only at discretion, with no sort of regular process) or making sure there are no captives. I’d prefer some sort of commission route, so long as it takes into account the exigencies of the GWOT, over either of these two options.

Brett’s principal concern is with the use of evidence tainted by the coercive means through which it was acquired. The appropriate arena in which to make that argument is, I think, in Congress. My principal concern is in fashioning an effective and legitimate process for trying the detainees, which at this point also requires legislation. Let’s hope our legislators get it right.

Being American

What makes an American on this Fourth of July, asks an editorial? Good answer.

Icy waters?

I hadn’t noticed until today that Alan Jacobs compared NLT to the Daily Kos in his essay critical of blogs. Here’s the passage and its context:

I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.

Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage. Also—and this is a problem especially on the political blogs—commenters can find themselves confronted with very different beliefs than the ones they encounter in everyday life, where they often are able to select their own society. A right-winger wandering into a comment thread on is likely to get a serious douse of vitriol for his or her trouble; ditto a liberal who plunges into the icy waters of No Left Turns. And the anonymous habitués of a given site are unlikely to show much courtesy to the uninvited guest. (This is one reason why sites like the two just mentioned get more rhetorically, and substantively, extreme over time: everyone is pulling in one direction, and scarcely anyone shows up to exert counter-pressure.)

Wow! I wouldn’t have thought of comparing the level of vitriol at NLT to that I’ve seen at Daily Kos, and I’m not certain that NLT has gotten "more rhetorically, and substantively extreme," in the years that I’ve read and contributed to it. I know that there are a few anonymous commenters who are over the top at least some of the time, but even they, often as not, make substantive arguments. We are, for better (I think), not in the Daily Kos’s league when it comes to venom, vitriol, and extremism. And it’s not something to which I’d aspire.

So I ask NLT readers, liberal and conservative alike, what they think of Jacobs’s observations.

And for gosh’s sake, keep it civil.

Update: You should, of course, read the whole of Jacobs’s provocative essay, which makes a number of telling points, like this one:

Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather "news") can be tested and evaluated and revised, as we have seen repeatedly, from cnn’s firing of Eason Jordan to the discrediting of Dan Rather’s story on President Bush’s National Guard service. But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture. Even on a site with the brainpower of Crooked Timber, what happens more often than not—indeed, what happens so often that I’ve taken the site from my rss reader and only check it once or twice a month—is the conversion of really good scholars into really lousy journalists. With few exceptions, posts at the "academic" or "intellectual" blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.

So, yes, read, the whole thing, even if you don’t agree with it.

Born American podcast

A couple of friends of mine cannot see well enough to read. So, as a way of both celebrating our birthday, and giving them a gift of sorts, I have taken the liberty of reading my essay,

Born American, but in the Wrong Place, in a podcast form. Nothing melodramatic, just straight-forward boring me. Yet, I hope they, and you, may enjoy it. Happy birthday America!

1776 in the New York Times

Would the NY Times have disclosed the secrets of 1776? This is amusing. Thanks to Powerline.

What if...

Sunday’s New York Times published a fun piece on 10 days that - if things had gone a little differently - would have changed American history. Some of the interpretations are debatable, of course, but my favorite was one I didn’t know about: the attempted assassination of FDR in 1933 that was foiled by a wobbly chair. As the Times piece puts it:

"It should have been an easy shot: five rounds at 25 feet. But the gunman, Giuseppe Zangara, an anarchist, lost his balance atop a wobbly chair, and instead of hitting President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, he fatally wounded the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with F.D.R."

But for a piece of furniture, John Nance Garner might have become president.

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.