Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

While jonesin’ for NLT

I suggested (not altogether in jest) that GWB was our first genuinely Catholic president, compared Jonathan Rauch to Stephen F. Douglas, and hurled the Rawls epithet at Jonah Goldberg.

Now it’ll be back to business here.

Presidential power in 2009?

Daniel Henninger asks some very good questions about what the leading Democratic contenders--Senators or former Senators all--think of executive power. We kinda know, as he notes, that HRC wouldn’t settle for a domestic presidency any less powerful than WJC’s. But what about foreign affairs? We don’t enjoy the luxury of spending a long time settling that question after January 20th. Folks interested in the presidency should spend some time defending the prerogatives of that office from their party colleagues and partisan supporters. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, they don’t deserve to hold the office.

Another Harm from Global Warming!

Global warming is hurting the brothel trade in Europe. No Comment. Supply your own punchline.

Primary Madness--A Proposal

So California and, what?--every other state with an inferiority complex--is going to move its presidential primary up to February 5 of next year, creating a de facto national primary that will decide the nomination for both parties, and for which the entry fee for any serious candidate will be something like $75 million at a minimum. The Democrats have been the chief force of this increasingly front-loaded nomination system for a while now, thinking that the protracted bloodletting of the old extended primary season that went from January to June hurt its nominees in November. This is probably wrong: in 1984, when the Democratic nomination went through the California and New Jersey primaries in June, Walter Mondale was made a much better candidate for having to fend off Gary Hart’s spirited challenge. (None other than Bill Galston, Mondale’s campaign policy director, told me the other day he thinks this is true.) Had Hart challenged Mondale in the current front-loaded system, he might have toppled Mondale (and we could have had Clinton-style sex scandals ten years sooner!!); in 2004, the Dems clearly had a case of buyer’s remorse with their hastily-picked nominee.

If this keeps up, in another cycle or two the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will be held the day after Inauguration Day, and, as Squidward might say, won’t that just be the most fun day ever--the perpetual/permanent campaign. The media and the consultants will love it. But probably not the voters. (Aside: Last weekend at CPAC, held at the Omni Hotel, I asked a Romney person why they weren’t billing his speech as "Romney at the Omni." Answer: We pay too many consultants too much money to come up with something that simple and direct.)

Is there any way to stop this madness? Can we somehow return to the stretched out process that allowed voters to scrutinize the candidates more slowly, and see their strengths and weaknesses exposed under fire? Republicans have been happy to follow the Democrats along, but they might put the brakes to this by allocating very few conventional delegates to the early primaries, and require that the bulk of delegates be selected in a rolling process through caucuses later in the spring. They might adopt party rules penalizing early entrants in the race; call it the "Reagan Rule," and say that no one may announce for president formally before November of the year before the election, when Reagan did.

I do hold out some hope that perhaps voters in both parties will grow tired of the early fields (Hillary-Obama-Edwards/McCain-Rudy-Romney), and that late entrants might sweep the field away and act as a corrective to the frontloading problem. Maybe next year we might see the election we deserve in many ways: Newt versus Gore. Bring it on.

Iranian defector

This would seem to be more helpful about Iran’s activities in Lebanon than in Iraq, but the Iranians are clearly very unhappy. This makes me happy. For more, go here.

Prophetic witness or politicized religion?

Yale Divinity School students stage (I think that’s the appropriate word) an unusual Ash Wednesday service. Ordinarily, of course, Ash Wednesday focuses on the sinfulness of the person receiving the ashes, but this one seems focused on the alleged sins of others.

Winning without throwing bombs

John Tomasi explains to folks in Manhattan how he prospers at Brown.

The Roberts Court

Stuart Taylor thinks it will tilt slightly, but not decisively, in a conservative direction. Hat tip: the Friar.

God gap diminishing?

This Barna Group study suggests that it is, though I suspect that the survery sample overrepresents Democrats.

Thomas of the Cross

Justice Clarence Thomas offers a plain-spoken and, at times, pugnacious, interview about his undergraduate experience at Holy Cross. Well worth reading.  

Obama’s religion

I posted briefly on this here, but can’t resist calling attention to this smart effort by Peter Leithart to discern Obama’s center of gravity. Of course, Leithart’s critique of Obama sweeps quite widely to encompass many of us (even if we don’t agree with the particulars of Obama’s policy proposals).

Knippenberg on Schramm on Obama

Let me second Peter’s comments (or will people only understand if I say "mega-dittoes"?). And call attention to this column by card-carrying Townhall conservative Carol Platt Liebau, which Hugh Hewitt says is "worth reading very closely and storing away."

Obama note

Some comments on my praising of the Obama speech note that I do not see that he is a Euro-socialist, and so on. More on this later (I regret that I am snowed under here!), but for now let me say that I think I know the difference between Reagan and Obama! I am not in love with Obama, nor am I endorsing him, or his policy positions. Please. But, I am asserting that this might be a very serious fellow. Also, he is a black man. And that he may even be technically an African-American is very interesting (possibly deeply interesting to, for example, Jesse Jackson, who I can feel sliding down the path of irrelevance every time Obama speaks) and will have massive repercussions in American politics. I suspect that some of those effects might be very good, by the way. This doesn’t mean that I am endorsing him, or national health care, or even his clever rhetoric about the Kennedys, et al.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for February

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

Ryan Demro

Tucker Bacquet

Joseph Griffo

Janni Ingman

Grace Morgan

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 March’s drawing.

Obama’s skeletons?

This NYT article raises some questions about his investments. This one notes Obama’s recognition that too close a public connection with the senior pastor of his church might be a political liability.

Update: Here’s Larry Kudlow on Obama’s lack of financial acumen. Kudlow also guesses that the NYT is getting its stories from the HRC camp, which would be altogether unsurprising.

Wren cross

Returns. If you want to read more, go here.

Obama’s Ripples of Hope speech

I walked into the hotel in West Virginia Sunday evening and turned on C-Span. Barack Obama was speaking in Selma. Two minutes into it I realized this was both a fine speech and one that will prove consequential. I sat for many minutes
(here is about six minutes from CNN, via
youtube) watching and listening. The text was new, perfectly aligned with the occasion and the orator was not at all green. The man played true. There are many smart and clever items in the speech, I note only a few, not the most important ones: "The Kennedy’s decided we are going to do an airlift." "Don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama." "...ripples of hope all around the world..." "There’s some good craziness going on." There is more if you pay attention (see Joe’s post below; also note the link to the whole speech as written). I have not seen or heard any of HRC’s speech; but I have heard some CNN talking heads whispering criticism, and that would have been unheard of a month ago. Some said that HRC spoke an infinite deal of nothing, prattled even, off-key. Bill’s presence ended up not helping; rather, it revealed her need. Sad time for Hillary. She cannot be happy.

Novak on Bush as conservative, part 2

Michael Novak has more to say after his debate with Joseph Bottum, noted here. Here’s his conclusion

President Bush has defined a new kind of conservatism. It is legitimate to criticize it, even to oppose it vigorously. But to do so honestly and accurately, one must note the change in method that President Bush has quietly and successfully been enacting. As often as possible, in as many ways as possible, he is using as the dynamo of personal choice and the methods of the market, not direct state-management, in order to make government programs more effective and more efficient. That is why Democrats, both of the old New Deal-type and of the new Clinton-type, oppose him so fiercely. They seem to see what he is up to better than many uneasy conservatives do.

Try to imagine the conservative future as Bush is trying to: Old-age assistance is mostly achieved by personal tax-exempt pension accounts. Medicare and other health expenses are paid for by means of personal, tax-exempt medical accounts (partly used for catastrophic insurance, mostly for ordinary health spending, and with a new incentive to watch over normal expenses carefully). Parental choice and market mechanisms help to weed out failing schools, replacing them with better ones.

Note that these new pension, medical, and school mechanisms deeply affect families, not simply individuals. This greater reliance on familial choice re-introduces a reliance on family, rather than on the state, as the chief agent of health, education, and welfare.

Bush has begun a major turn from the state toward the “little platoons” once celebrated by Burke, the “mediating institutions” that Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus emphasized twenty years ago. This is a profoundly conservative impulse.

It’s too bad that the President couldn’t defend himself as well as this.

Rudy and ROE

Here’s Rudy Giuliani telling George Will that ROE is good constitutional law. I’m sure that’s what he really thinks, unfortunately. So not only can’t he give the American people the (true and even obvious) case for ROE being bad, even incompetent, constitutional law, we have to ask what he really means when he says he won’t appoint judicial activists. I’m not coming out against the man, mind you. But this is a real problem for his candidacy. (Thanks to John from the Rudy thread below for sending this.)

More Thoughts on the Mormon Issue

This is another somewhat negative but finally inconclusive account of the ways Mitt’s religion will affect his chances. On the positive side, Mormons "seem to live exemplary, enviable, and productive lives centered on the nuclear family." What’s more important than THAT? And the polygamy issue, while fascinating, is the "ultimate red herring." Mainstream Mormons are more against BIG LOVE now than just about anyone else. But there’s also no denying that Mormon doctrines and practices are both strange and somewhat politically incorrect, and they’re about to be scrutinized on PBS. Mitt’s own memos exhibit worry about the doctrines and practices raising more questions than answers.

Taranto on Giuliani and ROE

Here are some informed comments on why ROE may well be overturned and how the pro-choice Giuliani’s appointments might, ironically, contribute to that result. I still say that we need or could use a president who could actually explain to the American people why ROE was wrongly decided. I can add that it’s probably better to win with Rudy tha lose with a candidate that can made that case. But my point is that the case itself isn’t weak from either an electoral or a constitutional point of view.

You’ll be relieved to know...

That John Edwards says that the size of his home is less important than what goes on in it:

What matters is what happens inside that physical structure, and what kind of values and beliefs and faith are taught inside that structure. And so, you know, I come from a very modest place and I’ve done well and we have a very nice physical structure. It’s completely unimportant. What matters is what happens inside that structure.

O.K. I’m convinced.

Separation of school and state

Jeff Jacoby has an interesting response to the entirely predictable ruling in Parker v. Hurley.

I’ve written about similar matters here and here.

HRC’s Selma speech

HRC’s Selma speech is a much weaker and more conventional effort than Obama’s. The problems and policies she mentions are for the most part indistinguishable from those mentioned by Obama, but her approach is much more demagogic:

But in the last two presidential elections we have seen the right to vote tampered with, and outright denied to too many of our citizens, especially the poor and people of color. Not just in Florida, Ohio, and Maryland, but in state after state. The very idea that in the 21st century, African-Americans would wait in line for 10 hours while whites in an affluent precinct next to theirs waited in line for 10 minutes, or that African-Americans would receive fliers telling them the wrong time and day to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

She quotes two Bible verses, one from the Old Testament (Ps. 118:24) and one from the New Testament (Gal. 6:9), which I found cited in two other speeches. In one of them (not Hillary’s), Paul’s line is actually used more or less properly.

Of course, if a Republican were to cite either verse, some folks would worry about theocracy (see especially the first thirteen verses of Ps. 118). But coming from HRC, the O.T. verse is utterly conventional and the N.T. verse altogether worldly. Nothing new, nothing interesting.

Obama’s Joshua generation

I’ve read Obama’s Selma speech, which has its moments of strength. It is in the first instance very Old Testament, with lots of references to the civil rights generation Moseses, to which Obama and his contemporaries play Joshua. (I note in passing that Generation Joshua is a label already appropriated by someone else.)

While a good chunk of the spech consists in a litany of conventional big government progams, Obama, to his credit (yes, you read that), takes a page from Bill Cosby:

Government alone can’t solve all those problems, but government can help. It’s the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure that we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America. That brings me to one other point, about the Joshua generation, and that is this -- that it’s not enough just to ask what the government can do for us-- it’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.

One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can’t say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we’ve lost it a little bit.


[E]ven as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents don’t turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they’re doing, and if we don’t start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don’t know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.

We’ve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we can’t do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve.


We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don’t tell me it doesn’t have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don’t think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasn’t around when I was young and I struggled.


Don’t tell me that we can’t do better by our children, that we can’t take more responsibility for making sure we’re instilling in them the values and the ideals that the Moses generation taught us about sacrifice and dignity and honesty and hard work and discipline and self-sacrifice. That comes from us. We’ve got to transmit that to the next generation and I guess the point that I’m making is that the civil rights movement wasn’t just a fight against the oppressor; it was also a fight against the oppressor in each of us.

Sometimes it’s easy to just point at somebody else and say it’s their fault, but oppression has a way of creeping into it. Reverend, it has a way of stunting yourself. You start telling yourself, Bishop, I can’t do something. I can’t read. I can’t go to college. I can’t start a business. I can’t run for Congress. I can’t run for the presidency. People start telling you-- you can’t do something, after a while, you start believing it and part of what the civil rights movement was about was recognizing that we have to transform ourselves in order to transform the world. Mahatma Gandhi, great hero of Dr. King and the person who helped create the nonviolent movement around the world; he once said that you can’t change the world if you haven’t changed.

I’ve seen glimpses of this before in Obama. He should be applauded for saying it, even by conservatives, indeed, especially by conservatives. I wonder whether and how the cultural Left in the Democratic Party will respond to it.

The Democratic Party at prayer

Read about the duelling visits to Selma here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Here’s Obama’s speech. Here’s HRC’s. I’ll have more to say about them after I chew them over, but for now, I’ll note that HRC called climate change "tinkering with God’s creation." Wonder whether that applies to abortion and stem cell research too? As for Obama, I’ll note only that he seemed to have more star power yesterday and that he is really straining to wrap himself in the mantle of the civil rights movement.

Manliness and timocracy at Hampden-Sydney

Anthony Esolen says all manner of interesting--and, in some quarters, provocative--things after enjoying a visit to Hampden-Sydney College, one of two remaining all-male four-year colleges. (He’s forgotten about Deep Springs.) Here’s his conclusion:

{Hampden-Sydney is] a far cry from "college" as commodity. It also gives the lie to what some Biblical complementarians say, I think incautiously and without any real historical awareness. They say that women civilize men. If that’s the case, I don’t understand why the college where I teach -- a very fine college, I’ll affirm -- is a walk down Skid Row by comparison with the civility and order at Hampden-Sydney. I don’t understand why the all-male high schools up here produce gentlemen, and the other schools, public and private -- well, it’s a real crapshoot. Now I know perfectly well that boys will sometimes form timocracies of wickedness: gangs, for instance. But even in that case you have a polity; gangs wouldn’t be near the problem they are if they did not operate by pretty clear rules and lines of authority. Women do not in fact civilize men; they domesticate men, as I’ve said before. Men civilize men. There’s a difference.

What is that difference? A soldier in a cavalry unit who spends most of his time in barracks or under the skies,may well be more civilized, more trained to think of and to act for the common good, to command other men or to obey, than many a high-priced lawyer or even college professor. He’s not domesticated, though, and his new bride at first might find him pretty hard to live with. On the other hand, men who live comfortable lives apart from other men, taking no initiative for the common good, considering only their wives and children and not the welfare of anybody else’s children, never to be relied upon in time of public need, may be domesticated but not civilized. You might find plenty of men of the former sort at the inception of a great nation. You will find plenty of men of the latter sort at its decline.

Read the whole thing.

Update: I forgot Morehouse, which also does a good job on the matters about which Esolen writes.

Thomas Eagleton, RIP

Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern’s erstwhile running mate in 1972, has died. The obits, and most accounts of the 1972 campaign, omit to mention that Eagleton, a devout Catholic, was staunchly pro-life. Amazing to consider that the feminist movement in 1972 was not strong or organized enough to exercise a veto against a pro-life running mate on a Democratic ticket. Twenty years later the party wouldn’t allow a pro-life governor (Casey) to even speak at the convention, let alone be considered as a running mate. It is also an irony of the McGovern campaign, attacked by Republicans as being about "acid, amnesty, and abortion," was the last Democratic ticket with a pro-life running mate, even if just for a few days. Ironically, McGovern’s position on abortion in 1972 was actually the same as the mainstream Republican position today: Abortion should be left to the states. This was, of course, before Roe made abortion a sacrosanct right to the Left. Eagleton, however, never followed Gore, Gephardt, and the rest in throwing his conscience over the side for political expediency. RIP.

Married with children isn’t for the Bundys any more

So says this WaPo article, which implies an economic, rather than cultural, cause. I think I’ll still go for the cultural explanation, though I bow to folks on our side with superior expertise in these matters. On the grains of salt with which such reports should be taken, go here.

CPAC Wrap-Up

Most incongruous booth in the exhibit hall: The ACLU. I did a doubletake myself when I saw them. To be sure, they were over in a corner that got the least amount of foot traffic, but even if they’d been next to Bloggers Corner they would have been the loneliest guys around. The Pro-American Muslims table got more traffic and excitement (and they were genuinely nice and sincere people, not some obviously politicized PR front group).

In a previous post, I named the Brownback legions as the winner of my prize for Best Imitation of a Carnival Barker at CPAC. They got their revenge. A Brownbacker managed to paste a Brownback bumper sticker on my shirt without my noticing, and I paraded around with it on for more than half an hour before I detected it.

Finally, I have a new category for a certain kind of right-wing polemicist: I’m going to call them "Ann D’Souzas," or "Dinesh Coulters." And I’m not going to discuss them. It ends here. No--don’t even try. Just forget it. Who?

On Abortion and the 2008 Election

We should wish, I think, for a Republican cndidate who could actually explain clearly and with conviction what ROE v. WADE and PLANNED PARENTHOOD v. CASEY etc. actually say and why they were wrongly decided. It would be ever better if this candidate could go to explain all that is implied in the very loose, polemical, and evolutionary interpretation of "liberty" in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS. We’ve NEVER had such a candidate, and in 2008 the lucid and principled case against judicial activism would be more appealing to the American people than ever. I’m too lazy to link to studies, but they show that the young are increasingly pro-life, and that support for the woman’s unlimited "right to choose" is fading across the board. And of course most Americans don’t believe that there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage enforceable by federal courts.

Giuliani has the brains but not the conviction to make such a case. Romney also has the brains, but his conviction and desire to understand what’s really at stake are in question. Brownback has the conviction, but his prudence in general is in question. And his campaign is unlikely to take off anyway.

So what we have here is likely an opportunity missed.

George Will on Love, Boredom, and the Race for the Democratic Nomination

George’s claim is that Democratic primary voters want to feel the love and escape boredom. Both facts work against Hillary. He points in the direction of an "interesting" and lovable outsider. But who? My guess is that many Democrats will feel Obama’s love. And I really do think George underestimates the love (fueled by the perception of a common experience of oppression) that many primary-voting Democratic women feel for Hillary.

The End of the Litmus Test?

Over at the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery suggests that if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee in 2008, it will represent an end to the litmus test that social conservatives have imposed on the party’s candidates since 1980. This appears increasingly likely, as the war looms largest in most Republicans’ minds in terms of importance, and because the Democrats’ victories in 2006 have left the GOP desperate to retain its status as majority party.

The deal in the works has been carefully crafted to make sure that no one loses too much. Conservatives would be getting a pro-choice nominee, but one who would not push a pro-choice agenda, and one who would give them (as far as presidents can be sure in these matters) the kind of judges they long for. Giuliani would not be required to renounce his beliefs, merely to appoint the right kind of judges and to remain more or less neutral in a policy area in which, to be honest, he has never shown that much interest. The Republicans will remain the pro-life party--as desired by the bulk of their voters and required by the workings of the two-party system--though now with a larger, more varied, and in some ways more competitive field of candidates. And it is worth noting in this altered context that the Democrats also are starting to change. One of the reasons Democrats now run both the houses of Congress is that canny recruiters defied their own culture war lobbies and rammed a number of pro-life and pro-gun candidates down the throats of their interest groups, assessing correctly that control of Congress was worth a few unhappy activists. They are not yet at the point of nominating a pro-life candidate on the national level, but the lid has been pried open a crack. Someday, they too may find a candidate whom they find attractive--say, for irony’s sake, a Bob Casey Jr.--except for this single and glaring impediment. And at that point, they too might deal.

For Emery this development is to be welcomed, for the litmus test

...has been a very good deal for the people who imposed it, but a very bad one for the country at large. It has meant that a candidate for national office must begin by embracing ideas that have been rejected by seven in ten of Americans, while a candidate who comes close to the center of public opinion would never be allowed to compete. It has made candidates for the post of commander in chief of the world’s greatest power kick off their campaigns by groveling before leaders of interest groups, which does not make them seem leaderly and causes voters to lose all respect. Worst of all, it posed the real possibility that a candidate would come forth who seemed equipped to deal with a crisis, but who, because he held the "wrong views" in the eyes of the interest groups, would not be allowed to emerge. In Giuliani, some social conservatives think they have found such a candidate and do not want to waste him. And so, they are making a deal.