Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Iranian treatment of British captives

By now, you’ve all read stories like this one. Rod Dreher suggests that our treatment of detainees has licensed this sort of behavior by the Iranians:

What if the Iranians take 15 U.S. soldiers captive. On what moral ground will we stand in expecting that the Iranians treat them according to the Geneva Conventions?

It’s not like the Iranians have paid attention to international law in the past. Consider this, from an article by Mark Bowden:

The higher-level Americans—diplomats, CIA officers, and military-liaison personnel—were sequestered, and taken away one by one for interrogation. Some were beaten; the CIA officers were worked over with heavy rubber hoses under the supervision of al-Islam.

If there’s a reason to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, it’s not because of any reasonable expectation of reciprocity. And let’s not forget that the Third Geneva Convention applies most obviously to "lawful combatants," like the British sailors and marines, and to states, like Iran, that are signatories.

Let me note, lastly, that, by Dreher’s logic, the Iranians would have "no moral ground" on the basis of which to complain of torture, a complaint given some credence by Andrew Sullivan (of course). The Iranians and our other enemies will exploit our scruples without sharing them. And they will find commentators over here to echo their complaints.

Gordon Wood on Lynn Hunt

Gordon Wood, whose own corpus is reviewed here by Steve Hayward, appreciates (I wouldn’t really call it a review) Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights. I look forward to a real review of a book that makes some interesting claims about the invention of the notion of human rights. At the moment, I simply find it amazing that one can write about inwardness and empathy without mentioning religion.

Will on the Thompson we all think we like

George F. Will reminds us of Fred Thompson’s Senate career, the hallmark of which seems to have been his support for the lamentable McCain/Feingold campaign finance reforms. I’d love to see Thompson repudiate that position.

McCain on Iraq

Sen. John McCain offers a clear-sighted account of his most recent visit to Iraq.

Lithwick on Goodling, et al

Dahlia Lithwick thinks there’s a confusion between religion and politics implicit in the DoJ brouhaha.

Is there anything wrong with legal scholarship from a Christian perspective? Not that I see. Is there anything wrong with a Bush administration that disproportionately uses graduates from Christian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It’s a shorthand, no better or worse than cherry-picking the Federalist Society or the American Bar Association. I can’t even get exercised over the fact that Gonzales, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers had their baby lawyers making critical staffing decisions. The baby lawyers had extremely clear marching orders.

No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God’s work with the president’s. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, such as Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.

In the end, Goodling and the other young foot soldiers for God may simply have run afoul of the first rule of politics, codified in Psalm 146: "Put not your trust in princes, in mere mortals in whom there is no help."

Turns out that there’s insufficient religious zeal--and too much politics--in the White House, which isn’t the line we were hearing a couple of years ago. People are longing for the good old days of John Ashcroft, "a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of the word "pride," as well as the phrase "no higher calling than public service," on documents bearing his signature."

If you want to read more about Goodling, go here.


Here is a readable portrait of Paul Wolfowitz of the World Bank in the New Yorker. Much of this--number of languages he speaks (never mind holes in his socks)--is new to me.

Not their finest hour

Charles Krauthammer on Iran’s "pointed humiliation" of Britain with the capture and release of the British sailors and Marines. Here are some key quotes from the captives’ press conference. I think the whole thing is deeply embarrassing, so does this Brit. More info here.

Rudy’s Unforced Abortion Error

Giuliani didn’t only say that he was for the public funding of abortion, but that such funding is a constitutional right. He went FURTHER than the Supreme Court, which has never recognized that "right." Clearly is he for the public funding of abortions. To make that position compatible with judicial restraint, he’s going to have to explain that decisions about abortion are left to legislatures, and that his opinons about "abortion rights" are those of a citizen trying to influence his fellow citizens. But he’s not going to say that. His simple view is that it’s the function of the courts to protect rights, and that abortion funding is a right. Can Rudy be saved from the impression that he would actually welcome MORE liberty-based activism from the Court than it has displayed so far? Unforced errors from politicians are often a sign of personal integrity, and that’s the problem.

Further Radioactive Thoughts

Thank you, Capt. Schramm – it’s a pleasure to be aboard the good ship Ashbrook. I was welcomed by several thoughtful comments to my posting on nuclear energy. One issue in particular deserves discussion: Would conservatives really sign on to the high level of government activity necessary to make heavy reliance on nuclear power safe and feasible?

My short answer is “Yes.” My longer answer is that conservatism is often described by its enemies, and sometimes by its less helpful friends, as being “anti-government.” Not so – conservatism is much friendlier to government than liberalism. Conservatives favor limited government but oppose ineffectual government. We want the government to succeed at the things governments must do – secure the borders, win wars, jail criminals, build infrastructure. One requirement for that success is that we keep the government from squandering its time, money and moral authority on enterprises it can’t possibly do well, such as building Model Cities, promoting self-esteem, or guaranteeing the “right” to “rest, recreation and adventure,” as FDR’s National Public Resources Board advised in 1943.

The famous sentence from Federalist Paper #51 is, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” During my gloomiest moments I find myself thinking that we’ve somehow screwed up the Founders’ experiment in self-government in both directions: we have a government that manages to be intrusive, expensive and arrogant without being powerful and efficacious.

In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger recently offered qualified praise to Robert Moses, the city’s mid-twentieth century infrastructure czar. Moses took a wrecking ball to many parts of New York City in order to build monuments like the Triborough and Verrazano-Narrows bridges, the Central Park Zoo and the Long Island Expressway. Robert Caro responded in 1975 by taking a wrecking ball to Robert Moses’s reputation in his monumental, 1,344-page biography, The Power Broker.

A reassessment is finally taking place, one that raises questions the success of Caro’s book had settled – that Robert Moses was a tyrant and a bigot, whose edifice complex caused the charm and vitality to be bulldozed out of every acre he touched in New York. Moses made plenty of mistakes, Goldberger says, but it’s impossible to imagine that city of 8 million people functioning if his successes had never been built. “Robert Moses got things done. In the age of citizen participation, this has become harder and harder. For more than five years, we have been fighting over what to do at Ground Zero, and the future of much of the sixteen-acre site is still unresolved. . . . In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree.”

America’s next generation of nuclear plants isn’t going to be built by decree. But if it’s going to be built at all, it’s going to be with the help of a government that is strong enough to govern. That government will be obliged to control itself, but according to the Constitutional mechanisms of republican government, rather than through an infinite number of apertures where any disgruntled group can throw sand in the machine’s gears. The next generation of nuclear plants, in other words, won’t just clear the skies and undermine the economies of terrorist-friendly states. It might also help make American government adequate to its tasks.

The end of history

Francis Fukuyama explains why his ideas can’t be tied to those of the Bush Administration and, in so doing, seems to audition for a job in a Clinton or Obama Administration:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

Those last three "retrograde" ideas are surely un-European (though I might quibble about national sovereignty, except that no one seems to want to do what it takes actually to defend it). And Fukuyama seems here to sketching the limits of his "neo-idealism":

Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along. But coercive regime change was never the key to democratic transition.

I’m tempted to say that this is the kind of program that a Democratic President could adopt, though it also looks a lot like what the Reagan Administration tried to do in the 1980s (when Fukuyama worked for Policy & Planning). The differences might be less matters of principle than of prudence: when can "military the process along"? When would FF be willing to use military force?

There are other interesting distinctions in the article, which make it worthwhile and thought-provoking. But its brevity enables him to avoid addressing the question of what to do about failed states or semi-failed states that become hosts to effective purveyors of terror, as well as about states that actively sponsor terror.

Pat Deneen and the Working Man

Partly to get the right LINK up here, let me call your attention to Pat’s exposure of the cynicism lurking behind General Motors’ media portrayal of a robot suicide.

UPDATE! Pat is a bit anxious that his blog has been outed to this tough and sometimes spectacularly angry crowd. Be firm but gentle. He also thinks that the evils of blogging can be mitigated if entries are longer and less frequent. I may agree in theory, but not so much in practice.

N.P., P.M.?

I’ve been cheering the critics of Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria from the sidelines, but, after this WSJ editorial, I want to be more vocal. Especially offensive is Tom Lantos’s utterly irresponsible comment: "We have an alternative Democratic foreign policy. I view my job as beginning with restoring overseas credibility and respect for the United States."

The only conceivable good that can come out of this is overreaching in such a way as to make it more likely that no Democrat can win the presidency in 2008.

On the other hand, any interested in protecting the traditional (and constitutional) prerogratives of that office (HRC, Obama, and Edwards come to mind) ought to distance himself or herself from this initiative.

Amir Taheri patiently explains why those opposed to American principles and interests in the Middle East welcome Pelosi’s, er, diplomacy.

New Pew survey

The Pew Forum has a Religion and Politics 08 page up, now featuring r & p maven John Green’s quickie analyses based on this survey (note the headline).

As Green notes about evangelical preferences, they look a good bit like those of other religiously identifiable Republicans, with one exception--more of them remain undecided. (I wonder if, after the news this week about Giuliani’s wobbliness on abortion, even more will migrate into that camp.)

On the Democratic side, this table is interesting: Obama seems to have a bit of a Catholic problem, compared to the other contenders. I’d bet that you could attribute a huge portion of HRC’s overall lead to her 33-12 margin over Obama among non-Hispanic Catholic Democrats. (I will note that Obama is the second choice of a significant percentage of Catholic Democrats, but that wouldn’t help him much unless many of them are anybody but HRC voters.)

The Pew poll itself is quite interesting, especially for the comparisons it draws between 2007 and 1995. I wouldn’t say there’s much good news for Democrats, but there’s lots of bad news for Republicans.

Georgetown’s Pat Deneen Has a Blog!

It features a lot of writing by Pat Deneen. Well, that’s gotta be good. Pat’s latest posts give an excellent criticism of the Agrarians’ (or Crunchy Cons’) hostility to politics.

Giuliani Urges Bush to Negotiate with Congress

...over its withdrawal resolution. But surely he couldn’t mean that the president could accept any timetable. He added that "abortion rights" are for the Court to decide, a view which is not a pillar of judicial restraint.

Man Isn’t Meant to Be Alone

But maybe he’s meant to sleep alone. Sleeping in the same bed with another person, studies show, makes men stupider, but not women. Sleeping (literally) together, an expert reports, is "bizarre" behavior, and we can infer it was probably thought up by women.

Wishing he could take it back

The proprietor of another blog, to which I from time to time contribute, regrets the vote he cast in 2004. (He doesn’t say whether he regrets his vote in 2000.) Since he was voting in Georgia, an abstention or a vote for Kerry wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, which I regard as a good thing. Unlike him, I don’t regret my votes, given the choices we had. I can’t imagine a President Gore on 9-11 or a President Kerry at any time.

What interests me at the moment aren’t my friend’s reasons (which are relatively nuanced, though I could pick some fights, if I wanted to), but the response he offers to Kate’s comment. Here it is, in full:

[O]ne of the problems with our country is our lack of choices in elections. It is almost impossible for an independent or third party candidate to get on the state ballots. And the deck is stacked against this happening. I think that it is a myth that we have choices in our elections. This is probably one of the primary reasons that many people don’t vote.

Ballot access is a bit of an issue, though plenty of parties and candidates seem to be capable of overcoming it. Indeed, if they can’t, then they don’t deserve our serious consideration.

But there’s something else here, as well. It seems to me that the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all (in most cases) state races, actually makes possible what I would regard as "responsible" third-party voting. In Georgia or any other relatively deeply red state, I could cast a "protest" vote without contributing to the election of someone whose views I regarded as anathema. A liberal voter in New York or Massachusetts could similarly vote Green without making it any less likely that his or her candidate would win the state. Such protest votes enable incipient replacement parties to test their electoral viability, setting the stage for a more sustained challenge to one of the major parties down the road.

In a straight popular vote election, the fact that my vote would "count" would make me less likely to choose an alternative to the Republican candidate, because I would then be a little more directly contributing to something I really don’t want.

What do folks think of this tentative and sketchy defense of the E.C. as the incubator, not of third parties (it discourages them), but of incipient replacement parties?

Ashbrook Center

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The Thompson Twins??

No, not these guys, though it is true that I have a lot of 80s nostalgia (why else would I spend so much time on Reagan?).

I’m wondering why there has been no talk at all about the possible confusion of the GOP having potentially two candidates named Thompson running for president on the primary ballots: Fred Thompson, and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. Tommy’s campaign doesn’t look all that serious--perhaps he’s just angling for the VP nod. Maybe he could be Fred Thompson’s running mate! A Thompson-Thompson ticket would make bumper stickers easier, and the slogan? Think "Thompson Squared."

I know what you’re thinking: "Steve’s got to stop inhaling Peter’s second-hand cigar smoke."

Welcome to our new blogger

William Voegeli has started to blog at NLT. His first blog is here , in case you missed it.

I have known Bill for many years. He is not only smart, but writes well. Despite having a PhD, he has a pretty good education. And you should know that he has been a program officer at the John M. Olin Foundation, and has written articles for the Claremont Review of Books, First Things, Philanthropy, and the Review of Politics. His thoughts on liberalism are especially interesting and thoughtful, this is one from a recent issue of CRB.

Religion and social utility

I share PAL’s (or is it SF’s, or both’s) view of the problems with Stephen Prothero’s approach, but I can’t help calling attention to this review of the research, a hard copy of which crossed my desk just a few days ago. Heritage’s Patrick F. Fagan summarizes oodles of studies (a technical scholarly term) that point to the social utility of religion. What this has to do with the "truth" of (generic) religion is another question. I’d say only that there may be some inextirpable human needs that can’t adequately be addressed in any other way. If we recognize our neediness and finitude, we might also then recognize our creatureliness. But that’s the subject of (something more than) another post.

I’ll only note that Fagan’s policy-oriented conclusions are relatively modest. He urges polcy-makers to take this information into account as they deliberate, that the Census Bureau do more to collect data about religious practice, and that policy-makers "consider the effectiveness of faith-based approaches to social problems." I’d add this: if policy-makers recognize that a healthy civil society, centered around churches, addresses or avoids some social pathologies, with or without government assistance, they might be more inclined to get out of the way of that civil society and not assume that everything immediately requires a governmental answer. They might also inquire into what, if anything can be done, to restore a civil society that has been weakened, by public or private action.

Surging in Iraq and America

Daniel Henninger thinks that the Democrats have plenty of time to exploit a failed surge, if it in fact should fail. Insisting or assuming that it can’t succeed is, politically, a high-risk strategy. The only plausible reason for taking the risk is that they’re utterly convinced it can’t succeed. I think that’s called defeatism. There are other consequences that might follow from a political strategy informed by defeatism, but I’d rather not think about them.

More DoE and higher ed

This op-ed piece might in some respects be right, but I don’t think it’s calculated to persuade anyone in the Bush Administration who might be in a position to stop or slow down the Spellings Express. I’m not saying that there’s no one on Capitol Hill who might be moved by it to find yet another way to harrass the Bush Administration....

College (civic) knowledge

This article describes a study (no link) undertaken by this professor. The results are heartening for those who worry about college students’ civic knowledge: many more know the name of their member of Congress than of the latest American Idol. The bad news is that, to the extent that the engagement is web-related, it seems to be much more oriented to Democrats and liberal causes than to Republicans and conservative causes.

Update: If you want to drink out of the half-full glass, here are some vaguely leftish curmudgeonly fulminations from across the Atlantic. Hat tip: Mere Commenter David Mills.

Stanley Fish vs. Touristy Multicultural Appreciators of Everything

There’s no point in teaching the Bible unless it might be true.

Update! Here’s Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler’s interview with Fish on this article. This alliance on this issue seems strange only at first.

Money Does Buy Happiness

...until we we reach about $20,000 a head per year. After that point, it doesn’t make much difference.

Big Kidney Debate in Spokane

I’m going to debate Sally Satel on kidney markets next Wednesday at Gonzaga.

Advantage Obama

Bad news for Senator Clinton: Senator Obama raised $25 million during the first quarter, one million shy of Hillary, but almost all of it can be used in the primaries for him (not so for her). Besides, isn’t it true that Hillary’s 26 mil includes circa 10 from her war chest? Also note that 90% of Obama’s donations were for $100 or less, and $6.9 million came via the internet! Very impressive.


It’s a literary issue with cool titles and fascinating topics!

Matthew S. Holland, Remembering John Winthrop--Hawthorne’s Suggestion

Matthew Sitman and Brian Smith, The Rift in the Modern Mind: Tocqueville and Percy on the Rise of the Cartesian Self

Sidney A. Pearson, Jr., It Is Tough to be the Second Toughest Guy in a Tough Town: Ask the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Scott Yenor, Willa Cather’s Turns

James Tillman, High Noon and the Problems of American Political Obligation

PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE and the other Heldref Publications are about to emerge live online. More details very soon.

Another Long-Shot: For Freedom and Against Taxes

It would be refreshing to have a candidate who doesn’t distance himself from the administration’s record. And Dick Cheney certainly has the experience... (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Another Trek/Hillary Mashup

Someone somewhere is having way too much fun with his video editing software.

And for Star Wars fans, there’s this cheezy pro-Obama bit that vindicates Nigel Tufnel’s famous dictum that "there’s a fine line between clever and stupid."

And for horror movie fans, here’s the clip of Hillary singing the national anthem. She forgot her mike was on I guess. Celine Dion is safe for now.


We’ve all heard that Mitt Romney won the Republican fundraising sweepstakes for the first quarter, easily outpacing Rudy Giuliani and leaving John McCain in the dust. Hugh Hewitt (not exactly impartial here) notes that the NYT spent a bit of its account on the Mormon connection. Hewitt compares that story unfavorably to this somewhat puffier NYT piece on Obama’s fundraising. Still, nothing will raise HH’s hackles like this WaPo story on Romney’s "Mormon base." I can’t wait to hear the steam coming from Hugh’s ears.

For what it’s worth, my own view is that there’s nothing sinister or unusual about having a core of supporters that share one’s background. And there’s no evidence of a "Mormon political agenda" that is in any way particularly Mormon. They share their social conservatism with lots of other folks, religious and non-religious. And their social organization doesn’t strike me as all that different from the networks in which others are embedded. In my part of the country, for example, lots of people spend lots of time with folks from their church. If religion as a source of "social [and political] capital" strikes you as somehow sinister, you haven’t been reading the scholars, like Robert Putnam, who identify it as one of the principal pillars of American civil society. Yes, there are other sources of social capital. And yes, people can be embedded in more than one network. Indeed, most people--including Romney, as the NYT article, unlike its WaPo counterpart, demonstrates--are. Unfortunately for Romney, his principal fundraising networks can easily be made to seem sinister (mysterious [heh] Mormons and robber baron capitalists).

I prefer to think of the Romney-Obama contrast as a battle of hotel chains: Marriott vs. Hyatt.

Being Proactive About Your New Kidney

Sally Satel explains why she thinks that, contrary to the opinion of a leading authority, nobody is being exploited when you search for your own kidney donor online. Notice that Sallly is talking about donating, not selling, kidneys, and she is clear about the fairly slim chances of escaping dialysis of those satisfied with their place on the official waiting lists. Still, it is jarring to have to "sell yourself" to get someone else to give up part of him- or herself.

Instructions in Cynicism

Jonathan Chait recently
argued that the only time conservatives suspend their skepticism about global warming is when they want to promote nuclear energy as the solution. They do this cynically, however: “Nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn’t build enough to make a major dent.” So why do conservatives promote it? Only because they “know that lefties hate nuclear power.”

Infuriating the cultural studies department is fun, but there are stronger reasons to support nuclear power. It won’t do to say nukes are a small part of the answer; if Al Gore is right about global warming, the problem is so immense that every possible solution is only a small part of the answer. Fareed Zakaria points out that a 60% cut in global carbon-dioxide emissions would be necessary to keep greenhouse gases at their current level. The economic effects of that drastic change would “make the Great Depression look very small.” Even if every American drove a hybrid, the effect on global greenhouse gases wouldn’t be much more than a rounding error at a time when China and India are building 650 coal-burning power plants.

Chait doesn’t give conservatives enough credit – we’re more cynical than he thinks. Promoting nuclear power doesn’t just agitate the Greens. It calls them on their own cynicism. You say global warming calls for hard choices? Here’s your chance to make one, Lefty – swallow hard and admit the obvious: more nuclear power means fewer carbon-dioxide emissions. The cynical conservatives who bring you the message that the world would be better off if we increased the nuclear portion of America’s total kilowatts from its current level, 20%, must be in league with the right-wingers running Sweden and France, where nukes generate 47% and 78%, respectively, of all electricity.

The environmentalists who refuse to make even this concession are, cynically, denying or hiding the consequences of solving global warming on their terms. They know that popular enthusiasm for “doing something” about global warming will melt like an iceberg in tropical Greenland if the “something” turns out to involve telling rich nations they’ve been rich long enough, or poor ones that they should stay poor, since they’ve got the hang of it. If a wave of new technologies that reconcile economic growth with cutting greenhouse emissions doesn’t conveniently present itself, electorates around the world are unlikely to share the Sierra Club’s fastidiousness about nuclear power.

This cynicism was on display in Chait’s own magazine, The New Republic. It recently took the interesting editorial position that global warming is so cataclysmically urgent that it is imperative for Democrats to . . . do nothing about it until after the 2008 elections. “There won’t be many chances to get [climate change] right, and Democrats will need to wait until they can go for broke.” The prospect of another Republican in the White House is worse, apparently, than the prospect of alligators in the streets of Anchorage. The New Republic isn’t running for election, however, and even if it advises Democrats to maintain radio silence rather than advertise what they’ll do about global warming, there’s no reason for Chait and his colleagues not to say what they’re for. No reason but cynicism, that is.

Massachusetts vs. EPA

NRO’s Jonathan Adler explains this decision, in which the majority reads the language of the Clean Air Act much more expansively than Congress has:

If Justice Stevens’s arguments are correct, many of the provisions added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 were surplusage, as the EPA already had ample authority to address emerging concerns such as stratospheric ozone depletion and acid rain. Clearly Congress felt differently. Every time in the past that Congress sought to regulate such regional or global pollutants, it recognized the need to enact new provisions, and that is precisely what it did. Moreover, Congress has repeatedly rejected the authorization of regulatory controls on greenhouse gases, explicitly denying the EPA authority to expend taxpayer funds on preparing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions when some feared the Clinton Administration would try and do just that. As recently as 2005 the Senate adopted a resolution calling upon Congress to adopt measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. If Congress had already delegated authority to regulate greenhouse gases to the EPA, such resolutions would be wholly unnecessary.

Somehow, I don’t think that the defenders of Congressional authority now in control of the House and Senate will do anything other than genuflect before their masters on the bench.

Move Over Al & Tipper . . . here come John & Teresa

Will this be the playbook for every failed Democratic nominee for the Presidency? Reading through this must make any person--no matter how much he hates Bush--think, "Thank God [insert appropriate higher force here] we didn’t get that guy!" I mean, honestly, with all that money can’t he buy a better ghost/speech writer?

What is it They Say . . . ?

. . . about a broken clock being right at least twice a day?

Speaking of Dennis Prager . . .

One of the reasons I love his show is because he brings up topics and invites guests to discuss topics that are off the beaten path and genuinely interesting--and not always blatantly political. Today he was out for Passover so they played a "Best Of" show and one of the guests was the author of this book. The guy is just a wandering soul who kicks around and writes about what he thinks about while he’s doing it. In this case he spent a little over a year kicking around Antartica. When Prager asked him to comment on what was the most difficult challenge to his sanity in all those 13 months--was it the darkness of winter, the cold, the isolation, etc.? The man’s answer blew me away: "It was the local politics," he said, as if that should be obvious! Isn’t that interesting? Here is a man in a place where there’s virtually nothing--a "Big Dead Place" as he called it--and the most significant challenge to his sanity is "the local politics."

If that doesn’t say something about human nature, I’m not sure what does!

The Hypocrisy Non Sequitur

Dennis Prager has an excellent and well-developed article today decrying those on the left who--lacking all civility or, perhaps, intellectual rigor--choose to "out" gay conservatives in order to charge them with (that worst of all liberal sins) hypocrisy. Prager explains not only why the charge of hypocrisy is irrelevant but also what is the object of levying the charge; what the charge is masking; and why it should have absolutely no impact on people of good-will who have the ability to think through to the end of an argument. None of this is to say that the morality of homosexuality cannot or should not be questioned--but there is a big difference between questioning that and smearing a person.

Wonder whether John Conyers or Patrick Leahy will investigate


Regarding the "Comments"

We have made the decision not change anything. That is, the "Comments" section and threads will continue as they have. We do, however, ask for civility. Thanks.

Hillary Doomsday Machine

Now from the Trekkie world, another You Tube swipe at Hillary. Just 43 seconds long.

Question for the class: Why does it seem to be only Hillary, and not Obama, Guiliani, or McCain that is getting the mashup treatment? And should campaign consultant be nervous, since they are being outclassed by amateurs? Discuss.

Huckabee for V.P.

Jeremy Lott has read Mike Huckabee’s "12 stop, 144 step" book, thus sparing us the trouble, and concludes that he’s really seeking to be someone’s running mate.

More Inconvenient Truth

Here’s an unexpected and instructive comparison of a huge and resource guzzling mansion in Nashville, Tennessee and a modest and eco-friendly home in Crawford, Texas.

Florida Wins Again

But Ohio State players showed plenty of heart this time and didn’t seem particularly outmanned. Oden deserved to be MVP. They just needed to hit some threes.

A post-literate student body?

There was some discussion about that at the conference I attended this past weekend. I missed this depressing article, to which George Leef called our attention.

If students don’t read or write much in high school, they’re surely not prepared for college-level work. Does the article ring true to those NLT readers who have experience of what’s required in high school?

The Ohio GOP and ’08 Elections

Peter Brown at Real Clear Politics argues--to my mind correctly--that as Ohio goes in this election cycle, so goes the nation. That is NOT good news at the moment. The Ohio GOP is, to put it mildly, a mess. The economy in Ohio is not, shall we say, dynamic. I suppose there are many things that could explain all of this and, not being there as often as I would like, I have only followed them from a distance. But serious minds should wrap themselves around this problem. The GOP in Ohio is in need of an infusion of good people, good ideas, and the backbone to support both. This forum is as good a place as any for batting some (ideas--not people please!) around.

Faculty bias revisited

Mary Eberstadt raises a few questions about this review of the evidence.

I’m more or less with Eberstadt on this. The studies reviewed in the report may have their flaws, but the report is simply a brief for the opposition, arguing, for example, that one of the problems with the studies is that they didn’t focus on enough disciplines, didn’t look at faculty at less prestigious institutions, or at part-time faculty. Those folks may indeed present a somewhat different picture, but if you’re looking for opinion leaders, you’d probably look at high prestige places (or at least at place that are currently high prestige; come the revolution, things could be different).

But my favorite argument from the review is this hardy perennial:

Suggesting that the higher education establishment actively excludes conservatives overlooks the possibility that people with different values and interests sort themselves into different professions. An illustration of the relationship between political values and occupation is evident in the predominance of Republicans in the military. A survey of active members of the military found that 57 percent indicated they were Republicans, compared with 13 percent who said they were Democrats.... Given the American tradition of a politically neutral military, this is a worrisome finding.

The important point is that the nature of military or academic occupations may each attract individuals who share common beliefs. It is no more plausible to believe that the hiring process for the military tries to screen out Democrats or retard their promotion than to believe that higher education discriminates against Republicans.

On the narrow question of partisan affiliation, he’s probably right. I doubt that anyone asks about party affiliation in a job interview. And I’m willing to agree also that party affiliation doesn’t imply political bias in the hiring process or in the classroom. I know people who are willing to call themselves Democrats and who are entirely fair-minded in their approach to students, colleagues, and potential colleagues. But there is an important difference between the military and higher education. In the former, there is strong support for adherence to professional norms. In the latter, the old norms have been under assault for at least a generation. This doesn’t mean that every self-professed academic leftist is willing to subordinate everything to his or her political ends, but there has been a sustained questioning of notions like objectivity and fairness, which makes them weaker than we’d like them to be.

If we should worry about the distribution of party affiliation in the military, then we should also worry about the relative paucity of conservatives on high-prestige college campuses.

That’s not a reason, as I’ve said many times in the past, to support the passage of an "Academic Bill of Rights," but it is a reason for good people to support the creation of centers like Ashbrook, the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown, and others. It’s also a reason for good people to support organizations like the Association for Core Texts and Courses, which is honestly focused on teaching good books well, without any political agenda.

Lightweight Feminists Never More Apparent

Or so says Jennifer Roback Morse in this interesting column. Follow the links within it too if you want a full picture of her argument.

Astonishing and horrifying but not surprising

Some schools in the UK have stopped teaching about the Holocaust and the Crusades in order not to offend Muslim pupils. At what point will people of good will over there begin to say enough?


The fundraising numbers are out for the first quarter: Clinton is at top with 26 million, and Romney at 24 million is second, at least until Obama reports.

Russian birthrate and male mortality

The birthrate in Russia has gone up a notch or two, according to this BBC report, but the adult male mortality rate is still very high. Life expectancy for males is 59, for females it is 74.

Bob Novak on Fred Thompson

Fred is surging; Rudy is declining; Romney’s supporters, suffering from buyer’s remorse, are switching. Finally the conservative void is being filled by a candidate conservatives actually like. I agree that these facts are for real. I’m less clear on how for real Law-and-Order Fred himself is. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Fred and Now Tommy...Two Thompsons and Counting

Tommy Thompson will focus on Iowa and health care. He certainly was a good governor, but where’s he been?

Barone on the possibilities

Michael Barone offers up some possible scenarios for 2008, noting the Democrats’ advantage.

Constitutional confrontations

Gary McDowell reminds us of the constitutional dimensions of the the current political conflicts between Congress and the President.

Abolish the Electoral College?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is happy that his home state, Maryland, is on the brink of passing a law that commits its ten electors to the winner of the national popular vote, should states with 270 electoral votes agree to do so. This is an end run around the constitutional amendment process, which is, of course, much more cumbersome and in which small states, "overrepresented" in the E.C., are likely to pose barriers.

For Dionne, it’s all about democracy. Not federalism. Not republicanism.

Next thing you know, he’ll propose abolishing judicial review and the Bill of Rights. Other countries get along just fine without them too.

Hillary the Hawk

The NEW REPUBLIC provides a surprising amount of evidence that Ms. Clinton is more realistic and more bellicose when it comes to our country’s responsibilities than her husband. Amazingly enough, her foreign policy opinions seem to be about the same as those of the NEW REPUBLIC. One particularly amazing fact: Law Professor Hillary Clinton actually tried to enlist in the Marines. (It turns out the Marines weren’t looking for women law professors with really bad vision,) As far as I know, Bill didn’t. If you think, as I do, that it’s going to be pretty difficult for any Republican to get elected president in 2008, this article does show why, however eloquent and cool we think Obama is, we ought to hope that the Democrats make the more responsible choice.

Back home

From Williamsburg, where, among other things, my wife and kids enjoyed a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. My wife says that she wants to work for Colonial Williamsburg at some point in the future and compared the experience (in terms of the quality of the presentation, the professionalism of the cast, and the emphasis on customer service) to Disney World, which is our book is high praise indeed. Obviously, the subject is a bit more serious (of course).

I presented a paper (on "’Family Values’ in Livy’s Rome"), chaired a panel on leadership and core texts, enjoyed a number of conversations in a remarkably collegial conference, and caught up with a number of old friends.

The single most impressive and entertaining speaker was Paul Cantor, who spoke about Homer and other "productions" as examples of a kind of "spontaneous order."

I also found these two books and glanced at the galleys of this one. Schall and Lawler must just bleed ink.