Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Summer School Assignment: Remedial Vote-Counting

Fred Barnes and Linda Chavez have written many smart things over the years. Their recent arguments that this week’s defeat of the immigration bill in the Senate will do political harm to the Republicans don’t measure up to their usual efforts. The key problem for both of them is that in a two-party nation, congressional politics will always be a zero-sum game. Whatever helps the Democrats hurts the Republicans, and vice versa.

Chavez and Barnes call the decisive cloture vote against the immigration bill a self-inflicted wound for the Republicans. That opinion is, to put it generously, difficult to square with the fact that one-third of the Democrats voted against cloture. If they thought the bill was a political winner, why would they jump off the train rather than seize the opportunity to claim credit for themselves and their party? As Michael Barone pointed out, 24 of the 33 senators who have to run for re-election next year opposed cloture. Among senators who won’t face the voters again until 2010 or 2012, 37 out of 56 voted for it. The fact that the politicians most concerned about popular sentiment were least likely to help the immigration bill casts doubt on the idea that Republicans will “find themselves sitting on the back benches for years to come,” in Chavez’s phrase, because they passed up this golden opportunity.

According to Barnes, “For Democrats, the failure of immigration reform is a twofer. Democrats are likely now to begin to solidify their hold on the Hispanic vote. And their House members in rural and conservative districts have been spared a risky vote in favor of immigration reform.” Do you see the zero-sum problem here? Barnes is saying that the Democrats are going to win Hispanic votes by stressing their support for the immigration bill, the same one that’s going to lose votes for them in rural and conservative districts. It’s not that both can’t be true, exactly, but that they can’t be true in the same direction. If the Democrats have more Hispanic votes to gain than rural votes to lose by supporting the immigration bill, the raw political calculation would be to support it. And if not, not. But there can’t be a net gain for the Democrats if they support the bill, and also a net gain if they oppose it.

Barnes says that while “opposition to the bill may aid individual senators, it clearly undercuts Republican efforts to capture the Hispanic vote.” Fred, they’re all individual senators and representatives, and none of them got elected without having a pretty good idea of how to assess political risks and rewards. Their professional judgment that supporting the immigration bill would increase the likelihood that their careers would be moving into a post-congressional phase deserves respect. So does their understanding that the party that wins the most individual races in 2008 will have a congressional majority in 2009. Vying for the loyalty of a particular voting bloc is not some collateral effort that benefits either party, except insofar as it manifests itself in all of those individual elections.

What’s Really Wrong with BROWN

Here I’m hastily reacting to Rob’s post below, shamelessly using my power to create a new entry every time I want to pontificate about God, nature, the Constitution or whatever:

BROWN would have seemed less punitive had it been more assertive. BROWN II was racist in its lack of a timetable for implementation, in its "all deliberate speed." The remedy was not guaranteed to the particular kids whose rights were violated (and they were) but to members of their race at some indefinite time in the future. The South correctly saw in BROWN II a sort of license to stall--and that stalling made the Civil Rights movement necessary, was the real cause of much of the violence and corresponding use of federal troops and eventually of the perceived need for busing etc. Had the Court set a deadline for taking race out of the law of, say, 1958, then implementation might have been somewhat harsher initially but more benign over the long run. I tend to think that more damaging than anything in BROWN I is the more explicit racism or anti-individualism of Brown II. I actually think the strange BROWN I opinion is not oriented toward indefinite progress toward perfection integration but is better understood as a misguided tactical move to shape a radical decision with a seemingly moderate and limited argument--one that didn’t reverse PLESSY (because it had no implications for segregated transportation) and was limited only to primary and secondary education. The argument used in BOLLING v. SHARPE (announced the same day) about racial distinctions in the law being hostile to our tradition or something like that showed that the Court knew better than BROWN and a lot about their real intention.
Listen, the Second Reconstruction could have been handled better but certainly was necessary: The South rose to American dominance only after the end of segregation and the coming of air conditioning.

The One True BROWN

Our Bench Memo friend, Ed Whelan, explains that the clear intent of BROWN was not to integrate, but desegregate, to command the assignment of students to schools on a nonracial, nondiscriminatory basis. Breyer is wrong to say it’s obvious that the precedent could be used to justify a racially conscious educational remedy to somehow compensate for patterns of residential segregation. So, contrary to the Court’s unanimous ruling in SWANN, "Court ordered busing" is clearly unconstitutional. It’s not as clear that the voluntary use of race by legislative bodies as one factor many in some sort of narrowly tailored remedy is; truth to tell, BROWN can’t be cited as settling that issue authoritatively one way or the other. The psychotherapeutic argument of BROWN is mushy and has been abused in many ways, but arguably all racially based remedies stigmatize minorities, unless the remedial character for particular, identifiable individuals is very transparent. The real issue on our nation’s deliberative agenda is this: Is the educational objective of diversity--which the Court typically justifies according to the First, not Fourteenth, Amendment--really weighty enough to justify compromising the elementary individualistic principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of race? It is, in truth, not a compelling state interest and does not even pretend to have a remedial effect for particular individuals who have suffered discrimination.

Beach Blogging

From San Simeon, California. Only 36 seconds long.

Minimalists and visionaries

That’s how Cass Sunstein would divvy up the conservative bloc on the Supreme Court. So far, the evidence seems to support his distinction: Justices Scalia and Thomas want to reach the big questions, while Justices Roberts and Alito want to find a relatively narrow, if not the narrowest possible, ground for the ruling, not overruling precedent if they don’t have to.

Thus far, this combination has generally succeeded in carrying along Justice Kennedy. What would happen if they didn’t need his vote (my fond hope) is anyone’s guess.

If PETA Hates Him He Should Advertise It

This is not exactly the humanizing flaw I was looking for in Romney, but I’ll take it. If PETA hates the guy, he must be doing something wrong that’s actually right. Notice the comment from the PETA spokeswoman equating the importance of dogs with that of children. There’s nothing new about that, of course, but it is telling. I think that attacks like this do wonders to improve the perceptions the vast majority of sensible Americans have about Mitt.

Liberals’ Eric Alterman Problem

Eric Alterman doesn’t like Martin Peretz, who was the publisher of The New Republic from 1973 until its sale earlier this year. Why? Because over the course of those 34 years, “Peretz has done lasting damage to the cause of American liberalism. By turning TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed the ability – at least for a while – to play a key role in defining the borders of ‘responsible’ liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy.”

Although Alterman has complaints about the tone of TNR under Peretz, and about some of its domestic policy positions, what really infuriates him is the magazine’s hawkishness, especially concerning Israel and the Middle East. Alterman writes, “TNR was not simply wrong about Iraq, it was viciously, nastily wrong. . . . By pretending to speak as a liberal but simultaneously endorsing the central crusades of the right, [Peretz] has enlisted The New Republic in the service of a ruinous neoconservative doctrine, as the magazine sneered at those liberals who stood firm in the face of its insults.”

So far, so bad. Peretz is a graceless writer; little of his work would see the light of day if he had to send it to editors not on his payroll. The relentlessness of his efforts over the past 20 years to chisel Al Gore’s face onto Mount Rushmore defies parody. The Alterman critique goes from angry to weird, however, when he says, “the hard work of coming up with a genuinely liberal alternative to the neoconservative foreign-policy nightmare, an alternative to which TNR might have usefully contributed, remains not merely undone but undermined in the pages of the magazine.” Is one publisher of one magazine really so powerful that he can stymie the otherwise promising efforts to reconceptualize liberal foreign policy? William Randolph Hearst didn’t throw that kind of weight around on his best days.

The hard work Alterman describes has been fruitless for longer than Peretz has been running The New Republic. It was 40 years ago that the Americans for Democratic Action denounced Lyndon Johnson and the war in Vietnam, which Johnson had pursued in the belief that it was exactly the sort of commitment required by the liberal anti-communism that was the ADA’s raison d’être. Since then, “the Democratic Party has had no foreign policy,” according to a New Yorker article by George Packer at the start of the 2004 election campaign. Its “base remains instinctively uncomfortable with activism and armed force.” Liberals’ “intellectual shortcomings” include “isolationism and pacifism,” and the multiculturalist reluctance to “mount a wholehearted defense of one political system against another, especially when the other has taken root among poorer and darker-skinned peoples.” Liberals “have continued to speak the language of liberal internationalism” but “haven’t wanted to back up the talk with power.”

The “genuinely liberal alternative” Alterman longs for will have to solve all these problems. It will indeed be hard work. Alterman shows just how hard by contending that liberals who want their resolve in the face of Osama bin Laden to be credible are frightened of Martin Peretz.

Hey John Moser . . . Beat This!

Remember John’s confession of pyromania last July? My native Californian husband is likewise fascinated when he visits Ohio in the summer and sees all the amazing fireworks available for purchase. And I used to be rather proud of the spirit of Ohioans that they would insist on keeping the sale, if not the use, of these things legal. (Because everybody knows they get used anyway.) But I should have remembered . . . everything’s bigger in California!

What Happens When PC Turns in on Itself

Is it just me, or does this all sound like a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors"? Do gays trump blacks? I don’t know if racism really got him fired, but Isaiah Washington is right about one thing: he ought not to have apologized in the obsequious way he did. And he’s right about another: if anything will help him now, it’s pulling this card.

Elephant in the Room

Bill Bennett here points to the biggest problem faced by our nation: a lack of self-understanding. I don’t think it’s too much to say that unless and until we address this problem in our schools and in our popular culture, we aren’t going to be able to solve any other problem--from the war to immigration--in a satisfactory way. There must be a special place in hell for teachers who persist in making American history boring or repulsive. Of course, that’s why the work of the Ashbrook Center is so important.

Cleared the Schedule . . . ?

Al Gore has cleared his schedule for the next 6 months, lost a good bit of weight, and has this big extravaganza planned for next week . . . Hmmmm. Any predictions, Steve?

Research Proves Kipling Right

This study (cited today by Rush Limbaugh) proves that Rudyard Kipling had it more or less correct when he wrote The Cat Who Walked by Himself. Apparently cats were not domesticated by man, but vice versa. Rush said that dogs have masters and cats have servants. I guess. But I think the man in Kipling’s story had a better view of what to do when confronted with a cat.

More thoughts on Hein

Prawfsblawgger (I guess that’s how you’d spell it) Andrew M. Siegel offers additional thoughts on the Hein case, about which I blogged (without the J.D., I can’t blawg) here. Defending the position taken in Flast, and by Dahlia Litwick, Siegel argues that the Establishment Clause is just plain different:

the Establishment Clause is the only Clause in the Constitution that seems to bestow an individual right on individuals in their capacity as taxpayers. After all, the ur-injury against which all modern Establishment Clause claims are reflected is the Establishment of a national church, i.e., the use of federal tax dollars drawn from all segments of the population to support a particular religion. Given the central role the Establishment Clause plays in protecting freedom of conscience and its placement in the first Amendment’s list of liberties, the right not to be conscripted into paying such taxes to support an alien religion is as personal a right as the freedom of speech or the free exercise of religion. The fact that a government action impermissibly funding a particular religion violates the individual rights of many, many individuals should not defeat standing, as it would not in a case where the government outlawed all speech critical of the current administration or prohibited the exercise of Christianity.

I’m willing to take seriously much of that quasi-originalist point, were it not for the fact that it’s the basis for permitting objections to activities that are lightyears away from amounting to an establishment of religion. Litigation as a resort against genuine establishment (however unlikely that would be) makes sense. But we ought to rely primarily on political barriers--elections and legislative oversight--to deal with milder forms of interaction between religion and government, forms, by the way, that were tolerated and even embraced for most of our history.

Peggy Noonan Explains How Someone Becomes an American making The Decision.

Don’t Cry for BROWN’s Demise

That’s the thoughtful if partly misguided conclusion of Juan Williams. Williams is wrong that BROWN imposed a race-conscious remedy. It actually only demanded that a kid not be assigned to a school based on his race. But it is true that a unanimous court in SWANN (1971) ruled that BROWN actually mandated maxing out on real integration and so Court-ordered busing. All other educational considerations should give way to the goal of racial balance. It is disquieting that a proper understanding of BROWN eluded every member on the Court, and one reason for that is that BROWN just isn’t a well reasoned argument (although it was a perfectly correct decision). Now, Juan contends, racial malice just can’t be blamed for all our bad schools and the real scandal of very unequal educational opportunity. Our new goal should be much less about integration and much more about a good education for all our children. Empty, elitist talk about diversity should give way to a serious examination of what our devotion to equality really demands of us.

The Narrow Anti-Diversity Ruling

The NATIONAL REVIEW wishes the Court had gone further and declared all use of race as a legal category unconstitutional. We defenders of judicial restraint disagree. The principle found in the relevant precedents is that every individual must be treated as an individual, or not merely as a member of a race. But race may be used as one factor among many in thinking about individuals, with the burden of proof being on those who must show that the use of race is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Justice O’Connor clearly did not apply the principle correctly in GRUTTER. There was no serious inquiry into diversity (as opposed to, say, justice or equality) as a govermental objective, and there was deference to (no strict scrutiny of) Michigan’s factual claims. But in the Seattle and Louisville cases, the principle was used correctly to strike down policies, and there was no need to develop a new one.
Declaring all racially-based remedies unconstitutional would have been contrary to all precedent (the Court has never said the Constitution is color-blind--BROWN itself is ambiguous and sort of rightly used by both sides in this controversy), needlessly controversial, and surely an act of judicial activism. We conservatives have to be consistent in applauding the Court when it has a modest but firm view of its role in our constitutional order. I’m more inclined to applaud the Court when it acts aggressively to withdraw itself from places it never should have been to begin with--abortion, for example.

Gerson on Obama on religion

Michael Gerson nails Barack Obama on religion.

He also raises the issue about how to appeal to the younger generation of evangelicals, who, he says, differ on some issues from their elders. I think he’s right about those differences (on matters like the environment and their attitude toward gays). He thinks that these developments might provide an opening for both parties to educate themselves and this constituency about the difference between prudentially adopted means and essential ends:

This has been the Christian compromise on faith and politics. The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim "Thus sayeth the Lord," spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.

I’m not sure I’d use the word "rights" in this context, because it--especially in our political culture--tends to short-circuit prudence and the kind of balancing political judgment always requires. I can have a duty toward someone and he or she can have a claim on my attention and compassion without requiring me to take political action on his or her behalf. Stated another way, by emphasizing the political as opposed to the charitable element of the concern with widows and orphans, Gerson already begins to distort the debate.

Update: Acton’s Jordan Ballor adds more nuance here, arguing in part that not all rights language is merely political in its import and implication. This is a complicated question, made so in large part by the power and hence the extension of rights language in the contemporary world. Every strong preference, and indeed every human good, tends to have a right attached to it, with the goal of provoking a response from those to whom the claim is addressed. When I say I have a right to something I want very, very badly (or when I say I have a right to something I need), the normal implication is that someone has a responsibility to provide it. I realize that this isn’t simply the classical liberal conception: Hobbes’s rights were, in effect, hunting licenses; and the right to pursue happiness in the Declaration demands respect, but not necessarily assistance or service. But Gerson’s rights language doesn’t draw simply from the older liberal tradition, but rather from the welfare rights tradition that borrows liberal language for more communal, not to say paternalistic, ends. It’s meant to borrow the powerful rhetorical advantage of the liberal conception of rights and apply it to a different set of issues. And especially in the American context, as Tocqueville already notes, rights language trumps all other moral language, absolutizing claims and pushing them to the center of our legal and political systems.

Defending Russell Kirk

I’m at Bethel College in or near St. Paul, Minnesota, typing on a computer that seems to have resisted successfully cutting and pasting. Nevertheless, if you go to the NRO page you will see some nice defenses (especially Jeff Nelson’s) of Russell Kirk from the venom of Alan Wolfe in his NEW REPUBLIC review article. Wolfe has been been disfiguring himself for a while into a gross caricature of a critic with extreme anti-theological and especially anti-Christian ire. Kirk really did like all kinds of people, was a champion of the underdog, didn’t have slaves or want any (despite having a large, wonderful family), was much more interested in making the world safe for bohemians like himself than for aristocrats, loved his country, took some public policy stands that today’s liberal would like, hated Nazism and all ideological thought and practice, was a man of tremendous erudition, was a prolific and graceful writer of both cultural analysis and fiction, and made one of the most serious and likely enduring contributions to American conservative thought. He was also far from perfect as a thinker and interpreter, and his life was surely too eccentric for him to be regarded as a model of human excellence. But his flaws, of course, are part of his charm. I certainly thought Wolfe’s article was shameful enough to ignore, but it could be that even some readers of NLT would actually believe some of his scattershot allegations.

A Good but not Great Ruling?

Daniel Henninger shows us why the new additions to the Court--though good--may not have the fortitude required to make them great. The ruling in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case is correct; the kid has no first amendment right to hold up such a sign. But the reasoning in Roberts’ and Alito’s opinions was, perhaps, too narrow as it tread too closely to the flawed logic of Tinker and other precedents that ought not to be held up to posterity. Here’s the opinion of the Court. Henninger recommends reading Thomas’ excellent concurring opinion as one of the most excellent essays on the failures of American education to appear in the last 35 years.

No cloture on immigration bill

These two articles on the defeat of cloture on the immigration bill make no mention of the wide unpopularity of the proposal, the haste and highhandedness with which proponents were trying to push it through, and the machinations of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid is getting his story line: it’s a defeat for President Bush. I say: it’s a victory for republican self-government, which combines representativeness and deliberation. The immigration proposal embodied neither, discouraging a full and free debate in the Senate (where that sort of thing is supposed to happen) and haughtily dismissing the reasonable concerns of the public, not just about the character of the country, but about the security of the borders.

The press will present it as a victory for nativism and unreason (embodied in two words: "Michael Savage"); there surely were irrational and nativist opponents of the measure, but they were at the margins. Most embrace Peter Schramm’s Americanism of principle, care deeply about the rule of law (which our "elites" clearly want to sacrifice to profits or votes), and worry about border security. They rightly distrust promises made by people who haven’t given any concrete evidence about their concern with border security.

I hope the Bush Administration takes a hint and begins to build that trust by enforcing current immigration law and that Congress takes a hint by appropriating the money to build the fence that was authorized. Should they do so, it might be possible to revisit this vexed question in calmer times.

To repeat: yes, this is a Bush Administration failure, but the responsibility for it goes much further. Anyone who tried to deal quickly and "easily" with this complicated problem, without having established the groundwork in public opinion and having persuaded us that they could be trusted, deserves a share of the blame. Harry Reid and his supporters can’t just point down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Did Someone Say "Citizenship"? They Should Check in With Our Fearless Leader Peter

Oddly missing for the most part from the whole immigration debate raging in Congress has been any serious talk of the civic nature of immigrants becoming citizens (or "assimilation" if you like). Sure, there have been one or two half-hearted amendments to recognize English as our official language (after which perhaps Congress will pass a resolution recognizing the law of gravity and observing that water runs downhill), but note that when Newt Gingrich stumbled over this he quickly apologized. In Spanish. Aside from a few good pieces from the Heritage Foundationl, there has been little attention paid to this.

The Senate ought to puase long enough to ponder Peter’s meditation in The Weekly Standard Online today, on "what it means to be an American by choice." Congratulations, by the way: Peter is receiving an award for this. Even if it is from the fedderal gummint, still a nice honor.

Old books and current events

I make a living teaching old books, and constantly try to persuade my students that things written more than a week ago remain meaningful and "relevant." Yesterday, this passage from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah provoked an interesting discussion:

When people (who have a religious coloring) come to have the (right) insight into their affairs, nothing can withstand them, because their outlook is one and their object one of common accord. They are willing to die for (their objectives). (On the other hand,) the members of the dynasty they attack may be many times as numerous as they. But their purposes differ, in as much as they are false purposes, and (the people of the worldly dynasty) come to abandon each other, since they are afraid of death. Therefore, they do not offer resistance to (the people with a religious coloring), even if they themselves are more numerous. They are overpowered by them and quickly wiped out, as a result of the luxury and humbleness existing among them, as we have mentioned before.

This happened to the Arabs at the beginning of Islam during the Muslim conquests. The armies of the Muslims at al-Qadisiyah and at the Yarmuk numbered some 30,000 in each case, while the Persian troops at al-Qadisiyah numbered 120,000, and the troops of Heraclius, according to al­Waqidi, 400,000. Neither of the two parties was able to withstand the Arabs. (The Arabs) routed them and seized what they possessed.

Another illustration is the Lamtunah (Almoravid) and Almohad dynasties. In the Maghrib, there existed many tribes equaling or surpassing them in numbers and group feeling. However, their religious organization doubled the strength of their group feeling through (their) feeling of having (the right religious) insight and (their) willingness to die, as we have stated, and nothing could withstand them.

Without editorializing (that’s not my job in the classroom), I noted that true religion was also understood by Saint Augustine as the only basis of genuine community.

Enough said.

Hippies Plus Evangelicals Equals Libertarians

That’s REASON’s view of the accidental genealogy of the alleged great cultural convergence of our time.

Help Wanted

I just noticed this opening for an assistant editor at the Claremont Review of Books (see left column):

Help Wanted

Assistant Editor

Responsibilities include editing reviews and essays for the Claremont Review of Books, corresponding with authors during the
editing and production processes,proofreading the magazine, and acting as a deputy to the managing editor.

The assistant editor also serves as the magazine’s publicist, developing and executing strategies to increase the magazine’s exposure and subscriptions.

The assistant editor oversees the Claremont Institute’s website, editing articles for web publication, posting pieces from the magazine, and soliciting original website content. Candidates must have strong writing and editing skills and must be committed to the magazine’s mission. This is a full-time, salaried position with health benefits. Applicants should send a cover letter, CV, and writing samples to:

The Claremont Institute
Attn: John B. Kienker, Managing Editor
937 West Foothill Boulevard, Suite E
Claremont, CA 91711

Imagination Drain

Before I am accused of contracting the sickness of "Good Old Days-itis" let me say that I understand that fond recollections of one’s own childhood can be misleading. The grand adventures we recall now probably did not seem so wonderful and enchanting as they happened. I get that. But this pediatrician discusses what he views as a trend away from allowing children to develop their own games and imaginations and toward adult hovering and over-thinking (and, as he sometimes sees it, over-commercialization) of everything from classrooms to playgrounds. I have often thought that so much of what my kids experience today is just a bit too "scripted" compared with the fun we used to have as kids. But I think there is a long list of causes (commercialization being probably the least among them).

I will just throw out a couple for consideration: first, people are having kids much later in life. I wouldn’t say that older parents have more invested in their children than younger parents, but they probably have more invested in the decision to have them. It is possible, on occasion, that they may have over-thought the thing--thus the delay. Further, such parents may not have one foot in the grave . . . but they are more keenly aware of the graveyard. There is a pressure to do right in more urgently felt time constraints. Plus, they’re often wealthier than younger parents. They tend to be more indulgent materially. Birthday parties in the backyard with pin the tail on the donkey for a few friends won’t do. They can and do have marvelously and extravagantly scripted events at places created specifically for the purpose.

A second reason for this "scripting" may be that neighborhoods tend to empty out of children and mothers during the daytime. I remember wandering through the neighborhood as a young child (i.e., 5 or 6) and chasing the ice cream truck, riding tricycles, searching for treasure, pretending to build clubhouses, etc. My kids don’t really do that and, if they wanted to, they wouldn’t have anyone to join them. No one is ever home during the day. If the mothers aren’t working, they’re out with their children on scripted outings.

I’m not saying that all of this is a bad change, but it is a change worth considering. On the up-side, I think my kids have seen much more of the world than I ever did at their ages. They’ve been to classical concerts; Broadway quality plays; first class museums, zoos and aquariums and; of course, to some really amazing birthday parties. But I do worry sometimes that there is such a thing as over-doing it. And sometimes, late at night, when I sneak into their rooms to give them one last kiss for the night, I wonder if they’ll ever know how much fun it is to build a fort in a tree and fight the battles of a mighty empire of princesses and pirates.

Teach your children well?

This NYT article describes the findings of this poll. We learn, shockingly, that young people lean liberal, as (apparently) they almost always have, at least for the past half century.

I doubt we can predict anything about their future political behavior from this. And I’m not even sure that, given their general participation rates and the difficulty of mobilizing them, their predilections will make a big difference in 2008.

What we don’t from the article is that, for the most part, there’s not an appreciable difference between the views of those folks and the general population. And we certainly don’t learn that they’re slightly less pro-abortion than is the population as a whole and that, however tolerant and supportive of same-sex marriage and civil unions they are, they’re overwhelmingly unlikely to vote for a gay or lesbian presidential candidate.

Hat tip: Acton’s Anthony Bradley.

Update: Hugh Hewitt’s alter ego has more here.

Diversity and social capital

Apparently, Robert Putnam, who used to worry only about bowling alone, has found that ethnic diversity reduces social capital. Our typical response to greater ethnic diversity in our communities is "to ‘hunker down’—that is, to pull in like a turtle.” In diverse communities (apparently almost a contradiction in terms), we tend "to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from [our] community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

Putnam thinks that there are long-run benefits, but, in the short and medium term, the costs seem pretty high.

I haven’t read the original research, but here’s an abstract and a reference, for those who have access to this journal.


Some of the contents of the latest Claremont Review of Books is now avaliable on-line. I recommend you read

Diana Schaub’s "The Greatness and Decline of American Oratory," as soon as you can get your hands on a good cup of coffee and a

Henry Clay. Then read Hadley Arkes’ "Building Democracy." And then, because you are on your third cigar and small things don’t matter, go buy Greenberg’s book, The Architecture of Democracy, it’s both true and beautiful, and therefore good. And then you might as well subscribe to the Claremont Review of Books because the good needs human support.

Gerson on the Democratic exit strategery

Michael Gerson’s column on the Democrats’ Iraq exit strategy contains some great lines. To wit

History seems to be settling on some criticisms of the early conduct of the Iraq war. On the theory that America could liberate and leave, force levels were reduced too early, security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqis before they were ready, and planning for future challenges was unrealistic. "Victory in Iraq," one official of the Coalition Provisional Authority told me a couple of years ago, "was defined as decapitating the regime. No one defined victory as creating a sustainable country six months down the road."

Now Democrats running for president have thought deeply and produced their own Iraq policy: They want to cut force levels too early and transfer responsibility to Iraqis before they are ready, and they offer no plan to deal with the chaos that would result six months down the road. In essential outline, they have chosen to duplicate the early mistakes of an administration they hold in contempt.

But nothing beats this for poignancy:

In 1974, a weary Congress cut off funds for Cambodia and South Vietnam, leading to the swift fall of both allies. In his memoir, "Years of Renewal," Henry Kissinger tells the story of former Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak, who refused to leave his country.

"I thank you very sincerely," Matak wrote in response, "for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans]."

He was, as Gerson notes, killed three days later by the Khmer Rouge (remember those monsters?).

More on Cheney

The next Washington Post installment on Cheney is out. No comment, save this. I have been dropping in on the Early Republic seminar offered by Steve Knott and Rob McDonald and have overheard some conversation about what the Jeffersonians thought about Hamilton and I must say that the WaPo’s (and CNN, MSNBC, etc.) attacks on Cheney are really quite mild in comparison. About the only thing he hasn’t been accused of is being a "whale to virginity" and devouring all the fry. Not so with Hamilton, of course.

Gingrich on WWIV

Newt Gingrich sums up this article on the current direction of the West in this new world war by paraphrasing Churchill: ". . . we are not even at the end of the beginning. However, we may be at the beginning of recognizing that this will be a real war." He also includes a list of items he sees a practical and necessary steps for improving our odds in the conflict.

This list includes steps such as: the current system of schools under both Fatah and Hamas control have to be replaced in their entirety with a system dedicated to genuine education and to teaching human rights rather than jihad and hatred. Each of the other suggestions is equally daunting--which, of course, does not mean that they are any less true.

Gingrich’s article is premised on the assumption that it is our leaders who are wavering in this struggle--not the spirit or character of the American people as a whole. He gives what may be some cheerful evidence to support this claim. But, if true, this welcome news offers another task that is no less daunting than those he proposes at the end of his piece: such "leadership" must be replaced. The article does not suggest means to achieve any of these goals but it is a useful starting place for a discussion both of the goals and of possible means for achieving them.


The last push is on to get the immigration bill moving again and I don’t think it will work. And the main reason it will fail is because it is perceived, as Matt Spalding makes clear, as an amnesty bill.

Putin as civics teacher

Putin continues to try to revise history. From the AP dispatch:

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday no one should try to make Russia feel guilty about the Great Purge of 1937, saying it may have been one of the most notorious episodes of the Stalin era but "in other countries even worse things happened."

Speaking at a televised meeting with social studies teachers, Putin noted that this is the 70th anniversary of a year many Russians regard as a synonym for state-sponsored terror. It is an anniversary that has, however, gotten relatively little attention in Russian media.

And then this: "No one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us," he said. "Let them think about themselves. But we must not and will not forget about the grim chapters in our history."

And a bit more: We have not used nuclear weapons against a civilian population," he said. "We have not sprayed thousands of kilometers (miles) with chemicals, (or) dropped on a small country seven times more bombs than in all the Great Patriotic (War)" -- Russia’s name for World War II.

Fred Gives the Queen Thumbs Up!

Thompson takes a strong stand againt the divine right of monarchs while making it clear that this particular monarch is impressive. Fred admires her honoring of the free speech of the terrorist-targeted novelist Rushdie. Fred himself has patriotic objections to Salman’s controversial books (which he seems to have read), but he is American enough to keep them under control and in perspective (as his fellow citizens are when offended by Monty Python or Mel Gibson). Am I wrong, or is Thompson a master in making lots of solid conservative points in remarkably few words? He also shows that he’s in a different league than Mitt when it comes to the appreciation of fine literature.

Standing still on standing

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, a case in which the latter organization was comprehensively challenging the Bush Administration’s promotion of the faith-based initiative. At issue here was FFRF’s standing to sue, which grew out of the exemption for taxpayer challenges carved out in Flast v. Cohen.

I haven’t read all the opinions yet (summer school gets in the way!), but you can read articles about the decision here, here, and here, and competent early commentary by scrolling down here, as well as by going here and here.

A couple of very preliminary notes: first, it’s a 5-4 decision, with three justices (Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy supporting a narrow reading of the Flast precedent that extends taxpayer standing only in cases where legislative (not executive, as in this instance) action is involved and two (Scalia and Thomas) calling for overturning the precedent. Draw your own conclusions about the differences between Roberts and Alito, on the one side, and Scalia and Thomas, on the other, but don’t forget that Kennedy is the crucial fifth vote.

Second, in his opinion for the plurality, Alito makes the point that permitting taxpayer challenges in this case would radically extend judicial supervision of the executive branch. If the FFRF had its way, one can imagine circumstances in which presidential proclamations of Thanksgiving would be subject to legal challenge by anyone who pays taxes. Is this what Justice Souter and his colleagues have in mind?

Update: Let me add two more very general considerations. First, whatever its other vices, the Flast exception has at least this virtue: it honors the language of the First Amendment, which says that "Congress shall make no law...." By requiring there to be a law to which the taxpayer can object, it provides a bit of discipline to our litigious fellow citizens. Second, those who object to this ruling often put out a parade of horribles that the executive can accomplish on its own steam without legal authorization, as if the only barrier between us and theocracy is the FFRF (and the judges who agree with it). This is surely foreign to the original understanding of the Bill of Rights (see, for example, here, as well as my contribution to this out-of-print volume). The principal defense of our rights was to come from our vigilance (expressed above all through our voting) and from the decency and ambition of our representatives, who would resist the unreasonable and unconstitutional encroachments of their colleagues in government. There is absolutely no evidence that such a mechanism would work to deal with substantial First Amendment abuses coming out of the executive branch. And the alternative proposed by FFRF (and at least implicitly by the dissenters in this case) is to make the judiciary the comprehensive censor of all executive action, which surely upsets the constitutional order.

Update #2: Walter Dellinger and Dahlia Litwick disagree about the decision, Dellinger channeling John Marshall and Litwick, James Madison. Litwick’s Madison is the "not three pence" JM, not the BoR as mere parchment barriers JM.

The press’ politics

Howard Kurtz comments on political contribution by the press and notes this shocking and surprising fact: "The scorecard -- 125 of 144 donations to Democrats -- provides fresh ammunition to those who say the press has a liberal tilt. It’s hard to argue you don’t favor one party when you’ve just coughed up cash for that party."

The New Mod (esty) Squad?

A new book by Wendy Shalit (ably reviewed here by Pia Catton) argues that there is burgeoning movement of young women who are repulsed by the crude feminism of their mothers and (now!) grandmothers that implies there is something wrong with being . . . well, good. According to Shalit, girls are getting tired of the hyper-sexualized culture that, ironically, strips them of power as well as of their clothing. They see their so-called "betters" as dupes and wish to revisit an older, perhaps wiser, form of feminine power that embraces rather than rejects modesty.

I certainly hope this is true and I agree entirely with Shalit’s understanding about the real and slavish direction in which the "everything goes" sexual liberation religion is pointing us. But I share Catton’s concern, (from the end of her review), that the advice Shalit offers is a bit unimpressive. First, from where I sit, I don’t see as much movement away from smut/slut culture as Shalit claims to see. And second, in order to promote that movement I think it has to be something more than and even better than a hearkening back to our great-grandmother’s ways. We have to begin to parse out what was eternally good from their ways and separate it out from the things that may not have been so good and, thus, keep it unappealing to today’s young women. Instead of a simple appeal to tradition, in other words, we have to make a deeper and truer case for the good and useful properties of modesty. It must be an appeal not only to judgment but also to interest.

Suggestions about "baking apple pies" rather than undressing to impress may be cute and even contain a glimpse at the true. But metaphorically speaking, what is apple pie? I love apple pie, don’t get me wrong. And I bake a mean one with apples that we grow ourselves. It is sweet, delicious, and wholesome. But it’s also old-fashioned and, we now know, loaded with cholesterol and other things that may weigh you down or even--when overdone--harm you. The problem with a simple appeal to apple pie may be that it subtracts intellect and judgment from the equation. Another way to say it may be that it does not build up the prudence and flexibility of the young woman hearing the advice--it doesn’t give her enough credit. The problem young women still have with the ancient wisdom of their great-grandmothers is that though it is proven to be rather mighty and impressive in its absence--there are still lingering doubts about an unthinking and reflexive commitment to it. They have grown used to and appreciate the sentiment that vocally claims--even if it actually works against it in practice--that our judgment and our thinking is every bit as worthy as that of the vast majority of men. The problem with the feminists who preceded these young women is that they demonstrated (nearly unequivocally) that the judgment and thinking of women is every bit as stupid as that of the vast majority of men’s can be. There needs to be an appeal to reason as well as sentiment, in other words. There needs to be an appeal that flatters the reason at the same time that it starkly confronts its limitations. We need a feminist Federalist in defense of great-grandma’s constitution.

The Latest Word on Rat Choice Theory

Benedict/Ratzinger urges universities to undertake a comprehensive study of the crisis of modernity and broaden our understanding of rationality.

The Marine and the bear

This proves there are no ex-Marines, just Marines. A father and his three sons are camping. A three hundred pound bear starts running off with their cooler. The six year old boy (and future Marine!) hurles a shovel at it as it is moving away from them back into the woods (with the cooler). Bear turns back menacing the boy. The Marine picks up a log--the closest weapon at hand--throws it at the bear and kills it, saving son’s life. The Marine is then given a ticket for not securing the camp site. It was federal property.


Some (long) Washington Post deep-thinking, opining, and interpreting--in the form of a front-page news story--on bad executive power and on the cruel and clever and manipulative vice-president of the United States. Probably Pulitzer material.

Barone on the Polls

Well, the facts at this point are amazingly simple. The Republican base wants someone who both has conservative views (while successfully distancing himself from the president on incompetence and immigration) and can win in November. For now, it looks like Fred. Rudy doesn’t have the views, and nobody else can get elected. Hillary’s support been stable for a while, and she’s even starting to pull away from Edwards in Iowa. Democrats turn out to be happy enough with her, and there’s no indication of a coming Obama surge.

Obama’s liberal and Democratic faith

Yesterday, Barack Obama delivered a speech on religion and politics, versions of which I’ve read before. (For my previous discussions of his views, go here, here, and, above all, here.)

In the speech, he acknowledges the role faith has come to play in his own life, in his approach to politics, and in our national life and politics. Here are some snippets:

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. In a sense, what brought me to Chicago in the first place was a hunger for some sort of meaning in my life. I wanted to be part of something larger. I’d been inspired by the civil rights movement – by all the clear-eyed, straight-backed, courageous young people who’d boarded buses and traveled down South to march and sit at lunch counters, and lay down their lives in some cases for freedom. I was too young to be involved in that movement, but I felt I could play a small part in the continuing battle for justice by helping rebuild some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.
So it’s 1985, and I’m in Chicago, and I’m working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these folks a part of myself. I learned that everyone’s got a sacred story when you take the time to listen.


So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came 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 and in my own life.


But my journey is part of a larger journey – one shared by all who’ve ever sought to apply the values of their faith to our society. It’s a journey that takes us back to our nation’s founding, when none other than a UCC church inspired the Boston Tea Party and helped bring an Empire to its knees. In the following century, men and women of faith waded into the battles over prison reform and temperance, public education and women’s rights – and above all, abolition. And when the Civil War was fought and our country dedicated itself to a new birth of freedom, they took on the problems of an industrializing nation – fighting the crimes against society and the sins against God that they felt were being committed in our factories and in our slums.


So doing the Lord’s work is a thread that’s run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural without its reference to “the judgments of the Lord.” Or King’s “I Have a Dream” speech without its reference to “all of God’s children.” Or President Kennedy’s Inaugural without the words, “here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” At each of these junctures, by summoning a higher truth and embracing a universal faith, our leaders inspired ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.

No one who says these kinds of things can be a simple-minded separationist after the model of Americans United or the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Obama has too much awareness of the role religion plays in his own life--tying his personal narrative to something bigger than himself, lifting him up and, at the same time, humbling him. And he has too much awareness of the role that religion has played in the life of the nation, calling us, as Lincoln once said, to the better angels of our nature.

It’s nonetheless disappointing, as Claremont’s John J. Pitney, Jr. notes, that Obama can’t find room in his speech (or in his heart or in his mind) to acknowledge that men and women of faith and good will might disagree with the practical conclusions he draws from his faith. He has two things to say about abortion and other issues emphasized by religious conservatives:

But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it’s because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who’ve been all too eager to exploit what divides us. At every opportunity, they’ve told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.


[God is] still speaking to our Catholic friends – who are holding up a consistent ethic of life that goes beyond abortion – one that includes a respect for life and dignity whether it’s in Iraq, in poor neighborhoods, in African villages or even on death row. They’re telling me that their conversation about what it means to be Catholic continues. God is still speaking.

While he speaks frequently about human dignity, all he has to say about abortion is that Catholic efforts to go beyond it are praiseworthy (so long as they agree with the rest of his agenda) and that religious conservatives use it to divide us, as if they don’t take the issue seriously. He has, in the past (before he was a presidential candidate), had somewhat more nuanced things to say about abortion. He has, in the past (before he was a presidential candidate), been more willing to emphasize the spiritual dimensions of our problems, problems that can be addressed by churches and faith-based organizations, but not necessarily or exclusively by government.

I once thought he might be willing to test the limit of faithful witness in the Democratic Party, to say "hey, we’re all brothers and sisters; let’s respect our differences and find a way to take seriously the concerns of folk who care about the unborn, who worry that we’re playing God when we give carte blanche to the stem cell researchers, and who have honest moral scruples about same-sex marriage." He might not agree with any of these positions, as they’re expressed by religious conservatives, but to hold him to the same standard that he holds those he criticizes, he shouldn’t demonize and dismiss them.

In the end, however, Obama isn’t willing to push the envelope. He wants the support of secular Democrats and religious liberals, and if he has to caricature religious conservatives to do so, so be it. For his current political purposes, which clearly trump his "conscientious" religious views (which makes him no different from those on the faith-based right he criticizes), the only religious witness that can have a seat at the national table is that of the religious Left. I’m disappointed, but not at all surprised.

Update: Our friend Jon Schaff has smart and sharp observations abour religious witness and "divisiveness," the latter often serving to try to silence those who have moral objections to the status quo. Here’s his conclusion:

All sides have their demagogues, those who exploit division and fear for political gain, but the mere fact of division is not proof of demagoguery. If Obama disagrees with his some of Christian brothers on this or that issue, pray let him discuss like a brother. Instead he has chosen the route of the politician, playing on the worries and fears of the secularist liberals in his party for his own political gain. How divisive of him.

Graduate classes begin

The first session in our graduate program begins this afternoon. There are about ninety students in the three classes, taught by the six worthies: Owens, Moreno, Knott, McDonald, Morel and Schaub.

It so happens that today is the 24th of June, and Jefferson’s last letter is dated this day in 1826. He would die a few days later, on the Fourth to be followed by John Adams five hours later, just as a thunderstorm rolled through Quincy (someone said itsounded like "the artillery of Heaven"). The letter is to Roger Weightman, the mayor of Washington, and is justly famous:

"The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th anniversary of American independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there, congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us, on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make, for our country, between submission, or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self government. That form which we have substituted restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born ,with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. ..."

Fred Stills Charms Ex-Girlfriends

Yes, they’ll still vote for him, and they blame themselves for the break-ups. Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan is saying that Hillary is going to have to seem more like a woman to be likable enough to be president. But her witty SOPRANOS commercial with her own Tony reminded us that she was once seduced by a male authority/sex figure even more charming than Fred, and like Carmella lived to regret it. Those who think that lurking attachment to traditional gender roles (or, more exactly, the sexual dimension of human nature) is going either to elect Fred or sink Hillary are probably mistaken.
Thompson certainly won’t be perceived as a champion of family values exactly, and he may not be able to charm the anger out of the women the senator from New York will mobilize. A Fred-Hillary race would probably be dramatic and tension-filled and end up as the basis of an HBO mini-series in which Fred plays himself. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Political (?) animals

This fellow, a clinical psychologist and consultant to Democrats, whose research is summarized here, here, and here (with a new book coming out as well) would seem to have a hard time explaining his own activity (or should I say credibility?) as a researcher, not to mention defending why on earth we let people whose minds work the way he suggests vote.

Arnie and the New Bipartisanship

The Los Angeles Times has an article today from John Ziegler--a local radio host who leans more libertarian than conservative but is nevertheless pretty solid--describing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent comments on bipartisanship. Ziegler is more or less on the money, if a bit rhetorically over-wrought. Is Arnold really paving a path for uninspired moderates like himself or simply on an unstoppable march toward his own irrelevance? I don’t believe that there is any human cry for the leadership of folks like him and Michael Bloomberg. Where is the list of the great moderates from American history? Where are the great moderate masses moving to push forward their agenda of . . . what, exactly?

Atheist presuppositionalism

Stanley Fish thinks that the arguments offered by the most bold of our atheists are actually kinda faith-based.

Update: A few weeks ago, I posted a link that enables folks with .edu email addresses to have free access to TimesSelect material.

Here’s a sample of Fish’s argument, for those who can’t get through the firewall:

A very strong assertion is made – we will “undoubtedly discover lawful connections between our states of consciousness [and] our modes of conduct” – but no evidence is offered in support of it; and indeed the absence of evidence becomes a reason for confidence in its eventual emergence. This sounds an awfully lot like faith of the kind Harris and his colleagues deride – expectations based only on a first premise (itself asserted rather than proven), which, if true, demands them, and which, if false, makes nonsense of them.


Isn’t that what separates scientific faith from religious faith; one is supported by reasons, the other is irrational and supported by nothing but superstition? Not really. One of the basic homiletic practices in both the Jewish and Christian traditions is the catechism or examination of one’s faith. An early 19th century Jewish catechism is clear on the place of reason in the exercise: “By thinking for himself , let [the pupil] learn the sunny nearness of reason.” Christian catechists regularly cite 1 Peter 3:15: “Be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” In short, and it is often put this way, at every opportunity you must give reasons for your faith.

The reasons you must give, however, do not come from outside your faith, but follow from it and flesh it out. They are not independent of your faith – if they were they would supplant it as a source of authority – but are simultaneously causes of it and products of it; just as Harris’s and Dawkins’s reasons for believing that morality can be naturalized flow from their faith in physical science and loop back to that faith, thereby giving it an enhanced substance.

You can also find versions of this argument in a lot of Fish’s publications.

Free speech for me, but not for thee, in Oakland

George F. Will calls our attention to this 9th Circuit decision (district court opinion here). At issue is the right of a group of Christian city employees to publicize their organization as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values." This, in a context where gay city employees have publicized their interests in the same way. Here’s Will’s analysis:

The city government said the flier was "determined" to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination."

Effectively, the city has proscribed any speech that even one person might say questioned the gay rights agenda and therefore created what that person felt was a "hostile" environment. This, even though gay rights advocates used the city’s communication system to advertise "Happy Coming Out Day." Yet the terms "natural family," "marriage" and "family values" are considered intolerably inflammatory.

The treatment of the GNEA illustrates one technique by which America’s growing ranks of self-appointed speech police expand their reach: They wait until groups they disagree with, such as the GNEA, are provoked to respond to them in public debates, then they persecute them for annoying those to whom they are responding. In Oakland, this dialectic of censorship proceeded on a reasonable premise joined to a preposterous theory.

The premise is that city officials are entitled to maintain workplace order and decorum. The theory is that government supervisors have such unbridled power of prior restraint on speech in the name of protecting order and decorum that they can nullify the First Amendment by declaring that even the mild text of the GNEA flier is inherently disruptive.

Why can’t we all just get along? The distance from the GNEA flyer to harassment is so great that the city’s response is outrageous. Endorsing and responding to the concerns of the single gay employee who objected creates a "hostile environment" for traditional religion. Not that either the city or the objector cares about that....

The D.C. voucher program and it critics

This WaPo editorial takes up for the D.C. voucher program against Democratic critics, who are quick to seize on data from this DoE report (executive summary here; press release here).

To be sure, the report shows that, after seven months in their new schools, children taking advantage of the vouchers didn’t perform significantly better on tests than did those in a control group (voucher lottery losers). These results are in line with other studies that show little effect in the first year of a voucher program.

But the report notes that parents are significantly more satisfied with the new schools their childrent are attending, which I guess doesn’t matter to Democratic critics. With respect to education, the Democrats are going to have to decide whether they’re the party of the unions or the party of the parents. So far, they’ve sided with the unions.

One last point: perhaps one additional reason that differences are small is that the populations being compared are of students whose parents sought vouchers. What both groups have in common is parental concern and involvement. (Indeed, some children who didn’t receive vouchers ended up in private schools anyway.) To the degree that parental involvement affects results (and how can it not?), wouldn’t it be likely that the differences between the two groups would be less than between students whose parents were so concerned that they sought opportunities for their children and a random sample of public school students, whose parents may or may not be actively involved in their education?

Journalists Insisting on (Their Own) Right to Privacy

One of the pleasures of digging into MSNBC’s story on the political contributions of working journalists is seeing how people who making a living calling up strangers and demanding answers adapt when they’re on the other end of the phone. Bill Dedman of MSNBC combed through Federal Election Commission records to come up with a list of 144 journalists who have made political contributions in the last three years. It appears he attempted to contact nearly every one of them, but roughly a third of the dedicated professionals defending the public’s right to know either didn’t return Dedman’s calls or messages, or refused to speak when he did reach them.

The refusals include some gems:

"I don’t believe I have to answer that question. Goodbye. Thank you for your call."

"I’m not comfortable being included in the story. Do not publish my name."

"I’m not going to comment on this. I’m not going to have a conversation about this. I’m not going to give you a read one way or another."

"It doesn’t sound like this is going to be a positive story. This sort of story could not possibly be positive for me, so I’m not going to respond. Good luck. Goodbye."

"OK, I’ve been rebuked. Thank you for spanking me in public. Do you hand in all your rights as a public citizen when you do this? I mean — who’s your editor? I’m going to call him right now."

King Memorial Leaves Out Key Quotation

Trolling thru old news releases of the King Memorial website, I discovered that back in February a Council of Historians approved the quotations that will adorn the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial scheduled for completion in 2008. (The project is still about $20 million short of their estimated $100 million.) Guess what quotation is apparently not going to be cited among the 14 quotations approved by the Council? Yep, the one from King’s "I Have a Dream" speech: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." This from the very speech of August 28, 1963, that made the D.C. mall famous for mass gatherings and protests is not going to be quoted, despite the location of the King Memorial smack dab between the Jefferson Memorial and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial--the very steps upon which King delivered the most famous speech of the 20th century.

Now, I have seen another depiction of the Memorial sculpture that does include a passage from the Dream speech, so there is some confusion here. Nevertheless, take a look at the approved list of quotations and decide whether or not they reflect the most representative of King’s public career.

Perceiving, not deciding

David Brooks reflects on the failure of all moralistic preaching, whether from the left or the right. We are, he contends, "perceivers first, not deciders." He elaborates:

That’s because [preaching] is based on a false model of human nature. It’s based on the idea that human beings are primarily deciders. If you pour them full of moral maxims, they will be more likely to decide properly when temptation arises. If you pour them full of information about the consequences of risky behavior, they will decide to exercise prudence and forswear unwise decisions.

That’s the way we’d like to think we are, but that’s not the way we really are, and it’s certainly not the way teenagers are. There is no central executive zone in the brain where all information is gathered and decisions are made. There is no little homunculus up there watching reality on a screen and then deciding how to proceed. In fact, the mind is a series of parallel processes and loops, bidding for urgency.

We’re not primarily deciders. We’re primarily perceivers. The body receives huge amounts of information from the world, and what we primarily do is turn that data into a series of generalizations, stereotypes and theories that we can use to navigate our way through life. Once we’ve perceived a situation and construed it so that it fits one of the patterns we carry in our memory, we’ve pretty much rigged how we’re going to react, even though we haven’t consciously sat down to make a decision.

While he uses some of the language of Hobbes, he’s really borrowing from Aristotle and Tocqueville. And while he inveighs against preaching, he’s really inveighing against much of the Enlightenment. What works, he argues, is a healthy community that successfully reproduces itself through the habituation of its young. Sounds good to me.

Media bias revisited (and reregulated?)

After reading this report, our friend Kate offers some thoughts and provokes some liberal responses. Note that the authors are disturbed by the predominance of conservative talkers and assume that government should try to do something about it. In thir view, the predominance of conservative talkers is evidence of market failure, the solution for which is, in effect, to invite members of the local community (read: and its clones) to participate actively in the renewal of broadcasting licenses.

Scary, no? And a glimpse of what we can expect, should there be a Democratic Administration in 2009, no?

Update: See this NRO editorial for more.

Architecture of Democracy

The latest Claremont Review (as has already been noted by others) is full of good thinking and graceful writing (Kesler, Lawler, Schaub, et al). I just wanted to bring to your attention Hadley Arkes’ review of Allan Greenberg’s Architecture of Democracy, a good review of a fine and lovely book.

CIA documents

The CIA is to reveal "hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency�s worst illegal abuses -- the so-called �family jewels� documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday." Some reputations will take hits.

Democrats and abortion

Melinda Henneberger thinks that a reflexively pro-choice Democratic Party drives all too many Catholic women into the arms of the Republicans. Let’s hope the Democrats don’t take her advice.

Gerson the born-again McCainiac

In a column praising John McCain’s political courage, Michael Gerson takes back some of the claims he has made about opponents of the immigration reform proposal:

Not all of the swift Republican current against immigration reform results from nativism -- there are understandable concerns among conservatives about extreme multiculturalism, the strains of illegal immigration on public services, and the numerous flaws of a complicated bill. But McCain has a mature appreciation of the paradox of immigration reform: A tighter border requires a more regular and orderly way for honest laborers to cross it. Controlling that border becomes difficult without a temporary worker system that allows us to distinguish drug dealers from lettuce pickers and hotel maids.

He also calls our attention to a serious immigration reform speech McCain delivered a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what Gerson had to say about it:

After recounting the arguments for reform, he mentioned Maria Hernandez Perez, nearly 2, with "thick brown hair and eyes the color of chocolate," and Kelia Velazquez-Gonzalez, 16, who "carried a Bible in her backpack." Both died terrible deaths in the Arizona desert.

For McCain, they were not "illegals," they were human beings, with names. "We can’t let immigrants break our laws with impunity," he said. "But these people are also God’s children who wanted simply to be Americans."

This is not moral exhibitionism; it is just morality. And my respect for McCain, it turns out, is less and less grudging.

I’m all for letting some of God’s children become Americans (though I’m not at all convinced that the business groups that support this bill care one whit about that). And I’m all for some way of getting a handle on the millions of folks who are here illegally. But no one has a good record of seriousness on border security. That’s the issue that has to be addressed first. Benchmarks focusing on inputs (and not outcomes; where is Margaret Spellings when you need her?) aren’t sufficient. Mere money won’t do it. I wish Gerson would turn his substantial intelligence to a consideration of how our leaders can regain the confidence of the American people on this issue. That’s so much more productive--as he has apparently discovered--than name-calling.

Higher education spending and economic growth

College presidents who make the case for increased state appropriations for their institutions often (probably always) argue that spending on education promotes economic growth and competitiveness. Well, this study, described here, pokes big holes in that argument. There turns out to be a negative correlation between state spending and economic growth. I’d love for someone more competent than I am to look at the equations; my impression is that the negative effect is pretty small. But it is negative.

Now, there can be all sorts of reasons for this. The authors, led by Richard K. Vedder (who wrote this book), argue that there’s an awful lot of college spending that doesn’t contribute directly to education and hence, perhaps, to productivity. All those aspects of college life that increasingly resemble resorts and country clubs--glitzy gyms, posh dorms, shopping mall-like student centers--certainly meet that description. (Of course, a market dominated by middle and upper middle class "consumers" can be said to "demand" these things. All too often, students and parents look at facilities as much as, if not more than, at the quality of the education.) Vedder and his associate also argue that growing administrative expenses (at least some of them devoted to nanny state-style activities, driven either by the proclivities of those of us in higher ed or by the demands of the proverbial helicopter parents) dirve up college costs without contributing to education.

Another set of reasons may have to do with the character of the states that spend relatively more or less on higher education. To the degree that economic growth is occurring above all in the Sunbelt, it’s occurring in places that, for the most part, don’t have a tradition of spending a lot on higher education. (That has changed somewhat in recent years, mostly for bad reasons. For example, virtually every state college in Georgia was relabeled a university. This institutional inflation certainly justifies more spending and hence more money pumped into the local economies, which is what the state reps who called for this sought. Vedder would surely regard this as a distortion of the marketplace.) The places that spend lots--Michigan, for example--may be in slow or no growth parts of the country. At the very least, it’s likely that factors other than spending on higher education--Vedder and his associates point to lower taxes; I’d add a generally business-friendly environment--swamp the effect of higher education spending (negative or positive) on economic growth.

One last point about the study, almost as a footnote: the most expensive part of higher education is research and graduate study. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that some of that research can be exploited economically. But it’s less clear that "the private sector" would be willing to fund it all on the assumption that some of it would pay off. Further, it’ of course also true that the "economic benefits" of graduate study turn out to be hard to capture for a particular state. People with Ph.D.’s move, perhaps from Michigan to Texas. States that spend a lot of money on higher education to some degree subsidize those that don’t, training a certain portion of the Ph.D.’s who staff the other states’ universities and research institutions.

For me, the bottom line is this: to the degree that studies like this one capture the attention of legislators and administrators, the effect on higher education ought to be good, Instead of talking about the economic benefits of education, we can discuss other goods education can provide--a literate, cultivated, and well-informed citizenry, for example. Of course, colleges and universities would have to provide it. And state legislators would have to care about it. I leave it to you, gentle readers, to decide whether that will ever happen.

More Freedom From Religion

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, bold atheists that they are, is at it again, this time filing a lawsuit to prevent the state of North Dakota from poviding funding for the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, a residential facilty for troubled teens.

The Ranch, a joint ministry of the Luthern Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, combines traditionally-accredited treatment services with an array of religious programs. Most of its funding (70%) comes from local, state, and federal sources (the latter are not at issue in the suit), but Carol Olson, executive director of North Dakota’s Human Services Department says that the religious programs are funded privately. According to Gene Kaseman, president of the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Association, ‘‘They [the state] audit us pretty carefully,’’ he said. ‘‘None of (that money) is spent on spiritual life programs.’’ State officials agree. The FFRF response:

It would be difficult for the Boys and Girls Ranch to keep public and private money separate, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Even if that is possible, she said, public money frees up more private money for religious purposes.

‘‘The whole purpose of this ranch is to proselytize and indoctrinate,’’ she said.

The lawsuit is a bold attack on what has been a very traditional mode for providing social services in North Dakota and across the country. The complaint of course doesn’t stress the secular treatment services the Ranch provides, which are lauded in
this recent accreditation report. The accrediting agency--the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities--did not cite any failure to live up to its standard requiring "commitment to diversity," recommending only that the Ranch "develop a written plan on cultural competency and diversity that includes the recruitment of individuals who are representative of the specific cultures the organization serves...." The accreditors found no problems in the Ranch’s financial management and accounting procedures, which certainly weakens the claim that public and private funds aren’t or can’t be kept separate.

Indeed, the real FFRF complaint is that any public money at all goes to such an organization. As FFRF president Annie Laurie Gaylor notes, public money, even if spent on publicly permissible services, frees up private funds for religious ends. If faith-based organizations want to serve the public, they should have to pay for the whole range of services themselves. Not only is this theory out of line with the requirements courts have typically placed on public contracting and cooperation with faith-based social service providers, but it would impose an incredible hardship on folks needing services in a sparsely populated state like North Dakota. Without the public money, the Ranch would probably be able to serve only a small fraction of its current clientele; others whould be compelled to seek assistance out of state. Alternatively, the state could set up its own program, probably offering something of lower quality at greater expense to the taxpayers. Thanks, but no thanks.

Here’s hoping that the FFRF loses big-time. (Please note also that if they win, the cost of the suit will be shared by the taxpayers and the Ranch. This is how the FFRF finances much of its aggressive litigation program. Would that it could be otherwise.)

A Zen President

Robert Novak explains and Richard Garnett has more.

If I didn’t want to appear so delphic, I’d call your attention to this book and this interview with its author, so that you might have some sense of the significance of this move.

Journalists and campaign contributions

It turns out that newsrooms may look an awful lot like college campuses, at least when you use to quite inaccurate measure of campaign contributions. Just as those professors who give in recordable amounts contribute overwhelming to Democratic and liberal causes and candidates, so do the men and women who report and analyze our news.

I’m shocked, I say, shocked.

Of course, we can’t conclude anything from this about the propensities of the non-contributors. For all we know, the non-contributors are overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. Right.

Of course, some news organizations either prohibit or discourage campaign contributions, because that behavior lends credence to an argument about bias. But such policies only cover up potential evidence in a discussion of bias and change absolutely nothing in the opinions of those who populate the newsrooms.

We’re told, of course, that journalists respond to professional norms of neutrality, and I’m will to concede that lots of them try. But we are, as Aristotle was one of the first and by no means the last to notice, bad judges in our own cases. All too often, our motives and biases are unself-conscious. In a setting where one family of opinions or general line of argument tends to predominate, what seems neutral, unbiased, and reasonable may not be.

I don’t think that there’s any cure for this unself-conscious bias (or for fully self-conscious agenda journalism). I’m not about to call for affirmative action for conservatives in America’s newsrooms. Still, I can’t help but think that well-documented, well-informed criticism offered on sites like this, and the existence of a multiplicity of news sources provide a kind of counterpoison.

I say: let ’em make campaign contributions, the more transparently the better. And uphold the professional norms. But realize that the professional norms can be best enforced, not by company policies (someone once called things like this "parchment barriers"), but by the critical oversight of a well-informed public that can, if it loses confidence in a journalist, find its information elsewhere.

Grant and Lee

Mac Owens continues his series on the war by comparing Generals Grant and Lee. And he does much more than that in this fine (long) piece and you should read this one (as all his others) with special care. He ends up arguing that Lee was the better general. Perhaps, and I’m certainly not going to argue with Mac on this issue; besides he may be right. But, I’m reminded of a story. I was in Bulgaria once, dining with a prominent man in the government of the new regime and we talked about the Civil War. We carried on in English (I have no Bulgarian). He learned his English in prison, partly just to be able to read Shakespeare in the original and perhaps be a able to translate a few lines to his satisfaction, as he said. He also knew a lot about the Civil War. It was a fine evening and a great conversation. At one point in the conversation he opened a book (in English) that had facing photos of Grant and Lee. He pointed to Grant and said, "This man is obviously an American." I knew what he meant. And then we toasted the new regime (again).

The Nifong Show

Kathleen Parker correctly senses that feminism will suffer from l’affaire Nifong. Feminist academics were quick to convict the Duke Lacrosse team in the media; in the words of law professor Wendy Murphy, "I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth." Duke University has apparently reached a settlement with the accused players, who certainly could have built a case for defamation of character against certain members of the faculty.

Meanwhile, Parker suggests, the case may lead prosecutors to be less willing to pursue legitimate rape cases. She cites an instance of apparent gang rape at a party of California, which the local district attorney has refused to pursue.

By the way, Parker cites a great blog that has followed the Duke case: Durham-in-Wonderland, by the heroic Brooklyn College professor K.C. Johnson. Johnson, as you may recall, fought his own personal battle against political correctness four years ago.

Update: Johnson calls our attention to a speech by Judge Gerald Tjoflat, a Duke Law alum on the Eleventh Circuit, who compares the Duke case to the infamous Scottsboro case of 1938, which was the inspiration for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Indeed, the parallels are striking; in both cases there was "a racially-motivated mob mentality, stirred up by a demagogue [i.e., Nifong] who played the race card, drawing on the tensions, anxieties, and grievances that demagogues like to exploit for their own purposes. His purpose, of course, was to get elected."

Back to One Square

Remember Cheryl Crow telling us a few weeks ago that we should combat global warming by using only one square of toilet paper in the bathroom (which prompted the classic Mark Steyn line that the new slogan of Left is apparently, "All we are saying, is give one piece a chance")?

Crow later said she was joking, but the Worldwatch Institute isn’t. In the current issue of their magazine, they argue that Americans, with only 5 percent of the world’s population, consume something like 25 percent of the world’s toilet paper. Or something silly like that. Sayeth Worldwatch: "the reality behind the tissue’s consumption is no joke."

Natpop vs. Platpop

Mr. Postmodern Conservative contributes to contemporary cultural criticism with cool names for two kinds of emerging populism. There must be something to what he says. No less an expert than Tocqueville employed both national greatness and localism to give moral fiber to middle-class society--to get people to think of themselves as something more than beings with interests. And we can say that the communal platoon (Burke) and patriotism are both attempts to give the bohemiamism of bourgeois bohemiamism some real substance. But don’t we have to add that national greatness, for now, has been discredited by the failure of the Iraq adventure? And platoonism--which overlaps with conservative crunchiness--is basically an elite phenomenon that flourishes among the overeducated and underemployed. The ecological or resource self-sufficiency populism promoted by Dr. Pat is not really popular with the actual people at this point.

Cohousing and global warming

I’m ready to buy into one of these, but only if they come in a crunchy con flavor:

Cohousing also creates a more self-reliant community that doesn’t require numerous car trips. With onsite child care, shared common meals and a close-knit community, people have less need to drive their cars. In addition, they are more likely to carpool, to compost, to reuse and to recycle.

By supporting lifestyle and behavior changes that are good for the environment, cohousing integrates social sustainability with environmental sustainability. It has often been said that “community is the secret ingredient of sustainability.”

Our friend RC2
calls it the BoBo commune.

Which leads me to the great sociological question of our time: are crunchy cons BoBos? And if they are, what do we call them? Crunchy BoBo cons? BoBocons?

A Question on Mac’s Lee in 1862 Piece

Great presentation (scroll down if you missed it). The South is about lose quickly and be allowed back in the Union with its peculiar institution intact. Then, almost by chance, the heretofore unimpressive Lee is given command, turns things around, and with a little more luck and skill might have won the war quickly in MD. 1862 is striking especially for missed opportunities on both sides for decisive victory. Question for discussion: Would either the Confederacy’s quick win or the quick defeat have been better than what actually happened?--a protracted and incredibly bloody and destructive conflict. The long war was actually a pretty unlikely and seemingly very unfortunate outcome--but it was the only way that it could have ended slavery and brought Lincoln to the prominence he enjoys in our political tradition. The brilliant and admirable but still quite flawed leadership of Lee, Mac suggests, was THE cause of the war dragging on and on.

Religion and support for the candidates

This analysis of this Pew poll doesn’t really find much difference in support for the various candidates when you slice and dice the respondents along religious lines. The relevant Democratic subgroups all favor HRC; their Republican counterparts all favor Giuliani. Perhaps most significant is that Catholic Republicans go for RG by the biggest margins and that evangelical Republicans are less obnoxed by him than by any of the other leading contenders.

Here’s something from the poll:

Fred Thompson attracts strong potential support from men and older people, as well as from conservatives. A profile of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who say there is a good chance they will vote for Thompson shows that 70% are male and 65% are age 50 or older. Nearly three-quarters of those who say there is a good chance they would vote for Thompson are self-described conservatives (74%).

Giuliani’s potential base of support is younger than Thompson’s and less heavily male. More than half of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who would strongly consider voting for Giuliani are under age 50 (53%). Roughly six-in-ten are conservatives (61%). Notably, just 39% of possible Giuliani supporters attend church at least once a week; by contrast, half or more of those who say there is a good chance they would vote for the other leading GOP candidates attend church at least weekly.

If you want to chew over some more numbers,
here’s the topline questionnaire.

Danielle Allen

I just realized than Danielle Allen, formerly Dean of the Humanities Division of the University of Chicago, has been appointed to replace Michael Walzer as the UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. She will now devote her time to writing. Congratulations to her. Here is an Ashbrook Colloquium she led two years ago on her book Talking to Strangers.

Immigration politics

My Senators are on the hot seat, but TNR’s John B. Judis explains what he regards as Harry Reid’s uncharacteristically astute win/win strategy on immigration:

By branding the measure "the President’s bill," Reid has ensured that the Republicans get the blame for supporting the provisions and for failing to pass the bill itself. Hispanic voters are angry with the Republicans for holding up the vote on the bill. And the Republican base is angry with the White House for supporting the bill. When Reid yanked the bill off the floor for the lack of Republican support, that was a defeat for immigration reform, but a political victory for the Democrats. With the measure returning to the floor this week, Reid will have to continue his magic act.

If the bill fails, Reid will say it’s the President’s fault. If the bill passes, he’ll blame the unpopular portions on the President’s party. Republicans can’t afford to make it this easy for him.

Update: My Senators
no longer seem to be on the hot seat.

Kesler on the Bush Doctrine

There’s a very subtle and challenging article by Charles in the new CLAREMONT REVIEW. It’s not linkable yet and really can’t be summarized quickly. But let me just quote two of his conclusions for discussion:

"If Republicans mean to win in 2008, they will have to separate themselves, gently but unmistakably, from the Bush Doctrine."

"The writ to use force against him [Saddam] and his regime was cogent and persuasive. But the decision to turn that deterrent, punitive, and preventive action into the occasion for elaborate democratic reconstruction was, alas, ill-conceived. Iraq was not that important to us. It could seem that important...only by imagining that an utterly transformed Iraq would be an outpost of liberal democracy in the Middle East...and that Iraq in turn would utterly transform the whole Middle East into a land of milk and honey, not to mention democracy and peace."

Lee’s Virginia-Maryland Campaign

Mac Owens continues his series on the Civil War by considering Lee’s Virginia-Maryland campaign of 1862. "Rather than viewing the Seven Days’ Battles, Second Manassas/Bull Run, and Antietam as isolated events, it is much more fruitful to see them as parts of a whole during which Lee’s objective was, first, to save Richmond, which was in danger of falling to a Union siege, and then to inflict the sort of catastrophic defeat on a Union force that he thought was necessary to convince the people of the North that the cost of subduing the Southern Confederacy was too great."   

Weekend Hijacked!

The new Summer issue of the Claremont Review of Books arrived in the mail today. It features articles by our own Peter Lawler and William Voegeli--to name just two luminaries in that esteemed journal. You can’t read any of it online yet . . . so just subscribe.It’s great to take along with you to read as you watch the kids in the pool (as I’ll be doing all weekend) and, with Elliot Banfield’s fabulous black and white illustrations, it’s sure to look good (even if you don’t).

Steve TV On Culture, Part II

As promised the other day, my sequel on popular culture (1:53 long):

I’m off to California on Wednesday. See you from the beach.

Sarkozy’s France

John Zvesper--who got off the beach in Southern France just long enough to compose this fine piece--writes that now that legislative elections are over, and Sarkozy’s party (the UMP) holds a majority in the National Assembly, Sarkozy is left with no excuses for failure.

Thompson takes lead

According to Rassmussen, Thmopson now leads Guilliani by one point, 28-27%. McCain continues to slide and is now at 10%, while Romney is holding steady at 10%.

Romney and the political maturation of conservative evangelicals

Liberal evangelical Melissa Rogers thinks that this LAT article, written from a city just down the road from Chez Knippenberg pere, provides evidence that some conservative evangelicals are maturing politically. The leadership, she says, is surely willing to overlook theological differences in order to make common cause with allies in practical political conflicts. An increasing number of folks in the pews are as well, though, all things being equal on the policy (and electability?) front (are they ever really equal?), they’ll choose an evangelical over a Mormon.

I’m not troubled by this; indeed, I’m encouraged. First, it shows that the charges of "theocracy" hurled at religious conservatives are overblown (and probably not seriously believed by many of those who make them). Indeed, they’re probably just a way of objecting to moral conservatism, attempting to make illegitimate (or unconstitutional) what really isn’t. Second, the development of people’s views is an encouraging sign, not of increasing secularism, but rather of the capacity to distinguish between matters immediately relevant to politics and matters that belong in the sanctuary, confessional, fellowship hall, or small group.

This is not a hard-and-fast distinction, however. A person’s character and credulity are legitimate considerations when it comes to voting. What he or she believes, how he or she behaves in "private," and whether and to what extent he or she thinks that human reason and human power are self-sufficient are certainly matters about which voters might rightly want to know.

Update: This isn’t the right way to raise these questions.

Endless Empty Talk About Innovation and Transformation

According to the astute Applebaum, that’s the virtually inevitable character of the rhetoric of the endless campaign. As Ivan the K has pointed out, this sort of criticism of the rhetorical campaign--culminating in the rhetorical presidency--reaches its height in the work of our friend Jim Ceaser. People are so repulsed by candidates who can talk but choose to have nothing to say (Obama, for example, was a fascinating writer before he became a candidate) that they often actually prefer candidates who authentically lack eloquence (like our president).

Rushdie and Muslim rage

Salman Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England, etc. I suppose this could be a sign of distinction (and maybe even an honor), but the Muslim fury that it has unleashed, especially in Iran and Pakistan is a different kind of distinction (maybe not related to honor).

Obama for VP?

Okay, I’ve regained consciousness. I see that Obama is backpeddling fast from a campaign memo charging Hillary with being "the Senator from Punjab," because it is supposedly offensive to Indian-Americans. I think it is evidence that he’s really running for the VP nomination, and doesn’t want to rough up Hillary too much.

Funny how George H.W. Bush’s 1980 complaint that Reagan was peddling "voodoo economics" wasn’t construed as offensive to Haitian-Americans. Times have changed.

From Blather to Pablum

Anne Applebaum takes aim at the high quotient of cliche-ridden blather coming from the leading presidential candidates. Take Hillary, who is "running for president because I believe if we set big goals and we work together to achieve them, we can restore the American dream today and for the next generation."

Though Applebaum doesn’t make the connection, the extra-long campaign cycle we have fallen into makes this problem worse. But I think she’s on to something here: she may have exposed the paradigm shift by which a perfect storm of tipping points has brought us to the end of the road for an emerging consensus. . . [Steve has just slumped over his keyboard—ed]

Cohen on Libby

The WaPo’s liberal columnist Richard Cohen periodically surprises, and does so again in today’s column, where he argues that Scooter Libby’s sentence should be commuted.

Cohen has some ringing phrases, saying, for instance, that the whole thing smacks of "a vestigial Stalinist-era yearning for abasement. . . the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place."

Bet he won’t get invited to any gigs any time soon.

How Conservative Is Fred Really?

According to NEWSWEEK, conservatives will be disappointed when they find out from his papers what he really thinks. His pro-life position, for example, has conveniently evolved. My reading of the evidence is that he’s always been pro-life enough. Social conservatives can easily live with a president who’s not inclined to outlaw early-term abortions but wants all such compromises to be left to legislatures. And the evidence also shows Fred to be genuinely thoughtful, refreshingly ironic about human weakness, and not easily blinded by partisanship. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Andrew Sullivan on the contradictions of neoconservatism

Andrew Sullivan’s version of neo-conservatism comes perilously close to the paleocon vision that Arabs (or is it Muslims?) can’t govern themselves decently. It seems to me that most critics now regard neocons as altogether too sanguine (in the good sense) about the prospects for decent self-government anywhere and everywhere.

In any event, A.S. argues that the lesson of Gaza is that we should probably disengage:

We have, I think, two options. We can withdraw from Iraq and play the grand regional Shi’ite-Sunni war in the Middle East by proxy. Or we can enmesh ourselves much more deeply and irrevocably in a metastasising conflict. Such a conflict may well breed even more antiwestern terror and run the risk of inserting Americans into an ancient sectarian blood feud.

There are grave dangers in both options and no one should underestimate the risks of withdrawal from a power vacuum we created. But surely the lesson of Gaza and Iraq is that occupation will not transform Arab culture for the better either. It may in fact make things worse.

I guess the other lesson he’d have us learn is that murderous thugs like Saddam--so long as they don’t have major regional or global ambitions--are the best we can expect. At least they keep the lid on, killing only their enemies, without letting them fight back.

If this is the alternative to Bush, give me GWB any day.

Homeschooling and the world

Sally Thomas is an effective apologist for homeschooling. A snippet:

In short, in withholding our children from the public schools, we have not withheld them from the world. And we’re certainly not unusual. Statistical polls suggest that homeschooling families exhibit a higher than average level of community involvement, and my anecdotal experience bears this out. Families we know, for example, regularly serve meals to the women and children who find refuge in the shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity in one of the roughest neighborhoods in our city; the oldest daughter of one of those families has just returned from several months spent working in Mother Teresa’s orphanage and hospice in Calcutta. But even on a more modest level, day in and day out, homeschoolers minister to their neighbors. They demonstrate, quietly and consistently, the value of family life, the value of openness to life, the value of investing one’s time directly in the lives of one’s children, to a culture that, in valuing none of these things, has lost its way.

Read the whole thing.

Kagan & Kristol, the latest installment

Here’s the latest TWS editorial on the progress of the war. They argue that the repudiation of al Qaeda by Sunnis is a sign that the latter are beginning to recognize that they cannot regain control of Iraq by violence. The violent al Qaeda response is an effort to persuade us to choose to lose a war they can’t win.

I’m Not the Only Person Doing Video

Watch here as New Republic editor Franklin Foer walks you through the latest issue. About 3:40 long.

More Outing of Gnostic Existentialist Conservatives our friend Darwinian conservative Larry. He doesn’t seem to see that human WONDERING depends upon human WANDERING, and that, according to Percy, the wanderer and wonderer is the way he (or she) is because of the natural capability to break into the daylight of language given to particular members of our species alone. Percy’s novel LANCELOT--which was very influenced by Eric Voegelin--was written against modern Gnosticism, and Percy presents in all his writing plenty of evidence that the big human choice is not between Darwin and Heidegger, although both Darwin and Heidegger both say many things which are true. (Notice how for Larry reason and revelation has become Darwin and Heidegger, but for Percy a true natural science would have to be able to incorporate the truth about human experience described so well by Heidegger. And of course: Larry neglects the many differences between Darwin and Aristotle and Heidegger and Thomas Aquinas.) Larry does well in calling our attention to Hans Jonas, and even in saying that not all Gnostics are that anti-orthodox. (Readers might check out the writing of the heroic martyr SIMONE WEIL and the Canadian GEORGE GRANT.)

Very Tough Love from Dr. Pat

Deneen notices that the concerns of THE NATION and THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE are converging. Soon we won’t be able to use our dollars to buy our favorite drug--oil. And the Chinese are selling off American bonds. Teach your kids a real skill. They’ll need to earn a living in the hard times soon to come. I might not agree with or even know about all the details here, but it’s impossible to say that there’s nothing at all to these concerns.

Accreditation yet again

Now, most members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have signed a letter requesting that the DoE not do anything about accreditation until a new law is passed, which should happen before the end of this Congress. Three Republicans (Sens. Allard, Coburn, and Hatch) didn’t sign; everyone else did.

Israel’s Options passes along a report that Irsael may be planning an attack on Hamas in Gaza, but meanwhile, I had forgotten that Israel supplies electricity and water to Gaza. Noah Pollak sensibly asks whether Israel should shut it off. Seems sensible to me.

Romney Trails in the Oprah Primary

I rise, Madame Chairman, to partially agree and partially disagree with my good friends from the states of Ohio and California about the New York Times article on Mitt Romney. I agree with Peter, Julie and Mark Leibovich of the Times that it’s going to be hard for Romney to connect with the voters if he continues to come across as a “permasmiling” robo-candidate. It’s not just a matter of affect; in conjunction with doubts about the, um, flexibility of Romney’s political convictions, his campaign style raises the larger question of whether Romney believes in anything as fervently as he believes in his own abilities and destiny.

There are two things about the Times article that qualify this judgment. First, the observation that Romney “is not prone to unburdening himself of his life’s travails on the stump” figures heavily in the article’s thesis. That fact leaves me, however, disposed to admire his reticence rather than condemn Romney for being a Ken-doll candidate. We should praise the occasional politician who leans against the Oprahfication of American life. Twelve years ago Bob Dole started out as the anti-Clinton, a politician who not only didn’t feel your pain but didn’t feel his own, in the late Michael Kelly’s phase. Before the 1996 campaign you could hardly get Dole to talk in public about the terrible wounds he had suffered in World War II. By the time the campaign ended, and the emotional fascism demanding that public figures turn themselves inside out had done its work, you could hardly get Dole to stop talking about those wounds. The fact that Romney refuses obvious openings to discuss his wife’s multiple sclerosis, for example, is an encouraging sign of a stubborn and anachronistic sense of privacy, as well as a dignified refusal to aspire to the Clintonian role of Empathizer-in-Chief.

Secondly, Romney has a more acute understanding than the Times of the impossible dilemma created by these demands for full disclosure. He tells Leibovich, “Running for president in the YouTube era, you realize you have to be very judicious in what you say. You have to be careful with your humor. You have to recognize that anytime you’re running for the presidency of the United States, you’re on.” The journalists and political critics demand to look behind the mask, to see who the candidate “really is.” Because of that very demand, however, what they see there is just another mask. The shrewd candidate will follow the coaching of his shrewd advisors, who prepare him to be down-to-earth, informal and relaxed in precisely those ways that score well with focus groups. Romney may be authentically inauthentic, and that’s a problem. I prefer it, though, to the inauthentic authenticity of a politician like Bill Clinton or John Edwards.

"It was liberalism gone mad."

Good piece in the--can it be??--New York Times this morning about the decline and fall of Antioch College:

Antioch College became a rump where the most illiberal trends in education became entrenched. Since it is always easier to impose a conformist ethos on a small group than a large one, as the student body dwindled, free expression and freedom of thought were crushed under the weight of ultraliberal orthodoxy. By the 1990s the breadth of challenging ideas a student might encounter at Antioch had narrowed, and the college became a place not for education, but for indoctrination. Everyone was on the same page, a little to the left of The Nation in worldview.

Much of this conformist thinking focused on gender politics, and it culminated in the notorious sexual offense prevention policy. Enacted in 1993, the policy dictated that a person needed express permission for each stage in seduction. (“May I touch your breast?” “May I remove your bra?” And so on.) In two decades students went from being practitioners of free love to prisoners of gender. Antioch became like one of those Essene communities in the Judean desert in the first century after Christ that, convinced of their own purity, died out while waiting for a golden age that never came.

Good riddance.

Barone’s Prognostications

Michael Barone offers his analysis how the political battlefield is changing in this cover story in the National Journal.

Michael thinks the close trench warfare of the last decade or so is breaking up:

Now we seem to be entering a new period, a period of open-field politics. It seems to be a time when there are no permanent alliances, when new leaders arise with new strategies and tactics, when the voters, instead of forming themselves into two coherent and cohesive armies, wander about the field, attaching themselves to one band and then another, with no clear lines of battle and no landmarks to rally beside.

Romney’s problem

This NY Times piece has Romney’s problem just about right: he doesn’t connect with folks. What they mean by that is that he is often, indeed, perhaps always, dreary, boring. His answers--even when they are good and clear and agreeable--seem distant and disengaged and and cold. Of course, this is said by his people (and Romney himself) to be just fine because it shows that he is a serious thinker, he’s analytical and deliberates about everything. He is careful, in other words. Well, maybe. But just keep in mind that this is exactly the same justification Hillary’s supporters offer when confronted with her cold and disengaged manner. Plant Fred Thompson next to Romney, and the latter will seem to be made of wood. This is also why Bill should never campaign by Hillary’s side. The Romney’s people had better deal with this.

The Cleavage-Industrial Complex??

. . . and other cultural observations:

You can watch the trailer for "Waitress" here. James Bowman liked it. (He doesn’t like a lot of movies.)

The trailer for "Knocked Up" is here. Ross Douthat’s review is not online.

Aborting females

It seems that in India abortion is legal, "but aborting a fetus because of its sex is illegal." It seems a bit complicated: "We recovered an ultrasound machine, equipment for abortions and bones."

Father’s Day: Part III

Just in time for Father’s Day, the ever sound Kathleen Parker offers us yet another read on the barometer measuring the decline of respect for fatherhood.

Liberals, Lattes and Borders

Adbusters has an intra-left rant that conservatives will find instructive. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone works on the theme, unfresh but not uninteresting, that liberalism has become sociologically top-heavy. The New Deal coalition worked, politically, because working-class concerns were always high on the agenda. Highly educated and economically comfortable intellectuals deferred to this political reality, and often endorsed it.

Now, however, working-class concerns and sensibilities are ignored or disdained by upper-quintile liberals, who finance the Democratic party, shape its message and set its agenda. “Those interminable right-wing criticisms about liberals being ‘elitists’ are actually true,” Taibbi says. “Americans who self-identify as liberals have an average annual income of $71,000 – the highest-grossing political category in America. They’re also the best-educated class, with over one in four being post-graduates.”

This observation leads Taibbi to a conclusion whose ferocity would have been at home in the pages of Human Events: “Rich liberals protesting the establishment is absurd because they are the establishment; they’re just too embarrassed to admit it. When they start embracing their position of privilege and taking responsibility for the power they already have – striving to be the leaders of society they actually are, instead of playing at being aggrieved subjects – they’ll come across as wise and patriotic citizens, not like the terminally adolescent buffoons trapped in a corny sixties daydream they often seem to be now.”

We’ll know that Taibbi’s essay has gained some traction if John Edwards takes the advice of one of his fans on MyDD and comes out against the immigration bill. Mickey Kaus takes note of the MyDD posting: “if you really care about incomes at the bottom of the distribution – which is what I thought Edwards’ campaign was all about – then you can’t not oppose this bill.”

Happy Birthday MAGNA CARTA (June 15, 1215)!

Question for discussion: Was this document an indispensable contribution to the history of English and/or human liberty?

Erasmus in Lake Tahoe

Well, I haven’t been posting because I’ven been leading a discussion the intellectual rock star of the early 16th c. at a Liberty Fund Conference at Lake Tahoe, which is very pretty and way too hard to get to. Questions for discussion: Was the funny, practically conservative, church reforming (but not Protestant or sectarian), peace loving, Socratically ironic, and liberal- education defending Erasmus a neglected alternative to the control or certainty freaks Machiavelli and Luther? Or was he an overrated wimp who had little new or pentrating to say?

More on Father’s Day: Fathers of Men

Tony Woodlief (of whom I had not heard before today but now is on my bookmark list) writes a beautiful essay on raising boys in today’s WSJ. A snippet:

The trick is not to squash the essence of boys, but to channel their natural wildness into manliness. And this is what keeps me awake at night, because it’s going to take a miracle for someone like me, who grew up without meaningful male influence, who would be an embarrassment to Teddy Roosevelt, to raise three men. Along with learning what makes a good father, I face an added dilemma: How do I raise my sons to be better than their father? . . . As I stumble and sometimes fail, as I feign an interest in camping and construction and bugs, I become something better than I was.  


John Edwards here demonstrates either that he has not read or, apparently, that he has not heeded this (see esp. rules #5 and 12). But seriously . . . YouTube may be the undoing of us all! Poor Johnny.

Happy Father’s Day!

A plethora of studies and information for you on why Dads are important . . . in case you need further proof.

Accident and Force face Reflection, Choice and American Greatness

Chris Flannery writes an engaging review of this new collection of essays called Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy and edited by Paul Rahe. The book includes essays divided into three sections representing three epochs of Machiavelli’s influence: The English Commonwealthmen, The Moderate Enlightenment, and The American Founding. As Flannery indicates, it appears to be something very rare in the world of essay compilations--an extraordinary, ambitious and penetrating book. Look first at Flannery’s review and see if you don’t agree.

Marriage in Massachusetts

You’ve probably heard by now that the effort to place a traditional marriage amendment before Massachusetts voters has failed. It’s properly hard to amend the state constitution, and I’m loathe to complain about the process or about the lengths to which same-sex marriage proponents went to secure the necessary votes to defeat the measure. (I’m assuming that what they did was "merely" political, and not illegal.)

But there’s a lesson here for defenders of traditional marriage. Once the state courts have spoken, "finally" and authoritatively, the advantage goes to the defenders of the new status quo. Those who prefer a normally deliberative political process to constitutional amendments have to be aware that proponents of same-sex marriage aren’t about to eschew questionable judicial gains. They care about results, not process, about winning, not the consent of the governed. Stated another way, they are convinced that they have rights, which don’t depend upon anyone’s consent. Those who disagree have to contest that claim on every level, with every legitimate means at their disposal. A preference for "moral federalism" is fine, but for the proponents of same-sex marriage, federalism is merely a tactic in the service of a universalistic, rights-based goal. And their preference for federalism isn’t necessarily associated with a preference for political, as opposed to judicial, tactics, which seems to me to be the basis of traditionalist moral federalists.

More Reid on Iraq

Because Gen. Petraeus doesn’t echo what the newspapers say and looks for signs of progress, Harry Reid, who knows so well what’s going on in Iraq, thinks he’s out of touch. In other words, Reid will believe Petraeus only when he says things that confirm the judgment he uttered back in April--that the Iraq war is lost.

This WaTi article offers some perspective: Reid is pandering to his base.

Update: For more on what Reid did say, didn’t say, or may have said, and on the bloggers who did or did not hear it, go here and here.

Libby to prison

Scooter Libby will await the results of his appeal in prison. Judge Reggie Walton says that his hands are tied and, even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be fair to lock up dangerous felons and let a well-conneted white guy, who happens to be no danger to anyone, go free, pending appeal (my characterization of his reasoning). The fact that he offers a second reason gives me pause about the first, but NRO’s Andy McCarthy agrees that, unfortunately in his view, the law doesn’t leave much wiggle room here. Everything now depends upon the appellate court: if it overturns Judge Walton’s denial of bail, then it signals that there’s a good likelihood that Libby’s appeal will succeed. If it upholds his judgment, then it’s very unlikely that the conviction will be overturned on appeal.

Making sense on the fence

Charles Krauthammer wonders why we can’t build the fence first:

A barrier is a very simple thing to do. The technology is well tested. The Chinese had success with it, as did Hadrian. In our time, the barrier Israel has built has been so effective in keeping out intruders that suicide attacks are down more than 90 percent.


Comprehensive immigration reform has simply too many contentious provisions to command a majority of Congress or the country. We all agree on enforcement, don’t we? So let’s do it. Make it simple. And do it now. Once our borders come visibly under control, everything else will become doable. Including amnesty.

Actually building the fence, rather than just throwing more money in the pot would surely pave the way for a comprehensive immigration program that "people of good will" can support, isolating the nativists on the one side and the open borders transnationalists on the other.

Hamas in Gaza

The WaPo headline writer wants us to draw grandiose conclusions about GWB’s Mideast policy. To wit: every American intervention in Palestinian politics has backfired. Here’s a conclusion I’ll draw: every time a good guy leaves a power vacuum in the Middle East, Iran will fill it. I’d rewrite the headline: "Gaza shows what will happen if we withdraw precipitously from Iraq and pretend that we can exert influence without boots on the ground."

Lieberman on Iraq

The Senator reports on his latest trip:

I returned from Iraq grateful for the progress I saw and painfully aware of the difficult problems that remain ahead. But I also returned with a renewed understanding of how important it is that we not abandon Iraq to al Qaeda and Iran, so long as victory there is still possible.

And I conclude from my visit that victory is still possible in Iraq--thanks to the Iraqi majority that desperately wants a better life, and because of the courage, compassion and competence of the extraordinary soldiers and statesmen who are carrying the fight there, starting with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. The question now is, will we politicians in Washington rise to match their leadership, sacrifices and understanding of what is on the line for us in Iraq--or will we betray them, and along with them, America’s future security?

Read the whole thing.

Make your theatre reservations now

This evening, I attended the preview of Georgia Shakespeare’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters. We were falling out of our seats laughing, even though we caught only some of the jokes in this fast-paced vaudevillian show. The performances were great and (as my theatre history geek wife observed) quite faithful to the spirit of commedia dell’ arte. It ranks near the top of the many Georgia Shakespeare productions we’ve seen over the years.

I expect this to be the big theatrical hit of Atlanta’s summer, and we’ll be making our reservations soon to enjoy another performance. It was great tonight, but will only get better as the company becomes even more comfortable with their improvisational riffs.

Steve TV! On NLT!

Okay folks, here we go with a whole new concept for NLT: Videocasts. This is an experiment. Let us know if you want more of this.

Religion, secularism, and tribalism

TAP’s Paul Waldman points to some research suggesting that conservative evangelical mobilization increases as the proportion of "secularists" in the community (county or state) rises. The author of the study works from the alleged analogy between previous white racial mobilization in the face of increasing African-American populations and evangelical mobilization in the face of increasing secularists. I think there are immense problems with the analogy (how can I tell, for example, whether my neighbor is a secularist?).

The author also argues that there isn’t a reciprocal mobilization effect for seculars. Evangelicals, in other words, behave kinda like racists in the face of seculars, but seculars don’t seem to return the disfavor. I don’t doubt that conservative seculars (at least in 1996 and 2000, the years for which the author has data) wouldn’t be more likely to vote for Bill Clinton or Al Gore as a result of the presence of evangelicals (conservative or otherwise) in their neighborhoods. And liberal seculars don’t have anywhere to go; they’ve arrived, so to speak. In other words, I could cast this data in a different light: a big tent conservatism that makes room for evangelicals and seculars doesn’t push the latter toward liberalism. By contrast, the growth of secular influence in a community (and, typically, the growth of the influence of secularism within the liberal political organization in the community) will surely provoke a countermobilization of conservative evangelicals. Big tent liberalism might moderate that effect somewhat.

I could offer also another more "pessimistic" extrapolation from this data: living together doesn’t produce mutual understanding. Is that because evangelicals are close-minded and incapable of being "enlightened"? Or because seculars aren’t good at making friends in evangelical ranks? I’d bet on some mixture of the two, without at the moment being able to argue for which in recent history came first, the close-minded evangelical chicken or the boldly aggressive secularist egg.

Harry Reid’s comments

This has been making the rounds. Wonder if Harry Reid will explain how he came to the kind of knowledge that enables him to declare Gen. Peter Pace "incompetent." Wonder what he said to "disparage" Gen. Petraeus.

Kresge podcast on Federalist 10

James Kresge, now a Marine officer and a law student in the fall, wrote an Ashbrook Thesis on Federalist 10 and the progressive response to it. I did this podcast with him on his work. About twenty minutes.

Faith and learning

This article summarizes a study (no time to try to track it down now) that suggests that, by itself, college attendance isn’t as inimical to faith as some have suggested. Perhaps; but the ways in which we’d have to qualify this general conclusion are many. I’d still say that anyone studying the humanities or social sciences at a prestigious secular institution had better be prepared to meet serious challenges to his or her faith. This may not be a bad thing, as long as those who are posing the challenges are fair-minded. But I’m not convinced that they all are. (To be sure, not all the "faithful" challengers of secular humanism are fair-minded and well-informed, but such folk are much easier to avoid behind the ivy-covered walls. Not so for the ill-informed challengers of religion, especially in the aforementioned disciplinary families.)


Must-see video: "I’ve Got a Crush on Obama."

Hat Tip: K-Lo at the Corner

Tony Blair on the Media and Democracy

Tony Blair gave an important speech recently on the role of the media in shaping public opinion and creating an informed--or as the case may be--uninformed electorate. I heard a good deal of it as it was broadcast yesterday on Hugh Hewitt’s show and, the link above provides some of his commentary as well as other information about the speech.

Much of the speech focused on the changing nature of media--from centralized, "objective" clearinghouses to a decentralized, frenetic mess of partisanship that drives rather than reports on news. He remarks that the pace of news reporting--driven as it is by searching out market share--is too breathless and exaggerated. He argues that this leads to breathless and exaggerated thinking and policy-making.

It is a serious speech and it is thoughtful. This and his ability to at least recognize the enemy we face in Jihadist terror are reasons why I can’t help but love liberals like Tony Blair on some real and important level. It gives me a bit of hope when I am reminded of him and people like him. This is a serious person who reflects upon things, makes tough choices and engages with the world in a frank and thoughtful way. Good for him. He is a worthy ally and adversary.

While I find much in this speech salutary, I think ultimately there are some serious flaws in his argument as well as dangerous implications. It strikes me that he is looking to blame a lack of seriousness in the media more on technological phenomena than on a lack of seriousness on the part of the people in media. To be fair, he does emphasize that there is no one single cause. But he is quite enamored of this part of his explanation and says very little about the ideological underpinnings of many in the media who do tend to view all of life in this sort of exaggerated tone.

You will all have other thoughts and I cannot examine the whole speech right now--but I wanted to bring it to your attention in case you missed it. I am eager to read what you all think about it.

Rorty, Rawls, and all that

My Leninist neocon traitor (have I left any adjectives out?) friend Jonah Goldberg points to a controversy sparked by Damon Linker’s piece on Richard Rorty (noted here). I won’t bore you with the details, but it seems clear to me that both Matthew Yglesias and Damon Linker are too quick to assume that religious orthodoxy, privatized in a way consistent with some version of the so-called liberal bargain, can retain its spiritual vigor. The religion that Rawls (and Linker) are willing to tolerate has had its wings clipped, especially by the demand that its public speech be made in a language--"public reason"--foreign to the religious idiom.

I recognize that there’s a vague family resemblance between public reason and natural law, but the former has to eschew "foundationalist" claims in a way that the latter doesn’t and can’t. And I don’t see why anyone can’t use whatever arguments he or she wants in the public arena. We all still face the problem of persuasion in a constitutional order that exists in a religiously pluralistic society. (I vaguely recall the late Wilson Carey McWilliams making such a claim in his contribution to this book. If I’m wrong about that, someone’s sure to set me straight.)

Dr. Pat on the People

versus "the military-industrial complex." It used to be that conservative populists were against the social libertarianism of the pointy-headed intellectuals and their various liberationist "isms." And they didn’t have much against big business or a fairly bellicose foreign policy. Dr. Pat gives us the provocative thought that the pointy-headed intellectuals are now allying with the military-industrial complete--a new power elite--against the little guy. Is a new William Jennings Bryan about to emerge to lead the people against the interests? In which party? It makes sense to say that a libertarian/anti-libertarian realignment might be coming. But that might be bad news for the anti-libertarians. Bryan lost every time. I’m broadly sympathetic to the Dr. of Love’s concerns about creeping and often creeping libertarianism, but despite Dick Cheney I don’t think the military-industrial compex really exists. Not only that: The miltary only gets really unpopular when we screw up a war, and most people are ok with Wal Mart’s low prices and remarkably mediocre quality. And "the people" love their cars.

Tom West on Rorty

According to Tom, THE difference between Rorty and Plato (and the American Founders) is that Richard didn’t think we could escape from "cave" (convention, our opinions) to the light of the "sun" (or the truth about nature). For Rorty, we’re stuck in the cave and it’s pointless cruelty to try to get out.

But is that quite right? According to Socrates in the REPUBLIC, the philosopher-king completely escapes from the cave into the sun. But the philosopher-king is an idealization or purification human or flawed, mortal experience created by Socrates to convince a potential tyrant of the utter superiority of the philosophical to the tyrannical life. The so-called philosopher-king is actually presented as a wise man who knows what gives being its beingness and so has wholly transcended the limits of images and imagination or language. Socrates actually locates himself in the cave (he says the prisoners are "like us"). For Socrates the point of life might be the attempt, never wholly successful, to escape from the realm opinion into the realm of knowledge and nothing but. The wise philosopher-king is an impossible ideal, an exaggeration of what we can know and do--just as the cave is an exaggeration of the closure of real human cities or countries to the truth.

For Rorty, the inability of contingent mortals to complete any project of turning opinion into knowledge, as well as the acknowledged inability of the philosophers really to persuade most people that they, because of their wisdom, have what it takes to rule justly, means that the democracy described in the REPUBLIC--as the least cruel or most diverse regime--is the best regime. So Rorty. the philosopher, thought he was compelled to engage in a sort of an ironic betrayal of the ideals of the philosophy and truth for the sake of justice; people will be happier if they believe there’s no point in trying to become wise and if they’re free to call true what opinions they find comfortable.

The problem remains, of course, that such a democracy can’t protect itself from tyrants and psychopaths (like our dead friend Tony Soprano). And there’s also the problem of human nobility and excellence, but they’re a problem when philosophers become kings too. Finally, there’s the problem that extreme democracy is a denial of what really know about ourselves. As Socrates explains, in a democracy old people will be compelled to use all means available to look and act young (so they don’t depress people with thoughts of death). And even more amazingly: Teachers will fawn over and be evaluated by students.

Ashbrook Center

This Father's Day, Give Dad the Gift of NLT

It has always struck me that Father's Day is among the most difficult of holidays to buy for. For Mother's Day, the right gift always seems clear, doesn't it? Moms seem to enjoy getting flowers--although my mother preferred her new dog--but do dads really yearn for another fish tie? This year, instead of giving your father something to collect dust in the back of the closet, why not give him something he can use everyday? For every donation of $25 or more to the Ashbrook Center made between now and the end of June, we will send dear-old-dad a No Left Turns mug. Just make your donation online, and we'll email you to see where you would like the mug delivered for dad (or, perhaps you want one for yourself). We'll also send a confirmation email to let your father know that you have a sense of Aristotelian liberality, and that the mug is on the way. And for those of you who strive to achieve the virtue of magnificence this Father's Day, for a $500 donation, I will personally take you and your father to lunch! So give your gift today . After that, take a few minutes to peruse the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in honor of Father's Day.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Our Hero, WFB

National Review asked me for a brief personal reflection on the role of William F. Buckley in the Cold War, which you can read here.

Ralph Ellison

Joseph Epstein calls Arnold Rampersad’s biography of Ralph Ellison a "lyinching, and the coarse rope used to hang the victim is political correctness." The short of it is that Epstein is persuasive, I’m sorry to say. The review is very much worth reading. Christopehr Benfey also reviews it for the current The New Republic (not available on-line) and thinks that Rampersad "weighs the evidence with impressive impartiality." I don’t agree. Too bad, Rampersad’s could have been a great intellectual biography, but, I guess, it would have to have been in different hands. The best thing to read on Ellison is Lucas Morel’s Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope (and await his next book). In the meantime you might also want to look at John F. Callahan’s Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Casebook and also Dannielle S. Allen’s Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education for some other serious views on Ellison. But, better to stick with the tragicomic attitude toward the universe--some magic here worth conjuring--and read the novel yourself: Invisible Man.

Fred as Philosopher-King

Here’s Ivan the K’s astute interpretation of Thompson’s performance lately--on, for example, the Jay Leno show (clip available on realclearpolitics):

FT keeps focusing on the fact that he’s running out of a sense of obligation versus a burning desire to occupy the office. This might account for some of his appeal--he’s trustworthy in the way philosopher/rulers are in the Platonic account--immune to corruption and craven compromise since genuinely motivated by a civic mindedness (but ultimately more attracted by his private pursuits).

A skeptical observer might ask whether or in what way Fred has been contemplating the Good in his abundant leisure time.

Rudy’s Twelve Commitments

Well, they’re all noble goals, but some aren’t very specific. On judicial restraint, for example, he still needs to explain in what ways the Court has overstepped its constitutional bounds, not to mention what he and the justices should do to get it back where it’s supposed to be.

Bill Buckley on THE SOPRANOS

Language and thought are reduced to nothing but instruments for evil, and so evil itself (murder etc.) is trivialized. And the creator, in his devilish integrity, refused to offer us moral relief, but only the promise that what he’s given us will go on and on.

Interesting News

Antioch College, which arguably puts too much "liberal" into the liberal arts, is shutting down. The right reaction is probably "good riddance," but the more serious question is whether the marketplace is beginning to work even in the insulated world of higher ed. Will this be just the first of a string of mediocre, politicized colleges to go out of business?

A Tax Everyone Could Love

I’ve refrained from blogging much about climate change on this site (I’m posting instead on NRO’s new climate change/enviro website Planet Gore), but this proposal from Ross McKitrick in Canada is elegant and worth noting: let’s have a carbon tax that adjusts quickly with real temperature changes. If temperatures go up as fast the the alarmist models say, the tax will go up fast, too. Of course, global temperatures have been basically flat over the last decade now--the models say they should have gone up about 0.2 degrees C or more--so this tax may call the bluff of the alarmists, because I doubt they’d go for it.

Whew--Get a Load of This Guy

I don’t know this guy is, but this video wins the non-PC Award of the Year for blunt speech about Islam. Hope he lives at an undisclosed address.


Michael Gerson invites attacks from the left and the right by sticking up for the legacies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I think he’s right about Clinton, but needlessly provocative in his defense of Bush. These lines, for example, can’t be calculated to do anything other than annoy (immensely) his conservative readers:

Talk-radio conservatism assaults the most obviously Catholic elements of Bushism -- a role for government in compassion and a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. "Purity" is defined as the empathy of Tom DeLay and the racial sensitivity of Tom Tancredo.

The alternatives to "Bushism" are, he says, libertarianism and nativism.

This sort of provocative name-calling won’t persuade conservatives to consider whether there’s anything worth preserving in the rationale Gerson helped the President construct for his domestic policy. Indeed, Gerson would do well to get past his epithets on immigration (a reflex that cheapens him, by the way) and examine why so many well-meaning (former?) Bush supporters are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. He’s smart enough to know that most of them don’t simply hate furriners; rather, they don’t trust a government that has given no indication of a willingness actually to gain control of our borders. And yes, they naturally care about national identity, but not in a racist or nativist way. They’re perfectly willing to welcome immigrants who are perfectly willing to learn English, obey our laws, work hard, and love our country. They recognize that cultivating citizenship takes time and effort, and that it can be done more easily with a manageable flow of legal immigrants. And that manageable flow begins with a border that isn’t unconscionably porous.

If Gerson took his conservative opponents seriously, and actually engaged with them, he might--as the keeper of the compassionate conservatism flame--contribute constructively to a conversation about the future of conservatism, persuading his interlocutors that points like this are worth taking seriously on theoretical, as well as practical political grounds:

The abandonment of Bushism and Clintonism is also leaving many Americans ideologically homeless: Catholics who regard themselves as pro-life, pro-immigrant and pro-poor; young evangelicals more exercised by millions dying of AIDS in Africa than by the continued existence of the Education Department; liberals who do not find their liberalism inconsistent with national strength or opposition to Islamic radicalism, the most illiberal force on Earth. All this alienation may, in a saner time, be the basis of a movement that mitigates polarization instead of glorying in it.

As it is, he’s rapidly writing himself into irrelevance.

Update: Ross Douthat kinda sorta agrees with me, and makes a good point about how GWB/MG could have accommodated the base along the way. Jonah G. is grateful that MG has finally confessed that Bushism/Gersonism is just Republican Clintonism. He adds:

The Gerson column I would love to read is how he reconciles Bushism to Rovism. Rove — for good reasons and bad — based Bush’s electoral strategy, particularly his 2004 reelection strategy, on churning up the base. It seems to me that there is a profound tension between holding a "philosophy" of triangulation or the post-partisan "common good" while practicing a politics based upon pleasing only one side of the national divide. I would assume that Gerson recognized this and it caused him no small amount of frustration. But, that is merely my assumption. I’d love to hear his views on the subject.

I don’t know what Gerson would say, and don’t have time for a long answer myself, but would like to make two points. First, for a number of reasons (to name two: Florida and Iraq), any effort to make political hay of compassionate conservatism in 2004 was impossible; the Bush campaign had to respond to a polarized politics, and did so quite successfully. Indeed, even if it remains viable, compassionate conservatism can’t surface again until Iraq isn’t the overarching issue. Fortunately for the two or three remaining admitted compassionate conservatives, we the people have a short memory. Just wait ’til 2012!

Second, some argue that, whatever was (and is?) the case with Bush (and Gerson), for the most part compassionate conservatism was regarded as simply an election ploy (and hence dispensable). I think that’s right for all too many Republicans, especially the Congressional party, who took it as a license for their pork-laden version of big-government conservatism. Bush could have confronted the Congressional porkmeisters, but in the face of the hyperpartisan Democratic bitterness that followed the 2000 election, he was probably too taken with the eleventh commandment. (He and Gerson have abandoned it now, for altogether the wrong reasons, and in the wrong cause.)

Pain in the Neck

A whale that is more than 130 years old was caught off the coast of Alaska and discovered to have been carrying around a weapon fragment from a whaling hunt that probably occurred more than 100 years ago. Look at the thing that was embedded in this whale’s neck and imagine swimming around with it for more than 100 years . . . ouch! No big point here . . . I just thought it was cool.

Ben Wattenburg Interviews E.O. Wilson

It turns out that Wilson remains worried about the population explosion and species diversity, but not at all about the birth dearth in particularly prosperous countries. On the spiritual front, he’s found freedom from fear of death without religion through the sacred experience of an inner harmony with nature.
On the intellectual front, he’s opposing postmodern relativism by attempting to unify all knowledge. He’s not a "crunchy"; he’s in favor of pushing technology to its limits in an ecologically sound way.

The Conservative SOPRANOS

The real message is what our corruption does to our children.

Summer reading

Jonah Goldberg thinks that we should add Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man to our piles.

Paul Seaton reminds us of the importance of Pierre Manent’s A World Beyond Politics?

Any other recommendations?

Update: Of course, I’m going to read the new Harry Potter book, once I can pry it from my wife’s hands. And a friend has persuaded me to look into Neal Stephenson’s oeuvre. And, since I’m about 2/3 of the way through The Children of Hurin, I’m happy to recommend that as a worthy addition to the shelves of all those who love and are moved by LOTR.

THE SOPRANOS as a Teenage Nihilist’s Version of THE MOVIEGOER

Here’s another view of the last episode I got through the email, which includes a lot of smart detail and rejects the K-Lo Tony’s final moments interpretation.

On a scale of one to ten, I have to give the Sopranos finale a mediocre five. Some things were tied up; the Phil line played itself out, Janice remains Janice, Uncle Junior, like Livia, is left with almost no one, and it makes sense that apart from Tony the only other man who was made for that type of life, Paulie, is left in it. But Chase cynically left too much unresolved—where did the Russians go to after all (they were mentioned at the beginning of an episode this session). As for the ending, it was too cynical and too post-modern. AJ easily trades his grandmother’s “it’s all a big nothing” for his father’s “focus on the good things” self-imposed worldview. Tony who memorably once told his daughter that it is 1951 in his house (this by the way as she is telling him that he needs to get with the “times”) now shrugs his shoulders when he hears that she will be late for a family dinner because she first has to get her birth-control prescription switched. And we are left to wonder about a guy in the member’s only jacket and two Black guys in an Italian diner. This, of course, was egged-on by the final music. As a recovering eighth grade Journey fan, the choice of music was not lost on me. Right before the unresolved fad to black, Steve Perry sings “some will win; some will lose; some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.” Sadly, Chase left us with a teen-aged version of the Moviegoer.

UPDATE: I asked this author for some more specific wack-related comments:No whacking here. Apart from the draw of a big-money movie in which Tony must appear, the scene is not really set for a hit. Tony eye-balls the members only guy twice, including when he enters the bathroom. Egged on by Paulie, he still wonders whether Phil’s crew will really call a peace—thus he must keep his eyes’ open, especially with his family there. I doubt he would be blind-sided by someone questionable that he knows is in the bathroom off to his right (his gun hand by the way). As to the Black guys, Phil’s crew in the past frowned upon using them for hits (they can be used for other crimes but not hits—this was Junior’s unseemly move in their view).

The only response I can have is that turning to Black guys might be the post-Phil Brooklyn generation’s way of catching Tony unawares.

Individualistic cosmopolitans vs. rooted nationalists

That, according to (individualistic cosmopolitan?) David Brooks, is the new fault line in the culture war. Education, he argues, turns us into individualistic cosmopolitans (except, I guess, for when it doesn’t). Here’s the core of his argument:

Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.

This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.

He implies that "people...not so enamored of rampant individualism" are, on the whole, not as well educated as their cosmopolitan opponents, who define "the cultural mainstream" (except, of course, where they don’t). As a sheer descriptive matter, he may be right about the differences in level of education, but one can obviously worry about the excesses of individualism and have a concern for national identity and solidarity without being marginalized by one’s lack of educashun. And one can reasonably wonder whether an education that simply "liberates" from moral, communal, and national concerns (and, it goes without saying, the ways in which religion ties into these) is serving the nation’s good or, indeed, really deserves to be called an education. To the degree that the late Richard Rorty is the spokesman for the educated cosmopolitans (as Brooks anoints him), we see the end, not only of community and nation (replaced by ironic quasi-participation in contingent solidarity), but also of serious engagement with our traditions or with the great questions to which they provided answers. This isn’t education, but rather its death.

Of course, Brooks isn’t just reflecting on this new front in the cultural conflict in an abstract way, he’s framing our consideration of the immigration debate, telling those who disagree with him that the current deal is "the best compromise they will get." So says the representative of "the cultural mainstream" about a bill that, he concedes, is supported by roughly 1/3 of the country.

You will be shocked to learn

That Damon Linker ultimately prefers Isaiah Berlin and John Rawls to Richard Rorty, pluralism with a shrug to "monism" with a shrug. But can spiritless--dare I say unmanly?--liberalism of any stripe defend itself against its adversaries? Perhaps if we can teach the world to shrug in perfect harmony....

That complaint about Rorty’s spiritlessness was, by the way, the substance of my contribution to the voluminous Rorty literature, which you can find in this out-of-print collection.

The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Why professors should have "brain sex" with their students...not that there’s anything wrong with that. And why the movies have been portraying professors as losers who finally resort to having that other kind of sex with students...that’s not good.

Happy Birthday George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12)

His administration is much more popular now than it was during the last year of his presidency. Question for discussion: Is that because he was a better or worse president than his son?

Tony Soprano RIP (well, that’s unlikely)

Kathryn Jean Lopez explains that THE SOPRANOS really did reach closure for Tony and from Tony’s perspective. What a great ending! And one that Richard Rorty would have appreciated. Maybe death really is "death," insofar as nobody REALLY has any experience of it.

Excuse me for asking . . . but

. . . why is there no asking of obvious questions in this case? Like, for example, why were teenagers able to orchestrate a party at a hotel on New Year’s Eve with alcohol and marijuana and sex? Why weren’t their parents arrested for negligence? I’m glad the boy won’t go to jail, of course. But if the girl had been my daughter he would probably see worse (and she wouldn’t see much else until she were 30). Laws and trials are not suited to answer these kinds of problems. The absurdities in this story are too numerous to mention. Clearly, something was amiss here. One of the people responsible, is mentioned in the story. When parents are not up to their responsibilities and choose to ignore or cannot perform them, they should be required to compensate society for our time and efforts on behalf of their miserable brats. I’m not sure what that woman owes Georgia, but its at least an apology.

More Rorty, R.I.P.

Patrick Deneen offers his thoughts, suggesting that Rorty was in some decisive respects the culmination of his grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch’s (I didn’t know that!) social gospel project: "he was one of the late-twentieth century’s greatest and most representative men of (democratic) faith."

What the Meaning of "Name" Is

Elizabeth Kolbert reviews the two new books about Hillary Clinton in the current New Yorker, which happens to be the summer fiction issue. Her article reminds us that in the Clintonian universe no question is so simple that the answer might not present metaphysical complexities that would have left Martin Heidegger gasping. "What’s your name?" for example, sets off this five-alarm fire:

When she married Bill, at the age of twenty-seven, Clinton pointedly decided to remain Hillary Rodham. According to [Carl] Bernstein, she had resolved to do this “as a young girl, even before the practice was encouraged by a nascent women’s movement.” He quotes Clinton telling a friend that the choice was a matter of principle: it affirmed that she would continue to be “a person in my own right.” Seven years later, when Bill was in a tough campaign to regain the Arkansas governorship, Hillary changed her mind. Except, she insisted, it wasn’t a change at all.

“I don’t have to change my name,” she declared. “I’ve been Mrs. Bill Clinton. I kept the professional name Hillary Rodham in my law practice, but now I’m going to be taking a leave of absence from the law firm to campaign full-time for Bill and I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.” Hillary remained Mrs. Bill Clinton all the way up to the eve of her husband’s Inauguration as President, at which point she suddenly began introducing herself as Hillary Rodham Clinton. This change, too, she insisted, wasn’t one. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the First Lady’s name all along, since 1982,” her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, told the Times, in what was described as a tone of exasperation. “We’re at a loss as to why people think this is something that we’re just trying to change now.” A few weeks ago, the Albany Times-Union reported that Clinton has now dropped “Rodham” from her Presidential-campaign literature, though it still appears on communications from her Senate office. Even the one apparent constant in this history—Hillary—turns out to be dodgy. During a 1995 trip to Nepal, Clinton said to reporters that she had been told that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to reach the top of Mt. Everest. This is why, she explained, her name has two “l”s. But, since Clinton was born in 1947 and Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, was unknown outside his own country until his summit, in 1953, the account, as many noted, was implausible. (Questioned about the tale during the 2006 Senate campaign, a Clinton aide called it a “sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter.”)

All Will Be Revealed

The obituary for Richard Rorty, who died Friday at the age of 75, leaves open the question of whether he was a fan of "The Sopranos." It’s sad to think that he came so close to learning how things turned out for Tony.

Will on Thompson

George Will gives a pessimist’s view of the Fred Thompson candidacy. The off-the-cuff line Will cites from Thompson on immigration is disturbing and may, it seems to me, indicate what Will calls a "a mind undisciplined by steady engagement with complexities." But it may also just be a forgivable--though stupid-- gaff.

Meanwhile, I came across this somewhat interesting portrait of Thompson painted by those "who knew him when" and published in the Tennessean.

Resuscitating Reinhold Niebuhr

William Galston writes a brief for Niebuhrian humility (he calls it "moral doubt" and defines it as "the suspicion, grounded in psychology or religion, that the actual motives of individuals and nations are never pure and that the announced motives are always in some measure self-serving") and deploys it, quite compellingly, against the never humble Andrew Sullivan and the George W. Bush of the Second Inaugural, who doesn’t put his own humility in the foreground.

Of course, it doesn’t help Niebuhr’s cause that the last political leader to cite him as a big influence was Jimmy Carter.

For a very smart critique of Bush, calling more for prudence rather than humility (clearly it’s possible to be humble without being prudent, but it’s less obviously possible to be prudent without in some sense being humble), see Dan Mahoney’s contribution to this volume. Dan, if you read this, is there a web version of that chapter anywhere? Do you make a similar argument in another piece that’s available electronically?

Update: Here’s the praiseworthy Mahoney piece. A snippet:

President Bush is not wrong when he argues that despotism violates the moral law and mutilates the wellsprings of the human spirit. But he is too quick to identify human nature with a single overarching impulse or desire, and he goes too far in conflating the ways of Providence with the empire of human liberty.

Near the end of the Second Inaugural, Bush anticipates some of these criticisms.
While continuing to express “complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom” he attempts to distance himself from arguments about historical inevitability. “History” by itself determines nothing. Instead, our confidence in the universal triumph of liberty must be rooted in the fact that freedom is the “permanent hope of mankind” and the most powerful “longing of the soul.” These poetic invocations do not adequately take into account the decidedly “mixed” character of human nature. The President should not be expected, of course, to speak with the precision of a political philosopher. Still, this President
of deep Christian conviction paradoxically
shows little appreciation for the tragic dimensions of history and the pernicious and
permanent effects of original sin on individual and collective life.

It is, as Dan says in his comment, a friendly criticism.

Harry Reid Smackdown

Dennis Miller goes off on Harry Reid as only Dennis Miller can.

Europe notes

Sarkozy’s party does very well in the legislative elections, Socialists down. The left took a beating in Belgium, and Bulgaria made clear to Bush yesterday that it did not want to be left out of the Missile Defence Shield. Oh yes, one more thing: The sword Napoleon carried at the battle of Marengo sold for over $6 million. It is curved, influenced by Egyptian sword design which, Napoleon noted, made it easier to cut a head off.

Useless knowledge

I learn from SDP’s Ken Blanchard that some people think Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ. Can the End Times be far off?

Update: Our friend RC2 says that she has known for quite some time who the real Anti-Christ is.

Reverse missionaries in Europe

This article puts a human face on a growing phenomenon--missionaries from Asia, Africa, and the Americas evangelizing Europe.

Religion and the family

Mary Eberstadt argues that one cause of the decline of religion is the decline of the family, in particular, the reduction in fertility. Fewer of us are going to church because we’re having fewer children, rather than having fewer children because we’re less likely to go to church. The argument isn’t quite as implausible and reductionist as it sounds: I think she has her finger on one of the natural mechanisms that prompt both wonder and orientation toward the future. If you want to, you can say "one of the natural mechanisms that God uses to prompt both wonder and orientation toward the future.

And even if you’re not completely persuaded, the article’s notes offer quite a tour through the contemporary literature on religion and the family.

RIP Richard Rorty

The man who tried to put an end to the human experience of death by not talking about it has died. He aimed to convince us that death is "death," but now he’s dead, and we can’t help but be moved by that fact. Rorty, I think, was our most interesting and penetrating pragmatist ever, and so in his own way quite an important American thinker.

What Edwards and Romney Have in Common

According to Chapman, great hair, firm jaws, and flexibile views. They’re really two Mr. Potato Heads. This is actually an exaggeration: Eduwards seems to have embraced his leftist niche with new-found conviction and an impressive articulation of policies (health care, for example). Romney’s new fiscal conservatism is pretty suspect, and he still needs more real policies. But the truth, I think, is that he hid his conservatism in that unfriendly Massachusetts environment, and the new, distinctively conservative Mitt is probably closer to the real Mitt. But to become more trustworthy, he actually might learn something from Edwards’ message-based discipline. McCain, for example, makes two good points against Mitt on immigration: First, his position on this issue has been neither stable nor consistent. Second, he really hasn’t come up with a plausible alternative to the bill John championed, which could be called better than nothing.


This is the Washington Post’s brief report on Bush’s stop in Albania. Yesterday’s New York Times had a longer front page story on the (nowadays) extraordinarily pro-American (and even pro-Bush) sentiment everywhere in Albania, which is 70% Muslim. A couple of excerpts from the NYT story:

"Albania is for sure the most pro-American country in Europe, maybe even in the world," said Edi Rama, Tirana’s mayor and leader of the opposition Socialists. "Nowhere else can you find such respect and hospitality for the president of the United States. Even in Michigan, he wouldn’t be as welcome."

It [Albania] was one of the first countries to send troops to Afghanistan and one of the first to join the forces in Iraq. It has soldiers in both places.

"They will continue to be deployed as long as the Americans are there," Albania’s president, Alfred Moisiu, said proudly in an interview.

Most recently, the country has quietly taken several former detainees from the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, off the Bush administration’s hands when sending them to their home countries was out of the question. There are eight so far, and Mr. Moisiu said he is open to accepting more.

Mr. Rama, Tirana’s mayor, says he is offended when Albania’s pro-Americanism is cast as an expression of "provincial submission."

"It’s not about being blind," he said, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Great Seal of the United States. "The U.S. is something that is really crucial for the destiny of the world."

Peggy Noonan on THE SOPRANOS

I’ve been reluctant to comment on this show. For one thing, I didn’t want all you Crunchy Cons out there to judge me for spending the big money just to see the HBO classics. For another, I’m not sure what to make of it. Ir may well be, as Peggy says, a fundamentally nihilistic show. Most people are at heart monsters ready to do anything they can get away with to satisfy their appetites. From that view, it’s a much more realistic show about nothing than SEINFELD or CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Or it may be a slightly more ambiguous and sympathetic account of how people turn out when compelled to operate outside the law and decent conventions. Arguably Tony could have been a formidable political or corporate figure if he didn’t think he could act on all his impulses and get away with it. Or maybe in another line of work his sociopathic character would have led to his destruction much earlier. Even the rare naturally decent Mafia guy--like Bobby--is also stuck with being a murderer and getting murdered (while buying a model train set for himself--Bobby was one lovable husband, father, and friend). It’s behind question that David Chase did create a very singular and very realistic Jersey world (based very loosely--like GODFATHER I and II--on a world that actually existed) full of strange and memorable--I hesitate to add wonderful--characters.

Saletan on Creeping (and Maybe Creepy) Parthenogenesis

Virgin births are common--increasingly common--among other species. Nature--in its reproductive plasticity--is capable of dispensing with sex to keep a species going. But in mammals, imprinting foils parthenogensis. We how have evidence that the human brain can foil imprinting, and soon enough virgin birth may become natural (or at least not a miracle) for us too.

Will not dyspeptic about Lindsey

While I’m on a Saturday-before-Sunday GFW kick, here’s his generally laudatory review of Brink Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance. Here’s GFW’s conclusion, which I’m not sure some of my dyspeptic friends will share, if they get around to reading the book (I probably will):

He believes that “the common commitment to chase that horizon became the glue that held an increasingly pluralistic society together.” Piffle. America’s remarkable social cohesion is not reducible to that. We are a creedal nation, dedicated to a proposition, which is approximately this: All people are created equal and have a right to spacious freedom that produces unequal outcomes.

Lindsey rightly says that “today’s typical red-state conservative is considerably bluer on race relations, the role of women and sexual morality than his predecessor of a generation ago.” And “the typical bluestate liberal is considerably redder than his predecessor when it comes to the importance of markets to economic growth, the virtues of the two-parent family and the morality of American geopolitical power.” In “the bell curve of ideological allegiance,” the large bulging center has settled, for now, on an “implicit libertarian synthesis, one which reaffirms the core disciplines that underlie and sustain the modern lifestyle while making much greater allowances for variations within that lifestyle.” If so, material abundance has been, on balance , good for us, and Lindsey’s measured cheerfulness is, like his scintillating book, reasonable.

I vented a little of my own dyspepsia about Lindsey’s general conclusion here, here, here, and here.

Tax and tax liberals?

George F. Will notes what has happened since Ronald Reagan cut taxes 102 quarters ago and wonders if the Democrats are really serious about letting the most recent round of tax cuts expire. They could, as he says, send a new tax measure to President Bush and, I would add, wage the next presidential election on their economic agenda.

But why bother? It’s easier to vote no confidence in the AG and impotently criticize President Bush’s war.

Inventing Lincoln

Andrew Ferguson, whose book party in D.C. I couldn’t attend because I neglected to pack grown-up clothes, demonstrates that Al Gore needs a better fact-checker (or, as we used to call them in the old days, "quote boy").

The invitation came through the good offices of a generous friend. Wish I could have gone, but the alternative entertainment was quite good on its own.

The lesson here is always bring business attire when you go to hang out with grown-ups.

Immigration politics

Harry Reid says the failure of the comprehensive immigation reform bill is the President’s fault. Not surprisingly, this WaPo article more or less agrees with him. The President, this WaTi article says, hasn’t given up. And this NYT article suggests that Reid’s lukewarmness about the bill made it easier for opponents to torpedo it, at least in the short run.

The White House may make another push, though I think that the kind of bill that a significant number of Republicans (especially in the House) can support will not win favor with the Democrats. As Bill Voegli points out below, in the House especially, there’s nothing to be gained by letting Democrats off the hook. For me, the bottom line right now is that a successful revival of the bill is highly unlikely.

Enlightened Self-Interest?

The Kennedy-McCain immigration bill may be dead, or it may be dormant. If the Senate revives and passes it, the House will take it up. Speaker Pelosi has said in the past that she won’t proceed without 70 Republican votes in favor of the bill, but Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told the Washington Post today that the bill can’t pass without 40 Republican votes.

If Democrats really like this bill, Pelosi and Emanuel could pass it in the House on a party-line vote without a single Republican. (There are no cloture votes in the lower chamber.) Their reluctance to do so says something about the politics of immigration.

There are 232 Democrats and 203 Republicans in the House. Republicans need a net gain of 15 seats in the 2008 elections to regain a majority. As Michael Tomasky has pointed out, 62 Democrats represent districts that gave majorities to Bush against Kerry in 2004, while only 8 Republicans represent districts that Kerry won. Many of those 62 Democrats are freshman in districts that have been colored red on the electoral map for a long time.

Emanuel knows, in other words, that many of these Democrats are going to be vulnerable if they vote for McCain-Kennedy and then have to explain their vote next year in a campaign against a secure-the-border-first Republican challenger. Every Republican vote for McCain-Kennedy in the House will let one more vulnerable Democrat off the hook. They can vote against the bill, mollify their conservative constituents, and blame it all on Pres. Bush and Republicans. The Democrats get to have the bill they want, with all the political benefits and none of the political dangers it entails.

House Republicans who enjoy being in the minority have clear reasons to go along with this scheme, as do those who find the policy arguments in favor of the Grand Compromise compelling, or those who lie awake at night worrying about the Bush domestic legacy. If there are 40 such Republicans, than a revived Senate bill could pass the House. If, however, the Stupid Party is not quite stupid enough to sign onto this suicide pact, then Pelosi and Emanuel will either have to gamble their majority on enacting immigration reform with Democratic votes only, or shelve the whole question.

Could Rudy and/or HIllary End It All in Iowa?

This expert thinks so. Or maybe in Florida. It’s certainly possible that a leading candidate in either party could get enough early momentum to steamroller the others on February 5. My own opinion: Not this time--neither Clinton nor Giuliani is likely to win in Iowa. The author also has some interesting comments on the current strategery going on in the states aiming to have maximum, early impact.

Civic Education

Joe’s note one below on Bauerlein’s mention of civic education reminds me to bring to your attention our summer graduate classes in American history and government. While I do not doubt that Emory, ISI, and others, are doing very fine work in this area, I submit to a candid world that our long-standing work, recently made formal into a graduate program, isn’t half bad! Look at the curriculum, the profs, the readings, and then think about the great good that about 350 teachers from around the country will experience.

By the way, speaking of citizenship, I came across this speech on the centennial of the Gettysburg Address by Dwight Eisenhower. Worth reading.

Lincoln document found

The National Archives has unveiled a handwritten note by Lincoln exhorting his generals to pursue Robert E. Lee’s army after the battle of Gettysburg, underscoring one of the great missed opportunities for an early end to the Civil War. "An archives Civil War specialist discovered the July 7, 1863, note three weeks ago in a batch of military papers stored among the billions of pages of historical documents at the mammoth building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The text of Lincoln’s note has been publicly known because the general to whom Lincoln addressed it telegraphed the contents verbatim to the front lines at Gettysburg. There, the Union army’s leaders failed for more than a week to aggressively pursue Lee following his defeat." This is the note dated July 7, 1863 addressed to general Halleck, found in Basler, Vol. VI, p. 319:

"We have certain information that Vicksburg surrendered to general Grant on the 4th of July. Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over."

Education and citizenship

Mark Bauerlein doesn’t really break any new ground here, but he does point to a serious potential weakness in our case for self-government.

I should add, apropos of what I’ve been doing this week, that it’s not clear that markets work without knowledge either.

Land of Lincoln

Bill Kristol�s short piece in Time uses Freguson�s Land of Lincoln in part to construct a parallel about the 62 year distance between 1776 and 1832, and 1945 and today. Clever. By the way, I have read about a third of Ferguson’s book and I like it.

Fertlity in England

This short note on the rising birth rate in England and Wales notes that "Mohammed is expected soon to replace Jack as the most popular boy’s name. It has already pushed Thomas into third place."

The Case for Giuliani Remains

The polls continue to show he would defeat Hillary and Obama.

Happy Birthday Frank Lloyd Wright, Mohammed, and Paul Gaugin

I’ll leave to to Rob to explain what those three share in common.

Threatening to excommunicate Catholic politicians

This WSJ piece reminds us of one of the last times an Archbishop issued, and actually made good, on a threat of excommunication.

Immigration and leadership

Pundits and politicians always talk about leadership, which, last I checked, isn’t mentioned in the Constitution. It’s the word we use instead of statesmanship and/or citizenship, both of which imply standards to which the political actors should be held. Leadership is more Nietzschean, focusing on things like will, resoluteness, and courage, and implying that anything other than movement is the equivalent of death.

All of this is just an elaborate way of introducing the highly conventional analysis in this article about the apparent failure of comprehensive immigration reform: if the situation demands action, and we don’t do something, anything, why, that must be a failure of leadership. In our constitutional regime, something this big ought to be hard. It’s not about leadership simply, but also about building a consensus for action. And consensus-building requires the kind of trust (that, for example, people will do what they say about securing the border) that hasn’t yet been credibly established. I’d hate to have a "leadership success" now that just creates more problems down the road, especially if the problems are as easily foreseen as the ones inherent in this measure are. Someone who "leads" here fails the test of statesmanship, because all that would have been accomplished is the comforting appearance of doing something, without taking the even harder measures necessary to make sure that that "something" would actually resemble what had been promised.

Krauthammer on the permanent campaign

He defends our--I was going to say quadrennial, but that isn’t quite right--ordeal:

[F]or all its bizarre meanderings, the endless campaign serves critical purposes.

The first two -- testing the candidates’ managerial and consensus-building skills -- are undeniably useful. But like most Americans, I find it is the third -- the gratuitous humiliation of our would-be kings -- that makes it all worthwhile.

Dionne on the pardon

Of course, E.J. Dionne, Jr. wants to make the Libby pardon about the politics of the Iraq war. For him, Scooter Libby is a symbol of all the war supporters:

The Libby case put their generation on trial, to use Alistair Cooke’s evocative phrase about a very different trial in an earlier age. The verdict against Libby was a verdict against them.

This is, of course, ridiculous, implying (as he wants to) that making the case for the war was criminal: "Bush lied; people died; if there were any real justice in America, all the war supporters in the Bush Administration would be going to jail."

I know this is the position of many on the hard left and of some on the isolationist right. I’ve come not to expect more and better of Dionne, who was once an interesting and thoughtful columnist.

Assessment and accreditation yet again

A House Appropriations subcommittee has included language in a measure that would prevent the DoE from using any money to issue new accreditation regulations. Another shot across the bow of the U.S.S. Spellings.

Democratic leadership (?) in the Senate

I can’t resist a little partisan dig at Harry Reid, who wants GWB to lead the Senate for him on immigration:

Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that if a second vote fails, ``the bill’s gone.’’ He added, ``What else can I do?’’

Reid appealed to Bush to twist the arms of 47 Republicans who voted against limiting debate, saying the legislation’s demise would produce headlines that ``the president fails again.’’

``It’s his bill, it’s not our bill,’’ Reid told reporters after the vote. ``It can’t pass unless we get significant Republican support.’’

My headline would be: "Harry Reid can’t lead."

For more of the same, go

Update: I’m not sure whether it’s headed to the morgue or just to the hospice, but, for now, comprehensive immigration reform is off the agenda, with its supporters falling fifteen votes short of imposing cloture. Here’s the roll call.

Overheard at my seminar

"Lou Dobbs is like a lobotomy, but it doesn’t leave a scar."

Source: Michael Munger.

Stem cell research and politics

These two articles describe a new technique for creating pluripotent stem cells that does not require the destruction of embryos. Some scientists are unhappy that this news might affect the prospects of a stem cell funding bill on which the House is set to vote today.

Yesterday, the House defeated a measure that would have banned human reproductive cloning, but not cloning per se. The measure, rushed through without any hearings, seemed intended to provide pro-cloning forces some political cover in the debate today, and also
indirectly to authorize therapeutic cloning.

For more analysis, go here and here.

Blast from the past

William Shawcross and Peter Rodman, together now after disagreeing in the 70s, argue, in the NYT of all places, that a withdrawal from Iraq would be disastrous for the Iraqi people, as well as for U.S. friends and interests in the region and around the world. Someone should ask Senators Clinton and Obama, and ex-Senator Edwards what they think of this argument.

More Democrats and faith

I worked my way through the Sojourners transcript and posted some thoughts over at Knippenblog on Edwards, Obama, and (last and least) Clinton. Edwards is the most confused (and nasty); Clinton, the least substantive.

Dr. Pat on Chesterton

Here’s some of Deneen’s analysis of G.K.’s neglected classic WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA in light of his defense of ORTHODOXY. Pat and G.K. remind us that it’s love--and not just manliness--that points us in the direction of the irreducibility of personality and personal significance. It might be the case that in his noble and timely effort to defend love and patriotism against cosmopolitan personal indifference Dr. Pat slights the American political universalism that Chesterton identifies and admires. We’re a "home for the homeless" because we’re "a nation with the soul of a church." Those cast out from their political homes someone else can find a home in our country as long they accept our egalitarian dogma of personal significance guaranteed by the God who is the center of the universe’s significance. The foundation of our "romance" of citizenship isn’t a civil theology, but a deeper and ultimately true dogma about the equal transcendence--or, in a way, homelessness--of every particular human person. There’s a complex, Christian interplay between being at home with your homelessness and being at home in your particular places in the world.

The RAF Bans Painted Pin-Ups on Planes

Why? To avoid offending women and the Taliban! Here’s an example of an allegedly offensive work of art, with manly Free Republic indignation directed against its censorship. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.) Does Lucy really symbolize the freedom we are fighting for?

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

...which deserves to be ranked among the best presidential prayers.

Here are some thoughts: They don’t pray ’em like this any more. Here’s more evidence of the tendency emerging in one of the threads to see some statesmanship in FDR after all. And notice that it’s Newt who’s trying to rekindle our memory of this wonderful example of American piety and greatness. I never denied that Gingrich has some fine ideas! The story of D-Day, which I’m not competent to tell, is of a triumph of American courage and ingenuity over some pretty flawed planning. Imagine how that war would have gone had our forces been repulsed that day.

(Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

Random Debate Comments

Lots of bashing of the president’s incompetence. Giuliani has decided to be THE competent, assertive guy when it comes to foreign policy and the war, and he was good--although the call for training nation-building soldiers at this point is a bit much. He’s also did well in positioning himself on immigration. He’s now simply running as a pro-choice candidate (with now not even a bow to judicial restraint) on the premise that abortion etc. aren’t important in our critical national security time. Whether based in honesty or expediency or both, his stand does clarify things. McCain also sounded tough and competent on the war etc.--although making the conflict between good and evil "transcendent" also seems a bit much. This immigration thing is killing him though. (I don’t see how his immigration view or Giuliani’s abortion etc. view coud possibly lead either to the nomination or to the united party the Reps. really, really need in November.) I had trouble focusing on Romney this time, although he didn’t outrage me even for a moment. Huckabee is a very eloquent man (even on the willful or moral dimension of foreign policy), and he may end up being a force in the primaries. At this point his momentum is building slowly, although his emphatic, even beautiful creationism is probably not a recipe for success in November. Generally, the transcript doesn’t make the array of candidates available for next year look bad at all, but it’s also not very interesting viewing or reading. I don’t know when the next one is scheduled, but it shouldn’t be until something like November.

The Paris Hilton Prison Diaries

The Los Angeles Times is nearly defunct as a newspaper these days, but once and a while it rises to the occasion, such as today’s Paris Hilton Prison Diary.

Free Paris!

Why the GOP Might Actually Win Next Year, Part 1

James Taranto at OpinionJournal passes along this reader comment on John Edwards from the debate the other night:

Wolf Blitzer: What is a "rich person," Senator Edwards?

The Lovely and Talented John Edwards: I don’t know if I know what a rich person is.

Reader Bart Harmon offers Edwards a little help:

You might be rich person if . . .

You pay 400 bucks for a haircut, and that’s with the ladies’ day discount.

Your house has more square footage than most Central American countries.

You leave a larger carbon footprint than the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Your last three jobs were medical malpractice attorney, U.S. senator and hedge fund manager.

You can talk easily about two Americas because you own at least one of them.

You are paid $55,000 an hour to speak about poverty, and that’s your college rate.

More shallow unseriousness from Democrats like this and even Ron Paul can win in November 2008.

The Scooter Libby sentence

As you probably know, a federal judge (nominated by GWB, though I wouldn’t read too much into that) has sentenced Scooter Libby to 30 months in prison and assessed a hefty fine. He is also disinclined to acquiesce in Libby’s request that he stay out of prison pending an appeal, but will decide that soon. This is surprising, to say the least.

A lot of people are calling for President Bush to pardon Libby, including a soon-to-be-almost-is presidential candidate who was part of Libby’s defense team.

Until I heard about Judge Reggie Walton’s apparent obduracy about letting Libby stay out of prison pending an appeal, I had expected President Bush to pardon him as soon as was politically possible (which is to say, after we know who his successor will be). But if Walton compels Libby to begin to serve his time before his appeals are exhausted (why? is he a flight risk? a danger to the community? likely to repeat his offense?), he will force Bush’s hand.

And I think that, if it comes to that, the President ought to act sooner, rather than later. Let the political fallout come now, and pass long before the 2008 campaign. Let Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson have their last (one hopes) fifteen seconds now, rather than later. Let the Democrats scream and reveal their petty vindictiveness now...though, gosh, there’s a political reason for postponing the pardon. But no, I won’t give in to the temptation to call for a pardon only when it can achieve the maximal political effect.

GWB and conservatism

Jonah Goldberg calls our attention to Ross Douthat’s meditation on "the lessons of Bushism," which he and I both enjoyed. While I’d love to be able to defend the misunderstood consistency of the Bush Administration, I can’t. Some of that is due to GWB’s admirable focus on the central challenge of our time, post-9/11. (Of course, I can’t claim that the response was consistently well-executed, though I’d love for someone to give me evidence of an American war that, by contrast, was.) But I think the failures of the Bush Administration’s domestic policy stem from at least three sources--its own distraction and incoherence (with different elements of the administration pulling in different ways--again, hardly unusual, however deplorable); its pragmatism, both in dealing with Democrats and dealing with big business; and third, its failure to persuade Congressional Republicans to follow its lead, either with respect to the faith-based initiative and, more importantly, I think, with respect to social security reform.

It’s fashionable to blame Bush and his supporter (hard to speak in the plural any more) for everything, but many of his failings are really failings of the Republican Party, which followed Tom DeLay’s lead in governing like a typical governing party--spreading out the pork and attempting to punish opponents--rather than consistently attempting to reconstruct itself and the federal government to meet the challenges of the new century. The other things with which conservatives like to find fault are as attributable to the business wing of the Republican Party as they are to Bush on his own. Anyone want to claim that the business wing isn’t enamored with comprehensive immigration reform, big government approaches to health care, the moderate embrace of affirmative action (how could we forget?), and No Child Left Behind? Anyone who wants to call out Bush and his supporter had better be willing to call out Wall Street as well.

If you care or need to read more, you can go here (for a misunderstanding, willful or otherwise, of the best case for compassionate conservatism) and here (for an articulation of what might have been said on behalf of compassionate conservatism, if it had continued to be fashionable to offer it).

My whereabouts

I’m in the D.C. metro area, where I spent an exceptionally pleasant evening drinking with Jonah Goldberg and dining with Patrick Deneen, this after spending the day participating in a program hosted by these genial folks.

My kids are swimming tonight; I hope they did as well tonight as they did last week (8 races; 8 wins).

Cuba podcast

Every senior Ashbrook writes a thesis, and then offers a public defense. I decided to do podcasts with a few of them on their way out the door. The first is with Heather Imboden. She majored in history and political science and is working somewhere in California for the year and then, I hope, she will be off to graduate school. She was a very fine student, with a lively mind. I will miss her. Her thesis was on U.S.-Cuban relations, as is the 20 minute conversation.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for May

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

Jennifer Tower

Kristen Nowak

Clark Irwin

Robinson O’Brien-Bours

Diane Van Wyk

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 June’s drawing.

Shudder. . .

Idle thought for a Tuesday morning (perhaps this will be one of those SAT analogy questions someday):

President Hillary Clinton will be to Bill Clinton what Franklin Roosevelt was to Theodore Roosevelt.


Fred’s Not Quite Ahead

...but he’s only a few points behind the fading Giuliani in the latest poll. Romney and McCain are still polling respectably, although Mitt isn’t surging and John’s negatives are. Four promising but obviously flawed candidates are bunched together. At this point, Fred does have the momementum and the most potential to break away from the pack, but that may just be because he’s the new guy in town. We’re in for a long campaign, and it’s already sort of boring.

Dogs thinking?

This WaPo story, reporting on a study published in the journal "Current Biology", asserts that dogs think more than we thought they think. Well, at least they seem to imitate selectively (depending on the context) and may use the same cognitive process as an infant. Some researches are saying that a dog can put himself inside the head of another dog, and perhaps even people, in order to make relatively complex decisions; perhaps even think about a person’s intention; they may even have a sense of awarness that may be a higher level of consciousness than previously thought.

I got a dog (a puppy) for my mother on her birthday three weeks ago. It is a Miniature Schnauzer. She named it Choki, (as in choki, but with a short "o", not as in choke, rather as in chuck) meaning "little chocolate."
To my surprise she fell for Choki immediately even though she has never been a dog lover. She liked this particular dog, but she doesn’t like Great Danes, or the Bull Terrier down the street. In short, my mother knows that the various individual dogs she has met or seen are in fact dogs. She knows that dog is a universal, and Choki is just a particular dog; she knows that this cute and loving creature named Choki is a dog. She recognizes the universal dog in her particular dog. Or, as an old friend used to put it, she understands what a common noun is, and her speech about dogs (or anything else) is therefore inteligible, albeit in Hungarian (most of the time). She also knows this, and would contend that her mind is free to think about all kinds of common nouns.

One of the scientists, a Marc Bekoff, in the article says this: "Every day, we’re discovering surprises about animals and finding out animals are far more intelligent and far more emotional than we previously thought. We’re really breaking down the lines between the species."

Now, my mother knows that Mark Bekoff is a scientist, and that all scientists are human beings. She also knows that human beings, even Mark Bekoff, can think about dogs. She also knows that even when a particular man is wrong in his thinking, he is still more intelligent than any dog, although, in this case it may be a close call because she also thinks Choki is very, very smart.

Faith and Democratic politics

I don’t have time to say much about it right now, but here are some accounts of an event held last night (you can find the video on this page). The three leading Democratic candidates spent a little time before a friendly audience answering basically softball questions on faith and politics. The campaigns will surely get some good footage to use for outreach to moderate and liberal Christians. I’d ask this: if one’s faith, or a precept derived from it, is a legitimate point of departure for a discussion about poverty policy, why isn’t it also a legitimate point of departure for a discussion of abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.? Another question: is it possible for people of faith to disagree about what policy faith demands for poverty and social welfare as--they would surely contend--it is about abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.?

In other words, if I were on the other side of some of these issues (as I, of course, am), I’d use the existence of a forum like this to focus, not on the faith, but on the substance of the issues, with all issues connected with faith being in play.

Update: Another question to which I would have loved to have heard the answer: "What do you say to people in your party who argue that religion doesn’t belong in politics, that it is divisive, regressive, and/or irrational?"

Update #2: Here’s a little more and here’s a lot more. Kuo’s advice strikes me as quite solid. Remind me: didn’t he recommend a fast from politics not too long ago?

Gitmo trials and tribulations

One of my co-bloggers at Good Will Hinton is excited by this development--a case against a Canadian Gitmo detainee can’t at the moment go forward because he’s been classified as an "enemy combatant," but not as an "unlawful enemy combatant," as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 requires. They’ll likely convene another Combatant Status Review Tribunal for him to make certain that their language conforms to what the law requires--assuming, of course, that he is in fact "unlawful," i.e., that he wasn’t part of a regular force wearing a uniform, for example, when he was detained. And they’ll have to do the same for all the others, since apparently no one has been declared an "unlawful enemy combatant," as the law requires. As Andy McCarthy observes, this looks like "monumental incompetence."

But I wouldn’t go overboard in assuming that this is the beginning of the end of the military commissions, which I’m sure is the not-so-secret dream of their opponents. Indeed, I was surprised not to find any commentary yet on sites where I’d have expected it--like Prawfsblog and Volokh. If something shows up, I’ll post links.

Ukrainian political crisis

Andy Busch has been in Ukraine on a Fulbright this semester. In this piece on the crisis (now some two years old) in Ukrainain politics, he notes: "This ongoing crisis has been rooted in a confluence of three factors�a population that is closely divided politically, a political culture that encourages winner-take-all brinksmanship, and an institutional structure that is not yet fully formed." You might be interested to learn that U.S. politics of the 1790�s is not irrelevant to today�s Ukranian politics. While they are proving that democracy is not easy, there is more hope than in the politics in Russia. Very good piece. Get home safe, Andy!

A commencement address

Terrence Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical Scool in Fort Collins, Colorado, offered this talk to the graduating class of 2007. Ridgeview is recognized as one of the top charter schools in the country, and the best high school in Colorado.
Here is Ridgeview’s web site. I have been there a couple of times and it is a fine school!

Summer and the Court

Summer is approaching, the flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing, and it’s time to brace yourselves for yet another possible fight for the Supreme Court--this time with Dems in the majority. This story claims that the White House is focusing on female and minority candidates--though most of the names mentioned have been mentioned before.

Another Good Thing About KNOCKED UP

...was (scroll down to a letter to K-Lo) its touching and very unfashionable portrayal of non-homoesexual male friendship. These losers--who really aren’t stupid--do put love and friendship before personal productivity, and so maybe it’s too bourgeois to be too worried about their futures.

Bourgeois and Bohemian

For Russell Kirk fans: He called himself a Tory Bohemian and was all about the "unbought grace of life" (Burke). He also couldn’t hold a job and had four kids fast relatively late in life because a relatively sensible (or somewhat bourgeois) woman figured out how to catch him. So bohemian means, in this conext, life is beautiful and to some extent don’t worry be happy. Bourgeois means turning all over life over to calculation and consent about one’s own interest. The bourgeois/bohemian distinction originates with Rousseau, who was very hard on the bourgeoisie. Pure bohemian and pure bourgeois are both undesirable and unreproductive extremes, but surely that’s one of the teachings of KNOCKED UP--where an excessively--even repulsively--bohemian man accidentally impregnates an excessively bourgeois woman. And (of course) they make each other better.
David Brooks wrote a book called BOBOS (bourgeois bohemians) IN PARADISE, where he explains that sophisticated Americans today pride themselves in combining bourgeois productivity with bohemian meaningful self-fulfillment. But the truth is that at every crucial turn bourgeois trumps bohemian, because healthy and safety or personal security are real and spiritual purpose or meaning, for the Bobos, is a mere preference or whim. (All this is to explain the terminology used in the KNOCKED UP post below.)


The good news is that the film is very pro-life and pro-marriage (at least after you’ve been knocked up). That’s a bigger thing than Ms. Lopez acknowledges. This has been a very over-hyped movie, with extensive coverage on NPR, the Today show etc., and a long and boring article in the NYT Magazine. The mainstream media is in love with a piece of art that celebrates secular, sophisticated America’s pro-life awakening. (George Will certainly needs to see it!)

The simple message is that for admirable people "bohemian" trumps "bourgeois," and so lovable babies are chosen over even lucrative designer careers. Being kocked up is a blessing that reveals that life is too wonderful and lovable to be reduced to planning. The shortcoming Kathryn rightly objects to is that the bohemian "lifestyle" portrayed is just too gross and stupid, and you can’t help but remember the wisdom of ANIMAL HOUSE: Fat, drunk (or stoned), and stupid is no way to go through life. On the other hand, presumably the baby will bourgeoisify the fat guy just enough to make him responsible and all that, and so in its own way KNOCKED UP may embrace the wisdom spoken in ANIMAL HOUSE (and KU is certainly much less cynical than AH). My objection to this fairly funny but overrated film is that its basic story is too wish-fulfillment sentimental, and that it could easily have had some class and real plot. With credible characters, it could easily have been more funny. So KNOCKED UP doesn’t rise to the level of its creator’s excellent FREAKS AND GEEKS, although it’s less stupid than THE FORTY YEAR-OLD VIRGIN.

All in all, it’s the message more than the art or even the entertainment that causes KNOCKED UP to get a thumbs up.

Salary disparities between men and women

It turns out that one of the big problems is, as the author puts it, that "the altruism is so heavily concentrated in one sex." More social engineering, anyone?

Secession in Vermont?

So says this article. Hat tip: Drudge.

More Evidence (in case you need it) of Why Now is Not a Good Time for a Democrat President

. . . can be found here and here. Indeed, we may not be re-living 1972 as suggested below but, instead, 1978-79.

Dems Debate

We don’t have cable TV and I hate trying to do this kind of thing over the internet, so I didn’t watch the debate. I’ve been picking up this and that on the radio (Drudge has a show on Sunday nights that plays in LA) and on the blogs. This from Patrick Ruffini at Hugh Hewitt’s blog is the best posting I’ve read about it. Hewitt and Dean Barnett also posted, but Barnett seemed to be more worried about the Sopranos--though, for me, that debate sounds like it would have been all the mafia I could take for one night.

Andrew McCarthy’s alarm clock

Is ringing. A sample:

Militant Islam, you see, is mustered in Iraq, where al Qaeda — the inspiration for Defreitas and his cohorts — has called America out. Like Defreitas & Co., Osama bin Laden and his ranks see themselves in a world war between the United States and a vision of Islam shared by tens of millions. (Think one-in-four, writ large). Iraq, they have decided, is their frontline, though very far from their only line. Everywhere, America is their target. Everywhere, terror — the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children — is their weapon of choice.

For the new Democratic Congress and its growing wake of jittery Republicans, that turns out to be a choice worth living with. Oh yes, they’ll sputter about how barbaric and unsavory it all is. But, like those one in four Muslim males, they’re prepared to let terror rule the day. That’s the plan: Al Qaeda blows up things and people; we leave, grumbling all the way home about civil wars and intractable hatreds between the Religion of Peace’s murderous sects; and al Qaeda triumphs … with bin Laden reminding his acolytes: See, I told you, they’re a paper tiger — make it bloody for them and we win.

Naturally, we’ll tell ourselves they’re not winning at all. They want Iraq? Let ‘em have it. Just like — when they killed enough of us — we let ’em have Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Who, after all, needs these hellholes?

Except … militant Islam doesn’t just want the hellholes. It wants everything. It will take the hellholes. For now. But don’t think for a second they’ll be appeased.

Read the whole thing to be reminded of the urgency of our situation.

Fred Thompson’s jolt to the GOP

The WaPo reports on a speech by Fred Thompson in Richmond at a Republican Party Dinner yesterday. C-SPAN is going to play the speech tonight a couple of times. It may be worth watching both to hear the speech and to see how the audiance reacted to it. If we are bemused by why Thompson is making headway, maybe we should remind ourselves of the connection between politics and rhetoric, or, why poetry is always better than prose (especially with a Southern buoyancy to it). A sample or two:

"Folks, we’re a bit down politically right now, but I think we’re on the comeback trail, and it’s going to start right here..."

"We are a nation of compassion, a nation of immigrants. But this is our home . . . and we get to decide who comes into our home." This got him a standing ovation.

The WaPo also reports:

"Thompson reminded guests that he now lives in McLean, but he offered himself as a Beltway outsider, saying there was a ’disconnect’ between Washington and the rest of the country ’like I’ve never seen before.’ He said the GOP had lost its congressional majorities because ’some of us came to drain the swamp and made partnership with the alligators.’"

Gays not Happy with eHarmony

The Gay lobby is suing eHarmony for discrimination because it is exclusively heterosexual in its scope.

Homeschooling and state regulation

Over at PrawfsBlawg, they’ve been discussing this paper arguing for a state constitutional duty to "regulate homeschooling to ensure that
parents provide their children with a basic minimum education and check
rampant forms of sexism
." The paper

highlights the legal distinctness of parents and children and emphasizes that parental control over children’s basic education flows from the state (rather than vice versa). States delegate power over children’s basic education to parents, and the delegation itself is necessarily subject to constitutional constraints.

Caricaturing the pro-homeschooling argument as depending upon parental "ownership" of children (naturally, no documentary evidence to back up that ridiculous claim), Northwestern University law professor Kimberly Yuracko contends that, in effect, the family is a creature of the state and that parental rights and responsibilities depend almost entirely upon state decisions, though she generously concedes that "[p]arents do have
constitutionally protected liberty interests in their relationship with their

She further argues that the regulatory regime she supports is not a matter of policy, but rather a matter of constitutionally-mandated necessity, which it would have to be since, as she concedes, virtually all the politicking on this issue follows from parental concerns. She naturally focuses on the well-organized efforts of homeschoolers (led by Michael Farris’ Home School Legal Defense Association), but I can’t imagine any effort to legislate along the lines she suggests, following the theory she offers, winning support among any but the most collectivized and complaisant parents. We have a natural intuition that our relationship with our children is natural and primary. This isn’t right-wing "Christianist" homeschool ideology; this is parenthood.

Rick Garnett, who called my attention to this piece, recommends one of his own essays as a counterbalance. I’d add an article by Yale’s Stephen Carter, "Religious Freedom As If Family Matters," which appeared in the University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review in 2000 (sorry, no link; find it at lexisnexis).

The Pill’s Creator Predicts New Twist in Creation

The Daily Mail runs this interesting interview/article where the creator of the birth control pill, Carl Djerassi, makes predictions about how conception will be handled 50 years from now. The article has this funny gem: Women, especially, romanticise the moment they conceived," he says, "but the truth is many don’t actually know. And besides, is it such a high price to pay for a healthy child born at a time that is right for the mother?"

That’s funny. Romanticizing the moment of conception? I suppose that is a very odd habit of us silly women . . . It’s nice that we have a sensible, rational man like Dr. Djerassi looking out for our frail, irrational mental health. Why didn’t we think of this defrosting alternative before? It’s so much more appealing than the old-fashioned way of conception. Rather like cooking dinner--though, of course, without the spice.

Polish man out of 19 year coma

A man in Poland went into a come in 1988. He just awoke. During that whole time his wife insisted that he be cared for as if he would recover. He knows this, and now knows that communism is dead: "When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol lines were everywhere. Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin."

Dogs as Lovers

dain, in one of our threads, presents the amazing devotion of Bobby as evidence that the difference between human and canine love is only a matter of degree. It is a remarkable story--no matter how embellished it has become--and worth our attention. There are certainly some senses in which dogs can be better friends than other people, and I’m sure many of you will at least welcome an opportunity to speak well of your pets.

Let’s Turn the Clock Back to 1972!

That’s George Will’s pro-Giuliani advice. That means that social conservatives should forget about their their progressively more ineffectual and unfashionable concerns about abortion and homosexuality and embrace the most competent competent candidate--the only guy who could defeat the competent Hillary in November. Conservatives, for their own good, should imaginatively return to a time when they weren’t abortion-obsessed in order to take a broader view of our country need now.

George is right that the voters will be reacting big-time in some or way another against the president’s perceived incompetence in 2008. But isn’t the social conservative objection to Giuliani that he’s against turning the clock back to 1972--the year before ROE v. WADE disfigured our country’s political life? In 1972, abortion and same-sex marriage weren’t compelling as national issues because nobody much imagined that they could be resolved in an extreme, national way by the Court. In 1972, abortion policy, as George observes, was the product of legislative compromise on a state-by-state basis.

What Rudy needs to do to unite his party in a way that might produce victory in November is to explain why it’s right--constitutionally correct-- that he should appoint judges that would take us back to 1972. For now, he and George seem to agree that judicial restraint means putting the controversy the Court caused behind us by regarding ROE, as the Court claimed in PLANNED PARENTHOOD, as a watershed precedent that must remain undistrubed.

Will may well be right that most states wouldn’t restrict abortion much and that American opinion is progressing in a direction that will produce public acceptance of same-sex marriage. But it still makes a lot of difference whether such issues are resolved by the people’s moral deliberation and legislation or by judicial fiat that marginalizes much of our country.

Refugees to Europe

This article is titled Europe’s Shame. Here is a photo. : "This is the latest snapshot from the killing seas of the southern Mediterranean, the stretch of water at the European Union’s southern gate that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says ’has become like the Wild West, where human life has no value any more and people are left to their fate’."

Europe, not dead yet

Gerard Baker is inclined to be optimistic. Yet, as he mentions Walter Laquer’s new book, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, he is inclined to be persuaded toward pessimism. In the meantime, the future and the present connect. In the UK, imams are encouraged to give citizenship lessons, while the Germans--given that they only work 35 hours per week--have time to ponder their brain drain, the biggest since the 1940’s. As a footnote (in the George Anastaplo sense) allow me to recommend the cover story by Paul Berman (not on line, go buy it!) in the current The New Republic on Tariq Ramadan, a native of Switzerland, a professor at Oxford, and a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and also one of the most interesting and wily of European thinkers. I’m a pessimist on this one.

Addendum: The TNR essay on Tariq Ramadan is available on line here. Thanks, Joe.

Israel’s Future

Here’s a fascinating and provocative article about the future of Israel. A key part of its message: That country’s main worry isn’t a nuclear weapon launched from Iran. Another concerns the connection between demography and destiny. I don’t know enough to judge the specific claims made here, but maybe you do.

The Future Is Looking Better

...Saletan reports, because not so many people are retiring. And soon every man might be able to have something given by nature only to just about every woman. Now if only the animals would stop farting...

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Peggy Noonan Accuses the Presidents Bush

...of both being "great wasters of political inheritance." She does have some evidence.

Brooks on Thompson

David Brooks clearly likes Fred Thompson, but wonders whether his back-to-Republican-basics message can be a winner in November, 2008 and, more importantly, whether,by itself, it’s adequate to the challenges we face.

If I were a political consultant I would tell my candidate to play up Thompson’s back-to-basics theme. This is a traumatized party, not in the mood for anything risky and new. But over the long run, back to basics is no solution because it doesn’t produce a positive agenda for today’s problems.

Fred Thompson’s political skills are as good as anybody now running, but his challenge is going to be building a concrete agenda on his anti-Washington message. It will be translating his Goldwater risorgimento philosophy into policies on energy, health care reform, Islamic extremism and education. For if there is one thing the last 30 years have taught us, it is that campaigns that are strictly anti-Washington do not command 50 percent of the vote because they don’t address the decentralized global challenges that now face us.

Perhaps, as my friend Daniel Casse notes, what the G.O.P. needs is Newt Gingrich’s brain lodged in Fred Thompson’s temperament.

Apropos of this last wisecrack, someone should ask the WaPo’s
Eugene Robinson why he isn’t in a hurry to endorse Gingrich for President. I’d bet he could outwonk Gore any day.