Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.