Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Uninformed Electorate

Jonah Goldberg’s op-ed in today’s LA Times about the merits (or not) of requiring tests for voting reminds me of a great story from graduate school. I was in a (required) class that was known to be less than serious. The professor was a nice enough sort, but known also to be a bit obsessed with what one might call "social justice" causes and all perceived inequalities in American life. During the first week of class we were asked to take a lengthy multiple choice test on the United States Constitution. Most of us passed it (after all, we were graduate students in politics) but it was no cake walk. It was quite detailed and covered parts of the Constitution that one is not likely to commit to memory for the simple reason that it’s easy enough to look it up.

When it was finished, the results tabulated, and a few red faces peppered the room, the professor announced that this had been a poll test used in the south during Jim Crow. We were supposed to be horrified, of course. Indeed, it certainly was over the top in and of itself and--when applied, as it was, to only one race--it was quite obviously a work of injustice. Yet, it was difficult to resist laughter when the only black student in the room--a gentleman from Uganda (if I recall correctly)--raised his hand and asked indignantly what was wrong with this professor. Didn’t he think Americans should be able to answer these questions about their own constitution? Did he think there was something inherently inferior about blacks to make their answering these questions impossible? Every American should be required to take this test before he could vote, this man proclaimed with barely concealed contempt. It was clear that he thought the professor and most of us native-borns were too soft to deserve democracy. And, indeed, in discussion after class he confirmed this suspicion.

Jonah doesn’t quite go that far in this article, but he raises some interesting questions. Ultimately, however, I think I am still against tests for voting. I am, of course, in favor of working to assure that the electorate possesses the knowledge to pass such tests--but I guess there’s just something in me that wants to flip the proverbial bird at anyone from the government presuming to ask me to prove myself worthy. Moreover, I am afraid of the way things would turn out if we were to be governed only by the sheepish people who showed up willingly to get in line for such a test. I’ll take the salt of a little stupidity over that dreary prospect any day!

H! and Obama on faith and politics

Here are a couple of little pieces that encapsulate nicely the messages the Clinton and Obama campaigns want to send to religious voters. H! is clearly reaching out to mainline Protestants, which isn’t much of a reach for her. Obama is a little more interesting.

Rawls and contemporary liberal (or is it progressive?) politics

Linda Hirshman and Jacob T. Levy have been going back and forth at this TNR blog about the role of John Rawls and of "theory" in general in contemporary politics and in politics in general. I’m generally sympathetic to Hirshman’s position, i.e., that ideas matter, especially to elites in politics, though I also agree with Levy’s--in some respects, anti-Rawlsian--caveat, which is that social and cultural conditions aren’t simply susceptible to our Promethean refashioning.

What I found unhealthy about Rawls’s position--a position that probably had more influence in law schools and hence with law professors and hence with judges--is its presumption that, ultimately, our "natures" (both in general and as expressed in our particular cases) don’t matter. The only constraints to which we should pay attention that those that come from our rationality and reasonableness. I regard this as a kind of hyper-Kantianism, which paves the way for a kind of liberal idealism that morphs into "progressivism." Levy says he wants no part of this, and I think that’s a good instinct, for what it requires is a confidence that we can, in effect, be causes of nature as a whole, that we can entirely master our circumstances. This, as I’ve argued before, is at the core of much of contemporary liberalism (or should we call it by its new name?). It’s also connected with what all too often passes for a certain kind of liberal electoral strategery, as if all that’s required is the correct language or frames.

When I welcome the return of thoughtful liberals to "the great conversation," what I mean is a return to talk about nature, human nature, and the imperatives and constraints connected with them.

RIP Ingmar Bergman

Here are some witty and interesting thoughts from Woody Allen on Ingmar, including his terrible and largely undeserved troubles with the tax man. I can honestly say that Bergman’s teaching style didn’t fit my learning style, but even I can see he was an artistic genius.

Following in Bill Clinton’s footsteps

My dad wants us to, at least when we’re in Delft.

Vote your gut

Political psychologist Drew Westen, about whom I blogged here, thinks Democrats have been too, er, cerebral for the voters. He’d apparently prefer our level of discourse to be more like that found in the DailyKos.

Well, that’s not quite fair. But I am taking his advice and making an emotional appeal instead of responding rationally to his argument.

HRC (or is it just H! ?) and public service

John J. Pitney looks at a pie-in-the-sky proposal to create a public service academy, wondering why H! thinks colleges and universities aren’t educating enough public servants. If it’s a problem, why not just offer scholarships?

Oh, but they’re vouchers.... And a national public service academy is so much more French (not to mention Japanese and Chinese). And wouldn’t a university staffed entirely by professors devoted to governmental solutions to our problems be a wonderful thing? (I’m resisting cracks about how little different it would be from the current "diverse" public and private alternatives.)

Liberal critics of the Iraq war

Think the military situation on the ground is improving markedly.

Potty Potter-y

Good leftists should apparently have guilty consciences about enjoying Harry Potter, at least according to this commentary. You see, J.K. Rowling ultimately can’t free herself from essentialist racist and sexist stereotypes. We can only hope for better from her in the future:

The hierarchical, patriarchal undertones of the fantasy genre will likely be lost on children caught up in Harry’s quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. The series is great fun, and I wouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure of reading these books. But the politics of Harry Potter, while broadly anti-authoritarian, are far more complicated at the level of individual identity, and cannot be described as progressive. Perhaps this is why science fiction is ultimately a more radical genre than fantasy. While fantasy looks backwards for its myths and mores, sci-fi looks forward. So here’s hoping the next J.K. Rowling washes her hands of Tolkien and, perhaps in her next series of books, popularizes Madeline L’Engle instead.

I should add that
this story might put paid to libertarian readings of the septology. And this isn’t terribly penetrating, but it’s on the right track, I think. For a loving lengthy version of this argument, go here, but only after you’ve read the book.

Calling all Ashbrooks, and other interesting college students

Why not enter this contest? We old fogies will offer some commentary along the way. I’ll start soon.

Update: I rather liked Rick Perlstein’s essay, albeit more for his account of how the distance between "college" and "the real world" had diminished (to the detriment of the former) than for his romantic account of extra-curricular life in the "good old days."

In my view, "college" now isn’t "college" any more for three principal reasons. First, the hallmark of the 60s was a demand for "relevance," which college bureaucracies now give to students in spades. Many students take relevance in the currency of careerism; others, in the currency of social activism. For a few, there’s no distinction between the two.

Second, too many faculty--especially at elite institutions--have little or nothing to gain from trying to teach students anything other than their narrow specialties. Few want to teach "gen ed," what we old fogies would call traditional liberal education. So college curricula become a mishmosh of specialized classes, which engage a few and disengage many. There’s little or nothing in the classroom to hold the attention of students whose extracurricular lives are much more interesting than what they can glean from the "specialist without spirit" behind the podium. (For more on this, see my brief comment on Ross Douthat’s Privilege here.)

Third, parents and administrators have conspired increasingly to infantilize the collegiate experience, so that everything is presented to kids more or less pre-digested. There’s little room for adventure or risk-taking of a good sort, simply a number of well-trodden, well-lit paths down which to plod.

The solution, I hasten to add, is not to return to the 60s (described here, for example), but to seek out odd little schools that have succumbed less to what Perlstein, I fear, rightly describes as the marketization of higher education. (Cushy teaching and research jobs, massive bureaucracies, and all the comforts of an upper middle class gated swim-tennis community aren’t cheap, after all.)

Liberals and John Rawls

Here’s an argument that liberals should pay attention to nature and purposes, rather than the "political, not metaphysical" constructivism of John Rawls. I, for one, would welcome a liberal return to the "great conversation."

Have We Lost All Sense of Proportion?

There are no butts about it, says Mark Steyn. We are becoming more permissive and more coercive--not to mention more humorless and less prudent--when it comes to anything in the neighborhood of sex.


In a bold and calculated move, she’s more or less dropped the Clinton, Well it worked for Cher, not to mention Evita. The good senator doesn’t believe that her husband’s mixed reputation would cost her votes. It’s a question of avoiding any appearance of dependence.

Hillary Won’t Have to Pick Obama as VP

...and so she won’t. She is confident, this author claims, that she will get the nominaton and win the election. And she won’t face the pressures other nominees have to pick someone she doesn’t really like or respect. So she’s attacking him now to make the dissing go easier later. I disagree only insofar as I think Obama may well make the fight for the nomination pretty close, and we’ll see what happens if there are lots of his angry-but-nice-about-it delegates at the convention.

Orestes Brownson

It was brought to my attention that those excellent blogsters, the Brothers Judd,
used that the unjustly neglected American republican Orestes Brownson and an article I wrote about him as 4th of July patriotic edification this year. For those who care, you can buy an edition of Brownson’s THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC with my book-length introduction from ISI. I don’t think they’re sold out yet.

GWB and his successor

Peter Rodman thinks that President Bush’s aspiring successors should be hoping that Iraq can be moved further toward stability in the remaining 18 months of the Bush Administration. Here’s his conclusion:

Those running for president, especially, would be well advised, amid the excitement of the campaign, to reflect on what will be required of the winner. Potentially the most destabilizing new factor in the world in the coming period is the fear of American weakness. All the hyperventilation about American hubris and unilateralism is a tired cliche; it never had much validity anyway. The real problem is that the pressures pushing us to accept defeat in Iraq are already profoundly unnerving to allies in the Middle East, and elsewhere, who rely on the United States to help ensure their security in the face of continuing dangers. If we let ourselves be driven out of Iraq, what the world will seek most from the next president will not be some great demonstration of humility and self-abasement -- that is, to be the "un-Bush" -- but rather for reassurance that the United States is still strong, capable of acting decisively and committed to the security of its friends. Given our domestic debate, to provide this reassurance will be an uphill battle in the best of circumstances. It will be even more difficult if President Bush succumbs to all the pressures on him to do the wrong thing in Iraq.

President Bush still has the power to set the terms of the debate in 2008. He should use it wisely and to the utmost of his ability.

Bob Dole revisited

David Brooks looks at the Republican candidates and, most of the time, sees Bob Dole. If HRC’s negatives diminish--and he argues that they are going away--Republicans are in deep trouble unless "they reshape the battleground under everyone’s feet." Whatever that means.


TNR’s Noam Scheiber--rather too gleefully, I think--writes the epitaph of the once influential Democratic Leadership Council, which aimed at drawing Democrats to the center. With the Iraq war and the Bush Administration "radicalizing" moderates, who needs a sheet anchor, holding the party back from its worst leftist instincts? Well, gee, what happens when (shudder!) the Democrats own the Iraq war and don’t have GWB to kick around any more? Let’s rewrite the old Clinton theme song: "Let’s stop thinking about tomorrow."

Safe, legal, and rare?

Acton’s Brooke Levitske calls our attention to this LAT piece describing provisions in an appropriations bill passed by the House. In order to reconcile "choice" and "rareness," Democrats have added a laundry list of programs "aimed at preventing unintended pregnancies and providing critical health and social support services that can help vulnerable women and families overcome economic pressures and other life challenges." This appears to be a version of the approach found in Rep. Tim Ryan’s (D-OH)Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act (full PDF text here).

Ryan states his party’s message this way: "Bring the baby to term, and we’ll provide for you."

Do pro-life conservatives have an answer that doesn’t involve a massive expansion of the public health and welfare bureaucracies?

Leno Delivers

Jay Leno on the reports of drunk astronauts:

"Maybe that’s why they call it the Kennedy Space Center."

Sen. Schumer and the judicial nominating process

Not surprisingly, Sen. Charles Schumer isn’t happy with Justices Roberts and Alito, whose version of judicial incrementalism isn’t to his liking. Here’s his conclusion, which of course shows that his view of the Court is altogether ideological:

How do we apply the lessons we learned from Roberts and Alito to the next nominee, especially if – God forbid – there is another vacancy under this President?

We now have the most conservative Supreme Court in memory. And, as everyone knows, the Justices who are – actuarially speaking – most likely to step down next are the liberal ones.

The Court is, interestingly, at odds with the country. As the Court grows more conservative, the rest of the nation is in the midst of a pendulum swing in the progressive direction.

Unless we are vigilant in our efforts to moderate the Court, that institution will stand in the way of a much-needed and long-overdue swing back to moderation.


So, based on my experiences of the last two years and my reading of the last term’s cases, let me share with you how I intend to apply the lessons learned:


[F]or the rest of this President’s term and if there is another Republican elected with the same selection criteria let me say this:

We should reverse the presumption of confirmation. The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts; or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.

Given the track record of this President and the experience of obfuscation at the hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least: I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee EXCEPT in extraordinary circumstances.

They must prove by actions—not words—that they are in the mainstream, rather than the Senate proving that they are not.

And Sen. Schumer gets to decide what defines the mainstream, I guess.

Huzzah for The Simpsons Movie

I always liked to point to the 1984 movie "Ghostbusters" as one of my favorite anti-statist movies of all time. No only is the bad guy a bureaucrat from the EPA, but Dan Ackroid delivers one of the all time immortal lines when Bill Murray proposes going into the private sector. Ackroid, in a worried tone: "The private sector! I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!"

Well today Ghostbusters has been overtaken by The Simpsons Movie. For once I’m beating Jonah Goldberg to the punch at least by a few hours, since as of this writing he hasn’t seen it yet. But I agree with his G-File today that although The Simpsons is an equal opportunity offender, the left takes it worse from the show because there are so many more liberal pieties to be taken down these days.

This is my reading of The Simpsons Movie, which I took in at the first opportunity today. The bad guys are the EPA, and the portrayal is unintentionally accurate. The EPA’s decision to put a sealed glass dome over contaminated Springfield is not all that far removed from the EPA’s real decision in the 1980s to evacuate Times Beach, Missouri, even though the EPA later acknowledged that this was totally unnecessary and unjustified. The evil appointed head of the EPA refers to it as "the least successful government agency," and the ineffectuality of the EPA is overdramatized in the film in exactly the same way as the collective problem of pollution. Gore comes in for a pasting too, with Lisa Simpson’s documentary "An Irritating Truth."

There was more, but like the TV show, it goes by so fast that you miss things. An evil Hollywood plot to make you see the movie again or buy the DVD. Which I will.

Thompson’s Candid Approach

This Washington Post story on Fred Thompson’s seemingly unconventional approach to a campaign clearly seeks to poison the waters with an insinuation that Thompson might be just a little crazy. Notice the mention (twice) in the article of Thompson’s op-ed on the Virginia Tech shootings wherein Thompson notes that VT’s override of Virginia carry laws may have aggravated the situation in this case (i.e., no one could stop this guy). This was followed closely by speculation that such candid talk might cost Thompson politically. Of course, I find such candid talk refreshing and I’m betting most Americans will agree. It stands in sharp contrast to the strained and measured cadences of a Hillary Clinton, for example. And--as we have seen--even among Democratic primary voters there is a developing distaste for her kind of holding back. Obama’s "naive" moment seems to have won him some points--at least in the short run primary season. It is arguable whether Thompson’s short run gains with Conservatives will translate into long term gains or pitfalls in a general election. A clever wag could make an argument that Thompson is putting his foot in his mouth in much the same way Obama is doing--but I wouldn’t buy it. Why? Because I think that will depend on whether the American people are more afraid of armed and law-abiding fellow citizens or armed and crazed dictators. I think I’m still pretty confident that the vast majority of the American electorate looks with stronger disfavor on the notion of a game of political grab a-- with Ahmadinejad than they do at the suggestion of a 45 pointed at the head of an armed gunman in a school.

What Would Tocqueville Do?

Michael Gerson summarizes this paper, presented at this conference (other papers here). Here’s Gerson’s conclusion:

It would be nice if teen sexual behavior could be automatically changed by an abstinence lecture or a sermon. Setting those norms and expectations, however, is a small part of a larger cultural task. Moral men and women need moral communities.

This is why an abstinence program, by itself, may not accomplish much. And this is why there are no substitutes for healthy communities, beginning with families, in which young people are embedded.

In this context, the right question to ask of any government program is: does it support or "empower" families and "civil society"? Perhaps another way of putting it is: What Would Tocqueville Do?

Krauthammer on Obama’s SECOND Gaffe

Charles Krauthammer reminds us that this isn’t the first time Obama stuck his foot in his mouth on South Carolina soil. But E.J. Dionne views the whole episode through a different (and foggy) lens. I do rather hope Dionne’s party goes to the same optometrist.

Roger Scruton on Christopher Hitchens on God

Hitchens doesn’t know the first thing about the anthropology of religion. He hasn’t even studied Rene Girard (who is, in fact, much more fascinating than Christopher and maybe even Nietzsche). Religion isn’t about God, it’s about the sacred. And the need for the sacred is a human universal. There’s always a lot to learn from Scuton, who has packed an immense amount of erudite wisdom into a short and very readable article. There’s more to this article than Hitchens’ whole book. But I think I agree with Christopher that our religion is actually about God. Biblical religion is about the particular human being’s--the creature’s--relation to his personal Creator. The impersonal phrase "the sacred" doesn’t capture our religion’s focus on personal sinfulness, personal dignity, and personal salvation.

Pack the Court?

Jean Edward Smith has an op-ed in today’s New York Times. The point is this: The Supreme Court today is controlled by an "ideological agenda" (that is, not Smith’s), so, the solution is to pack the Court. It has been done throughout our history, argues Smith. Amusing. Smith is an excellent writer, wrote a couple of fine biographies (Marshall, Grant, and FDR is just now out), and I like him. And his liberal honesty is refreshing, I must say. Needless to say, I disagree. Smith: "If the current five-man majority persists in thumbing its nose at popular values, the election of a Democratic president and Congress could provide a corrective. It requires only a majority vote in both houses to add a justice or two."

Hibbs on Potter

Thomas Hibbs’s review makes clear--without ever saying it in so many words-- the ways in which Rowling’s story is Tolkienesque.

Happy Birthday Eric Hoffer, George Bernard Shaw, Stanley Kubrick, and Aldous Huxley

Well, there’s defintely a common theme going on there less lame than 20th century utopianism and its literary/theatrical critics.

Obama Lived and Went to School Overseas

. . . and, like, he totally studied International Relations so, I mean, he’s like so totally hot on foreign policy. Or so he says. Well, he didn’t use those words exactly but they seem, somehow, age-appropriate for describing the logic he used to defend himself against Hillary Clinton’s charge of political naivete after the last debate. Of course, we’re talking about a debate where snowmen and phony Hillbillies were asking the questions. Seriously, are any of these guys grown up enough to run this country?

UPDATE: Obama apparently will not back down when teacher backs him into this corner. And, of course, he cannot back down now without looking like the guilty little boy. This will strengthen his support with his base (already angry with Hillary for voting for the war) and weaken his position in the general election should these antics actually get him the nomination. Normal people will see this for what it is: petulance. I also think it hurts his VP chances.

The Problem of Too Little Crime

Glenn Loury has decided that if he writes like an overwrought 1960s liberal, people will forget that he was ever a 1980s Reagan conservative. In the Boston Review he argues that the American criminal justice system has become “crueler and less caring” than ever before. His explanation – white racism – could have been copied from the Kerner Commission Report. Bigots who opposed but knew they could not defeat the civil-rights movement, according to Loury, “sought to regain the upper hand by shifting . . . attention to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime.”

This toxic mix of racism and cynicism has given America the highest rate of incarceration in the world, 0.714% of our population. That ratio is 6 times higher than Canada’s and 12 times higher than Japan’s. Moreover, says Loury, blacks’ incarceration rate is eight times higher than the rate for whites, a disparity “greater than in any other major arena of American social life.”

Loury acknowledges, sort of, that crime is a bad thing, meaning that the apprehension and incarceration of those who commit crimes is a necessity. Although he argues that blacks are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated, that disproportion is relative to their share of the entire population - Loury never contends that it is disproportionate to blacks’ actual commission of actual crimes. Lacking such evidence, he is reduced to arguing that “the sum of a million cases, each one rightly judged on its merits to be individually fair, may nevertheless constitute a great historic wrong.” And how is America to square this circle? The entirety of Loury’s concluding policy prescription is, “Our country’s policymakers need to do something about it.”

If not for the annoyances of democracy, this wouldn’t be such a hard problem. If the authorities decide we need more blacks in Yale Law School they can race-norm the LSAT until the proportion is more to their liking. And if they decide they want fewer blacks in San Quentin they can race-norm the penal code, handing out discounted sentences to criminals from demographic groups that are over-represented among the incarcerated population.

Politics makes it sticky, though. The Democratic party suffered for 25 years after the Kerner Commission Report by insisting that “law-and-order is a code word for racism.” Loury’s attempt to revive that position ignores the political traction conservatives got by retorting, “Then what’s the code word for law-and-order?” If there isn’t one, then Kerner Commission liberals are really saying that the imperatives of racial justice require that we learn to live with higher levels of crime and lower levels of public safety. They are also telling people terrified and infuriated by crime that their demands that the government do something about it are illegitimate - or legitimate only to the extent that government can find ways to fight crime through measures that have no racially disparate impact.

The Democrats, emboldened by the 2006 election, are voicing sentiments they’ve kept in storage for many years, speaking out for higher taxes and bigger government, and against free trade. We’ll know they’re really confident about 2008 when they follow Loury’s lead and call for a return to the golden age of 1990, when the murder rate in New York was four times as high as it is now.

Studies Disagree on How Prejudiced We Are Against Mormons

...But they do agree that we’re more prejudiced against them than almost anyone else. I have to admit that the famous quote from Father Neuhaus that it’s reasonable not to vote for a Mormon because his (or her) victory and admirable leadership might strengthen Mormonism doesn’t make much sense to me. Mormonism isn’t a threat to liberty and justice in our country, and President Romney wouldn’t be the cause of lots of conversions. It might be the case that unwillingness to vote for a Mormon is no stronger than the unwillingness to vote for a Catholics in the late 1950s. Then religion might be a tough but not insurmountable barrier to Mitt’s election. Republicans, of course, are perfectly free to calculate that they can’t afford to lose lots of votes for religious reasons in a year when they begin as underdogs for ordinary political reasons.

The Lady in Red

The Hill has selected the ten most beautiful people on the Hill. Those who know her will not be surprised that

Rebeccah Ramey has made the list. And, because she was an Ashbrook Scholar, the reference to her "inner nerd" is not as bizzare as it sounds, although the phrase is not attractive. I know this woman. She thinks, and only good thoughts dwell in such a fair temple. Her beauty is an ornament to her fine mind and great heart.

Belgian democracy

was reeling Monday after the country’s likely new prime minister was asked on Belgium’s National Day to sing the national anthem and inadvertently launched into the French anthem instead."


Have smoke, will fly. A German entrepreneur has moved his idea for

Smoker’s International Airways (Smintair) closer to reality. This is good news, but it is too bad that a seat on Smintair between Dusseldorf and Japan will run between 6 and 14 thousand bucks.

Hungarian democracy

The way has been cleared for a referendum in Hungary on the following question: "Do you agree that the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary should make a law about introducing the siesta?" The National Election Committee, however, struck down a referendum proposal about making beer free in restaurants. What was it that Churchill said about democracy?

Judicial activism and restraint

Our friend Matt Franck effectively dismantles the liberal effort to redefine judicial restraint, which I discussed (most recently) here.

Testosterone and Political Philosophy

Jacob T. Levy wonders how manly it can be to talk about manliness. And he defends the girly-men accountants and economists from what he sees as my withering attack--which, in truth, barely masked my status envy.

Firefighting and Iraq

Over a week ago I, along with fifteen other newly-hired firefighters bound for Iraq, assembled in Houston for pre-departure orientation. At midweek we were joined by another dozen or so who are returning for their second or third tour. An eclectic group, perhaps half are former military firefighters, while a couple are recently-retired career firefighters, looking for an opportunity to be of service in their retirement. Some have more than thirty years of firefighting experience, while others just meet the minimum standard of four years. Most are from career departments, though there are a few of us who are volunteer firefighters. We come from East and West Coasts, Sunbelt and Rustbelt.

All of us are making this commitment for any number of reasons. Most, I am confident, are attracted by the salary, which in my experience is at least twice what a four-year veteran of a municipal department could expect to make. Others are motivated by a desire for adventure and excitement. Many seem motivated by a genuine desire to serve their country by providing fire and rescue services to military personnel. And at least one is motivated by a desire to witness the attempt to construct a functional Iraqi society, to get to know the stakeholders involved in that process, and to perhaps play a small role in that effort.

Peter Schramm has been kind enough to offer me some space on No Left Turns, to share my experiences and impressions of events in Iraq from this curious perspective. I must admit that I am new to blogging, and so I ask your indulgence as I learn the ropes. I also ask your understanding if I do not respond immediately to your posts. For the next two weeks at the least, my schedule is filled with orientation and training seminars. But by the end of this month, I should be able to settle into a routine as I finally arrive at my post. I thought however that this might be the best time to introduce myself and my project.

For those of you who do not know me, for the past eight years I have been an assistant professor of government and foreign affairs at Hampden-Sydney College. My research interests are comparative politics broadly, including the politics of the Middle East, and political development more specifically. In addition, I am the director of the Center for the Study of the Constitution, an organization recognized by the APSA as a "related group." I am also a fellow with the Bill of Rights Institute in Washington, D.C. At the moment I am on leave from Hampden-Sydney to conduct my field research in Iraq.

I am also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Hampden-Sydney Volunteer Fire Department (not affiliated with the neighboring college). And so, when Wackenhut Services Inc. appealed for firefighters to provide fire and EMS services to U.S. military installations in Iraq, the interests of my profession and my "hobby" coalesced, and my adventure was begun.

I have no idea where I will be posted once in country. I imagine that my assignment will largely be determined by my skills and the staffing needs of the moment. I will however be assigned to a base, and my duties will be confined to that base. We are not providing fire suppression and EMS services to the Iraqis.

While I certainly have suspicions regarding the conditions I will encounter, I intend to remain open and receptive to whatever comes my way. Additionally, this conflation of firefighting and political development will likely strike many as odd, and I intend to explain the method to my madness. Perhaps that can form the subject of a post in the near future. Until then…

A new Interview with Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Isayevich speaks his mind in a most authoritative way about the situation in Russia today. Because he thinks more highly of Putin’s leadership than that of his immediate predecessors, it would be easy to overlook the boldness of his criticism of his country’s government. Against Putin’s electoral reforms, for example, he writes most eloquently: "Voting for impersonal parties and their programs is a false substitute for the only true way to elect people’s representatives: voting by an actual person for an actual candidate." And Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the many ways we’ve mismanaged our relations with his country.

Bush and Iran

Jeremi Suri argues in an op ed in the Boston Globe that Bush can salvage his foreign policy by a diplomatic opening to Iran, as Nixon opened to China. He suggests that Kissinger’s maneuvers with China provide a model for navigating relations with Iran. Suri’s book, Henry Kissinger and the American Century, was just published. He is teaching (with Jean Edward Smith) The History of the U.S. from 1898 to 1945 in our Master’s program this week.

Has Edwards Turned Anger into a Campaign Theme?

According to this interesting analysis, Edwards used raw "mad as hell" moments to win the debate, and certainly he did succeed in calling attention to himself. He also wittily defused the hair issue. But this author concurs with most in adding that Hillary had a pretty darn stateswomanlike performance, despite the inevitable missteps. Obama and especially Richardson proved again that debate-type events aren’t their strength. Obama either had an enormous gaffe or a particularly shrewd moment (in appealing to actual Democratic voters) in his promiscuous promise to meet directly with any and all tyrants. This contest, of course, is very unlikely to have any enduring impact on the actual campaign.

Hypercaffeination and Military Efficiency

Ranger Coffee provides all the altertness you need without all those annoying trips to the bathroom. Produced in Rockmart, GA, just down the road from me, it’s mainly been consumed by our soldiers in Iraq so far. But anyone who teaches long classes or runs conferences or meetings where you have to be constantly talking "outside the box" knows that it has a big future here at home.
(Thanks to K-Lo.)

Democrats on abortion: packaging and positioning

While not very penetrating, this article usefully summarizes the principal strands of abortion thinking in the Democratic Party. The alternative to abortion on demand ("safe, legal, and rare") would seem to require a massive expansion of the welfare state, which (as I noted recently) implies (among other things) public funding of abortions.

How Rich is Rich?

The Hill reported last week that “leading Democrats . . . are having a difficult time agreeing on what it means to be wealthy.” Speaker Pelosi thinks it means making over $500,000 a year. Senator Schumer says the threshold is $400,000. Candidates Obama and Clinton call for tax increases on those making more than $250,000, while John Edwards favors higher taxes on those receiving more than $200,000. Edwards also reflected, however, the Democrats’ general reluctance to discuss the topic: “I don’t know if I know what a rich person is,” the multimillionaire said at a recent debate.

Why is this topic a hot potato? Because for all the triumphalism of the liberal blogosphere, whose typists anticipate a Democratic president giving the 2009 State of the Union address to a Congress with Democratic majorities in both houses, political professionals know that it will be hard to sell tickets to “Great Society: The Sequel.” One of those typists, Mark Schmitt of “Tapped,” laments that the Democrats don’t just come out and say that “we all have to share in the sacrifice” for the sake of their various humane and noble goals.

The political professionals, however, are betting that the electorate is much less enthusiastic about the Democratic agenda than the bloggers. Specifically, they worry that people favor a new war on poverty, assault on global warming, dance classes for street gang members, etc., etc., only insofar as somebody else will pay for it. The Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimate was that in 2004 a household needed an income of $266,800 to land in the top 1% of the income distribution. Thus, Pelosi and Schumer are talking about higher taxes for only a fraction of that top 1%, while even the populist Edwards would limit his tax increases to the wealthiest 3% of the country.

The households in the top 1% of the income distribution received 16.3% of all pre-tax household income in 2004, and paid 25.3% of all federal taxes. (By comparison, the “lower” 80% of American households received less than $64,300 in 2004. Those four quintiles received 46.5% of all pre-tax household income and paid 32.9% of all federal taxes.) If political constraints are forcing Democrats to contemplate tax increases only for the very prosperous, economic constraints will leave them with very modest social welfare budgets. No Democrat is advocating a revival of the 70% income tax bracket that Pres. Reagan abolished, or of the 90% bracket that existed before JFK’s tax bill was enacted. If Democrats are going to focus their tax plans on the pinnacle of the income distribution, however, marginal increases will yield negligible results.

Thomas West and William Schambra on the Progressives

Hillary Clinton is out there the last few days touting her "modern" and "Progressive" views and explaining (in her tedious and obfuscating way) why those views are representative of the best of America. Hmmmmm--not so fast. For most Americans not well versed in the various eras of American history, the term "progressive" suggests an unqualified good. It suggests the opposite of "regressive" or backwards, for example. But in American politics the term "progressive" is (as most terms are) a loaded one. To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, take a look at this talk given recently at the Heritage Foundation by Tom West of the University of Dallas and William Schambra of the Hudson Institute. Then, the next time you hear a liberal brag about their "progressive" views ask yourself what it is, exactly, they seek to progress toward. You can be sure of this much: it’ll be costly.

Victory Caucus

Bookmark this page if you want a comprehensive and well-managed clearinghouse for information on what’s going on in Iraq.

Generational Seismic Shift?

Dean Barnett writes a moving account of some truly amazing young men and women who have answered the call to service for their country. As Barnett notes, many of these young people have taken what he calls "six-figure pay cuts" in order to so serve. These guys are not victims--as the leading lights of the Democratic party would have you believe--but rather heroes who understand somewhere deep inside them (in ways that are apparently better than we have any right to expect given the lack of sufficient public support and political leadership) that this war is a war for the future of civilization and that it is going to be the struggle of a generation rather than of an election cycle. Good for them . . . great for us!

As my kids and I were flying out of Columbus late Friday evening, we grabbed a bite to eat before boarding our plane and we saw a lone soldier, dressed in his fatigues and finishing his meal. He smiled at us (perhaps because my son was wearing camo gear) and so we approached him and thanked him for his service. He looked surprised but also quite happy to hear it. He said he was only doing what he thought was right and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I loved that and my kids and I had a nice talk about what he meant. Still, I wish he hadn’t look so surprised.

Happy Birthday Bob Dole, Emma Lazarus, and Edward Hopper

Bob Dole, a very reliable and competent leader in the Senate and a good and admirable man of considerable personal discipline, was just too full of postmodern irony about having to repeat constantly his conservative message (sometimes he just about said "Tenth Amendment in my pocket--yadda, yadda, yadda"} to get elected president. Unfortunately, misguided public spiritedness overcame his irony when he consented to make the Viagra commerical. Emma Lazarus’s famous Statue of Liberty poem is "The New Colossus," which I can’t recite from memory. I could be wrong, but I do remember thinking "huddled masses" followed so closely by "wretched refuge" might be a bit over-the-top. Edward Hopper painted NIGHTHAWKS AT THE DINER, a moving portrayal of the greatness and misery of people alone together late at night in an urban American diner. Let me remind you that you can buy a fabulous dustjacket reproduction of the Hopper painting for less than $18 on amazon, with a copy of my new book, HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA, thrown in at no extra charge. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate his birthday at your house.

The Libertarian Libido Forelash described by Mr. Postmodern Conservative on the "ongoing review of politics and culture" THE AMERICAN SCENE, which features an impressive array of ambitious and talented young bloggers. A good way to make a name for yourself is to pick out one trend among many and exaggerate its effects. Not that there’s all that much wrong with that: There’s a reason why neon lights worked so well for so long.

Happy Birthday Ernest Hemingway

Rob had been missing the birthdays. So here’s one. Ernest won the Nobel Prize, mainly for THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Harvey Mansfield devotes a significant amount of space to that book in his on manliness. But I myself can’t really tell either how great or how manly that book is. I can read only so much into man vs. fish stories.
Ernest’s life did exhibit two manly qualities--lots of effort at dramatic displays and a certain whininess. That’s neither good nor bad in itself, except for the suicide part. Let me know whether Hemingway really was either a great writer or a good man.

Ratatouille: A Correction to French Egalitarianism and Snobbery?

Peter Lawler’s disinclination to blog right now seems to be catching. It’s the height of summer, after all, and there are other--if not always better--things to do. One thing I’ve done that is both other and better is to see the new Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille with my kids and my young niece. I’m told that Ross Douthat gave it an unfavorable review in the print version of NR, but I haven’t been able to track down a copy in all my travels. If this is true, he couldn’t be more wrong. This is a wonderful movie and, I think there is a serious teaching to it below all the surface delight. It is, in short, a corrective to French egalitarianism and its flip side, French snobbery.

The premise for the plot is the re-discovery and restoration of the central teaching of a late, great French chef famous for his claim that "Anyone can cook." Upon his death, a low (very French) chef who was his underling takes over his restaurant and his brand--driving both into the ground by reaching always for the lowest common denominator (e.g., he puts the great Chef’s name on a line of frozen microwave food with egg rolls, corn dogs, etc.) The rat is disgusted by the garbage eating habits of his colony. He is inspired by Chef Gusteau and wants to introduce reason into the eating habits of his friends and relations. The traditionalists among them--most of all, his father--shoot him down. An accident leads him to take up life anew in--of all places--Chef Gusteau’s restaurant. He assists a young and hapless employee in such a way as to make him a celebrated chef. This witless (though very good) "chef" turns out to be (despite his cooking roots) pretty useless in the kitchen. But with guidance he develops other skills and manages to hold his own in the kitchen. There is also a great "restaurant critic" who is like the political philosopher apart from the political order, examining and pronouncing upon the order, but never fully taking it in. To reignite his passion the rat prepares him a fabulous ratatouille dish--that reminds him of his childhood, his humble origins, and his need for more than pure criticism (or philosophy). In the end, it is clear the central teaching of Chef Gusteau is more deeply understood by all--anyone can cook, they agree, and while not everyone can be a great cook, a great cook can come from anywhere.

Al Gore, the $100K Man

See here for Al Gore’s standard speaking contract. His $100,000 fee is only the beginning.

Dr. Pat, Roger Scuton, and Conservative Environmentalism

Deneen. a McWilliams moralistic Democrat, recommends an article written by the most brilliant English conservative thinker (who, not surprisingly, now lives in our country) published in "The American Conservative," which is very unreliably American and very unreliably conservative. Clearly, there’s a movement brewing to counter the emerging libertarian consensus. It’s always a pleasure to read Roger, although I think he’s a bit preachy here about, for example, our bargain-hunting spending habits. He does point elegantly to one of our characteristic individuaiistic vices--a lack of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Our ingratitude often makes it tougher that it should be for us to experience ourselves as dutifully at home with nature, God, country, and family. And surely it’s self-destructive to regard nature as simply a resouce to be manipulated at will.

How Green Were My Values

If you don’t find a silver lining in the Chernobyl disaster or the Korean War, that can only mean that you are no more than a tepid environmentalist. Alan Weisman is more serious. His book, The World Without Us, reverently chronicles his visit to Chernobyl, where there are no human settlements within a 20-mile radius, “just forests that have begun reclaiming fields and towns, home to birds, deer, wild boar and moose,” according to Newsweek. Korea’s demilitarized zone, similarly free of homo sapiens for 53 years, is “now a mecca for Korean bird watchers.”

Reveries of a world without human beings show us an environmentalism that has the courage of its convictions. The busybodies hectoring us to recycle, drive hybrids and use fluorescent light bulbs are missing the point: Such minor modifications will only slow down the human destruction of the ecosphere. What people smugly and stupidly used to call “progress” necessarily means the degradation of the environment. The ultimate meaning of living lightly on the planet is not living on it at all.

Weisman goes down this road a long way, but not as far as he used to. Once partial to the idea that the world needs the cleansing of human extinction, his reflection on “some of the beautiful things human beings have accomplished,” such as poetry, led him to a “compromise position: a worldwide, voluntary agreement to limit each human couple to one child.” Weisman calculates that this neo-Malthusian solution would reduce the world’s population from 6 billion people today to 1.6 billion by 2100, the size of the human cohort in 1900.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is not so squishy. It believes that “the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens . . . us.” Accordingly, “When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve . . . and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Nature’s ‘experiments’ have done throughout the eons.” The VHEM website takes the trouble to distinguish its position from Hitler’s, Nazism being more of an involuntary human extinction movement.

The VHEM position is “realistic: We know we’ll never see the day there are no human beings on the planet. . . . The Movement may be considered a success each time one more of us volunteers to breed no more.” The VHEM approach demographically guarantees that its hard task will only get harder. Those non-breeding volunteers will have no children to catechize, while the people who do breed will have set an anti-VHEM example for their children simply by virtue of having them.

It’s hard not to despair. And yet, somewhat inconsistently, VHEM rejects suicide - “retroactive birth control” - because, “There’s no way we could convince enough people to kill themselves to make a difference, especially after we’re too dead to talk.” In this respect, VHEM is itself a little squishy, compared to the Finnish environmentalist who told the Wall Street Journal in 1994 that another world war would be "a happy occasion for the planet . . . If there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating if it meant millions would die."

The Potter movie

I saw it this afternoon with my brother-in-law, my son, two nephews, and three nieces. I had roughly the same experience I’d had with the other movies, none of which has particularly moved me.

The books aren’t great literature, but the plots are interesting and complicated enough to hold my attention, and I think, as I’ve said before, that Rowling is edifying in a good way.

The problem with filming book #5 (and with subsequent books as well) is that, for the most part, the settings have been envisioned already, and it’s hard to depart in a way that’s both novel and pleasing to the viewers. And the plots are way too complicated (or, if you will, convoluted) to be captured adequately in ordinary movie length. So you get a movie whose narrative is inevitably less gripping than the book and a cinematic experience that’s beginning to feel like "been there, done that." I have to confess also that I didn’t come away from this film thinking that any of the actors had really deepened his or her portrayal of the character. Let me state it more pointedly: this was a film that Daniel Radcliffe really had to carry (his friends don’t get that much attention), and he doesn’t.

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

I haven’t felt like it.

On Iraq, I’m perfectly happy to give our military until September or November. But I really don’t how things are going, and I’m not up to taking easy shots at political posturing. A withdrawal--or one without a real plan--would be a prelude to chaos, and I think everyone really knows that.

On the presidential campaign, I’ve already advised the Democrats that Hillary would be better than Obama, and Richardson better than both. That’s from the old-fashioned running the country perspective, but from an electibility perspective I’d also go with an experienced Hispanic candidate with no obvious baggage. I would add that a top operative in Richardson’s camapign is a Berry College graduate, Wendy Davis, who’s run plenty of campaigns and is allmost always better than her candidate. But this time, comparatively speaking, her candidate is good. Most of all, of course, I like Rochardson because he looks like a regular, saggy older guy, and the turnout from the one "community" of voters I’m sure I belong to is excellent. I don’t think the Democrats have been looking for my advice.

Neither have the Republicans. But on their side, the credible candidates right now are Romney, Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. I think each of them has some potential for greatness, as well as personal and electibility flaws. I don’t anything new to add on those fronts. The campaign is boring at this point, and there’s no point to venturing a new opinion until something real happens (or is said). Giuliani--despite his impressive group of expert judicial advisors--is still tonedeaf on the Const. He might be the least flip floppy of the flip floppers, though. And from a "war on terror" perspective, my judgment is that they’d all might be fine. It’s impossible to tell which of the three would run most strongly in November 2008 right now.

On the new libertarian consensus issue revived by the good Lindsey book. He’s right. There is one. And I predicted it. I said in my books which you can buy that after the Cold War people would start to notice that Marx, purged of some wackiness, was an optimistic, techno-student of Locke, and that anyone who harbored any reservations about the progress of individualism (as opposed to egalitarianism) would be labelled a reactionary. It’s true enough that the country has been moving steadily in the individualistic direction on all the social issues (with the exception of abortion). Our prosperity and freedom seem to have resulted in a bourgeois bohemian reconcilation of unprecedented productivity, the overcoming of prejudice and repression, hedonistic self-fulfillment, common decency, designer tastes on coffee and other good things, and environmentally conscious postmaterialism. Even the Crunchy Conservative option so favored by Dr. Pat and Mr. Dreher presupposes unprecedented afflence or the techno-overcoming of scarcity, and the Crunchies, as Marx predicted, are able to farm without really being farmers and raise a sheep or two without really be shepherds, just as they have a mind. And our evangelical churches are often mighty therapeutic and consumer oriented.

I could now immediately start giving the rather huge downside of our libertarian consensus, but I will only begin by saying that in our "ownership society" each individual is in plenty of ways more on his or her own than ever. Mr Hayek was wrong about two things: First, that we’re clearly on the road to serfdom or soft despotism--it might be closer to the truth that all social safety nets are collapsing. Second, that as soon as socialism was defeated and discredited people in the newly liberated America and Europe would start reproducing like rabbits. The first principle of democratic political science, Tocqueville taught us, is that things are always getting better and worse.

Obama and urban education

This post raises an interesting question about Barack Obama’s anti-poverty plan, which affiliates him with someone who has been rather critical of the teachers’ unions. For a previous post on this general theme, go here.

Required reading for my trip

Next month, we’ll be spending some time in the Old Country: Oma and Opa Knippenberg want to show their grandchildren where our side of the family came from, so we’ll be spending a little time here, here, and here (my dad actually grew up here, but, as they say, "da gibt es keine Sehenswuerdigkeiten"), some more time here (one side of my mom’s family) and here (O & O were married here), as well as here (the other side of my mom’s family), and, finally, a little jaunt across the border to here and here. I have no plans, however, to attend this event, despite the fact that we’ll be in the vicinity.

The Knipp kids are preparing by boning up on their German (if someone says to them, auf Deutsch, that the boy is standing on the table, they’ll understand him perfectly) and by learning something about the places we’ll be visiting. The Knipp dad is reading this, this, and this, among other things.

While I’m away, needless to say, I won’t have regular access to the internet, but I may be able from time to time to blog about einige Sehenswuerdigkeiten und einige Abenteuern.

Update: Members of the NLT have begun sending reading suggestions, which I appreciate. I’d also appreciate restaurant recommendations, as my local knowledge is at least a decade old (and, in some cases, much older).

Safe, legal, and publicly-funded

So say the leading Democratic aspirants. Any national health insurance plan is sure to cover all the expenses connected with "family planning." Hat tip: Rick Garnett. Garnett’s MOJ colleague Rob Vischer calls our attention to this article highlighting another tack taken by Senators Clinton and Obama.


Mac Owens, the professor and always Marine, wrote this fine piece on "Lee’s Invasion of Pennsylvania." These pieces on the War should turn into a book. I was reminded to mention it to you because I am off to Gettysburg tomorrow and it’s a perfect thing to read over a cigar while giving Isabella a rest.

Weighing the Risks

In a July 19 editorial, the Washington Post stated that

If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the [al Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.

The Post is here apparently proposing what Bill Kristol proposed recently: get rid of the AQ sanctuaries in Pakistan with air raids and special operations. The Post argues that we have to weigh the risk of destabilizing Pakistan against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. What are the chances that U.S. intervention in Pakistan will lead to Islamic militants capturing the government and getting control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? If that happened, would that consequence outweigh for the United States the harm of another attack on the scale of 9-11? The Post must think the chances of destabilizing Pakistan are not great. Many experts might concur, believing that the military will rule Pakistan and will not let the militants take over. Does this sound like what was said about Iran under the Shah? But Iran and Pakistan are different. True, so are Afghanistan under the Taliban and Pakistan today, although the Post editorial bases its argument on conclusions drawn by the 9-11 commission about Afghanistan under the Taliban. What is the likelihood that the sanctuaries could be destroyed by air raids and special operations? If these measures fail, will we not get an even worse outcome, the sanctuaries in place and Pakistan destabilized? Would a better strategy than air and ground raids be a long-term effort to manipulate tribal conflict in the area where we think AQ has sanctuaries? This might be both more effective and, because more low key than raids, less likely to destabilize Pakistan. Could the U. S. government do this without Pakistani assistance? My guess is that it could not. We probably don’t have the ability to do in Pakistan what we did in Afghanistan after 9-11, even if we had the will. Would the Pakistanis assist us?

Bush, God, and history

Having written about the subject many times before, I didn’t get too excited by the remark--reported by David Brooks--about freedom being God’s gift to humanity.

By contrast, Ross Douthat--agreeing with those paragons of prudence, Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan--is pretty nearly beside himself:

I’m fed up with the President’s messiah complex, and I don’t bloody well want to hear any more about Bush’s "theological perspective" that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to all mankind, and so history’s on our side in the Middle East, and yada yada yada.

That’s a lot of weight to put on a couple of lines from Brooks’s account of a conversation, which amounted to this:

[The President’s] self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”

This assertion--which
Ramesh Ponnuru rightly characterizes--doesn’t compel us to any particular foreign policy. The President said as much in an important, but much maligned speech he gave a few years ago. Here’s how I characterized it at the time:

For Bush, this line of argument is not altogether new. He has long asserted that freedom is "God’s gift to humanity." What is different, I think, is his assertion of the scope of America’s ideals and interests and his acknowledgement of great flexibility in their promotion. Stated another way, this is a most statesmanlike affirmation of principle and prudence.

And there is also a very carefully nuanced "theology of history," affirming "a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of liberty," but also acknowledging that "it is human choices that move events" and that "[h]istory has an ebb and flow of justice." The responsibility rests on us, not as God’s chosen nation, but as creatures of the Almighty, to make good use of the freedom God has given us and everyone else. "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?" We must be concerned not only with the external effects of our actions, but with the character that produced them.


We will, the President says, "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," but not "primarily" by force of arms. "Our goal… is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way." In so doing, our "influence is not unlimited," but it "is considerable." We can call attention across the world to the difference between "oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." And we’ll make it clear that "success in our relations" requires the decent treatment of one’s citizens, not as a grudging diplomatic concession on the eve of a presidential visit, nor as a matter of governmental grace or largesse, but as the fruit of a policy whose purpose is to encourage the flourishing of an independent civil society whose institutions undergird political freedom. In other words, America will stand with the oppressed, call attention to indigenous democratic reformers, admonish "the rulers of outlaw regimes" that their injustice cannot stand, and encourage and support those of our authoritarian friends who are moving, however gingerly, down the paths of democratization and liberalization.

Freedom will be the lodestar of our policy, but not in a ham-handed and merely preachy Carteresque way. There will be a lot of talk, but not just talk. There will be a lot of action, but not just military action. Embassies across the world will be busy maintaining lines of communication with the local democratizers and other representatives of "civil society."

What Sullivan calls a "Fuhrerprinzip" [sic]--thereby implicitly endorsing Keith Ellison’s honest or dishonest pandering to the crowd--is connected with GWB’s view of God-given freedom: with it, comes God-given responsibility. Individuals are called to make a difference, to promote liberty, but how they do so depends, as I noted in my earlier post, on their practical and prudential judgment of the facts on the ground. Sullivan, Dreher, and Douthat to the contrary notwithstanding, this isn’t messianism, it’s the foundation of political responsibility.

We can, of course, reasonably disagree with the President’s judgment of the particular facts, not to mention with the choices he and his subordinates have made, but his principles are as American as apple pie.

I’m tempted now to write a few words about Lincoln and the extremely costly Civil War, speculating about how Sullivan et al. would have written about that, but I’ll resist.


Will strike our house this weekend. We’ll likely see the fifth movie on Friday (too busy to see it sooner) and then begin the book the moment our pre-ordered copy arrives. My wife has first dibs; then she’ll read it aloud to my son. I’ll get the leavings. My daughter, only nine, has seen the movies but was too young for the first rounds of book-reading. She may be up for a second cycle, if my wife is.

We’ve also looked at some of the Potter scholarship, having been most persuaded by this fellow that Rowling is writing in the tradition of the Inklings. I may sometime get around to this law review symposium and this scholarly effort to read Rowling as a libertarian of sorts (the cartoon version, so to speak, is here).

I doubt I’ll read the volume of essays on Harry Potter and international relations that IHE’s Scott McLemee (barely) describes, but Michael Berube’s piece is short enough (and he’s smart enough) to be worth a gander.

Liberal facts (?) vs. conservative theory

Jonathan Chait can’t get his mind off the Iraq war, even when he’s talking about what he regards as the conservative obsession with ideas. As I noted last year, Chait isn’t too keen on big ideas. As he puts it now,

conservatism is more of an ideological movement than liberalism. Conservatives insist that, unlike liberals, they’re "acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears," as David Brooks once put it. Such boasts are usually decorated with references to Kirk, Hayek, and other philosophical patron saints of the right.

Like communists, conservatives have a tendency to believe that every question can be answered by referencing theory.


I admit that liberals don’t generally look to our intellectual forebears to tell us whether the Iraq war is going well. But, then, we don’t have to. We can read the newspaper.

I guess he’s not reading the New York Times, or, for that matter, anything that doesn’t begin with the view that Iraq is a fiasco. Sounds kinda theoretical to me.

Shameless Self-Promotion:. HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA

I have just received copies of my new book from the University of Chicago distribution people. You can order it on amazon or directly from the publisher, St. Augustine’s Press. Contrary to what the amazon page says, it’ll show up there in a few days at most.

It’s a beautifully produced hardback for under $18 (on amazon). The dustjacket itself is worth the price, featuring a stunning reproduction of Edward Hopper’s classic American painting NIGHTHAWKS.

And the back cover features rave advances notices from Dan Mahoney, Father Schall, "Dr. Pat" Deneen, Yuval Levin, and Ralph Hancock

The book covers an amazing array of contemporary concerns in clear and accessible ways, almost free from distracting scholarly conventions.

Here are the chapter titles: Two Views of Americanization, A Friendly Critique of Pure Crunchiness [vs. Crunchy cons], Against the Lobotomites [against whom I ally with Tom Pangle], The Socratic Philosopher and the American Individual [on Bloom’s CLOSING], Stuck-with-Virtue Conservatism, McWilliams and the Problem of American Political Education, Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again, Murray and Brownson, Toward a Consistent Ethic of Judicial Restraint, Is the Body Property?, Modernity and Postmodernity, Tocqueville at 200, Where’s the Love?, Tocqueville on the Doctrine of Interest, Disco and Democracy [on Whit Stillman], An American Fantasy: Love, Nobility and Friendship in CASABLANCA, A Story about Nothing: The Two Kinds of Nihilists and ONe Kind of Christian in Flannery O’Connor’s GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE.

Where else can you get can so much classy entertainment at one low, low price?

The confidence of an Aquarian libertarian

Ramesh Ponnuru points us to a debate, begun here by the recently ubiquitous Brink Lindsey, and continued here (Ponnuru), here (Lindsey), and here (Ponnuru), with recent interventions by Peter Wood here and here.

Let me begin at the beginning. Here’s the contradictory core of Lindsey’s argument:

[After the 60s, a] strong work ethic and belief in personal responsibility, a continued commitment to the two-parent family as the best way of raising children, and a robust patriotism all survived the Aquarian challenge. Meanwhile, a host of hopeful indicators showed that the country’s frayed social fabric was on the mend....

Conservatives deserve considerable credit for restoring American society to relative health and vigor. Ironically, though, conservatism’s successes ended up making the world safe for the secular, hedonistic values of Aquarius. Traditional attitudes about race, sex, the role of women in society, the permissible scope of artistic expression, and the nature of American cultural identity have all taken a beating.

I think Lindsey is all to confident that the characteristics and attitudes that sustain the prosperity that he clearly loves can survive the acid bath of the Aquarianism he also clearly loves. Hence I don’t share his conclusion:

What should [conservatives] be seeking to conserve? The great American heritage of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets seems the only viable answer. As Peter Berkowitz has frequently and wisely noted, a truly American conservatism must have at the core of its concerns the defense and preservation of the liberal tradition. Which makes it a special kind of conservatism indeed: Its function is not to arrest change generally, or even slow it down, but rather to preserve the institutions that are both the chief source of change and the primary means through which we adapt to new conditions.


[M]uch of what has defined modern social conservatism — namely, political resistance to the incessant cultural change engendered by economic development — is not authentically conservative at all. It is reactionary.


It turns out that the core middle-class values that sustain a free society can survive — indeed, they can thrive — even as various historically contingent embellishments are dropped along the way. Look, for example, at blue-state New England today, where the most pronounced sort of cultural liberalism coexists with some of the highest incomes per head and lowest levels of social dysfunction (crime, divorce, illegitimacy, etc.) in the country.

I can’t believe that Lindsey buys this liberal chestnut! Has he considered that these numbers in New England have to do with the relative homogeneity of the region, the persistence of traditional religion (much of it Roman Catholic) among the working class, and the paucity of big cities. I’d be willing to bet that Boston and Hartford probably don’t look too different from other big cities. Consider, for example,
this comparison. Here’s the 2004 crime data for Hartford, Boston, and, say, Mongomery, Alabama and Atlanta.

I suppose if we depopulated the country, largely getting rid of poorer minorities and importing lots of well-to-do refugees from dysfunctional cities, we could perhaps have New England-style social statistics and the kinds of attitudes Lindsey finds congenial. But that’s not the real world, not even the real world at the end of Lindsey’s history.

This post is getting way too long. I’ll deal with the other interventions in the debate in another post.

Libertarians and war

Randy Barnett explains that Ron Paul doesn’t speak for all libertarians:

While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly.

He also notes that "[a]ll libertarians...oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude." How would libertarians have fought World War II? Would they have relied upon the allegedly universal willingness of people to volunteer?

If libertarians are willing to fight wars only when they’re overwhelmingly popular, when the threat is so self-evident as to hit almost everyone (Harry Reid excepted, I guess) between the eyes, then I guess libertarian principle requires that we wait patiently for the next big attack. How many tens of thousands of American lives is libertarian principle worth?

Leadership and the future of Iraq

I spent a little time this morning reading what people are saying about "the future" of Iraq. Folks in the defense and foreign policy establishments have been war-gaming various draw-down scenarios. Nothing pretty there. And no evidence, in the article at least, of what the consequence will be for U.S. interests and influence in the region.

Anne Applebaum isn’t happy with any of the politicians’ plans. World leaders don’t want an abrupt pull-out.

Michael Barone and David Brooks reflect on their meeting with the President last week. Brooks’s take-away is quite interesting: Bush’s attitude is a combination of a faith in the direction of history (the familiar "freedom is God’s gift to humanity") and faith in the efficacy of leaders (just look at any business school curriculum or any shelf of business books at Borders or Barnes & Noble). (For those who can’t get behind the TimesSelect firewall here, once again, is the post with a link to get .edu readers behind it), here’s a portion of Brooks’s argument:

Conservatives are supposed to distrust government, but Bush clearly loves the presidency. Or to be more precise, he loves leadership. He’s convinced leaders have the power to change societies. Even in a place as chaotic as Iraq, good leadership makes all the difference.

When Bush is asked about military strategy, he talks about the leadership qualities of his top generals. Before, it was Generals Abizaid and Casey. Now, it’s Generals Petraeus and Odierno.

When Bush talks about world affairs more generally, he talks about national leaders. When he is asked to analyze Iraq, he talks about Maliki. With Russia, it’s Putin. With Europe, it’s Merkel, Sarkozy, Brown and the rest.

He is confident in his ability to read other leaders: Who has courage? Who has a chip on his shoulder? And he is confident that in reading the individual character of leaders, he is reading the tablet that really matters. History is driven by the club of those in power. When far-sighted leaders change laws and institutions, they have the power to transform people.

Many will doubt this, but Bush is a smart and compelling presence in person, and only the whispering voice of Leo Tolstoy holds one back.

Tolstoy had a very different theory of history. Tolstoy believed great leaders are puffed-up popinjays. They think their public decisions shape history, but really it is the everyday experiences of millions of people which organically and chaotically shape the destiny of nations — from the bottom up.

According to this view, societies are infinitely complex. They can’t be understood or directed by a group of politicians in the White House or the Green Zone. Societies move and breathe on their own, through the jostling of mentalities and habits. Politics is a thin crust on the surface of culture. Political leaders can only play a tiny role in transforming a people, especially when the integral fabric of society has dissolved.

If Bush’s theory of history is correct, the right security plan can lead to safety, the right political compromises to stability. But if Tolstoy is right, then the future of Iraq is beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks and the understanding of any chief executive.

Surely there’s a middle ground here. The "integral fabric of society" doesn’t regenerate itself, even if it can’t simply be willed into existence by someone who has read lots of Harvard b-school case studies. If Lincoln and the founders (there go my NLT reflexes!) had been persuaded by Tolstoy, they might never have worked tirelessly with the materials at hand. And what was it Lincoln said?

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth [well, O.K., the sixth] year, since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to [terrorism]....

Leaders who understand "where we are" and "whither we are tending" can surely make a bigger difference than Brooks’s Tolstoy could imagine.

Update: The indispensable John Burns finds yet another straw in the wind. Without Burns and Yon, it would be hard to begin to get a sense of the "facts on the ground" in Iraq.

Catholic Woes . . . or Not?

In this world, there are problems to worry about and there are those that you don’t.


NLT’s own William Voegeli has a first class piece on Arthur Schlesinger in the Opinion Journal. It’s the same piece that appears in the current Claremont Review of Books, but not yet on line. Conclusion: Liberalism (with Schlesinger’s help) can still buy votes, but can’t change minds. A fine, must read article.


Church and state in America: trends

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Mark Noll’s America’s God, which I recommend highly to anyone who needs a 500+ page diversion.

In the course of arguing that evangelical churches--above all, Methodists and Baptists (especially the former)--contributed mightily to the creation of our national identity in the early republic, Noll offers some telling statistics. In 1840, there were some 18,000 post offices and 21,000 postal employees; there were roughly 10,000 Methodist clergy (and three times as many clergy altogether). In 1860, there were roughly 28,000 post offices, 30,000 postal employees, 54,000 churches, 23,000 Methodist clergy, and 55,000 clergy altogether. By contrast, in 1997 there were 38,000 post offices, 850,000 postal employees, 350,000 churches, 39,000 Methodist clergy, and 350,000 clergy altogether. Viewed another way, the ratio of federal receipts to church receipts in 1860 was 2.5:1; in 1997, it was 23:1. The 1860 ratio of federal employees to clergy was roughly 1:1; the 1997 ratio was 8:1. In 1860, there were roughly 35 churches for every bank; in 1997, there were roughly 4 churches for every bank.

As Noll observes (p. 202), "To the extent that [these figures] are even approximately accurate, they might provide grounds for modern jeremiads about the lamentable decline of religion in America. For this book, they are meant to serve a historical purpose, which is to indicate the central, indispensable, defining place of the churches--at a time when most of the churches were evangelical--in the organization of American national culture on the eve of the Civil War."

Let me add three observations. First, the 1997 numbers for churches probably underestimate the number of people who are part of the "ecclesiastical economy," since they don’t take into account non-clerical church and parachurch employees. Second, I’d say less about the decline of the churches than about the rise of the federal government. Church growth has been quite healthy. What’s changed dramatically--d’oh-- is the size of the federal government.

Finally, I don’t think these numbers really capture cultural influence. Consider this, for example: the typical child spends seven hours a day, five days a week in a public school, while spending at most 6 hours a week in church (if he or she goes twice a week and twice on Sundays; 1-2 hours is probably closer to the norm. How much "quality time" with parents should we add to that?

Ed Whelan on Rosen’s Misguided View of Judicial Activism

Bench Memos blogger Ed Whelan offers a stinging critique of Jeff Rosen’s recent New Republic article, in which Rosen misuses the term "judicial activism." Given recent conversations here about the propriety of a neutral definition of judicial activism, it is worth quoting at length:

But Rosen counters . . . [with the] continued misguided advocacy of a “neutral meaning” of the term—under which any vote to strike down legislation, even when clearly compelled by the Constitution, is not an exercise of judicial restraint, and any vote, no matter how wrong, to leave legislation in place, is an exercise of judicial restraint. The terms “judicial activism” and “judicial restraint” necessarily tie to the proper role of the courts in our constitutional system, and their proper definitions depend on a sound understanding of what is, and what is not, correct constitutional interpretation. Rosen’s argument for a “neutral” definition of these terms would neuter them of their natural and useful meaning. Rosen might as well argue for a “neutral” definition, say, of “firefighter” and “arsonist”: a firefighter who sets a small fire in order to prevent the spread of a larger fire would be labeled an “arsonist”.

Even worse is Rosen’s supposedly neutral counting of laws that justices have voted to strike down. Thus, a decision like Roe v. Wade, which has usurped the powers of American citizens, and distorted American politics, for more than three decades counts has the same value in Rosen’s ledger as any other vote to strike down legislation.

Take a few minutes and read Whelan’s whole post.

Giuliani’s judicial team

This is certainly calculated to hearten those who worry that RG is wobbly on judicial matters.

Update: Our friends at Power Line have the committee list, which is not unimpressive. NRO’s Jonathan Adler is impressed, as is NRO’s Jim Geraghty.

Hitchens’s atheist fundamentalism

Peter Berkowitz takes apart "the new, new atheism." Berkowitz shows, among other things, that Hitchens is the mirror image of the fundamentalists he purports to criticize. And he offers this sober conclusion:

Playing into the anger and enmities that debase our politics today, the new new atheism blurs the deep commitment to the freedom and equality of individuals that binds atheists and believers in America. At the same time, by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today’s bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America’s destruction.

Like philosophy, religion, rightly understood, has a beginning in wonder. The most wonderful of creatures are human beings themselves. Of all the Bible’s sublime and sustaining teachings, none is more so than the teaching that explains that humanity is set apart because all human beings--woman as well as man the Bible emphasizes--are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

That a teaching is sublime and sustaining does not make it true. But that, along with its service in laying the moral foundations in the Western world for the belief in the dignity of all men and women--a belief that our new new atheists take for granted and for which they provide no compelling alternative foundation--is reason enough to give the variety of religions a fair hearing. And it is reason enough to respect believers as decent human beings struggling to make sense of a mysterious world.

Read the whole thing.

Heather had two mommies...and a daddy

Elizabeth Marquardt explains how this is problematical, as if you didn’t already know. Here’s the opinion in the case, in which an appellate court fashions a remedy it acknowledges ought to be created legislatively. Here’s a summary of the case that’s helpful in sorting things out.

Update: Stanley Kurtz has more, with links to his previous posts on this case.

Luntz Says GOP Must Win Ohio

Frank Luntz lays out a strategy for a GOP win in 2008 that (it seems) cannot even convince Frank Luntz. He seems pretty pessimistic about his optimism. The substance of what he suggests is sound, nonetheless--particularly this bit:

The final step is to win Ohio. To be perfectly blunt, no Republican can win the White House without winning Ohio. Although readers of this column would no doubt like to see and hear the presidential nominees up close, the reality is that California, at least when it comes to elections, is as blue as the Pacific. A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland. Without the support of the anxious working class, Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States.

More on Antioch College

This time from George Will. The last couple paragraphs are especially good. In our discussion of the Antioch situation a few weeks back, an alumnus defended the school insisting that the whole reason for the closure was financial and that the liberalism of the place had nothing to do with it. Well . . . maybe not. Will does an excellent job taking apart this argument, "Given that such was Antioch’s idea of "work experience" in the "real world," it is unsurprising that the college never produced an alumni cohort capable of enlarging the college’s risible $36 million endowment. Besides, the college seems always to have considered raising money beneath its dignity, given its nobility."

Shlaes Slays FDR and the New Deal

My review of Amity Shlaes’ magnificent new book on FDR and the New Deal, The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression is now up at National Review Online.

It is a terrific book. Here’s my lede:

This new book is the finest history of the Great Depression ever written. Hold on — this is supposed to be a review, not a dust-jacket blurb; but it can’t be helped. Although there are several fine revisionist works about the Great Depression and the New Deal, Shlaes’s achievement stands out for the devastating effect of its understated prose and for its wide sweep of characters and themes. It deserves to become the preeminent revisionist history for general readers.

Note to Peter: This book should be added to the Ashbrook Scholars required reading list.


I love this idea!

Evolution on the Court

Jeffrey Rosen’s assessment of John Roberts’s Chief Justiceship is mostly a channeling of Stephen Breyer’s opinions. It’s also a farrago of condescension and wishful thinking. An example:

I asked Breyer why Roberts had failed in his efforts to achieve consensus and whether he might ever come closer to achieving these goals. "Will he do better in the future? He can join my dissents!" Breyer replied with a chuckle. But then Breyer said he was always hopeful that new justices will change. "This is a job that people who are appointed have for a long time. ... It takes a while before you have enough experience with the cases in front of you, before you have a view of what this document is, and a view of the institution." That’s why, he said, "[I]t’s very hard to predict how a person will decide things five or ten years in the future."

Translation: there’s still time for Roberts to evolve.

And then there’s this:

[S]ince he has embraced [creating consensus] as the standard by which his tenure should be judged, Roberts presumably understands that he can’t preside over a decade of five-four decisions. Far from going down in history as a unifier in the tradition of John Marshall, he would be perceived as the leader of a partisan conservative Court, one that may be increasingly at odds with a more liberal president and Congress.

Of course, liberals shouldn’t have to move. They’re, after all, not the activists now, but are rather deferring to the will of the legislatures. The novelty of this definition of judicial activism is either lost on Rosen (I doubt it) or embraced because it can be used to batter those who take the language of the Constitution seriously.

Finally, there’s this:

Far from being a cautious or defensive posture, bipartisan restraint has always been rooted in liberal self-confidence--confidence that, given a fair opportunity, liberals can fight and win in the political arena. The fact that conservatives now rely on the Court to win their battles for them--striking down democratically adopted campaign finance laws and integration programs--is a sign of their weakness.

Breyer and his liberal colleagues were not unwavering in their restraint this term: They dissented from the partial-birth abortion decision, despite the fact that bans on the procedure are supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress and in most states. When I asked Breyer how he reconciled this dissent with his commitment to judicial deference, he demurred. "The only question for me was, am I suddenly going to overrule a whole lot of precedent? No. That’s a strong basis.".... But no one is consistent in every case; and the activism of liberals here was an exception, not the rule.

So long as the precedent or the legislature supports the liberal agenda, liberal justices can pose as advocates of judicial restraint, either in the face of past judgments or in the face of legislative majorities. Note that there’s no talk of the Constitution here.

The "don’t save Africa" bandwagon

Climb aboard.

The silk purse

Bill Kristol offers an upbeat assessment, concluding:

If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

Hitchens vs. Gerson

Without uttering a word about Immanuel Kant, Plato, or Aristotle, Christopher Hitchens purports to answer Michael Gerson’s challenge. If it ain’t will to power, Mr. Hitchens, what is it? Natural law? An orderly cosmos in which human beings find a place? The compelling example of well-raised gentlemen? Practical reason? Or is the Rortian shrug sufficient?

Democracy in suburbia

Actually, Catholicism in and on suburbia, but I couldn’t resist the title. Patrick Deneen’s long post is worth reading. My comments and Jon Schaff’s are posted at the site. We await interventions from others.

Year of the He/She?

Michael Sherer at Salon argues that there is a reversal of gender roles between Hillary and Obama this political season. Hillary is downplaying her gender--and rightly so, as I noted last week. Obama is still after the soft underbelly of the female vote--or the Oprah vote--that Hillary will probably lose in the primary, even if she tries to appear softened up. James Taranto discusses what all of it may mean.

For my part, I do think it is somewhat telling that Democrats seem to be so obsessed with gender and gender distinctions. Of course, if conservatives ever attempt to point out such obvious differences and draw conclusions from them they are considered to be somewhat Neanderthal or, at least, a 1950s retrograde. We are mocked for pointing out such things but Democrats can freely exploit these differences with impunity. Of course, implicit in their actions are a couple of paternalistic and patronizing assumptions. First, they assume that people must think, vote, and move in the most ordinary and stereotypical grooves. Thus they pander to groups rather than appeal to the reason of a vast electorate. Second, they assume that we’re all too stupid to notice what they are doing--they think we’re going to buy the suggestion that Barack Obama really digs the Indigo Girls.

Don’t get me wrong . . . Republicans are perfectly capable of indulging in this sort of tripe. They’ve been guilty of it in the past--particularly when they are driven by ordinary operatives and handlers who think politics is all about balancing the competing interests and groups that pop up on an electoral map. And it is some of that. But when that’s all it is, then there’s no sense of the common good or a common interest. This is what politics really ought to be about at its best. This is what keeps government limited and citizens free.

Say it ain’t so....

The decline of the West continues.

American Muslims as part of the electoral kaleidoscope

In virtually every respect, this Pew analysis finds, American Muslims closely resemble African-Americans in their attitudes about religion and politics. They’re serious about religion, "liberal," and moralistic--for the most part, a solid contributor to a Democratic coalition, at least inasmuch as the liberalism trumps the religion (as it does for African-Americans).

I have three questions. First, to what degree is the self-identified liberalism a product of a reaction against the Republican identification with intervention in the Middle East (and support for Israel)? To the degree that it is, I wonder how serious they are about it, since it seems to me that the American presence "over there" is the closest thing we have to a means of "liberalizing" the Middle East.

That leads me to my second question. While there is some evidence that in Europe, life in the West doesn’t transform (or pluralize, if you will) Muslim attitudes, some people have in the past made the case (somewhat plausibly, to my mind) that the Muslim diaspora was likeliest to be a source for the reform of Middle Eastern societies and polities. If and when any of these folks go home, will they bring "American values" back with them, or shed them. In other words, once again: is their "liberalism" simply a product of their opposition to American intervention?

Finally, I know that the sample in the Pew surveys is likely to be too small for finely-grained distinctions, but I’d love to know whether there’s any ethnic heterogeneity in the Muslim responses. Are Kurds different from Palestinians, who are different from Moroccans, who are different from Pakistanis, who are different from Indonesians, who are different from Iranians, who are different from Turks, who are different from Kurds?

Powerful Words at Powerline

Scott Johnson, at Powerline blog, in connection with an interview given by Andrew Ferguson, makes note of some great quotes of Mark Twain’s regarding Abraham Lincoln. I especially loved the second quote where Twain reflects that Lincoln’s birthplace ought to be honored not simply because it happened to be where Lincoln was born, but because it was essential to the making of that man. It was, in an odd way, necessary that he come up out of the in-between place--not quite the North and not quite the South. In other words, Lincoln was of a place where he could observe and reflect on the things that were both good and evil on both sides. He was at the hinge of the struggle and had a vantage point that was more far-reaching and fair than we had any right to expect in a statesman at the time. Twain says it better, of course. It seems the observation is one that almost requires the special genius of a novelist or poet and--perhaps--a Southerner.

Women Feel More Free Despite the Message of Leading Dems

So reports Arthur Brooks in this AEI article. According to Brooks, it is Democratic strategy after the 2004 loss (where the votes of women were crucial in sealing Kerry’s defeat) to go after women’s votes in a big way in ’08. This may come as a shock to some of you, but it appears that the way they mean to do this is to . . . scare us women. Their message is that we are less free than ever. In the meantime, however, Brooks points out that American women aren’t getting that message. Data culled from the studies he cites shows that women tend to feel even more free than most men. Read the whole article to see all the particulars--it adjusts for income, education, etc. I won’t speculate as to why women report a sense of greater freedom but I do think that it indicates good news for Republicans (if they know how to use it).

Gore’s Show Bleeds

The folks over at The Corner offer some insightful explanations for the failure of the so-called "Live Earth" concert to take off this weekend. The ratings were terrible, it cost too much to produce and, ironically, used too much energy . . . etc. Jonah Goldberg linked to this witty explanation: the folks at "Live" Earth were barely alive. It was all music from really old guys and gals. And it was put together by a former Vice President. How many ways are there to bore your kids to death? Imagine, he notes, if Woodstock had been organized by Hubert Humphrey!

I knew the thing was going to be a big stinker for many reasons but this is what cinched it for me: I was visiting my 78 year old grandmother when it aired and she really wanted to watch it. When she turned it on, my kids (politely, of course) asked if they could be excused from the room. They felt like I used to feel when visiting her as a kid and she would turn on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Compare and Contrast

John Stossel dissects a recent conversation he’s had with Michael Moore. It is nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering, of course. But it is, as he says, very revealing and (I think) very clearly put. A good one to pass on to an intransigent friend or relative.

Herbert Meyer’s Crystal Ball

Back in November 1983, Herbert Meyer, the deputy director of the CIA, wrote an extraordinary memo to CIA director William Casey on the subject “Why Is the World So Dangerous?” Meyer’s answer was breathtaking: “Present U.S. policies have fundamentally changed the course of history in a direction favorable to the interests and security of ourselves and our allies. . . [I]f present trends continue, we’re going to win the Cold War." Meyer thought this prospect made the world a more dangerous place in the short run, as surely some perceptive Soviet leaders, “more likely at the third or fourth echelons,” recognized that their future was bleak, and as such, some actions, including possibly launching a war, “may no longer be too risky to contemplate.” “From now on the Cold War will become more and more of a bare-knuckles street fight.” The next few years would be “the most dangerous years we have ever faced.”

His most audacious speculation was astounding for its prescience:

It has long been fashionable to view the Cold War as a permanent feature of global politics, one that will endure through the next several generations at least. But it seems to me more likely that President Reagan was absolutely correct when he observed in his Notre Dame speech that the Soviet Union—“one of history’s saddest and most bizarre chapters”—is entering its final pages. We really should take up the President’s suggestion to begin planning for a post-Soviet world.

This is preface for establishing why we should pay attention to Meyer’s analysis of where we are today in the terror war. Synopsis: The doves are gaining the upper hand right now, but should another attack occur, "you won’t want to walk down the street wearing an ’I gave to the ACLU’ pin in your lapel. . . And if we’ve closed GITMO by this time - we’ll reopen it and even double its size because we’re going to pack it. All of this will take longer to organize, and cost more, than if we’d done it right in the aftermath of 9-11. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way we Americans tend to do things. And when we do finally start fighting for real -- we’ll win."

Dr. Pat vs. Veggie Tales

Deneen worries that children are being infected with the propaganda that guzzling gas and eating junk food are the heart of an authentically Christian way of life. But one of the commenters offer the plausible theory that the veggie tune is ironic about the limitations of the ordinary evangelical’s worldview. I’m pretty much pro-choice when it comes to Fritos and Dunkin’ Donuts, while acknowledging that southern superiority doesn’t include food. Gas guzzlers and trans-fat scarfers are surely not excluded from heaven, although some of them might get there a little more quickly than they might have. And, of course, I would never go to an evangelical church for the music or the poetry. Still, the best of the evangelicals have it on almost all of us when it comes to family life.

Cafeteria libertarians

Jonah Goldberg responds to what he calls "The Brink Lindsey Project," also discussed here and here. He notes that the most that can be said for liberals is that they’re cafeteria libertarians (my infelicitous expression, not his). And I wouldn’t want conservatives to be any more than that either.

Their master’s voice

Ruth Marcus takes the occasion of Barack Obama’s very mild, but badly received, challenge to the National Education Association to note, first, that he was more interesting before he was a candidate and, second, that "Obama may be what passes for brave among a fainthearted bunch." Here’s her conclusion:

[S]o far, anyway, the Democrats who would be president are happy to propose more spending on education but are reluctant to impose any demands in return -- in other words, they are happy to sound like the same old Democratic Party, permissive and beholden.

Yes, teachers are an important Democratic constituency, but aren’t parents Democratic voters, too -- parents who might welcome a message about accountability and expectations? If, that is, one of the candidates were willing to deliver it.

With respect to education, two Democratic themes are on a collision course: "jobs" and "it’s about the children." The NEA really cares about the first. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the second.

Stop helping Africa

Good intentions make bad policy, Africans tell Bono.

After his impassioned defense of aid, an African man in the audience asked Bono, "Where do you place the African person as a thinker, a creator of wealth?"

Celebrities make easy targets. Many at TED attacked Bono (ironically the catalyst for holding a conference in Africa in the first place) less for what he has done and more for what he represents. He has done more for raising Africa’s profile and our awareness about debt relief, unequal trade, malaria and HIV/AIDS than perhaps any human being in history. He represents a game we have all played for nearly fifty years whose only winners have been corrupt governments and the international development industry.

Visibly wounded by the question, confused how anyone could misinterpret his good intentions, Bono, like the proverbial white man with black friends, set out to prove how down he is with the black man.

Africans are the "most regal people on earth" and music is their DNA, he told the room of mostly doctors, engineers, and businessmen. He then began singing a traditional Irish dirge to show us how Celtic music has Coptic roots, and so is fundamentally African. I wasn’t the only one giggling in the back row.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Acton’s Kevin Schmiesing.

Victor Davis Hanson Fires Devastating Shot at American "Education"

And, for the most part, he is dead-on. Higher education, in particular, is so steeped in this kind of "therapeutic" nonsense Hanson describes that it becomes almost impossible for the so-called "educated" classes to make the kind of common-sensical decisions they could have made before coming to college. Not so, however, in a handful of wonderful oasises like the Ashbrook Scholar Program and The Master’s Program in American History and Government at Ashland University. I’ve been visiting the Center for the past few days as high school teachers from around the country have gathered to take classes on interesting, important and permanent things. In speaking with them I am struck--first of all by my jealousy at their getting to spend 3 or 4 weeks of the summer reading great books and engaged in serious conversation--and second, by how well they understand that such opportunities are beyond precious. One woman remarked to me that coming here every summer (to take classes!) was the first among her luxury priorities! She is, of course, exactly right.

In addition to my conversations with these high school teachers, I have talked with a few of the student interns and Ashbrook Scholars. They are smart, engaged and intensly interested in the serious questions of life. Of course, this was true back in the dark ages when I was studying at AU too--but now . . . well, things have only improved. I regret that I cannot stay longer and meet more of these fine students. But as I read (and agree with) pieces like Victor Davis Hanson’s, I am comforted and confident that common sense in the joy of real learning has a path to reassert itself--at least in Ashland.

Byrd and Clinton

This op-ed, calling for a de-authorization of the U.S. effort in Iraq is rather too simple, and indeed, unworthy of an aspiring President. Here’s one line of which I approve, however:

If the Bush administration believes that the current war, as it is being executed, is critical to America’s future, then it should make the case and let the people decide.

HRC goes on to say that the Senate didn’t authorize our involvement in a civil war, to which NRO’s Andrew McCarthy has this response:

Not a civil war, Senator Clinton. A chaos strategy to win a war al Qaeda is fighting against the United States.

If President Bush and his supporters would forthrightly join the debate, and if certain Republicans wouldn’t simply be quaking in their boots about the domestic political ramifications, well....

My Last, Very Quick Judicial Activism Comment

I know my behavioral view of judicial activism is "strange," but it isn’t dangerous, if only because nobody listens to me. Here’s an example of judicial restraint: Scalia saying the Const. doesn’t say enough for him to anything but abortion policy is left to the legislatures.
Here’s an example of judicial activism: Declaring all laws allowing abortion unconstitutional on the premise that they involve the taking of a human life. Behavioralist that I am, I’m not saying the latter decision is an incorrect interpretation of the facts we have concerning unborn babies and the 14th Amendment. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that there’s an activist element in a deicision that prefers the Const. itself to a huge amount of precedent in the midst of a national controversy. WILL vs. JUDGMENT is too simple--to repeat, MARBURY v. MADISON was probably rightly decided but still included some tricky willfulness.

Just What Does Judicial Activism Mean, Part II

In his second post, Lawler cites to another definition of judicial activism, this one used by Stuart Taylor. This time around, judicial activism seems to be defined in terms of failing to adhere to precedents (it should be noted that this is clearly seen as a negative, contrary to Lawler’s previous amoral description). Obviously, a judge may be activist if they are ignoring precedents simply to apply their own policy preferences (the case of Ninth Circuit Judge Pregerson, who refused to enforce California’s three-strikes law even after it was upheld by his superiors at the United States Supreme Court because it offends his notions of justice, comes to mind). But every act of failing to adhere to precedent, particularly non-binding precedent, is not activism. Even the most stringent adherents of stare decisis recognize that the Supreme Court has a decreased interest in adhering to erroneous precedent where that precedent involves constitutional interpretation. While courts apply a more rigid form of stare decisis in the statutory context, that is because Congress can remedy any error in interpretation with comparative ease by passing a new statute. By contrast, amending the Constitution to correct a Supreme Court err is exceedingly difficult. (NB: Obviously, Congress or the Executive could challenge an erroneous constitutional interpretation through coordinate branch construction, but given that these branches have functionally acquiesced to the Supreme Court’s assertion that they are the final arbiter on constitutional meaning, I limited my commentary to those options which are most practicable.) While Lawler focuses on the stability of the rule, stability and expectation interests must eventually yield even under stare decisis review if the rule is sufficiently incorrect.

Applying this to the Seattle and Louisville cases, I don’t think it is clear that Supreme Court precedents support non-remedial uses of race in the elementary school context. As Justice Thomas argues persuasively in his concurrence in the Louisville/Seattle case, the Supreme Court has historically permitted race-based decision-making by school officials for extremely limited purposes, the most prominent being remedying the present effects of past de jure discrimination. And so, given that these programs were implemented for racial balancing and not to address past discrimination, the precedent does not support the use of race-based decision-making here. But even if the precedent did suggest that race can be used for balancing alone, it would not be activism for the court to correct this error. Restraint does not require courts to perpetuate sins against the Constitution, particularly where, as here, localities are forming their policy judgments based upon their somewhat erroneous understanding of how courts have ruled in the past.

Evolutionary Theorists Disagree on Religion

Dawkins, one of his colleagues claims, dogmatically ignores the place of group selection in evolutionary adaptation. So he misuses scientific evidence in his THE GOD DELUSION to support his angry atheism. Richard’s view that religion infects our species like a disease is not really scientific. Let me both agree and add a natural perspective that transcends the distinction between simple selfishness and altruism: According to manliness theorists, religion is less about bonding with the group and more about establishing the individual’s personal significance in natural world seemingly indifferent to his or her particular existence. Evolutionary theory is clearly in its infancy when it comes to understanding religion. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Just What Does Judicial Activism Mean, Part I

Peter Lawler responded to my post on judicial activism with two new posts. In the first, he suggests that there is an “amoral or merely behavioral definition of activism” which is satisfied any time that a court substitutes its will in the place of the legislature, whether correct or incorrect. As an initial matter, while judicial activism is not a term of art and has been used in many different ways, Lawler’s definition is not the common understanding of the term. As I suggested previously, the “striking down laws” definition of judicial activism is one that left-wing professors like Cass Sunstein are trying to perpetuate, because if the term “judicial activism” is neutral, then it loses its power as a pejorative. Judicial activism has generally been used in popular parlance to describe “judges behaving badly”--a negative description of judges who are functionally legislating their own policy preferences from the bench. This is why someone like Adam Cohen screeches that the Roberts court is “activist.” He doesn’t do so because the term is neutral, amoral, or a behavioral definition, but rather to malign the court.

This is why it is dangerous for someone like Professor Lawler to use the term “judicial activism” to describe correctly applied judicial review. This gives ammunition to those who think that all judging is simply applying personal preferences, and who assert that when conservatives strike down a law based on what the Constitution actually requires, it is really no different than when liberals do so based upon extra-constitutional “this is my view of what is the best policy” principles. And so, while Professor Lawler belittles as simplistic Federalist 78’s distinction between willfulness and judgment, it is this simplicity that keeps us from the conclusion that one man’s Brennan is another man’s Scalia.

Is the McCain Campaign Collapsing?

Well, John has abruptly lost his entire inner circle, and that news is trumping anything he might have to report about the situation in Iraq. Although I don’t think McCain is a plausible nominee this time around, I can’t help but hope that we have John’s "voice" in the campaign in the months ahead. He says what others don’t have the guts to say, even if he’s sometimes quite imprudent, self-indulgent, and just wrong. The vultures ask: Who will benefit if he’s forced out of the race?

No Bull

Apparently, and this is no bull, the women of Pamplona have demanded their own "cow" run. What’s good for the bull is good for the cow? You can’t make up this sort of thing . . . Hemingway would cry.

Public diplomacy

For reasons that have altogether too much to do with an elite loss of national self-confidence (and an incapacity on the part of the Bush Administration effectively to answer it), we don’t seem to be very good at public diplomacy.


Is the new September, according to this WaPo article. The good news is that wobbliness seems to be out of the question.

Update: Ralph Peters interviews Gen. Petraeus (who my father informs me is Dutch). Here are the last paragraphs:

I can think of few commanders in history who wouldn’t have wanted more troops, more time or more unity among their partners; however, if I could only have one at this point in Iraq, it would be more time. This is an exceedingly tough endeavor that faces countless challenges.

None of us, Iraqi or American, are anything but impatient and frustrated at where we are. But there are no shortcuts. Success in an endeavor like this is the result of steady, unremitting pressure over the long haul. It’s a test of wills, demanding patience, determination and stamina from all involved.

Steve Hayward hammers

Another nail in the coffin of Jimmy Carter’s reputation.

Is there a case against the case against perfection?

Harvard’s Michael Sandel has taken this article and turned it into a book, described here and reviewed, by Slate’s William Saletan, here.

Sandel appears to respect the religious case against perfection and seems to try to fashion a secular counterpart. Saletan isn’t persuaded:

Once gene therapy becomes routine, the case against genetic engineering will sound as quaint as the case against running coaches.

In other words, saying that enhancement isn’t sporting isn’t good enough. Here’s what Saletan prefers:

Given a choice between a world of fate and blamelessness and a world of freedom and responsibility, I’ll take the latter. Such a world may be, as Sandel says, too daunting for the humans of today. But not for the humans of tomorrow.


In a world without givens, a world controlled by bioengineering, we would dictate our nature as well as our practices and norms. We would gain unprecedented power to redefine the good. In so doing, we would strip perfection of its independence. Its meaning would evolve as our nature and our ideals evolved.

Saletan concedes that this apparently endless "evolution" might not be good for us. But he can’t know for sure, without either a vision of nature or of the God who created it.

Libertarian triumphalism?

Brink Lindsey denies that there’s any "libertarian triumphalism" in this essay, but you could have fooled me. Consider these snippets:

American society has become more libertarian because, more than any other country on the planet, it has successfully adapted to the novel conditions of economic abundance. And because of the way this adaptation took place, a broadly defined libertarianism now occupies the center of the American political spectrum.


Our politics today is stuck in a reactionary rut. The right remains unreconciled to irreversible cultural changes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The left remains unreconciled to irreversible economic changes from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The idea of the libertarian center suggests that the way to break out of this rut is with a new, post-culture-wars politics that embraces both economic change and cultural diversity. I am not saying that some particular package of libertarian reforms is now the key to assembling a winning political coalition. The idea of a libertarian center is about the core of American political culture, not the margins of political change. What I’m saying is that partisans on both sides need to recraft their messages and programs to better reflect the entrepreneurial, tolerant spirit of contemporary America.


[O]n subjects that have been of central concern to the conservative movement, Americans are becoming bluer, not redder, and conservatives will have to change with them or else be marginalized.

Lindsey’s description of the drift of American public opinion toward a kind of tolerant libertarianish center is plausible, but I’m not as convinced that the attitudes that sustain our decency and prosperity will survive the acid bath of libertarian individualism. For example, Lindsey quotes Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart to this effect:

“In a major part of the world, the disciplined, self-denying, and achievement-oriented norms of industrial society are giving way to an increasingly broad latitude for individual choice of lifestyles and individual self-expression.”

Is the apotheosis of choice and self-expression going to sustain a stable social order? Is it going to sustain a productive economy? Is it going to see us through the challenges we face, now from radical Islam and perhaps later from an emerging superpower like China? What will happen when the going gets tough? Where will our mushy libertarian centrists go? If "people are much less willing to subjugate their personal interests to standards set by families, employers, churches, and governments," will we ever be able to call them to sacrifice in the face of a civilizational challenge?

Perhaps. But in so doing we’ll reveal the shallowness of libertarianism with its all-too-optimistic and all-too-individualistic view of human nature.

Hat tip: Jonah G..

Still More Judicial Activism

Stuart Taylor, who is an astute and reasonably fair constitutional analyst, accuses the Court of judicial activism in the recent Louisville/Seatte decision. The reigning precedents, he contends, were oversimplified to push the Court closer to the doctrine of a colorblind Constitution than it had ever been before, and the Court has never decided a public school integration case the way it decided this one. But the fair guy also shows how unprincipled Kennedy’s allegedly moderate alternative opinion is, and so how useless it would be as a guide for deciding future cases. And he gives plenty of evidence of just how bad--needlessly complicated and intrusive, blatantly racist, and basically ineffective by any measure--the sturck-down policies were. It’s true enough that the Court has approved and even imposed racial balancing plans in the past. But the most recent decisions have made it clear that any use of race in the law must be shown to have been "narrowly tailored" to pursue some "compelling state interest," and clearly this was not done in this case. Contrary to Stuart’s suggestion, that doctrine, although it had not yet been applied to primary and secondary public education, was clearly the relevant one--the controlling precedent--for deciding this case. It would have been "judicial activism" not to have applied it, or to have reached back to decisions made before that doctrine was developed. So the fair guy might have a point about some dicta here and there, but the actual decision by the Court was not activism in the pernicious sense he means. It’s true enough that the Court has become less permissive on racially based remedies over the last couple of decades, and that evolution has been controversial and somewhat inconsistent. So the Court has failed to avoid the appearance of activism in some cases, as well as the appearance of distorting the facts in abdication of its responsibility (GRUTTER) in others. The only exit strategy the Court might seem to have from such acrimonious 5-4 (or 4-1-4) results is to go the colorblind Constitution route. But someone might say it would be judicial activism to hamstring legislatures so completely with a doctrine that has only been affirmed in dissents up until now. A 5-4 colorblind Constitution ruling would not have a settling effect on our country. On the other hand, nobody has really suggested a doctrine that would allow the use of race in some cases--certainly Stuart doesn’t--that would have the settling effect of being a stable foundation of predictable decisions that would make sense to most of the country.

Still More Judicial Activism

Thanks to Robert Alt for his challenging comment below. The amoral or merely behavioral definition of activism is whenever the Court acts to substitute its will for that of the legislature. Now its will may be based on a correct judgment concerning the meaning of the Constitution, but the FEDERALIST 78’s radical distinction between will and judgment seems deliberately simplistic or rhetorical. Tell me that MARBURY v. MADISON, to begin at the beginning, wasn’t willful. Activism is not all bad, it goes without saying. I’ve defended BROWN more than once on this screen, and that was big-time activism. We can’t deny the fact that the Court actively altered an important aspect of local policy making in the recent decision. In general, the Court should be following the restrained strategy of getting out of the social policy-making business today. But in the area of race some activism in unavoidable, simply because the Court has failed to give clear and consistent guidance on the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment over the years. Some remedial activism is the only way to rescue legislatures at all levels of government from, in large part, Court-created confusion concerning what they may do under the Constitution in pursuit of equality and diversity.

No wobbliness, please

I’m with Bill Kristol on this.

More on Conservative Judicial Activism

While I certainly agree with Lawler’s earlier post insofar as it makes clear that Adam Cohen’s article in today’s NYT was a train wreck of logic (i.e., Cohen complains in one breath about the activism of the Supreme Court striking down laws, then in the next about the fact that the court did not strike down the federal partial-birth abortion statute, and then in conclusion referred to striking down a federal statute as "the ultimate act of judicial activism"), I am not sure that I would agree with Lawler’s conclusion that the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Louisville and Seattle’s non-remedial use of race was "somewhat activist." I am not sure how he reaches that conclusion, but it would seem that to do so in some way accepts Cohen’s premise that when courts strike down a statute, that is activism. Now, I don’t mean to ascribe this theory to Lawler if it is not what he meant, but it should be noted that this is an increasingly common understanding of what constitutes "judicial activism"--one which does not reflect what the term “judicial activism” generally has been understood to mean.

As I argued here, there is a movement promoted by University of Chicago professor Cass Sunstein and the left to define judicial activism simply in terms of striking down federal statute--a move which permits them to ignore the hundreds of state laws struck down by the Warren Court, and to proclaim the Rehnquist (and now, Roberts) Court as the most activist in history. Of course, this is a thin view of judicial activism--one which could oddly count as an example of judicial restraint a decision upholding a clearly unconstitutional law based solely on the policy preferences of the deciding judge. Such a view does not comport with the general understanding of "judicial activism," which traditionally has been used as a pejorative to describe when courts flip Hamilton’s description of judicial power from Federalist 78 on its head, and exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT. The simple exercise of judicial review, in this case of a non-remedial program that counts by race for the sake of counting by race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, does not meet that definition.

The Catholic Left and clerical authority

Our friend Jon Schaff calls attention to this letter, written a couple of weeks ago. Led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, fourteen Catholic Democrats in the House call upon the American Catholic hierarchy "to join with us in mobilizing support for Congress’ efforts to end the war."

Jon’s comments are worth reading:

These liberal Democrats are calling on Catholic clergy to work to change public opinion. Further, they say, simply speaking against injusitce is not enough; action must be taken. One assumes this means legislative action. The Catholic Democrats are asking the bishops to use their moral weight to fight injustice through lobbying for legislation. If the bishops were being asked by other parties to work against the injustice of abortion instead of the war in Iraq, one would expect an outcry about the bishops seeking to impose their values on the public. Predictably, we’d read blog posts and opinion columns about "theocracy" and "separation of church and state" as the Catholic bishops were denounced for trying to write their own religious values into law. "It’s all right for them to be opposed to abortion," we’d hear, "but why must they seek to impose their values on everybody?"

One sees liberal Christians increasingly discussing their policy preferences in terms of their religious faith. This is a welcome addition to the public rhetoric. Let’s have people of various political and religious perspectives express their policy preferences in both terms of secular reasoning and demands of faith. The American people can then work through the competing claims as diligent citizens ought. Then let’s drop the silly rhetoric about "imposing values" and "theocracy."

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for June

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

Joel Charles

Nat Stevens

Thomas Reilly

Mike Scully

Jack McDonald

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter July’s drawing.

Vouchers in Cleveland

Sunday’s Cleveland paper had an article on the effect of vouchers (five years after the Supreme Court’s Zelman decision) on Cleveland’s Catholic schools. Here’s a snippet:

Budget proposals from Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate all provided money to continue the 11-year-old initiative, which gives parents a taxpayer-supported voucher to spend toward tuition at participating private schools.

Those factors have helped establish the voucher program as a solid safety net for Cleveland’s Catholic schools.


In one South Broadway neighborhood school, Holy Name Elementary, more than 90 percent of the students receive vouchers. In at least seven other Catholic elementary schools, more than 80 percent of the students use public dollars to attend.


"Vouchers have little impact except in so far as they support enrollment," [Margaret Lyons, superintendant of the Cleveland diocese’s schools] wrote. "Positive enrollments stabilize a school. However, vouchers do not cover the costs, so schools still need to find resources to supplement vouchers."

The article also notes that "[l]ast year, about 53,000 Cleveland students attended public schools, about 11,500 attended charter schools, which are also financed by the state, and about 12,000 pupils were enrolled in Catholic and other private schools." There’s nothing about student performance, but some about parental satisfaction and about the way in which church-related schools actually provide the public a bigger bang for the buck.

Hat tip: Religion Clause.

Conservative Judicial Activism?

Here’s is a bit of a rant form the NYT on what allegedly is the most activist Court in a long time. I’m not going to quarrel with the very selective and distorted presentation of facts, except to say two things: The author sort of forgot the great and unprecedented act of judicial restraint that was deferring to Congress on partial birth abortion. And although I admit that the Louisville/Seattle race-based remedy ruling was somewhat activist, it was also, as I said before, a careful application of existing precedents and contained no innovations in doctrine. The author’s pointed conclusion is standard "judicial realism"--all justices, truth to tell, are all about imposing their will, their personal preferences, on the country. That would mean that he’s not indignant with the Roberts Court for its alleged activism, but only with those who deny it. But the author is exactly wrong to say we’re entering a new LOCHNER era; the Court may, instead, be withdrawing gradually from using Lochner-esque "substantive due process" in the privacy/autonomy realm. I actually agree that conservatives should resist manfully any attempt to restore the wrongheaded "economic liberty" judicial activism exemplified by LOCHNER, and I also agree that on balance it would be a mistake for the president to appoint the brilliant and forthright Janice Rogers Brown to the Court. My Scalia-based judicially restrained view: LOCHNER was wrongly decided, and ROE was wrongly decided.

Religious freedom in the world

Paul Marshall gives us a preview of his Center’s report, Religious Freedom in the World 2007, to be issued today. He notes that religious freedom is threatened on three fronts, by (communist) totalitarianism, (Islamist) religious extremism, and aggressive secularism. He also notes that religious freedom tends to be highly correlated with other political and economic freedoms, as well as with prosperity. Finally, he observes that countries with good records on religious freedom "are likely to be good U.S. allies."

Update: No time to read them yet, but
here are Hudson’s materials.

Bill and Hillary Switch Positions... Is America Nostalgic for the Clintons’ Era?

Well, John Fund is not so sure. Some remember an era of peace and prosperity when our forces were used only for good and without any casualties to speak of. Others remember a roller coaster of scandals and surprises. Although it probably won’t be reflected in the ensuing thread, my studies show that many people do, in fact, have fond and fuzzy memories of the President Clinton, and he would probably be our next president if the Constitution didn’t keep him from seeking the highest office again. It remains to be seen to what extent Senator Clinton will benefit from this nostalgia. When some ET writes the history of our species on our planet, there might be a chapter trying to explain why the greatest nation in on earth repeatedly elected Bushes and Clintons. If you think about it, John reminds us, these are two very unlikely dynastic families.

Sarkozy jogging

I just came out of a Marine Commissioning ceremony (Tim Swartz) so reading this on Sarkozy jogging (sent by a friend) was perhaps unnaturally amusing.

The friend writes: "Sarkozy jogs. End of western civilization. Remember Socrates as described by Alcibiades in the Symposium."

Europeans explain

Why Europe and not the U.S. experiences more terrorism. Two points worth noting:

Karl-Heinz Kamp, security policy coordinator at Germany’s Konrad Adenauer research center, said it is easy to understand why.

"The U.S. has a historical advantage; America is still the land of opportunity to the whole world. The people moving there believe the American dream of social mobility," he said. "In Europe, we’ve historically treated our immigrants as hired help, and waited for them to finish the work they arrived for and go home."

Bob Ayers, a security and terrorism expert with London’s Chatham House, a foreign policy research center, said that because immigrants to the U.S. can become Americans, the nation has a huge advantage in avoiding homegrown al-Qaida terrorists. Europeans encourage immigrants to retain their native cultures, causing them to be ostracized more readily.


Magnus Ranstorp, chief scientist at the Swedish National Defense College, said U.S. efforts to track down everything involved in terrorism, particularly funding, have made it very difficult to operate in America.

"The United States is so difficult to crack, they have to have established operatives living inside the country to be effective," he said. "To date, they haven’t shown themselves. The truth is, while it’s not the al-Qaida Great Satan, Europe is a much easier place to move around."

It’s not a long article; read the whole thing.

Updating the Constitution?

I learn from this column in my dad’s Sunday paper that political prognosticator extraordinaire Larry Sabato has a new book forthcoming this fall. In it, he offers 23 proposals for changing the Constitution.

Every fiber of my being protests in general against such a project, but I’ll try to keep an open mind as I consider his argument for amendments like the following:

• Because each state, regardless of population, elects two of the 100 senators, just 17 percent of the nation’s population elects a majority of the Senate. Sabato would expand the Senate by giving the 10 most populous states two additional senators, the next 15 most populous states one new senator and the District of Columbia its first senator.

• Expand the U.S. House to about 1,000 members (from the present 435) so representatives could be closer to the voters.

• Establish term limits for members of Congress to restore the principle of frequent rotation in office.

• Add a Balanced Budget Amendment to avoid burdening future taxpayers with an enormous debt.

• Establish a single, six-year term for presidents, but give them the option of requesting an additional two years. Voters would grant or deny it in an unopposed, yes-or-no election.

• Give the president a line-item veto.

• Eliminate lifetime tenure for federal judges and replace it with nonrenewable 15-year terms.

• Create a constitutional mandate that all able-bodied young Americans must devote at least two years to national service of some sort.

Sabato wants to start a national conversation. Let’s join him.

Just a Random Thought . . .

If Hillary is elected President in November of 2008, will she be not only the first female president but also the first president to be recognized and commonly called by her first name? Is that sexist? It will be confusing to speak of her as "President Clinton." Of course, that’s the reason the current president was probably the first to be recognized and called by a single initial! (Though the use of FDR probably had something to do with TR--those who know more about this, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!) So I don’t think the tendency to call her Hillary is, necessarily, a nod to the patriarchal tyranny of our society. Besides, she has been called "Hillary" for so long that it is almost impossible to imagine people will stop using it--though some may insert "President" in front of it. I can think of some other things I’d like to insert in front of it . . . but this is a family blog.

Studies Show That Fewer and Fewer Schools Are Being Named After Famous People--or People at All

Either we’ve lost confidence that particular men and women can be models of excellence, or the endless controversy any name engenders today is just not worth the trouble. This is surely equality run amok: Honoring is privileging or instrinsically inegalitarian. And even privileging members of our species over the indigenous birds, trees, and rivers is questionable. If Tocqueville is right, we’ll soon be stuck with thinking up various pantheistic ways of distinguishing one place from another, and that’ll be pretty darn hard.

Is Everyone Tired of the President?

Byron York reminds us that Bush might have been aiming at subtle statesmanship or the very opposite of demagoguery on immigration and with his Libby commutation. But his real achievement in both cases was to alienate himself from everyone. And whatever the facts on the ground may be, he still appears to be relatively clueless on what to do about Iraq. Throwing around a few vetoes probably won’t help him much at this point. I really want to say something good about or at least offer some good advice to a president who has displayed some admirable intentions. Can’t do it, at least right now. I’ll leave it up to you.

HRC’s faith

This NYT article offers an extended account of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Methodist faith, which seems to focus on forgiveness and social action. The one Bible verse mentioned (the reference to James, "faith without works is dead") was a staple of the 2004 Kerry campaign. And the talk about forgiveness seems to come at the expense of talk of sinfulness and human limitations.

In other words, HRC is very much the candidate of a religious Left inclined mostly to challenge us to be more "generous" in our social policy. No surprises here.

Obama Supports Merit Pay in Front of NEA Audience . . .

. . . and lives to tell about it! Of course, that lump of coal came wrapped in the pretty paper of promised "across the board" pay raises.

Merit pay is a good idea. The problem is that Obama still wants the federal government to be involved in determining who is meritorious. He got applause for not wanting "testing" to determine merit. I would applaud that too. The testing is ridiculous. Republicans tend to favor it because it seems, on its face, to be a fair way to determine if our tax dollars are wisely spent. But here’s a real radical idea for Obama or any Republican who wants to get the NEA mad but really implement good: why not get the federal government entirely out of the business? Why not let communities, school boards, parents and principles decide which teachers deserve merit pay and which teachers deserve to be fired? Obama panders to the special interests while many Republicans seem to patronize.

Sixth Circuit Rules Against ACLU In Surveillance Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that the ACLU and assorted petitioners who sought to challenge the Terrorist Surveillance Program could not demonstrate that they had standing (that is, the kind of requisite, demonstrable, concrete and particularlized injury necessary to meet the "case and controversy" requirement which permits court to hear a case under Article III of the Constitution), and ordered the case dismissed.

The full decision in available here,here, and news reports of the opinion are available here. Volokh’s contributors describe the case

here and here.

A quick read of today’s opinion suggests that it is well reasoned, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions of the past two terms which demonstrate that a majority of the justices still strictly defend standing as a constitutional limitation on the court’s authority. The only notable exception in which the Supreme Court chose to expand standing in recent terms was this year’s EPA case, where they did so to create a special new category for state petitioners--an exception that clearly would not apply in the context of the present national security case brought by private plaintiffs.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision is all the more welcome given the gross errors and plain misstatements of law made in Anna Diggs Taylor’s lower court opinion, in which she found not only standing based on speculative claims that foreign terrorist suspects were reluctant to talk on phones which might or might not be tapped (she failed to even address why it is that they would be more willing to talk if the taps were conducted with secret FISA warrants, a necessary element to show that the relief sought by petitioners would actually redress the alleged injury), but also reached the merits of the case. While those on the left cheered her results, even they could not justify her reasoning, which was thoroughly critiqued here and here.

Decadent Bismarck

Someone at NRO noted this obituary of Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen, or, if you prefer, the great-great-grandson of the Iron Chancellor. Such writing is rare in an obituary, and the man’s life was astounding.
Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen


Both the New York Times and the BBC stories on the Islamists occupation of of the Red Mosque in Islamabad are worth reading. It looks like Musharraf is doing the right thing in more or less the right way, and this may return him some authority.

Congress and Iran

The WSJ’s Kimberley Strassel observes that Congressional Democrats should hope that "the world will little note nor long remember" what they’ve done so far. The good independent Senator from Connecticut has a suggestion about how to make the world, especially one particular part of it, take note.

In that regard, Sen. Pete Domenici may not be helping matters. (Gary S., what do you think?)

Making life swing

Ralph Ellison once said of jazz that it is the "brassy affirmation of the goodness of being alive". I like that. Because I have been re-reading Ellison I have also been reading about, and, of course listening to, jazz (and blues). A conversation I had with Gordon Lloyd last night makes me think that you might be interested in knowing that the three books I am currently reading on jazz are these:
Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz, Marshall W. Stearns’ The Story of Jazz, and the wonderful Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It (Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff). Of course, I claim no expertise in this matter (and says the voice, or any other), but I like these three books .

Ralph Ellison, writing in 1945, on the blues:

"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically."

Experimental libertarianism

Michael Gerson finds what he calls an online experiment in libertarianism. His conclusion:

[The online role-playing game] Second Life has plenty of spontaneity, and not much genuine order. This experiment suggests that a world that is only a market is not a utopia. It more closely resembles a seedy, derelict carnival -- the triumph of amusement and distraction over meaning and purpose.

Of course, online role-playing is presumably all about "amusement and distraction," so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised and shouldn’t draw big conclusions.

Lowry on Libby

I agree with much of what Rich Lowry has to say on the subject. A snippet:

The Founders created the pardon power to grant relief from a justice system that might, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, be “too sanguinary and cruel.” It doesn’t serve that function so much anymore, but has turned out to be a safety valve in an era when each party criminalizes political disputes when it suits its purposes.


[E]xcept for the most blatant crimes, the political arena is the best forum for politically controversial charges of wrongdoing.

Dr. Pat on American Exit Strategies

Deneen explains why we’re creeped out by both politics and babies. It’s always good to be reminded of the creepy side of individualism. We do live a world full of networking, hooking up, and duty-free marriage, and so one in which sophisticated people have trouble talking and acting in terms of love and loyalty. Pat may be given to dramatic exaggeration, but who isn’t?

What Studies Show on the Difference Between Politics and Economics

Men with high testosterone levels are too proud or magnanimous to make sound business decisions (as, say, Aristotle also noticed). So rational choice theory should appeal, most of all, to testosterone-challenged men--economists and accountants, who prefer, as Mr. Mansfield explains, "rational control" to displaying their excellence. A real man, we might say, has too much b---- to be low-balled, even if accepting the low offer in his interest.

Edwards’ hair cost

Joseph Torrenueva, John Edwards’ barber, did not like the "that guy" reference, so he is talking. His honesty is refreshing, and the details of the cost (and travel, etc.) of each touch-up actually amazes me. This has to cost Edwards politically.

Men are Just as Chatty as Women

The results of this study indicate that there is only a statistically insignificant difference of 500 words per day between men and women. So there goes another stereotype. Women who walk around town with their fathers or husbands and happen to come across on of that man’s acquaintances have always known this--or they have suspected that men were more chatty. Men, I suppose, believe that women are more chatty because their wives and mothers seem always to wish to talk with them about matters upon which they would prefer to remain ignorant or--at least--undisturbed. The bottom line is this: if a person is talking about something you want to hear, he or she is not chatty, but outgoing and engaging. If a person is discussing something you find boring, he or she is chatty.

The cabbie and the terrorist

Alex McIlveen, a cabbie who took on the Glasgow Airport terror suspects told yesterday how he booted one of them in the privates.

He kicked the man, whose body was in flames, so hard that he tore a tendon in his foot. "He didn’t even flinch. I couldn’t believe he didn’t go down. A doctor told me later I’d damaged a tendon in my foot," McIlveen said.

The boy and the fox

Five-year old Rayshun McDowell grabbed a rabid fox--after the fox bit him--by the neck and pinned it to the ground during a family cookout, protecting six other children until his stepfather could kill the animal. "I wanted to protect my little brother," he said. He is being treated for rabies.

A Kennedy Court?

NRO’s Jonathan Adler thinks (worries?) that this is a Kennedy Court.

Expanding the critical canon

Mark Bauerlein thinks that the canon of literary criticism should be expanded, so that English professors should be acquainted with Hayek, Strauss, Fukuyama, and Kristol, as well as with Derrida, Barthes, et al. Who thinks there’ll be a groundswell of enthusiasm for this suggestion?

HVJ on Hugh Hewitt

FYI: Harry V. Jaffa is on the Hugh Hewitt show right now (3:00 Pacific) speaking about the Declaration.

Happy Birthday to us

Enjoy this great day and remember the American Cause. Here are two of my favorite speeches on the day. Calvin Coolidge in 1926, and Frederick Douglass in 1852. A paragraph from Coolidge:

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."

Imagine that

An earth without people. Baboons might rule. But without us, rats, cockroaches, and head lice would probably go under.

Hat tip: Jonah G.

Human capital

Jonah Goldberg elaborates on chapter 5 of Locke’s Second Treatise.

Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

And to Lionel Trilling, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Calvin Coolidge--three particularly eloquent and profound Americans...

Justice, mercy, and the rule of law

I don’t want to deal with the general hysteria of this post by a distinguished legal academic suffering from a severe case of BDS, but I do want to raise a question to be discussed by the distinguished commentariat here at NLT.

Sanford Levinson says this:

No one should doubt that we are in a constitutional crisis. And part of the crisis can be found within the Constitution itself. Perhaps it is a good idea that the President can pardon (or commute) convicted criminals. This is the notion that justice should be tempered by mercy.

I had always thought (and said as much here) that the prerogative in the case of pardons and reprieves has at least as much, if not more, to do with justice as with mercy. Stated another way, we all ought to recognize that the rule of law is at best an approximation of the rule of justice. To the extent that the rule of law falls short, to the extent that general principles can’t adequately account for individual cases, we have recognized that, in particular instances, the executive has discretion to rectify (and I use the word advisedly) injustices brought about by the merely mechanical application of the rule of law.

Am I right about this? If I am, the debate is over what the just penalty ought to be in Scooter Libby’s instance, not whether GWB has been sufficiently clement in other cases. And, once again, if I am right, then we can properly take into account comparable cases (e.g., Clinton, Berger) as we debate about whether Scooter Libby has "suffered enough."

Jonah Goldberg’s seismic (?) shift on immigration and the American identity

Our friendly neighborhood paleocon (and I do mean friendly) wonders whether the neocon Trotskyite internationalist lapdog (have I left any terms of opprobrium out?) Jonah Goldberg is beginning to see paleo reason.

Jonah can, of course, speak for himself. My own view is that a nation that defines itself in terms of the Declaration of Independence and celebrates a conscious act of founding (as we will tomorrow) can’t simply be a "normal" country. (Given its revolutionary heritage--at odds with certain of its other elements--I’m not sure France can be either.) There is no American ethnos, no sense of American autochthony. There are American principles (to which our most cosmopolitan fellow citizens--if we can still call them that--no longer subscribe) that we say are accessible to anyone anywhere. (I hasten to add that that doesn’t mean that we should impose them by force anywhere or that anyone anywhere will inevitably and/or immediately embrace them.) Anyone can become an American. Not just Europeans like my dad and mom, or my friend Peter Schramm, but also the Asian kids adopted into families I know and the myriad patriotic Japanese- and Chinese-Americans with whom I’m acquainted. And Dikembe Mutombo too. I don’t have to offer an exhaustive list for you to get my drift.

This is not to say that America doesn’t have a regime (in the Aristotelian sense) and that there doesn’t have to be an effort at civic education.

And, above all, that current conditions make educating citizens challenging. Let me just mention a few points in this connection. First, there’s much more mobility now--more traveling back and forth to the old country--than there was even a generation ago. People used to kiss their homes goodbye, to return maybe once or twice after many years in America. Now they are constantly returning, which makes it easier to keep up old habits and old allegiances, harder and less necessary to pick up new ones. Second, our elites have less confidence in America and the American way (the "habits of the heart" about which many have written) and hence they’re more reluctant to promote them. The only American principle they’ll admit is toleration of differences, upon which they have a hard time insisting in the face of the obdurate differences they say they respect and tolerate. (Well, that’s not entirely true: they’d be happy to marginalize religious conservatives, if only they could. But I digress.)

Finally, to the degree that we’re in a post-literate society with a diversity of non-verbal sources of information and "cultural niches" in which people can immerse themselves, it’s hard to inculcate anyone, whether native-born or immigrant. (Not impossible: every schoolchild appears to know lots about Martin Luther King, Jr. But, again, I digress.)

I propose this as the beginning of a list of differences between our current circumstances and, let’s say, the circumstances a century ago. What think and say you, gentle and not-so-gentle readers?

Update: On education and American identity, we could do much worse than to read this by Bill Bennett and this by Richard Reeb.


McDonald’s is very popular in France, again. This being France, we get an existential justification: "We hate it and go to it. It’s our paradox," a journalist for the French magazine Challenges, Alice Mérieux, said. "We’re very anti-American in principle, but individually, if you’re going to the movies and have to eat in 10 minutes, you go to McDonald’s." A castle is for sale. It is near the city of Brasov, and Vlad the Impaler spent one night there, but because it is in Romania it’s called Dracula’s castle and is therefore a tourist attraction. It is owned by a Domic (Archduke) Habsburg, and architect living in New York, but, because "The Habsburgs are not in the business of managing a museum," it will be sold. The Habsburgs will only sell to a buyer "who will treat the property and its history with appropriate respect." An Alabtross from Argentina, flying slightly off course, lands in England. They let him go below the kirk, below the hill,
below the lighthouse top. Colonel Gaddafi of Lybia called for the creation of a "United States of Africa", and appeared to be positioning himself to be its first leader. Former astronaut Lisa Nowak didn’t wear diapers during her 950-mile road trip to confront a romantic rival, her lawyer said. It turns out that most Canadians according to a poll, know so little about their own country that they would flunk the basic test that new immigrants are required to take before becoming citizens. "Only 4 percent knew the three requirements a citizen had to meet to be able to vote while only a third could correctly identify the number of provinces and territories. Just 8 percent knew that the Queen is the head of state." The list of the ten least intelligent dogs, includes Beagles, Bulldogs, and Pekinese. You may not want to look. Jesica, a hippo , thinks she is a house pet. She enjoys sweet coffee and a massage before she goes to bed and her favorite room is the kitchen.

Casus belli again

Can you top this?

Diversity and social capital again

Reader Rob Driscoll sent me a link about Robert Putnam’s research on diversity and community, first mentioned here.

Turns out that, in addition to the John Leo piece I noted earlier, there have been three other articles on Putnam’s research, one in the NYT, one in the Guardian (U.K.), and one in the Portland Oregonian. All represent in varying forms a hopeful take on the ultimate effects of diversity, whatever its short- to medium-term diminution of social capital.

I’ll have more to say about all this when I’ve read Putnam’s article, now that I have a link to it.

Terry Eastland on Race and the Constitution

Terry’s account of the recent decision is the most astute. Despite all the BROWN talk in the various opinions, the bottom line is that Roberts explains clearly that what Seattle and Louisville are doing simply has no justification in the reigning prcedents, in the compelling state interests of addressing intentional discrimination or the educational benefits of diversity. The effect of the decision will be fairly activist, but the argument is a model of restraint. Here the dissenters are the innovators. On the table, of course, is the need to question diversity as a compelling state interest, but there was no need or even no warrant to do so in this case. Eastland also shows how implausible and inconsequential Kennedy’s lonely waffling is. The question for discussion: Should the Republicans go further than the Court and campaign on "the colorblind Constitution," as Terry suggests? One reason they should: It would be better if the complete uprooting of race from the law would have as much support as possible from legislative initiatives and not appear to be an activist judiciary overruling the will of the people. The abortion mess is pretty much a judicial creation, but the Court didn’t invent but has only upheld some (usually basically legislative) affirmative action. Arguably a decision based on the proposition that all well-intentioned, race-based remedies are unconstitutional would be inconsistent with the general principle of judicial restraint.

Happy Birthday Thurgood Marshall

We can’t have all this talk about BROWN without remembering Thurgood. For those looking for southern balance, let me add that it’s also Richard Petty’s birthday.

The Emerging Right of Medical Self-Defense

I, the center of the universe, have the right to all means necessary to keep me alive. So, for example, if I need a new kidney not to die, I have the right to buy one. I have to admit this makes a fairly creepy but real kind of libertarian/Hobbesian sense. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Fred Barnes on religion

TWS’s Fred Barnes briefly answers some questions on religion, world affairs, and journalism. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, but a peek into the spiritual life and religious views of a prominent, smart, and interesting talking head (and writing hand).

Original Zinn

Brother Hayward, I’ll see your James Burnham and raise you a Joseph Cropsey. In an essay included in Left, Right and Center, Cropsey dismantled Howard Zinn’s critique of patriotism, 42 years before Zinn wrote it:

“[Liberalism] envisions the natural fraternity of mankind. The liberal view is that man’s nature prepares him to live uncoerced in society. [It] aspires to the transcending of the nation, if only through the union of the nations. Rightly repelled by vain self-love, it is dogmatically blinded to just self-respect and conceitedly captivated by a priggish self-depreciation. Liberalism, which makes a by-word of pluralism and recoils from ‘absolutes’ however misunderstood, should welcome the diversity of nations, and their sovereign security upon which that diversity rests, as a valuable guarantee of the freedom of men to go their separate ways in the quest for justice or for the truth about justice. It must be conceded, however, that the highest good known to liberalism is not truth or even liberty itself, but fraternity and its alter ego, equality. Politically speaking, this has come to mean that the highest good known to liberalism is peace, or self-preservation.

“If it is narrower, it is also more human, surely more civil, to love what is near and similar, as such, than what is remote and strange, as such. [Patriotism will necessarily] be extinguished by the doctrine that exhibits it as offensive to peace, as an ignorant expression of ethnocentric bias, the neurosis of aggressive personality types, the posturing of the fatuous for the edification of the gullible, or the delusion of innocents seduced by schemers after wealth and power.

“The liberal view is consistent with itself in applying to domestic as well as to foreign affairs the dictum that trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely.”

These observations appeared in an essay on “Liberalism and Conservatism.” They show that while pacifists like Zinn, Noam Chomsky or Cindy Sheehan make conservatives angry, they make mainstream liberals nervous. The problem is that the hard left follows liberalism’s premises to their logical conclusions. The soft left doesn’t, but only because it knows that proclaiming these conclusions would be, politically, self-annihilating. Liberals cannot explain what principled differences separate their position from Howard Zinn’s. And because they cannot explain that difference, they can only hope to stand far enough away from Zinn so that no one notices the resemblance.

Hillary’s Gender: A Non-Issue for ’08

Cathy Young does a nice job of taking apart the whole issue of gender as it relates to Hillary--both as a plus and as a negative--for the ’08 election. Those who criticize her for not being a good feminist because of how she put up with Bill’s infidelity haven’t got a good point, she argues, because she’s not auditioning for the role of feminist-in-chief. Further, they can’t judge the inner workings of a person’s marriage from where they sit. Those who criticize her for her myriad unattractive qualities and policies cannot fairly be called misogynists either. She’s a big girl who has demonstrated that she is carrying her own load and if she is not likable to some . . . well, that should be expected and accepted. To cry misogyny every time you get slapped down is to demonstrate that you are not ready for the big show. Gender, in short, is not the issue in ’08 and it cannot fairly be exploited either by her supporters or her detractors.

Good News for the Holiday

Thanks to regular commenter, R.O.B., for bringing this heartening story from David Broder to my attention today. Broder recounts the testimony of David McCullough in hearings with Senators Lamar Alexander and Ted Kennedy (!) about the prospects for improving the teaching of American history in our schools. McCullough’s main point closely dovetails the example of his own work. History should be narrative. It should be written in a way that is engaging and interesting because--after all--history is engaging and interesting. It is only the studied ignorance of the last several academic generations that has served to make it boring. McCullough pointed to the emergence of the Harry Potter phenomenon as evidence that students are desirous of and willing to digest lengthy and interesting reading; and he decried the utter lack of depth and seriousness in most of the commonly used American history textbooks. These books are full of large type, glossy pictures and inane prose.

What can we do about this problem? I don’t know that much about the regulations governing teachers in the classrooms these days, but I do know--from talking with teachers who are serious about history and about teaching--that they often feel constrained by time constraints and state standards. Perhaps teachers need to be given more leeway to engage their classes in lengthy reading and discussion of things as they strike their interest. I know teachers have much to cover in a year--and it’s nearly impossible to do it all. So my question is: why is that the requirement? Why not cover a few things really well and forget about being comprehensive? Teachers should be treated like professionals and be given more freedom to make their subjects come alive for students. This won’t prevent bad or ideological teachers from doing mischief . . . but if school boards had more discretion in firing too, that shouldn’t be as insurmountable a problem as the current malaise in history education seems to be.

Betting on Hillary?

Some big bucks are being laid out on wagers that Hillary will make it. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Bush, Churchill and Islam

The Washington Post offers this dismal article from Lynn Olson trying to bash Bush for his fondness for Churchill. The piece is so pathetic that a point-by-point rebuttal would be tedious.

A look at one sentence will do. Olson: "Churchill would snort, I believe, at the administration’s equation of ’Islamofascism,’ an amorphous, ill-defined movement of killers forced to resort to terrorism by their lack of military might, to Nazi Germany, a global power that had already conquered several countries before Churchill took office in 1940."

Here’s what WSC wrote about Islam in 1900 in the original edition of The River War(an edition generally not available for reasons too long to go into here):

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property-either as a child, a wife, or a concubine-must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science-the science against which it had vainly struggled-the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.

Now, just imagine what Ms. Olson would say if Bush dared to quote this passage.

Thou Shalt Not Zinn

I had to search the archives, but I knew that about three years back I had included James Burnham’s meditation from Suicide of the West about why liberals hate patriotism. They key passage:

The rise of liberalism to predominance in the controlling sectors of American opinion is in almost exact correlation with the decline in the ceremonial celebration of the Fourth of July, traditionally regarded as the nation’s major holiday. To the liberal mind, the patrioic oratory is not only banal but subversive of rational ideals; and judged by liberalism’s humanitarian morality, the enthusiasm and pleasures that simple souls might have got from the fireworks could not compensate the occasional damage to the eye or finger of an unwary youngster. The purer liberals of the Norman Cousins strain, in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt, are more likely to celebrate UN Day than the Fourth of July.

As if on cue, this week Howard Zinn writes in something called the Progressive Media Project (which has been around apparently since 1993--who knew?) that "On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed." But wait! It gets better:

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Don’t read the whole thing. You get it. Happy Fourth of July everybody.

After Athens, now Rome?

After all the references to Thucydides and the Sicilian expedition (the best one is here), I suppose it’s refreshing to see someone move on to Rome, with a book for light summer beach reading. I wonder if it contains a discussion of our obsession with food.

Update: Before I let the Rome thing go, let me offer a couple of comments, having just surfaced from teaching Livy in a summer school class. If we’re going to focus on the way that America is like the Roman Empire, let’s not forget about the decline in civic virtue and public spirit, especially among the elites. That was certainly one of Livy’s concerns. I’d also note that after 9/11, President Bush had an opportunity to galvanize us with a call for sacrifice. Instead, he told us to go shopping. And finally, I recently made an argument in a paper for this conference that Livy teaches us about the importance of "family values" for Roman republicanism, something that we who think of family in terms of personal gratification perhaps don’t fully appreciate. So let’s by all means think about the domestic implications of the Roman analogy. If we’re going to apply it to GWB and our foreign policy, let’s look in the mirror.

What Studies Show on Prayers

They are ineffective, and, in fact, it’s neurologically inconceivable that they could be heard at all.

Progressives and the Court

Edward Lazarus argues that, in effect, the golden age of judicial progressivism from 1954 to 1973 is an historical aberration. However "disastrous" from his point of view, the Roberts Court is closer to the norm. His conclusion is one that conservatives should also take to heart:

The challenge for progressives, then, is twofold. The first is to wean themselves off what has become an excessive reliance on the judicial branch to achieve their social and political goals. Progressives will now have to win their battles in the political arena.

Second, progressives need to consider whether they can make common cause with some conservatives. Such a potential agenda does exist. Call it the "accountability agenda," focused on greater transparency in government and on enforcing the checks and balances at the Constitution’s structural core.

I’d put it this way: for the protection of our liberties, we should rely principally on the two political branches. John Roberts preached judicial modesty at his confirmation hearings. He has, I think, practiced it. Everything else should lie at the feet of Congress and the President.

GWB at the center of the storm

This long WaPo article offers a nuanced portrait of a President not as out of touch and incurious as his critics say. If I didn’t know about this, I’d say his tranquility is amazing.

I should note that some of what the article tells us is old news to readers of NLT.

And finally, one of the authors whose book receives a plug in the article has an op-ed in today’s Post. I leave it to better Churchillians than I am (Hayward and Schramm, your offices are calling) to respond in detail, but I confess to being unpersuaded that GWB is more like Neville Chamberlain than like WSC. At the very least, Churchill’s emphasis on multilateralism had a substantial military dimension, recognizing the military resources that could be marshalled through cooperation. How many countries currently not contributing to our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan actually have something substantial to contribute?

A Cure for Bad Memories

Scientists seem to have discovered a way to eradicate one particular memory while leaving the rest of a person’s memory intact. Big issue: Should this treatment be kept under tight control and used only in very extreme cases? Or should everyone have the right to better memories? I was once on a TV show with Justice Scalia where this possibility was discussed. Someone quipped: "I sure would like to forget my first wife." Scalia responded: "The problem, sir, is you would end up marrying her again." (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Plasma rockets

John J. Miller’s tribute to Robert Heinlein reminds me that I spent almost an hour with a real rocket scientist Friday. It reminds me because as he was explaining what he does, he kept refering to science fiction, warp drive, Star Trek, and such, which I had at least passing familiarity with. No wonder these science fiction guys are so well liked; they knew stuff about technology’s potential (and human nature). Franklin Chang Diaz, an astronaut (made seven space flights for NASA) most his life, he now runs something called Astra Rocket Company. It is a private firm that means to revolutionize space transportation by building The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), in short a plasma rocket. Although he was perfectly congenial fellow, also an "American by Choice" (from Costa Rica), yet, as you can imagine the conversation became one sided very quickly. I just asked a lot of questions. All I understood about what he is doing is that his plasma rocket (usable in space only, say, between a space station and the Moon or Mars) will be able to make runs (you know, he said deliver milk, and bread and stuff, and later people) between space colonies and will cost about ninety percent less than if the government did it. He said his rocket will be up at the space station by 2010. With current rocket technologies a round trip to Mars would take two years, but with his plasma rocket
"More rapid transits are possible with a VASIMR propulsion system powered by a nuclear-electric generator. With 12 megawatts of electrical power, a ship could reach Mars in less than four months and with 200 megawatts of power the outbound trip could be as short as 39 days." More here.
An impressive American (rocket scientist)!

Antioch without soul

Steve Hayward mentioned the pretty good New York Times article a few weeks ago about the closing of Antioch College. The Los Angeles Times piece on it (about a week ago), on the other hand, can’t figure out what went wrong. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the lawns weren’t well maintained. Or, the story implies that if the society just had a better sense of what a liberal education really ought to be than Antioch may not have closed down. That’s silly, of course. As is the L.A. Times’ opinion that its endowment was too small. Well, Kenyon’s or Ashland’s endowment isn’t much larger and they are doing fine. In fact, Antioch’s "sexual offense prevention policy" was a metaphor for the collapse: sex on campus wasn’t stopped, it was just made un-erotic and (the other side of the coin) professors’ (if that’s what they might be called) and students’ (if that’s what they might be called) naturally erotic souls also became un-erotic and boring; no more longing. Antioch just stopped satisfying the eros of souls, so it closed.

Gotta Love that Al

Al Gore turns up on the New York Times op-ed page today, with an article saying--wait for it--the world is coming to an end unless we do something immediately about global warming. But the amusing thing is how he manages to wrap himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, citing the Gipper approvingly three times in the piece. Of course, Reagan would never have signed the Kyoto protocol, just as he refused to support the flawed Law of the Sea Treaty, which was in some ways the UN’s model for Kyoto.

That’s a neat trick. Last time I saw Gore in the NY Times op-ed page in 2002, he was blasting Reagan:

"A plain reading of the history of Republican governance under Presidents Reagan and Bush shows that these conservative administrations were beholden to special interests, power brokers who would want nothing better than a pliant president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits.”

Well, which is it, Al: Visionary or "pliant president"?


It’s the opinion of that fine newspaper that a combination of tax cuts, CEO savvy, and a renewed and more competent aggressiveness in "the War on Terror" can be enough for Giuliani to make a convincing case that he’s Reagan’s heir. Your opinion of this opinion is welcome, but I have my very strong doubts that either Rudy or Wall Street really get how Reagan put a winning coalition together.

Political independents

Here’s another survey, described in this article. This one’s about political independents, with more good data-like stuff to be found here. This table seems to suggest that the proportion of independents has grown at the expense of the Democrats, which would seem to make the Democratic leanings of the independents almost entirely explicable. But I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

One point the WaPo story makes is that independents are more heavily male than either Republicans (evenly divided between men and women) and Democrats (more female). They’re also a relatively secular group. Here’s an hypothesis: as conservative men migrated from the Democrats, the economic conservatives/small government types tended to end up as independents, while the moral/religious conservatives ended up as Republicans. The former have been joined by some social liberal/economic conservatives migrating from the Republicans. These comprise the "dislocated" among the independents.

It’s late (or early, depending upon how you look at it), and I’m hoping my insomnia has passed. More much later (a busy day ahead).

Would you be shocked to learn

That this survey, described in this story, suggests that we’re further decoupling marriage and having children? At first glance, this doesn’t reflect well on us, as it seems we increasingly care about personal fulfillment, from which children are increasingly regarded as a distraction.

More when I’ve had a chance to read and think about the survey, and not just the article.

Update: I can’t resist quoting the headline on RC2’s post: "Never mind the future, dear, just do the dishes."