Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Essay contest for those interested


More Civil War Stuff

My last Civil War piece started something of a food fight on NLT. Most of the comments had very little to do with the topic of Lincoln’s performance as military commander during the war.

I have another piece up now. It is here.

But given the comments about my last post, I thought it might be fun to post this old piece The Case Against Secession. Let the next food fight begin.

Next Year’s Smoking Gun

The iconoclastic Mickey Kaus offers this splendid satire on the potential bathroom antics of Democrats. Sample:

At 1216 hours suspect tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal often used by persons wishing to criticize teachers’ unions. Suspect tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly.

At 1217 hours, I saw suspect swipe his hand under the divider for a few seconds, a possible sign of support for charter schools. Suspect repeated this motion again, from the front towards the back, and I could see more of his hand. Suspect then swiped his hand in the same motion for a third time. My experience has shown that this suggests an openness to publicly funded private school vouchers.

. . . Suspect denied all charges and claimed he was really soliciting homosexual sex. He was immediately released.

Heh. Now I’m off to APSA. See you there Peter.

The APSA Convention in Chicago

...I’ll be there tomrrow afternoon through Saturday night. On the shameless self-promotion front: I’ll be part of a roundtable on social conservatism Friday morning at 10:15 sponsored by Claremont. And I’ll give a paper on "Building Better Than They Knew Studies" at a panel on John Courtney Murray sponsored by the Catholic Social Scientists at 4:!5 Saturday afternoon. Copies of my new HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA will be available the St. Augustine’s Press booth. And my STUCK WITH VIRTUE, ALIENS IN AMERICA, as well as the edition of Brownson with my book-length introduction, will be available at the ISI booth. ISI will also feature the new POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER with the classic articles on post-Straussian studies by our friendly threaders Ralph Hancock and Paul Seaton, as well as an authoritative overview of Strauss’s theologico-political project by Florida’s theologian laureate, Marc Guerra.

If that weren’t enough, the new edition of my PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE just appeared in print. It has lots of good articles, including the penetrating comments Michael Zuckert gave on Tom Pangle’s Bible book at last year’s APSA and a fine article on Strauss’s utopianism by our own Ivan the K.

A few thoughts about Larry Craig and social conservatism

Leaving aside what actually happened in the Minneapolis restroom (and other times in the past), Craig’s handling of the aftermath has been incredibly inept. It’s hard to imagine him winning reelection, and he shouldn’t try. For the good of his family, his state, and his party, he should announce that he won’t be seeking reelection.

What I want to dwell on is the claim--made here, for example--that one can’t without hypocrisy be a social conservative (favoring traditional marriage) and have a questionable private life. Why not? Can’t I be a sinner and still condemn sin? Must I, because I’m a sinner, be easy on myself and others? Must I, because I’m a sinner, refuse to recognize sin for what it is?

Of course, one could respond that the issue isn’t the condemnation of sin, it’s the refusal to admit one’s own guilt. A confessed philanderer could urge fidelity in marriage and chastity outside it (leaving the positions to stand on their own legs), without holding himself up as a paragon of virtue or an example to be imitated. The sin, then, is the hypocrisy, portraying oneself as an upholder of "family values," all the while--or at least episodically, lapses of judgment or self-control--violating the values one upholds in public. There is, it seems to me, a fine line here. Can’t I advocate a position without holding myself up as an examplary representative of it? Did Larry Craig ever explicitly say (I don’t know the answer to this question): "I’m the model everyone should be imitating; everyone should be like me"? Or did he just, in his public self-presentation, put his best foot forward? Don’t we all do that? Or should or must we begin every interaction with a comprehensive public confession of sin?

Perhaps in our relentlessly confessional age, where no one’s privacy is respected, such a preliminary admission--full disclosure, as opposed to the "limited hang-out"--might be good policy. Perhaps the model should be the repentant and penitent sinner, the one who recognizes and acknowledges how far short he’s fallen. But must this always be done in public, not to mention in all its technicolor gory details? It’s one thing to do this before one’s friends and family, or before one’s church, quite another to do it in public, where it borders on the unseemly, not to say prurient. And, of course, however free one might then be to advocate for a position, it’s not clear that one can hold and win office after such a confession. It may in the end be easier to keep one’s mouth shut about social issues--the fervent hope of libertartians and other advocates of sexual freedom--in an effort (perhaps vain) to keep one’s reputation and life intact.

I don’t mean in any of this to let "sinners" off the hook. And I think that people whose private lives can’t withstand close scrutiny ought to think twice before they become involved in public life. No one’s perfect. But it is in the end impossible to separate the message from the messenger. Those who take the former seriously ought to attend seriously to their own character as witnesses. Larry Craig shouldn’t have shut up. But he should have sought to be as beyond reproach as it’s possible for a fallible human being to be.

Thoughts on Europe

Joe Knippenberg, as we know, has been travelling around Europe, old and new, united and not. This is a very fine article, with many fine insights and good thoughts. I’ll let it speak for itself, so y’all should read it (and Joe should write more!) and we can have some conversations about its fine points, at your will. I am willing to participate in such a conversation because I like talking about museums.

Electoral College Reform

Our friend Matt Franck examines, much more intelligently than his foil, the NYT (I don’t thereby mean to damn him with faint praise), the potential (and unintended) consequences of a proposal to allocate state electoral college votes by something other than a winner-take-all system.

In so doing, he reminds us that most efforts to monkey with our political processes are short-sighted.

This just in....

Studies show (to borrow a line from a colleague) professional theologians like Barack Obama.

Why, one might ask, don’t they heart Huckabee, who seems to be the candidate of moralistic abstemiousness?

Minor celebrities in Austria

The elder Knippenbergs, who know what to do with things they purchase on eBay.

There were, by the way, two print stories, and I came away with an Austrian Bundesheer baseball cap.

Educational (?) video

Boston College won’t post the video of a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Alan Wolfe.

“It was uncivil, they talked over each other, they ... cast aspersions on each other’s character, they made jokes at each other’s expense, it was a snipe job, it was a street fight, it was a brawl. And frankly it doesn’t meet Boston College’s intellectual standards,” said Ben Birnbaum, the executive producer of Front Row.

D’Souza and Wolfe probably deserve one another. Wouldn’t it be "enlightening" for two such "public intellectuals" to be shown for who they are?

Embrace the Chaos

,,,that is our increasingly unstable primary/caucus system of delegation selection. That’s John Pitney’s advice. Pitney is probably wrong that what it takes to prevail in that process has much to do with the qualities associated with governinig well. But we don’t much choice for now. Florida is going to do what Florida is going to do, and candidates will just have to adjust.

Kennedy on the Rule of Law

Commenting on AG Gonzales’s resignation, Senator Ted Kennedy opined: "I strongly urge President Bush to nominate a new attorney general who will respect our laws . . . ."

Here’s to hoping that some day Massachusetts voters will elect a Senator who respects their state’s laws.

Back from the Beach

Okay, I’m finally back from the beach, back in the saddle, and ready to go. . . at something. I got about 30,000 words in the can on Age of Reagan II over the last two months and may actually finish by the end of the year, but it meant I had to set aside both video-blogging and the old-fashioned kind. I’ll try to get back to video-blogging soon enough, but in the meantime, there are two videos that I recommend enjoying. First, this Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina shows why she desperately needs to become an Ashbrook Scholar.

Then, if that isn’t enough, try out this Finnish cover of the Village People’s "YMCA."

Chris Wallace Takes Bill Moyers to School for a Lesson in Journalism 101

Watch and enjoy.  

Gonzales Says Goodbye

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned today. I have never been much of a fan of Gonzales, and tend to think that he was in over his head. Particularly frustrating was his handling of the U.S. Attorney firing "scandal," which he made into a scandal by giving the appearance of covering up legal activity. Had he simply said that the attorneys were terminated because they served at the pleasure of the President, who could fire them for any reason whatsoever and left it at that, then the apparent "scandal" could have been avoided.

NRO has covered Gonzales’s resignation and its consequences extensively. I participated in their symposium this morning, in which I offered my thoughts on what would happen if the current speculation is correct, and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff is nominated to the post. And over in The Corner, I offer some thoughts on whether Ted Olson would accept the nomination.

Tocqueville for Joggers

For all you nerdy health nuts who enjoy listening to lectures on your ipods while excercising feverishly, here are the talks from our NEH Summer Seminar at Bethel College. You can hear, for example, Michael Zuckert, Ty Tessitore, Leslie Goldstein, Alan Ehrenhalt, and me.


That’s what the often sensible David Broder is pushing today.

Muslims, the British way of life, and advice for Bill Buckley

The British government has a new program in place--a kind of curriculum taught by "forward leaning imams"--that encourages Muslims to become better citizens (subjects?). The curriculum is based on the Koran. In other words, these Muslim teachers in Muslim schools use the Koran to justify British citizenship. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he means to show "the importance we attach to the dignity of each individual" and "the importance we attach to non-violence." I repeat, the curriculum is based on the Koran. Some Muslims are asking why Muslims should be singled out for civics lessons.

Bill Buckley considers the Muslim issue in Britain, and is concerned about saving "the British way of life." Do note Mr. Buckley’s musings in the last paragraph. He seems surprised that the Brits have this problem and we don’t. He implies that it should be easier for the Brits to handle this problem (after all, they do have an established religion) than it was for us to handle Mormon polygamy when they became "inconvenient" to us, who live in a regime of religious liberty. I suggest that Mr. Buckley glance at the Republican Platform of 1856which denounced the "twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery," and ask himself how the two are connected in principle.

Furthermore, I respectfully suggest that he reflect on the connection between a religion that allows polygamy and a territory (in which that religion predominates) forming itself into a state, and the constitutional provision (Art IV, Sect 4) that calls for each state to have a "Republican Form of Government." This makes for interesting musings (which both Douglas and Lincoln considered in the debates of 1858, of course; Lincoln using the polygamy issue to reveal Douglas’ inconsistency in using popular sovereignty). The Muslims, or the Mormons, or the Catholics, or the Baptists (but you get the point) can become citizens, but not on the same terms as Gordon Brown’s curriculum thinks Muslims may become citizens of Britain. And all that has to do with the American way of life, a much harder nut to crack than the British way of life. It would seem that Mr. Buckley doesn’t see why that is the case. What a shame.

A species of prudence

Mac Owens argues that Lincoln was an effective military leader. Another very good essay on the war, albeit slightly longer than the norm. If Mac keeps this up, these will turn into a book! And that would be fine by me.     

Outsourcing the drive through window

"The owner of a fast food joint in Montana�s booming oil patch found himself outsourcing the drive-thru window to a Texas telemarketing firm, not because it�s cheaper but because he can�t find workers.

Record low unemployment across parts of the West has created tough working conditions for business owners, who in places are being forced to boost wages or be creative to fill their jobs."

The Old Urbanism of Crunchy Europe

Dr. Pat explains, using what he saw with his own eyes, why they’re in some ways more conservative and more libertarian than we are.

Bush’s VFW speech

Mac Owens on the President’s speech to the VFW claiming that leaving Iraq too early could be compared to leaving Viet Nam. This kind of Viet Nam analogy doesn’t sit well with some of Bush’s political enemies, but a la Bugs Bunny, Mac calls them "Maroons".

Back Home

Welcome home Joe and family. Too bad about the mangled flights. But, you’re home. Relax a bit and, by all means, put pen to paper (as it were) and write thoughts and impressions from the trip. I’d love to read them all.

Innocents back home

We’re back in Atlanta, having endured a long train ride from Salzburg to Amsterdam, an unexpected opportunity to explore the charms of Schiphol Airport (thanks to mechanical difficulties), and (thanks to the same difficulties) the chance to spend yet another night in a hotel (near Dulles, after we arrived too late to make any connections). I’d bet that whatever profit margin the airline had on our flight vanished (and then some) in its attempts to accommodate a planeload of people with meals and rooms.

I’m going to try to put some (I hope interesting) thoughts on "Europe" into a column for the main site, once I can recover my energy and gather my wits. For now, it’s all I can do to keep from falling face-first into the keyboard.

Happy Birthday Big Mac

More than one friend has suggested to me that the epitaph on my tombstone should read: "You Going to Eat That Burger?"

So it is perhaps fitting that I should observe that today is the 40th anniversary of McDonald’s Big Mac. McDonald’s stock continues its slow upward climb. Happy birthday Big Mac!

Nunn of the Above

Sam is talking up the Unity ’08 party. At one time I thought he would be a fine president.

Mark Lilla on Political Theology

Here’s a preview of Mark’s new book. It’ll be big. Mark is surely right that the God of liberalism is stillborn. But he’s surely wrong that our understanding of politics is unilluminated by revelation. How else do we know that true theology is not political or civil theology? The very phrase "political theology" seems un-American, and that’s one reason, among many, why true religion has a true home here.

The always incisive Spengler adds the complaint that Lilla doesn’t really love reason, but only hates Christianity or the Christian conception of the human person. And that explains, for example, why he identifies all religius resurgence in our country with fanatical "political theology."
Not to mention why he’s so indulgent and hopeful when it comes to Muslim "renovators."

The Best Colleges Are Looking for Authenticity

And sometimes find it in typos. Here’s what they’re against: perfectionism.

GOP’s opportunity

Andy Busch claims that the upcoming battle on spending is giving the GOP an opportunity "to reclaim their position as a party that can be counted on by mature people to stand athwart fiscal imprudence and onrushing socialism." OK, let’s play some poker. What are the odds that the opportunity will be taken?

The Danes pay up

Somali Pirates got about a million and a half buck from the Danish government for the release of the crew of a cargo ship hijacked a few months ago. Not good.

Not just perspective

Writing in the Investor’s Business Daily, Tom Krannawitter attacks both Ward Churchill (the former professor) and his public antagonist David Horowitz. He claims both are multiculturalists.

Funny Numbers from China?

Lester Thurow, not always the most reliable prognosticator in the past, has a compelling article in yesterday’s New York Times that China’s economic growth numbers are exaggerated or perhaps even phony. Worth a look. I know from trolling for Chinese data that it can be very inconsistent and contradictory.

French Foreign Minister

arrived in Iraq today: "Now we have to face the reality, including the American view ... but this is an Iraqi problem and it must be solved by the Iraqis." He spoke to the press in English.


Iraland�s population has grown to 4.4 million, and is younger than any other European country, with a median age of 33. And, combined with the population of Northern Ireland, by the year 2032 the whole island could match the 8 million before the famine set in in the 19th century. The population had grown by over 300,00 since the previous survey four years ago; the growth is split between births and immigrants. The largest increases in immigration since 2002 have been from Poland, Lithuania and Nigeria. The latest census showed 63,276 Poles living permanently in Ireland, up from 2,124 four years earlier.

Chinese in Africa

According to this New York Times story there are circa 750,000 Chinese working and/or living in Africa. Good story about a Chinese owned ice cream factory in Malawi. The Chinese set up businesses, while the West sends relief experts working international agencies. Interesting.

Innocents abroad, part 3

We’re back in Austria after a few days in Italy. This time, we’re in the Zillertal (just east of Innsbruck, overlooking a river that flows into the Inn). The scenery is stunning, the hospitality marvelous. The Dutch have discovered it; Americans seem not to have, at least not as a summer destination (though one can ski in Hintertux at the end of the valley even now).

Met one of the many maternal cousins in the valley at dinner tonight; she presented us with a bottle of homemade schnapps (Obstler, made from apples and pears). Sehr schmackhaft. Our Hungarian waiter insisted, however, that they do it still better in Hungary. Our Bosnian waiter didn’t offer an opinion.

The only thing disturbing the local scene is an establishment my son has taken to calling the American embassy: McDonalds. But it’s at the beginning of the valley, and it’s quite overwhelmed by the mountains.

Thompson�s advantage

It�s not hard to tell from this WaPo story on

Fred Thompson that both the pundits and the so-called strategists want to emphasize the problems he will encounter with his late entry, his lack of arganization and infrastructure, brood over which week or day or hour he should announce to get a few days� media boost, etc. But Thompson seems only to want to "relate to the people." And with statements like these he might be able to do that: Is his after Labor Day annoucement too late? "I wasn�t there when they made those rules, so I�m not abiding by them. We�ve got plenty of time." Is he appealing to the conservative base? "I am unabashedly pro-life. I am pro-Second Amendment. And I don�t apologize for the United States of America. This country has shed more blood for the freedom of other people than all the other nations in the history of the world combined, and I�m tired of people feeling like they�ve got to apologize for America."

It seems to me that both Thompson�s late entry--which also seems "the closest thing to a successful draft
of a presidential candidate in more than a half-century"--and the reasons for the late entry will prove entirely to his advantage. One operative in the WaPo article claims that with all the "top activists and operatives" gone to other campaigns, Thompson will be relegated to running a campaign based on his "personality and issues." Could that possibly be to his disadvantage given the rest of the field?

It�s a perfect day in Ohio, by the way, so I�m off with Isabella.

Guelzo on Lincoln’s statesmanship

Allen Guelzo’s recent talk at Heritage, "Prudence, Politics, and the Proclamation," may be the best short essay ever on prudence and the "two souls of American culture" (Guelzo). Nicely done. Worth a slow read.

Innocents abroad, part 2

We’ve made our way to Italy, and have dashed through Venice and Florence. The latter came off as more likeable than the former, though I’m willing to blame the weather for some of it. The only other thing I’ll say is that the next time I visit Venice, it will be after winning a lottery.

Tomorrow we head back to Austria to visit more family roots (in the Zillertal, off the Inn, which is where my maternal grandfather comes from). I have no idea what to expect.

Haven’t seen much in the way of news (except for the papers they hand out on the trains--which means I’ve read a couple of Austrian papers and one German since I’ve been over here). Right now, I think I’d prefer the Renaissance, at least on aesthetic grounds.

One other remark about the difference between this touristic experience in the old country and the last one: there has been a remarkable increase (at least in this Rip van Winkle’s eyes) in the number of Middle Eastern and South Asian tourists. And since I’m not exactly moving in high class circles while I’m over here, I’m talking about folks who look vaguely middle class. Interesting.

Tavern Talk about Fred Thompson

In conversations with my fellow Ashlanders over the hot summer it has become clear to me that they are not yet engaged in politics. But they’re fixin’ to be engaged, as my kinfolk in Arkansas would say! And they are especially looking forward to former Senator Fred Thomspon entering the race. Why? They are bored, and they think Thompson is more genuine, more understandable, more conservative, and in general more exciting than the other Republican candidates. This David Broder column is worth reading because it is in essential agreement with the opinions I run into in the local watering holes. Thomspon’s striaght and hard rhetoric will be the ticket that gets Republicans (and maybe more) out of their summer doldrums. I predict that he will become the immediate front-runner once he announces next month. He will lead Giuliani by fifteen points and that lead will last and grow if he is just half as good as his supporters claim he is. This recent market slide due to the credit crunch is only going to help him.

Ashbrook Center

Karl Rove

David Frum is critical of Karl Rove: He may have been good on political strategy, but he was bad on policy, especially on immigration (which he confused with political strategy). Now see Paul Mirengoff on Frum and Rove. And this is a transcript of Rush Limbaugh interviewing Rove yesterday, wherein Rove was critical of Hillary Clinton. And this is the New York Times article on how "Karl Rove intensified his attack on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton." You can listen to Rove's talk for the Ashbrook Center at our annual dinner in '05. Good speech; revealing of his great virtues, and vices. The liberals will miss him more than anyone else, since they loved to demonize him.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Putnam and the death of the diversity ideology

Daniel Henninger has some thoughts on the Robert Putnam study. Henninger says this is the short version:

"People in ethnically diverse settings don’t want to have much of anything to do with each other. ’Social capital’ erodes. Diversity has a downside.

Prof. Putnam isn’t exactly hiding these volatile conclusions, though he did introduce them in a journal called Scandinavian Political Studies. A great believer in the efficacy of what social scientists call ’reciprocity,’ he wasn’t happy with what he found but didn’t mince words describing the results:

’Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.’ The diversity nightmare gets worse: They have little confidence in the ’local news media.’ This after all we’ve done for them.

Colleagues and diversity advocates, disturbed at what was emerging from the study, suggested alternative explanations. Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall. He calls it ’hunkering down.’"

The whole article, "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture", is available here.

Is Giuliani Another JFK Catholic?

According to Richard Cohen of the WASHINGTON POST, Rudy had a Kennedy moment when he told a reporter that his religious beliefs were none of his business. That allegedly signaled that Rudy would be guided by his own reason rather than by any religious authority as president. Romney, meanwhile, acknowledged that his religious beliefs might have some limited influence over his public policy views. But can Giuliani’s rude or manly moment really substitute for his sustained reflection on the place of religion in his personal and American public life? And can we really say that his repeated suggestion that ROE was rightly decided is actually based on reason?

Special Ops

Almost all of us now know that the guys in Afghanistan after 9/11 on horseback with GPS technology in one hand and gun in the other were Army Special Forces, a part of Special Operations Forces. They were (and are) impressive. David Tucker & Christopher J. Lamb (both served in an office in DOD that had "special operations and low intensity conflict" in its title; you gotta love that!) just published a volume in which they cover, as far as I can tell, everything important (and therefore controversial) about what SOF are and have been, how they are organized, and how againt Islamic extremism and other irregular threats SOF can provide the greatest strategic value.

"SOF are less a model for information-age transformation of conventional forces than they are a model for how to fight irregular warriors with discrimination, at low cost, and through emphasis on indirect methods." Theoretically exciting as this is, I glance at a photo of some scruffy guys fondling their cold guns and unlit cigars in some desert village far away. Their American eyes see both good and evil. This good book is dedicated to such good men (and their families).

Lopsided Lincoln

Since I am still in the Malay-running-Amok mode, I can’t comment on Karl Rove (whom I like very much, flaws included) or the lopsided coverage his resignation is getting, but I can quickly bring this story to your attention on what modern science can tell us about Abraham Lincoln: He had "cranial facial microsomia" (and also strabismus, smallpox, heart illness and depression). When Tolstoi said "His example is universal and will last thousands of years...and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives," he was not speaking as a scientist.

What Studies Show on Masculinity

Palaeontologists have developed an index of masculinity (and therefore attractiveness to women) based on face shape. That allowed them to be able to discover the ten most masculine celebrities in the world. Although I’m a bit skeptical, I know of no other hypothesis that can account for the appeal of Justin Timberlake. (In the cases of Will Smith, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt, I’m open to the possibility that they’re actually excellent actors.) The scientists do acknowledge that further studies may be needed. [Thanks to Ivan the K.]

Is Conservative Artist an Oxymoron?

We conservative pop culture critics are rigidly orthodox herders who make our slavish sheep carry the rhetorical water. Plus we say dumb, ideological things about good movies.

How Many Countries Did Lou Gehrig Visit Without Taking a Day Off?

A Hall of Famer branches out.

The Handicappers Say Huckabee Won

Here’s one version of the verdict among many. I agree with the nerve of the thoughtful comments in the threads below: Mike might be both too much like Bush and too much like Clinton. But I have to add the more positive spin that his disdain for Wall Street and his worry about our dependence on foreign oil--as well as his general compassionate unlibertarianism--sound something, at least, like our friend Dr. Pat Deneen (with evangelical add-ons). I make that point not to endorse the new man from Hope’s positions but to suggest that Huck might be developing a distinctive niche campaign. I also agree with the point made in the threads that the Ames result also showed that maybe the only Republicans who aren’t lethargic are particularly concerned with either abortion or immigration.

Huckabee’s Great and Vertical "Results Conservatism"

It’s only fair to post a fairly flattering article about the one candidate who clearly did better than expected in the Iowa straw poll. Mike is articulate, not particularly edgy, somewhat witty, actually wrote his own book, and has thoughtful and stable positions on the issues. But Julie and John Podhoretz are right: The hyping of Ames is best understood as a futile journalistic attempt to keep the campaign from getting even more boring, and poor Romney ended up spending a huge amount of money per vote.

You’ve All Been Thinking It . . .

. . . but it took John Podhoretz to say it--and say it so well. What’s the big whoop about Iowa and Ames anyway?

My Break from Blogging

Well, I’ve been busy. I gave the keynote lecture and mentored and all that at the ISI Honors Program in Quebec City (which is a very pretty and enjoyable mixture of contemporary American convenience and European charm--without any obvious displays of the decadence of either). My topic was "Building Better Than They Knew" or the relationship between our country and the true science of natural law. And then I went to Boulder (like Quebec, basically a theme park for the casual visitor) for ISI/Miller Center Program on Teaching American Studies for young faculty and advanced graduate students. There I sort of talked about Tocquevlle, Locke and Darwin and how our founding appears to us today.

I mention these programs because surely there are many readers of NLT who should apply to next year’s versions of them.

Our Ivan the K was in Boulder. Ralph Hancock, who’s telling the tough truth about Rawls, justice, and the good in the thread below, gave a stunning, lucid, and unmoody lecture in Quebec on Strauss and the emerging field of post-Straussian studies. You can’t miss Ralph’s witty and pathbreaking critical overview of some recent studies on Strauss in the next POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER. Paul Seaton (Gary’s impoverished [by comparison] brother) and Marc Guerra also have excellent essays in that issue.

Dan Mahoney was also as authoritative and charming as usual in both Quebec and Boulder on every book ever written, but mostly on those by Pierre Manent and Orestes Brownson.

The most manly, most stylish, and fittest man in Boulder was Harvey Mansfield, who gave six hours worth of funny, deep, and provocative presentations in a a 24-hour period. Well, maybe Jim Ceaser was even more stylish in his own way, and certainly he was everywhere looking over everything.

The honors undergrad fellow from Berry College, Tricia Steele, took buses from Newark to Quebec and back rather than miss the program. In Boulder, Berry grads include the only woman professor (Jocelyn Evans) and Baylor graduate students David Ramsey and Elizabeth Amato.

The Skeletor Show

One of the teachers who attended my MAHG seminar a few weeks ago sent me a link to this video. She told me it had been featured on NPR this weekend, but of course I don’t listen to that commie propaganda. But the video made me laugh harder than I have in some time, particularly because I well remember the old "Masters of the Universe" cartoons from the 1980s.

Innocents abroad

We’ve been in Europe for a week, and I thought it was time to check in.

A couple of general observations: both Austria (surprisingly) and the Netherlands (unsurpisingly) are more diverse than on my last visit (fourteen years ago). I’ve actually seen more Muslims in Salzburg than in Amsterdam (though mostly of the sort who cover their heads but wear fashionable western dress otherwise).

We haven’t encountered any overt anti-Americanism, not even from relatives.

I guess I’ve been surprised by the lack of obvious security in the train stations. I’ve gone through exactly one metal detector (and that was in the Rijksmuseum).

The Knippenberg family highlights so far have been Delft (lovely town with great squares and churches) and the Maria-Plain pilgrim church outside Salzburg (where my folks were married back in ’55). The latter gives me anecdotal evidence that Catholic piety is alive in central Europe--there was beautiful spontaneous singing, and, gosh, I shook the hand of the Arch-bishop of Salzburg.

More later, probably after we’ve spent some time in Italy.

Cigars and Dennis Prager

I have been reading (surprise!). After my hurly-burly schedule it feels like I’m stealing from a deep place and I like it. For my light reading it’s been The Elephant and the Dragon. Very good. To remind me that language at is best is for the sake of clarity, and understatement may be best, I have been re-reading Coolidge’s Autobiography. Splendid! I also remembered that Calvin loved cigars. Which brings me to this piece by Dennis Prager in which he briefly explains (in prose) why he loves cigars and what he likes about cigar stores. I guess that does it, I’ll have to invite him to give a talk at the Center!

Telling it Like it is

I’ve been staying away from NLT, mainly because this has been the busiest summer I ever remember having. Fortunately all my business has been enjoyable, but it’s left me no time for blogging.

One thing I’ve been up to is portraying Howard Cosell as part of this year’s Ashland Chautauqua. I did a 45-minute monologue, set in December 1983--right after his final telecast of Monday Night Football. This was followed by Q&A from the audience.

Anyway, if you live in North Central Ohio, and you didn’t have a chance to catch my Chautauqua performance, I’ll be reprising it tomorrow night at 8:00 pm at the Mansfield Playhouse. This will be a special fundraiser for the Playhouse to kick off its 40th anniversary season. Tickets are $10, and the performance will be followed by a gourmet reception (courtesy of my beautiful and talented wife). Tickets will no doubt be available at the door, but if you want to make reservations call 419-522-2883.

Dems too Cocky?

Toby Harnden in Britain’s Telegraph writes what begins to look like a plausible strategy for Republican candidates in this election cycle: there’s "blood in the water" on the Dem side he argues. They may finish themselves off if Republicans leave them alone. Obama is presenting himself too much as the left-wing anti-war candidate which (as events have proven) has the danger of making him look weak and childish in the mold of McGovern and Dukakis. Hillary’s strength is that she is the safe candidate--like Mondale or like Gore. The problem is that her likability is at least equal to that of Gore or Mondale too. Which is to say that she’s not particularly likable and we all know what happened to Gore and Mondale when they were confronted with likable Republicans. Say whatever you will about all of the Republican front runners--they’re at least likable.

Putnam and diversity

In the Comments Steve Thomas section linked to this article in the Boston Globe about Robert Putnam’s latest study on diversity. Just wanted to make sure everyone saw it.

Assimilation and citizenship

Last Fall I gave a talk at the Heritage Foundation on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and it is now published. They have put it out under a "First Principles Series" and some of the other essays might interest you. My piece, alas, is a variation on a theme with which you are all too familiar. Sorry.

And yet, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that the simple (although, I hope not simple-minded) themes of citizenship and assimilation of immigrants continues to press, Note this Washington Post article in which the deep question is posed: Should the U.S. Government encourage assimilation? The question is not, of course, whether the Feds should spend money on programs that encourages or teaches immigrants to become Americans. That is missing the point. Please note that in the WaPo article almost all the immigrants quoted make perfect sense (e.g.: Americans "want all the people -- black, yellow, green, Chinese," Zemikel (from Eretria) said. "In other countries, they don’t want them, like, equal.").

John Rawls and the Greening of Liberalism, Part 2

Linda Hirshman contends that the success of John Rawls’s philosophy has a lot to do with the failure of liberal politics. The portion of her argument she has shared with the public so far is neither complete nor compelling. Her primary complaint is that The Theory of Justice is bloodless: “Rawls’s political actors, such as they were, looked a lot like brains in vats – theoretical beings completely disconnected from real-world politics.”

Hirshman is no conservative, and certainly no Straussian, but her critique of Rawls resembles Allan Bloom’s. Rawls makes an argument for redistribution based on his “Original Position,” where humans design a society behind a “veil of ignorance,” not knowing whether they’ll be smart or dumb, beautiful or ugly, in the ethnic majority or minority, etc. Rawls argues that people would be utterly risk-averse in the Original Position, designing a society with extensive income redistribution to make sure the least-advantaged are always as well off as possible.

Bloom’s central problem with this framework is that Rawls doesn’t adequately explain why human beings should adhere to the arrangements they devised in the Original Position once the veil of ignorance has been removed. When the strong know they are strong, not weak, they may not regard the protection of the weak as the highest priority. All Rawls can offer to urge people to maintain the deal he imagines they would have made is, according to Bloom, “sermonizing.”

This is one of the stronger criticisms of John Rawls. The trouble for Hirshman’s position is that it’s difficult to see: 1) how the “brains in vats” quality of Rawls’s philosophy became an attribute of political liberalism generally because of the publication of A Theory of Justice; and 2) how, even if this quality did affect what liberals said and did after 1971, voters noticed or cared.

It is not difficult to identify a less abstract and more obviously unpopular aspect of Rawlsianism. A Theory of Justice is an unyielding argument for a strikingly unrugged individualism. Each person must have everything he thinks he needs to pursue his “life plan,” including self-esteem. The individual whose life plan consists of counting blades of grass deserves not only the wherewithal to do so, but the assurance that he’ll be treated with no less respect than a Harvard professor. As Bloom says, Rawls insists government must be laisser faire about the ends people pursue, but beaucoup faire about providing the means to pursue them.

Hirshman may or may not choose to take issue with this aspect of A Theory of Justice. She would have a hard time, again, arguing that Rawls talked liberals into a position they would not otherwise have taken. The sentiment that people had virtually unconditional welfare rights had pervaded liberalism long before Rawls had any disciples. The prominent sociologist, Christopher Jencks, offered this rebuttal to the “Moynihan Report” in 1965: “If [poor black families] are matriarchal by choice (i.e., if lower-class men, women, and children truly prefer a family consisting of a mother, children, and a series of transient males) then it is hardly the federal government’s proper business to try to alter this choice. Instead, the government ought to invent ways of providing such families with the same physical and psychic necessities of life available to other kinds of families.”

Monster Madness

I take time out from my blogging hiatus (I’m sequestered for the next few weeks at my California house to work exclusively on Age of Reagan II) to mention a first: Yesterday I attended a monster truck show. I have a five-year-old, okay? And his favorite monster truck, Grave Digger, was participating! As a cultural matter this is beyond NASCAR: monster truck madness (which includes big air motocross, too), seems a combination of circus acrobatics, professional wrestling (good guys versus bad guys), and the Battle of the Bulge. There was a moment of silence offered for our fallen soldiers in Iraq before the engines roared to life.

Mansfield vs. The New Atheism

According to the manly Mansfield, the old atheists were against the church, but the new atheists are against religion itself, which really means they’re against constitutionalism itself. The new atheists pride themselves as being the only animals smart enough and tough enough be atheists, but their arguments, Harvey shows us, are as predictable as chimp behavior. Harvey once called attention to the philosopher-atheist’s criticism of times of "Enlightenment": They take all the fun out of "free thought." But it takes a time of alleged Enlightenment to show us that there’s nothing more boring than atheism or at least raving atheists.

Further Lessons in Political Decency

Michael Tomasky complains today that “Bush and Cheney – and conservatism in general – have wrecked our civic institutions and darkened our civic impulses. Nothing is beyond politicization: not the Justice Department; not the worst terrorist attacks on our soil . . . ” Politicizing terrorist attacks? Why, that sounds like the despicable work of the cynical conservative who gave the 1996 State of the Union Address:

[Richard Dean is] a 49-year-old Vietnam veteran who’s worked for the Social Security Administration for 22 years now. Last year he was hard at work in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble down all around him. He reentered that building four times. He saved the lives of three women. He’s here with us this evening, and I want to recognize Richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary personal heroism. But Richard Dean’s story doesn’t end there. This last November, he was forced out of his office when the Government shut down. And the second time the Government shut down he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay.

On behalf of Richard Dean and his family, and all the other people who are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people, I challenge all of you in this Chamber: Let’s never, ever shut the Federal Government down again.

John Rawls and the Greening of Liberalism

Prof. Knippenberg has brought our attention to the dispute initiated by Linda Hirshman on the New Republic website over John Rawls. Hirshman thinks that the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971 explains quite a bit of the electoral difficulties liberals have faced since then. She calls the book “the touchstone for liberal political philosophy,” whose deficiencies “simply left the country to the conservatives.”

Hirshman’s detractors think that the causal link between a turgid book of political philosophy and a series of bitter election days can’t possibly be as direct and powerful as she claims. Matthew Yglesias, for example, wrote that “it’s obviously insane to blame Rawls for Democratic Party electoral defeats.” Hirshman informs TNR readers that she is “working on a much longer piece about the role of foundational philosophical beliefs in contemporary American politics,” so any judgments about her full argument, not to mention her sanity, will have to be provisional.

Pending the appearance of her longer essay, it’s worth noting that Hirshman has employed enough qualifiers to hedge her bets. No fair reading of what she has already said can ascribe to her the opinion that liberals in 1971 were poised for several more decades of political victories until A Theory of Justice showed up in bookstores and syllabi, transformed liberal thinking and rhetoric and, the next thing you know, Ronald Reagan is giving his inaugural address.

Allan Bloom’s fierce review of A Theory of Justice argued that the book didn’t transform anything because it set out to justify everything liberals were already thinking at the time. Those who turn to Rawls, Bloom said, “will be given a platform that would appeal to the typical liberal in Anglo-Saxon countries: democracy plus the welfare state - leaving open whether capitalism or socialism is the most efficient economic form (so that one need not be a cold warrior); maximum individual freedom combined with community (just what is wanted by the New Left); defenses of civil disobedience and conscientious objection (the civil rights and antiwar movements find their satisfaction under Rawls’s tent); and even a codicil that liberty may be abrogated in those places where the economic conditions do not permit of liberal democracy (thus saving the Third World nations from being called unjust). This correspondence, unique in the history of political philosophy, between what is wanted by many for current political practice and the conclusions of abstract, rigorous political philosophy would be most remarkable if one did not suspect that Rawls began from what is wanted here and now and then looked for the principles that would rationalize it.”

In other words, the political content and the political fortunes of liberalism over the final third of the 20th century would have been exactly the same if John Rawls had been a shoe salesman instead of a philosophy professor. A Theory of Justice supplied syllogisms and footnotes for an ideology without changing its meaning. It’s the academic-press analog to The Greening of America, by Charles Reich, a book that is to political discourse what the lava lamp is to interior decorating. Reich’s book, published in 1970, captured the sensibility of the American left a little too well. The book went from being a best-selling phenomenon to a joke within the year, as liberals decided that an author who could write about the spiritually uplifting qualities of bell-bottom jeans might not be all that useful as a public intellectual.

The next three weeks

I’ll be traveling a lot, with only sporadic internet access, so I doubt I’ll be blogging much. Enjoy the dog days!

Obama’s Substance

John Podhoretz offers the argument that Obama’s proposal that we invade Pakistan, at least has the virtue of being the first substantive statement on foreign policy in this long, dull contest for the Presidency. Of course, if Obama’s intention was to look tough after his blunder in the YouTube debate, he succeeded only in looking even more naive and pathetic. As Podhoretz points out, he’s no more going to be able to invade Pakistan than the moon. But the substance of Podhoretz’s point is that the candidates and NOT the media are to blame for the lack of substance in this election cycle. That is, none of the candidates is really saying anything that isn’t canned and pulled from the shelf. That Obama’s first attempt at substance came, as it did, because of a blunder in a YouTube debate speaks volumes about what has happened to our politics. And perhaps it is an argument in favor of Republicans going forward with plans for such a debate--snowmen and all.

Another Year, And More Teachers Taught

As summer is quickly winding to a close, many parents are turning to the task of preparing their children for the return to school. But who prepares their teachers? Despite state-mandated requirements for teachers to obtain advanced degrees, the masters’ degree programs geared toward teachers all emphasize the mechanics of teaching, rather than the substance of the subjects to be taught. All but one, that is. The Master of American History and Government stands unique in offering a substantive program in American history designed to better equip history teachers to know and teach their subject. Using the best professors—great teachers and scholars from universities across the country—and primary sources which bring the subject to life, the program offers a series of intense, one-week seminars offered during the summer to accommodate teachers’ schedules.

As I am writing this, we are wrapping up our last week of the summer classes, during which teachers from all fifty states (plus the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories!) have studied topics such as The American Revolution, The American Founding, Sectionalism and the Civil War, and The American Presidency. The response from the teachers is humbling. Just last week, I was standing outside the Center when one of the teachers came up to me on her way out to her car. She thanked me for what had been a great week of classes, and commented on how much new material she had learned that she would bring back to her classroom. She said that she was sorry to have to leave. It was at this point that I noticed that she was crying—tears literally streaming down her face—as she explained how much she looked forward to coming back and learning more. As I said, humbling.

The Master in American History and Government is an important project that we have undertaken, but like all important projects, it requires generous contributors to continue. So, with the coming rush of back-to-school, please take a few minutes, and give a tax-deductible donation to help us teach more teachers.

Coolidge, and things of the spirit

John Karol makes the case for the "political minimalist" and "moral force" that is Calvin Coolidge, and a movie about him. He is a liberal, but says he was smitten when he read Coolidge’s autobiography, and then went to his speeches. I’m re-reading the autobiography now and am struck, again, at his crisp, clear, and lovely prose. It should be required reading for those of us who are inclined to be convoluted in our writing. Read some of his speeches here.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for July

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

Leslie Alexander

Don Bagwell

Michael Ernst

Laurie Helgason

William Schaeffer

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 August’s drawing.

Finally . . . Perspective and a Sense of Humor

About astronauts who (gasp!) tip back a few. Charles Krauthammer does an admirable job of defending them. I especially love this line: "I dare say that if the standards of today’s fussy flight surgeons had been applied to pilots showing up for morning duty in the Battle of Britain, the signs in Piccadilly would today be in German."

The SCHIP hits the fan

My Congressman--Dr. Tom Price (and that, as my wife would say, is a real doctor)--explains why the Democratic effort to expand SCHIP is, as we used to say, "creeping socialism." Read the whole thing.  

Progressive originalism?

It’s the 14th Amendment, baby.

The Bush Doctrine, properly understood

George Weigel likes this book. It will make its way to my nightstand.