Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Opening Day

Rich Galen takes the time today to remind us that there are things some things in life that are worthy of bipartisan reflection and gratitude. "Fathers and sons and baseball," he says, "Life might get better than that, but it doesn’t have to get much better." Very well said, but read the whole thing.

My little slugger is off to practice tonight and has a big game tomorrow. After a few more games they’re taking away the tee and we’ll see some real baseball. It’s not Cal Ripken breaking the record or even the Dodgers return to the Colosseum. But it’s as good as life has to get for me.

The Spitzer Comedy

From his vantage point in upstate New York Ivan Kenneally writes about the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer. Those who regard Spitzer’s demise as tragic are mistaken, Kenneally argues. At most, his story is worthy of an Aristophanic treatment of the overweening of a prototypical technocrat, who lacked a prudent appreciation of the limits of politics, not to mention of his own ability to manage his life.

McCain and His Laurels

Bill Kristol’s latest argues that McCain is going to have to get more specific. It’s a thoughtful reflection as most of what Kristol argues usually is. But I begin to wonder if McCain is not better off shutting up as much as possible—like Grant in 1872—and barely even campaigning. For one thing, his likely opponent seems pretty adept at saying too much. Why not just let him talk? Why engage him unnecessarily when sitting back, looking adult, and subtle smirking will do? Even Kristol recognizes that this strategy will serve McCain well in the immediate future as Hillary and Obama claw at each other. McCain’s perceived virtue is in his apparent ability to distinguish himself from them (and from other Republicans)… in seeming above it; above ordinary polemic politics. (Notice that I said "apparent," please.) Perhaps he needs to throw some bones to the conservatives in the base. But if he does, I think he should do this quietly and avoid large public pronouncements of any kind (which, in truth, would be full of real flaws in any event and probably only invite criticism from the corners he’s trying to court as his recent speech on treaties and global warming did).

Kristol is right to point out that McCain has never really rested on his POW laurels and, that in any event, democratic peoples are not always willing to demonstrate gratitude for biography—especially when it’s old biography. On the other hand, since McCain (unlike John Kerry) has not run around touting this bio for the last 40+ years, it’s still fresh and the time elapsed has had the ameliorating effect of making it all a lot less polarizing in the popular imagination. It should be remembered that a great number of the electorate cannot remember the 1960s either because they were not born or because they were children (or because… well… because). So McCain’s story is like a movie to us and it is probably the most appealing thing there is going in this contest (that is, if you’re not inclined to get weak in the knees at the sight of the great wizard of O). I, for one, think I could get a lot more enthusiastic about McCain’s personal story than I could about any personal attempt he might make to work on a "broad reform agenda—education reform, health insurance reform, tax reform, government reform, Wall Street reform"—however much such an agenda actually may be needed. I think I would feel better knowing that McCain will be elected president on his biography than I would hearing about the details of his plans for these important questions. Let him have the job—maybe it’s his turn—and then let him find some really smart people to do all that heavy-lifting. Maybe it’s time for him to rest on his laurels.

The Unbearable Lightness of Edwards

The Pulitzer prizes for 2008 will need to create a special category for best article designed to drive Hillary Clinton out of the Democratic nominating contest. There will even be subcategories: she can’t win the nomination stories, she’ll only elect McCain stories, she and her husband will destroy the Democratic Party stories, she can’t even pay her bills stories, she’s urging Eliot Spitzer to lend his Rolodex to Obama stories.

One recent entrant by John Heilemann of New York magazine, has received respectful attention, some of which is misplaced. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Heilemann’s writing or reporting. It’s that his claim that Barack Obama "blew it" when seeking the endorsement of John Edwards has been taken at face value. According to Heilemann’s second- or third-hand account of Obama’s solicitation, he came across to Edwards as "glib and aloof," "shallow" and "perfunctory." The weight of this evidence was enough to persuade Joe Klein of Time that Obama needs to "(re)prove himself in settings other than arena rallies."

But isn’t being called a lightweight by John Edwards about as devastating as being called a suck-up by Eddie Haskell? Oscar Wilde described America as the only country that passed from barbarism to decadence without an intervening stage of civilization. Similarly, Edwards spent the past six years running for president, morphing from an arriviste to a has-been without ever lingering in-between to be taken seriously. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in the obituary of Edwards’ political career, the fervent declarations that his whole life was devoted to populism left out the six years when Edwards: a) actually held public office as a one-term Senator; b) was, therefore, in a position to do something about the causes that meant everything to him; and c) cast vote after vote—on Iraq, bankruptcy, storing nuclear waste, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, trade with China—that he later came to believe undermined all those causes.

If we want to question Barack Obama’s political judgment, the ammunition from the Heilemann story is not that Obama failed to impress Edwards and win his endorsement. It’s that he even bothered trying.

Race and Identity

This New York Times front page article entitled "Who Are We" is not deep thinking, yet worth noting. It attempts to talk about "mixed race" identity and how folks think about it. The good news is that it is hard not to come to James McBride’s conclusion:

As a child whose father was black, he said: "I really wanted to be like all the other black kids. It was the larger group around me." And through life, because of his brown skin, society has imposed its own label. "If cops see me, they see a black man sitting in a car," he said.

But being proud to call himself African-American, Mr. McBride said, does not negate his connection to his "Jewish part," his mother’s heritage. Asked which part of him was dominant, he said, "It’s like grabbing Jell-O."

"But what difference does it make?" he added. "When you’re mixed, you see how absurd this business of race is."

An open letter to the religious right

EO’s Joe Carter writes a good ’un.

Hat tip: Steve Dillard (aka "Feddie") at the recently revived Southern Appeal, which he has brought back, to great applause from his friends.

Beat the Girl with the Boys

This is, essentially, the advice offered to Barack Obama by Richard Whitmire in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. In a typical Pennsylvania state college, Whitmire argues, boys of all races but--more recently, especially white working class boys--do not fare well. His advice to Obama is to acknowledge and demonstrate empathy for this problem without speculating too much about the causes of it (as Whitmire also does not do in this article). This would be a problem for Hillary, he argues, because the facts here speak against the party line of her feminist-leaning backers. The facts show that girls are thriving in school and graduating college in significantly higher numbers than boys.

We’ve talked about this issue on NLT before: here, here, and here. I think there may be even more posts about this topic, but I didn’t want to spend the whole morning combing the archives.

I don’t think Whitmire’s advice is going to do much to actually help Obama win Pennsylvania, but it’s not bad advice. It’s advice I have a lot more interest in seeing Republican candidates take, however, than Barack Obama. I think Whitmire is right to speculate that such talk will resonate in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

A theological pronouncement from Obama

O.K., he’s lost the Reformed vote.

Media Alert

If anyone has their TV tuned to C-SPAN at 12:30 eastern time today (Thursday, March 27), I’ll be introducing Newt Gingrich, who will be giving his response to Obama’s speech from last week. C-SPAN plans to broadcast live.

See: The Obama Challenge

Check C-SPAN for updates, since they sometimes change these things at the last minute.

Berry good

I spent the better part of yesterday attending the Berry conference, and can report that the portions I was able to enjoy, I enjoyed. The students gave a good account of themselves, discussing the desirability and consequences of being pro-choice on (very) long life. Patrick Deneen’s lecture on "Virtue, Technology, and Wendell Berry" was crunchiness at its best. Finally, dinner at a downtown Rome restaurant (featuring a special "crunchy and conservative menu in honor of" Dr. Pat) was excellent--not only the food, but also the conversation.

All in all, a good show, boding well for today’s events, which, unfortunately, I have to miss.

Gallup Poll on November

A new Gallup Poll: "A sizable proportion of Democrats would vote for John McCain next November if he is matched against the candidate they do not support for the Democratic nomination. This is particularly true for Hillary Clinton supporters, more than a quarter of whom currently say they would vote for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee." Read the details yourself. This is not a small problem for the Democratic Party.

The future of affirmative action

This article summarizes some of the papers in this session, focusing on Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s expectation, expressed in her opinion for the Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, that the "need" for affirmative action will be gone by 2028. The consensus seems to be that this won’t be the case.

So far as I can tell from the article, the papers focused on college admission policies and on government support for education programs at all levels (elementary and secondary included). There seems to have been little or no talk about the "cultural" or "social" causes of academic achievement (or the lack thereof). These are surely more resistant to the policies the panelists seem to favor. What’s more, it’s not clear to me that affirmative action addresses these causes either.

See ya tomorrow!

I’ll be up at Berry College tomorrow, communing with some great minds. In particular, I’ll be responding to Patrick Deneen’s lecture on Wendell Berry (no relation, so far as I know, to Martha Berry).

Dionne on Obama’s faith

E. J. Dionne, Jr. calls attention to both the Niebuhrian humility and the full-bore Social Gospel worldliness of Obama’s religion. This is an uneasy mix, though Dionne doesn’t seem to realize it.

Truth Deprived

Sen. Clinton has, finally, with the help of dozens of contrary accounts and incontrovertible video evidence, recollected that her visit to Bosnia in 1996 wasn’t so harrowing after all. In a speech last week she said, "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

Now that her memory has been refreshed by apoplectic campaign aides, the candidate has tried to walk back her vivid memories to a closer approximation of objective reality. In admitting that the story didn’t happen the way she had so vividly remembered it, Clinton told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review today, "I was sleep-deprived, and I misspoke."

But Senator, won’t you be sleep-deprived when that phone rings in the White House at 3:00 a.m.? If you respond to the lack of sleep by clearly recalling events that never went through the formality of taking place, aren’t you likely to be responding to a national security crisis in, you know, sub-optimal ways?

A Choice, not an Eco

Wesley Smith has an interesting article about modern eugenics in the latest Weekly Standard.


It is a bitter irony that even as we are enlarging our commitment to human equality in many areas, we are turning our backs on it in others. In particular, we may be about to eliminate from our society people with Down syndrome (DS) and other genetically caused disabilities. . . . A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2005 found that of the approximately 5,000 babies born with DS annually, only about 625 were born to mothers who knew of their baby’s condition before birth. . . . Under the regimen of universal prenatal genetic testing urged upon us by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the number of DS babies born each year could plummet below 1,000.

Smith’s piece could use a slightly different lede: "Why is it that the same people who oppose genetically modified foods and pesticides seldom apply the same logic to member of their own species?"

Random Observations

1. On Richard Adams’ comment on the Founders: Maybe Obama is more Christian than lots of them, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. And maybe he isn’t, insofar as the Wright church seems to be rather secular and ideological. Of course at least the late Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn were/are certainly more Christian than the Founders, as is the current president.

2. I’ve gotten two emails from reasonable men who think that NLT has gone way overboard in nitpicking and such on Obama’s distancing speech. Of course people who write for blogs can say what they please, and so I’m inclined to be a bit more nonjudgmental.

3. Still, I really and truly hope McCain doesn’t make Obama’s religion a political issue. A real problem in this campaign--for both parties--is going to be managing racial animosity--among both whites and blacks. There’s no way the Democrats can deny Barack the nomination without seeming racist. And they’ll be a big perception problem if he loses narrowly to McCain in November. Preacher Huckabee displayed not only pagan genrosity but excellent political instincts in not making too much of the unscripted rantings of a man’s pastor.

4. I might add that it’s not so great for white folks to admonish black folks to take the advice of Bill Cosby and look to themselves alone for the sources of their misery. That might even be good advice, but black folks have to give it to themselves.

5. I see the advice here and there on the web that McCain should campaign as an independent and not a partisan Republican. That is, he should position himself to pick all the voters who are inclined to favor the Democrats on the level of principle but become disaffected with Obama for one reason or another. Is it really true that the only chance for victory of the party that now holds the White House is basically negative?

6. Kmiec’s endorsement of Obama is rather odd, but not completely inexplicable if his support for Romney was basically "socialy conservative" and in spite of the Romney/McCain position on Iraq etc.

7. McCain obviously should not make a speech on race and such matters to counter Obama’s. Maybe one of his strengths is that he’s personally sort of post-racist in the manner of a warrior, and so he’s not focused on the danger of "reverse discrimination."

Presidency

Religion, the Founders, and Obama

As we continue this discussion of Obama's religion, is it worth turning to the founders as a basis for comparison. Most of the best known of the Founding Fathers were more around their churches than in them. The skepticism of Jefferson and Madison is well known. President Washington doesn't seem to have been an orthodox Episcopalian. Even John Adams was a Unitarian, and had rather harsh things to say about Puritan orthodoxy. They all seem to have believed that religion could be a positive good, and that revelation was possible. But they had trouble being certain about any particular revelation, or any particular interpretation of it.

Obama might believe rather more than they. There's nothing wrong with that, but the contrast is interesting. Obama's religion also has rather more of the social gospel than did theirs.

Categories > Presidency

More on Obama’s Religion


The indispensibleMark Steyn has some useful observations on Sen. Obama’s spiritual adviser. Here’s an excerpt, but read the whole thing. It’s short:

‘I’m sure,” said Barack Obama in that sonorous baritone that makes his drive-thru order for a Big Mac, fries, and strawberry shake sound profound, “many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.”
Well, yes. But not many of us have heard remarks from our pastors, priests, or rabbis that are stark, staring, out-of-his-tree flown-the-coop nuts. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose legions of “spiritual advisers” at the height of his Monica troubles outnumbered the U.S. diplomatic corps, Senator Obama has had just one spiritual adviser his entire adult life: the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, two-decade pastor to the president presumptive. The Reverend Wright believes that AIDs was created by the government of the United States — and not as a cure for the common cold that went tragically awry and had to be covered up by Karl Rove, but for the explicit purpose of killing millions of its own citizens. The government has never come clean about this, but the Reverend Wright knows the truth. “The government lied,” he told his flock, “about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.”
Does he really believe this? If so, he’s crazy, and no sane person would sit through his gibberish, certainly not for 20 years.
Or is he just saying it? In which case, he’s profoundly wicked. If you understand that AIDs is spread by sexual promiscuity and drug use, you’ll know that it’s within your power to protect yourself from the disease. If you’re told that it’s just whitey’s latest cunning plot to stick it to you, well, hey, it’s out of your hands, nothing to do with you or your behavior.

Therapy for Your Soul from Dr. Pat

Here’s Deneen’s excellent advice for what to read to get acquainted with political philosophy. And he includes the unjustly neglected thanccentric existentialist.

Kmiec endorsement of Obama

Already noted by PWS. He has been hinting at this for some time.

I raised questions when he first gestured in this direction, and am not persuaded by the arguments he offers today. He notes massive disagreements with Obama on a variety of issues, hoping only that his mind isn’t closed. Is there any evidence of his openmindedness other than words meant to disarm?

The least unpersuasive part of his statement is here:

Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment. Today, I do no more than raise the defense of that important office anew, but as private citizen.

About this, reasonable conservatives, and reasonable people generally, can disagree. I find it more than a little odd that Mitt Romney--Prof. Kmiec’s previous horse in the race--had this to say a couple of months ago:

It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now. It was not well managed in after the takedown of Saddam Hussein and his military. That was done brilliantly, an extraordinary success. But in the years that followed, we were undermanaged, underprepared, underplanned, understaffed, and then we come into the phase that we have now. The plan that Bush and General Petraeus put together is working. It’s changing lives there. Perhaps most importantly, it’s making sure that al Qaeda and no other group like them is becoming a superpower, if you will, in the communities, and having a safe haven from which they launch attacks against us. It’s critical for us. The most important issue is what do we do now, and their just run and retreat regardless of the consequences is going to be a real problem for them when they face a debate with a Republican on the stage.

If this judgment about the justifiability of the war wasn’t an obstacle to supporting Mitt Romney, why is it so problematical now?

I close by noting Prof. Kmiec’s recursion to a "law-enforcement" model of combatting global jihad:

Effective criticism of the incumbent for diverting us from this task is a good start, but it is incomplete without a forthright outline of a commitment to undertake, with international partners, the formation of a world-wide entity that will track, detain, prosecute, convict, punish, and thereby, stem radical Islam’s threat to civil order.

He is, of course, entitled to his view, but, once again, it doesn’t quite square with what Romney wrote here, where he focused on the military dimensions of our response to the challenge of global jihad. There’s one sentence devoted (if "networks" are the same as an "entity") to what for what it seems Prof. Kmiec thinks ought to be the core of our response.

So I’m left puzzled by this move from Romney to Obama. Surely there’s less distance between Romney and McCain than between the former Massachusetts governor and Obama. And surely both Romney and McCain are very likely to be better on a whole range of Prof. Kmiec’s issues (e.g., same-sex marriage, abortion, judicial appointments, "subsidiarity") than is Obama.

Or does Prof. Kmiec now regret his support of Romney?

Update: Power Line has more on the Romney-Kmiec-Obama disconnect here.

Kmiec endorses Obama

Doug Kmiec endorses Sen. Obama. Kmiec is Professor of Constitutional Law, Pepperdine University and served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel (U.S. Assistant Attorney General) for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Although this may be surprising, I am betting that we will see more such during the campaign. While he gives other reasons, note this...."the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment."

Obama’s Religion

This post on the Belmont Club site paints a troubling picture of Rev. Wright and Black Liberation Theology. According to James Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

In Cone’s formulation--and by extension Wright’s--any God who isn’t "black" is an agent of the devil.

The piece draws parallels between Wright and Black Liberation Theology on the one hand and the arguments advanced by the likes of Louis Farrakhan and Edward Said on the other. The press, of course, has ignored this deeper story, but all in all, the more people delve into the "theology" of Rev. Wright, the more they are going to recognize that--in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo--Obama has "got some ’splainin’ to do."

I Think Ben Stein Might Be Right

Ben Stein has been pumping for higher taxes on the "very rich" in the Sunday business section of the New York Times for a while now, I guess as a way of keeping in good graces with the NYT editors or something.

But the other day I was sitting in the lobby of a boutique luxury hotel in midtown Manhattan when a stretch Bentley the size of Delaware coasted up to the curb, and out stepped an obviously super-wealthy and well-appointed couple, who were greeted by practically the entire management staff of the hotel. The manager proudly announced to the couple that they were being bunked in the hotel’s presidential suite, whereupon the uber-coiffed wife said, "Well certainly not the current president!"

I’m with Stein here: Raise their taxes. "Through the roof!," as Jon Lovitz put it in his famous Dukakis After Dark sketch on SNL.

Ethnonationalism

As George Will reflects on the dark meaning of Kosovo’s independence, he mentions this article by Jerry Muller ("Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism") from the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Both are worth reading, in case you are slipping into optimism, or what Pat Moynihan called "the liberal expectancy."

Another Speech

Someone else gave a speech last week. As far as I know, President Bush’s speech on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war has received no comment on this blog yet. It also did not make a big splash in the news, in part because it said nothing new. The President repeated that we are fighting terrorists or al Qaeda in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them here. A short time before the speech, a review of 600,000 documents captured in Iraq appeared, concluding that Saddam’s regime had links to regional and global terrorism but that there was no direct connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

I happen to be reading the memoir of a CIA case officer and high-ranking CIA official published in 1997 who reports a visit he made to Baghdad in 1986. The purpose of his visit was to get Saddam to live up to his part of the bargain he had made with the United States. We were giving him intelligence to help him in his war with Iran. In return, he was to sever his contacts with terrorists and expel them or turn them over to us. The former case officer lists many of the groups that have shown up in the recently published review of captured Iraqi documents. He mentions in particular that we wanted Abu Abbas who had been the mastermind, as they say, behind the hijacking of the Achille Lauro (1985), which resulted in the death of an American. Abbas was still in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion. By the way, the case officer, who by 1986 had about 30 years experience in the Middle East and South Asia, reported in his 1997 memoir that Iraq was known to be riven with factions and competing tribes and sects and that Iraqis were known throughout the Arab world as thugs.

More Wright stuff

Via Hugh Hewitt, there’s this column from Mark Steyn and this from Michael Barone.

Inveighing against injustice is one thing--and I won’t begrudge anyone that, even if I don’t agree with the mode of expression and perhaps even the instances cited--but adopting utterly implausible conspiracy theories is another. Couldn’t Obama have distinguished between "prophetic" hyperbole and the tinfoil hat variety?

Will the millenials care?

Update: Read this very long post that makes a number of good points distinguishing between Rev. Wright’s "prophecy" and its Old Testament counterparts.

A Religious Oath?

Until I read the interview with Justice Thomas, to which Joe links below, I had not read the Judiciary Act of 1789 in quite some time, and had forgotten that it prescribes an oath of office for Justices (Section 8).

Justice Thomas notes that he takes his oath of office seriously. The text of the oath reads: To "solemnly swear or affirm, that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as , according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution, and laws of the United States. So help me God."


What stands out is the line, "and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."

Given the time and place at which the oath was written, the language was probably ultimately traceable to Leviticus 19:15: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." If so, it might have interesting implications for our establishment clause jurisprudence.

And the "So help me God" part of the oath suggests that they members of the First Congress agreed with John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration that atheists could not be good citizens, for "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist."

Clarence Thomas interview

"It’s not my Constitution to play around with."

Is the McCain Presidency Inevitable?

The goddess Fortuna does not ordinarily arrange for her favorites to spend five-and-a-half years being tortured in a prisoner-of-war camp. Nevertheless, the Economist may be on to something when it calls John McCain the “luckiest man in American politics.” Not only did he secure the Republican nomination seven months after his campaign nearly collapsed. Now, with a little more than seven months to go before November, it is becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama cannot lose the Democratic nomination, and cannot win the general election.

In today’s Politico, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen argue that Hillary Clinton “has virtually no chance of winning” the Democratic nomination. One Clinton advisor, off the record, estimates her chances against Obama as no better than ten percent.

The reason? Race. Clinton’s only path to the nomination requires Democratic superdelegates “to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency. . . . An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else. People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.”

There might be a semi-plausible pretext for the superdelegates to take the trophy out of Obama’s hands and give it Clinton if she wins the larger number of all the popular votes cast in all the primaries and caucuses from Iowa on January 3rd to Puerto Rico on June 7th. The Politico’s Ben Smith got out his calculator, however, and showed that Clinton will need “well over 60 percent of the vote” in the remaining states where she is likely to win. So far in 2008 her best states have been Arkansas, where she was first lady for 12 years and won 70 percent of the vote; Rhode Island, which gave her 58 percent; and New York, which she has represented in the Senate since 2000 and where she received 57 percent.

Why is Obama unlikely to win the general election? Again, race. Even before the Jeremiah Wright controversy became front-page news last week, there was growing evidence that despite all the talk about his post-racial candidacy, Barack Obama is not the Tiger Woods of politics. As VandeHei and John Harris pointed out earlier this week, Obama has won a majority of white votes in several states, including Wisconsin and Virginia – a historic achievement.

In the Ohio primary, however, held before Jeremiah Wright became a household name, Hillary Clinton took 64 percent of the white vote. Similarly, Obama has finished first among Latino voters in only handful of states, none of which have particularly large Hispanic populations.

John McCain is well-situated to appeal to “Reagan Democrats” – working-class whites who didn’t go to college, and Latinos. His heroic patriotism will appeal strongly to the former, especially against an opponent whose pastor invites his parishioners to scorn America. And McCain’s support of immigration reform will allow him to contest the Latino vote.

Obama’s Wright problem, for the general election, is that it gives voters in both these blocs, who might otherwise have felt guilty about voting against a black candidate, a way to do so with a clear conscience. There is nothing racist about voting against Obama anymore. Now, it’s just a matter of voting against a politician who feels comfortable around spiritual leaders whose views are as poisonous as Ward Churchill’s.

Michael Barone recently argued that the polling data are inconclusive as to whether Clinton or Obama would run the stronger race against McCain. His examination of the state-by-state data, however, shows Obama’s general election vulnerability. “Obama may be a stronger candidate than Clinton in Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Iowa,” he writes, “but he looks far weaker in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Missouri.” The trouble is that the five states where Obama looks particularly strong have a total of 41 electoral votes, while the four where he looks “far weaker” have a total of 67. Thus, McCain would get a net advantage of 26 electoral votes from those nine states voting in November the way their poll numbers look now. By contrast, John Kerry had an advantage of four electoral votes from these nine states, 56 to 52, in 2004. We’ve heard for weeks about the steeper slope facing Hillary for the nomination. It’s getting steeper for Obama in November, too.

And their intelligence work is pretty juvenile, too

Did you know that the CIA website has a kids’ page?

Supply your own punchline.

Murray on Obama

Charles Murray enters the lists on the side that finds more to praise than blame in Obama’s speech.

This business it not over. McCain--or his speechwriters--ought to be working on his own major speech on race. Now that the elephant in the room has been spotted, it won’t do to avoid it.

Berry conference

Our PR office gets Google alerts, which they pass along to me from time to time. Today’s alert called our attention to this article about Peter Lawler’s conference next week. I’m just sorry I can’t stay for the whole shebang.

Obama and civil religion

The virtue of Philip Gorski’s annoyingly sententious post is that it states frankly the basis of the unity I found in Barack Obama’s "perfect union" speech. A snippet:

Crusader nationalism and racial division are really two sides of the same coin. If crusader nationalism is the bond, or one of the bonds, that holds defense conservatives and religious conservatives together, racial division is the wedge that was used to separate the “Reagan Democrats” from the New Deal coalition. The first step in the construction of the Reagan coalition was, of course, the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon, the use of carefully coded race-baiting to alienate working-class whites from the Democratic party. From Nixon’s allusions to “states rights” and “law and order” through Reagan’s “welfare queens” and Bush Sr.’s “Willie Horton” ad, this has been a staple of Republican campaigns for over three decades.

To make a new Democratic coalition, one must therefore unmake the Reagan coalition. The first step is racial reconciliation. But if racial solidarity is to be deconstructed, what will take its place? That is the question to which Obama’s speech is an answer. And his answer is civil religion.

***

Insofar as the Republican coalition relies on racial antagonism, unmaking it requires racial reconciliation. But that is only a first step. The second step is to reconfigure the party landscape around class, to establish an alliance between the economically underprivileged and the culturally privileged, between those bereft of economic capital (black and white), and those rich in cultural capital (the “latte liberals”). Of course, the language of class is verboten in American public discourse. And Obama does not use it. Instead, in an Edwards moment, Obama argues that “the real culprits of the middle class squeeze ” are “a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.” Here, he invokes the approved language of populism, pitting ordinary people against greedy corporations and Washington lobbyists, against economic exploiters and pseudo-intellectuals.


This language has a second advantage as well. Not only does it allow him to elide the forbidden language of “class warfare.” It also allows him to invoke the language of democratic sovereignty and national identity. For “the people” is a term that plays on two registers: class as well as nation. In this way, demands for social justice are implicitly linked with claims to popular sovereignty and patriotism. And rejection of those demands appears as un-democratic and un-American.

So Obama’s "civil religion" is a form of class consciousness, albeit one expressed soothingly and smilingly.

There are a couple of other things about the post that serve, I think, to undermine its credibility (and that of its author). First, there’s this caricature of the Republican coalition:

One of the great, unremarked advantages of the Republican coalition over the last three decades has been its ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Apart from a few Jewish and black neo-conservatives — the Bill Kristols and Ken Blackwells — it is overwhelmingly white and evangelical.

Tell that to the Catholics, a majority of whom voted for GWB in 2004 and a significant minority of whom continue to identify with the GOP. Tell it to the business Republicans who regularly express disdain for evangelicals. Of course, it serves Gorski’s (and Obama’s?) version of civil religion to paint Republicans as "the Other."

Second, there’s his reliance on
this book, which I reviewed for PAL’s journal. I found the argument unpersuasive then and discover that it hasn’t improved with age. (If you want the text of my revew, either subscribe to Perspectives, or send me an email.

Originalism and Citizenship

If, as Steve notes below, "We’re all originalists now," might we be able to revisit the absurd notion that being born on U.S. soil is a sufficient condition for citizenhip.

As Ed Erler notes, that conclusion is a far cry from the orignial intent of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had previously asserted that “All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” The immediate impetus for the Fourteenth Amendment was to constitutionalize and validate the Civil Rights Act because some had questioned whether the Thirteenth Amendment was a sufficient basis for its constitutionality. A constitutional amendment would also have the advantage of preventing a later unfriendly Congress from repealing it.

One conspicuous departure from the language of the Civil Rights Act was the elimination of the phrase “Indians not taxed.” Senator Jacob Howard of Ohio, the author of the Citizenship Clause, defended the new language against the charge that it would make Indians citizens of the United States. Howard assured skeptics that “Indians born within the limits of the United States, and who maintain their tribal relations, are not, in the sense of this amendment, born subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” Senator Lyman Trumbull, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported Howard, contending that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else . . . subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.” Indians, he concluded, were not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States because they owed allegiance—even if only partial allegiance—to their tribes. Thus, two requirements were set for United States citizenship: born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction.

By itself, birth within the territorial limits of the United States, as the case of the Indians indicated, did not make one automatically “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

Update: Professor Erler has a longer version of this essay, with more documentation in the recent Claremont Institute book, The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration.

Frederick Douglass podcast


Peter Myers has written a very good book on Mr. Douglass. Indeed, it may the best book ever written about him. Myers takes Douglass seriously and, while acknowledging problems, tensions, complexities, and even misjudgments, in his thought and politics, he thinks that Douglass’ political thought at its core is both more coherent and subtle--and defensible--than most others who have written on him think. He maintains that Douglass was right in finding in the natural rights principles of the Declaration of Independence a necessary and sufficient theoretical basis for addressing the nations’ racial problem. I talked to Pete for about forty minutes. It was a very fine conversation! He agreed to do more at a future time and I thank him.

Another Reaction to the Reactions

If Obama’s speech makes him a socialist, Progressive, etc, etc., then Condoleezza Rice, who wrote in Foreign Affairs of the need for the United States to be on the right side of history, is a Marxist-Leninist.

But seriously folks, it was a political speech and while it is fun to find all sorts of emanations and penumbras in it, I think you are missing what the man actually said. Given the state of public discourse, it is good that he did not repudiate the constitution and actually claimed that it has principles embedded in it. Lucas is right that Obama’s specific policy recommendations are a problem. That is the weakness that should be attacked. Lucas is also right to ask us to consider what Obama says about the black American experience, which no one on this blog has attempted yet. That is why I still find much of what is being said here fussy and doctrinaire and, I must say, beside the point.

Finally, what strikes me about much of the blogging here on Obama’s speech is its unhistorical character. One blogger or another defines what America is or what is American or in the Founding according to a set of theoretical preferences (which may in fact be right) and then finds Obama to be un-American or to have abandoned the principles of the Founding. Our actual history is more complicated than that. “Progressivism,” for example, is part of the founding, in part because Protestantism was part of the original America and it was a major part of what became Progressivism. Why ignore this complicated history? Is the actual America so unlovely that it must be made young and beautiful?

Huckabee Emerges

Mike Huckabee is getting some favorable play over at The Daily Kos because of his attempt to see the Rev. Wright with charitable eyes. He’s not eliciting much sympathy, however, from some conservative commentators--like Laura Ingraham--who takes the view that his remarks on Joe Scarborough’s show are something people of a younger generation cannot process. She sees it as a scolding that is not relevant to today’s world. Something that we might visit in a museum. "We’re so over [race] now," she said this morning. In a way, I think both are right.

I am no great fan of Mike Huckabee’s and I’ve never tried to hide the fact here, but I think his remarks about Wright represent the views of most thoughtful and decent people who witnessed (whether in person or in absentia) the horrors and injustice of a bygone era. Like Obama, they ask us to understand the anger. Dennis Miller expressed something similar recently when he said that when he looked at Wright he saw a grumpy old Marine who had been called the "N" word too many times. To be clear . . . Miller did not say that this excused his behavior nor--I think--did Huckabee.

Understanding and expressing sympathy for emotions such as anger is a helpful thing to do in our personal relationships. Between friends, family, and potential friends understanding and sympathizing with the root of someone’s anger can facilitate forgiveness, healing and stronger ties of union. But I am dubious about the necessity of doing this on a political or even a public level--particularly when the anger is not fresh. Put another way, I wouldn’t mind having a long one on one conversation with the Rev. Wright about his anger and the opinions he holds stemming from that anger. In such a context, I might even forgive him his anger--though I doubt I would in all things excuse or respect every opinion that was borne of it. On the other hand, I see no reason why we should elevate such sentiments to the level of a public discourse. Anger may be interesting and it’s a fair thing to note it, but it’s not always relevant. It becomes less and less relevant (as most fleeting things do) as it ages. In America, anger is not an inheritance. At least it shouldn’t be. This is why people like Ingraham (and me) who did not live through the Civil Rights movement look sometimes with amazement upon all the talk of race in this country. Folks who did live through it and are scarred by it (on either side of the line) are wrong to get indignant and say we’re naive because of it. From our point of view, the battle is more or less over and won. We have to wonder why, sometimes, you seem to want it to linger.

More perfect union

My cranky take on Obama’s "Perfect Union" speech can be read here.

The short of it is that Obama is Lincolnesque only if you overlook his failure to mention the Declaration of Independence, his rather cursory attention to Constitutional limits, and his playing the "mystic chords" of class warfare.

Update: Our friend Jon Schaff comes to many of the same conclusions, pointing to the apple of gold framed in the picture of silver.

Obama’s "More Perfect Union"

My prediction regarding Obama’s speech pretty much came to pass. He used the historic location of Philadelphia not only to praise our nation’s ideals and call attention to their inconsistent practice, but also to reveal the ways in which black Americans, in particular, regard this “gap” between “promise” and “reality” a troublesome feature of the American polity. In addition, he used this discussion as the touchstone for his nimble criticism and defense of his “former pastor,” as well as jump-starting what he hoped would be a national conversation about race in America.


While he did not go so far as to quote Bill Clinton’s 1st Inaugural Address (“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America”), as I anticipated Obama did approximate the sentiment by stating that “the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution . . . [with] the ideal of equal citizenship under the law.” He one-upped the former president by addressing the question of race in America with all the candor, sophistication, and grace that was lacking from Clinton’s town hall meetings on the subject. As misguided as I believe Obama’s actual policies would be (on race and other issues), his speech landed between a "Sister Souljah moment" and Martin Luther’s King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, coming closer to the latter than the former in its high-minded appreciation of America’s noblest principles and its clear-sighted recognition of America’s inconsistent practices.


There’s a lot to comment on in his 43-minute speech, but I will close with two more observations (for now, as I am sure to hear soon enough about what I missed or got wrong). First, leaving aside his bold, nuanced criticism/defense of the Rev. Wright, here is a cynic’s schematic of the partisan message of Obama’s speech:


To solve America’s “monumental problems,” Americans need UNITY.


To become unified, Americans need to CHANGE politics as usual.


To change our politics, Americans need to follow someone who not only believes in a different way of doing things, but also literally embodies the UNITY and CHANGE the country needs.


Ecce homo: Barack Obama.


I hasten to add that it was not just a partisan speech, and not simply because Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics. To miss the non-partisan elements of his speech is to miss an opportunity to learn what Republicans in particular must learn in order to improve their prospects among black Americans. As Aretha Franklin put it, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” We can “find out what it means” to them by beginning with Obama’s rendering of the black church and the black American experience as a heritage that entails “embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of the past.” Well put; now discuss.


My second observation: The underlying question for candidate Obama is, what is the basis of American union? How would he lead so that the diversity of the American people becomes a unity that strengthens rather than a division that weakens us? The Party of Lincoln believes the central idea of American union is human equality, understood as the equal possession of the rights of humanity (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), whereby government exists to secure or protect the exercise of these God-given, natural rights.


As far as I can make out, the Democrats believe the American union is not the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, as Obama preaches in true e pluribus unum fashion, but merely a coalition of supplicant interests beholden to a national government. The notion of a common good that Democrats tout is less about the prosperity of a free, industrious, and self-governing people and more about a common condition of want, desperation, and disability. Does Obama recognize that the self-help gospel practiced by Obama and preached by the Rev. Wright would be undermined by the very policies he, as a Democrat, recommends?

Obama’s Progressivise Statesmanship?

Peter. All good points. In my post below, I should have started by saying that Obama gave quite a speech. It was eloquent, and it was refreshing to see a man of the Left ground his thoughts in America’s constitutional tradition, and to hear him appeal to basic American principles.

That’s all to the good. Perhaps he can help improve America’s race problem. On that point, that’s why distancing himself from Rev. Wright might be a bad idea. Wright’s ideas, as far as I can tell, are mainstream in black America. A man who wishes to bring America’s black community closer to the America’s mainstream might have to keep his connections with men like Wright for that reason. That is particularly true for someone who is half-African an half white, (and an Ivy Leaguer) rather than African-American.

On the other hand, Obama seems to think that America’s principles are the principles of Progressivism. The second half of the speech is, at heart, socialistic. I don’t think that circle can be squared. But on the other hand, he does make nods to the importance of self-help. Once again, perhaps he needs to talk that way to bring the Old Lefties along, and to help us move from a welfare state to an oppotunity society. (Obama’s voting record makes me think twice about that interpretation, but it is plausible).

The great question for America’s conservatives today seems to be this: now that we’re three-quarters of a century past the start of the New Deal, our tradition is a big-government tradition. That tradition rests in precarious tension with the principles of the founding. That being the case, statesmanship is a tall order.

I suspect that Obama’s policy bias it toward centralized solutions, decided by smart, Ivy League types in Washington, just as it was for the Progressives. That’s tied to his "unity" theme. Last night on TV, Frank Luntz highlighted his phrase: "Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive." The phrase suggests that Wright’s divisiveness is his greatest sin. It’s worse than his "wrong."

From that turn of phrase, combined with other things, I have grown to suepct that Obama does not appreciates the connection between the egalitarian principles upon which our constitutional union was built, and the checks and balances that are essential to its constitutional architecture. He wants simple unity, not a balance of forces. His belief he can sit down with any world leader and work things out appears to be the same principle, applied to foreign affairs.

Random Observation

1. Obama is a progressivist in the sense that the history of our country is progress toward full implementation of the Constitution’s egalitarian principles. He didn’t say anything, though, that would suggest he beleives that the principles themselves progress. At the level of principle, he might be called an originalist.

2. An evangelical, Joe Carter, judged Obama to be a heretic. That same way of judging might conclude American Protestanism has been rife with soft forms of liberationist heresy, I will admit. I will add that African-American theology, from the beginning, was about both otherworldly and this-worldly liberation. But Rev. Wright’s church’s theology of liberation is far from soft and very one-dimensional.

3. Although I remain almost as impressed with Obama’s distancing speech as David Tucker and Steve Thomas, Rev. Wright will continue to be a problem for Barack, one that may send waffling evangelical and orthodox Christians back to McCain. It seems to me that it would really help McCain to put an evangelical (and I don’t mean Huck at this point) on the ticket. Right now, I’m sensing that many evangelicals don’t regard the choice between a theologian of liberation and a Zeussian as very appealing. A candidate’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in voting, unless that religion makes insistent political claims.

4. I’m still virtually certain that the Democrats won’t be able to deny Obama the nomination. Nonetheless, as Peter S. pointed out, Hillary’s lead is lengthening in PA, and the most recent study has her tied in NC. The combination of a Hillary landslide in PA and a victory in NC could throw the party into genuine turmoil.

5. Both sides in the Second Amendment case before the Court are talking originalism. But it’s sometimes hard to know what originalism is. Randy Barnett--the one doing the most celebrating about it being so back in fashion--thinks that a true originalist would regard both LOCHNER and ROE as rightly decided. Some so-called originalists are big-time, promiscuous judicial activists. But surely the original constitutional view included a much more modest place for judicial view than almost everybody today (well, not Scalia and the Scalia-ites) thinks.

Reactions to Obama’s Speech

Reading the posts and comments about Obama’s speech, it strikes me that, except for Steve Hayward’s and Peter Lawler’s, they seem fussy and doctrinaire: Obama confused the Declaration and the Constitution (thank God, is all I can say, considering the alternatives—Steve is right about this); he got a date wrong by a few months; he’s a Progressive; his thought is un-American. Obama’s understanding of the need to perfect the constitution is sound. The answer to the slavery issue was in the constitution because “equal citizenship under the law” is embedded in the constitution. As Steve pointed out, this understanding could be called Lincolnian. There is no claim that the truth unfolds over time or was inherently blighted by its compromise with slavery and so we need constantly to improve the constitution or start over. Obama also said that Blacks had to take responsibility for their own lives, so he did not simple-mindedly blame the “system” or whites for the problems of blacks. I was also glad that he did not cave into pressure to disown the Rev. Wright. It was enough to disown his views. Wright has helped him it seems and so to disown him personally would have been an act of ingratitude and so of injustice and to have done so under pressure a sign of cowardice. I suppose we will all have differences over various of his policy prescriptions. I think he is wrong to criticize free trade, for example.

With regard to religion, I must add that I think Peter is wrong to stigmatize Obama or the religious tradition of the Rev. Wright as heretical. Or rather, if this is heresy, then so is much if not most Protestantism in America, which has tended to confuse itself with the Messiah and has been political and often too political from the beginning.

The road to the Final Four

Here’s a nice piece about the Oglethorpe women’s basketball team and its one-of-a-kind coach, who likes blue highways.

That Old Black Magic

Kathleen Parker thinks Obama is a magician. He was almost able to convince her to wear sunglasses in the moonlight. He tried to cast a very subtle and seductive guilt spell yesterday, and for many Americans, it may have worked.

But if Rev. Wright is to be viewed as the crazy old uncle, I’d like to compare Obama to the Magician’s Nephew from the first (if read in the order he intended) of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In that story, the nephew means well. He wants to distance himself from his evil magician uncle. But the boy can’t help but be intrigued by the opportunity the magician offers. He wants to heal his ailing mother. His curiosity and his audacious hopefulness get the better of him and, in a hostile world, he touches a forbidden bell the sound of which unleashes a good deal of evil. If Obama really was a post-racial candidate, the speech he ought to have given yesterday would NOT have been about race. It would have been about his religion or the philosophy that informs his religion. Oh wait . . . it was. That’s why it was about race. But it was cleverly couched in a narrative we all might feel comfortable in swallowing. His attempt was to make the un-American seem American--though I am willing consider that he does not understand himself to be at odds with America’s founding principles. Whether he understands it or not, however, he will re-define what it means to be an American by insisting that the fulfillment of America’s promise means accepting a progressive agenda completely at odds with any fair reading of the meaning of liberty or equality. Like the magician’s nephew . . . he stepped in it. It will be up to others now to fix it.

Well, Whaddyaknow?

I guess this was inevitable: Turns out there is a symmetrical blog to NLT: NoRightTurn.

Should we get together for a convention? Maybe they need to start the Koorbhsa Center (at Antioch College, no less. Oh wait. . .)

CORRECTION (sort of): Turns out this is a site in New Zealand. Now, in New Zealand, the right-leaning, free market, limited government party is the Liberal Party. Which means that, as was the case in the Soviet Union where "conservative" meant you were a Stalinist, in the New Zealand context, No Right Turn might actually mean don’t turn to socialism. Which would make the site our mirror image, not our ideological symmetrical image.

On closer inspection, the answer turns out to be. . . No.

Can you tell I’m taking the day off from my regular work?

Subprime Mortgage Meltdown Explained

As so often is the case, a cartoonist offers the most lucid explanation of how the subprime mortgage debacle occurred.

More on Originalism

Randy Barnett has this to say over at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Significantly, then, both sides in Heller are making only originalist arguments. The challengers of the law contend that the original meaning of the Second Amendment protects an individual “right to keep and bear arms” that “shall not be abridged.” In response, the District does not contend that this right is outmoded and that the Second Amendment should now be reinterpreted in light of changing social conditions. Not at all. It contends instead that, because the original intentions of the framers of the Second Amendment was to protect the continued existence of “a well regulated militia,” the right it protects was limited to the militia context.

So one thing is certain. Whoever prevails, Heller will be an originalist decision. This shows that originalism remains the proper method of identifying the meaning of the Constitution. Heller reveals that today’s debate over originalism is really about whether old nonoriginalist Supreme Court decisions should supercede the Constitution’s original meaning when doing so leads to results that nonoriginalists like better.

We’re All Originalists Now

Nixon famously said in 1971, "We’re all Keynesians now," and as I listened in C-SPAN radio yesterday to the oral argument in the DC gun control case at the Supreme Court, it struck me that even the liberals on the Court are all "originalists" now. I can’t remember a recent Court argument where the intent of the Founders, and the role of Blackstone, the English Bill of Rights, and the intent and understanding of Madison and the Founders in writing the Bill of Rights, was so central to the argument. The liberals struggled mightily to find an originalist ground to preserve some space for government to regulate handguns, but seemed to me trying to make water run uphill. To me this represents a broad triumph of the cause of originalism, even if we’re still far from restoring an older jurisprudence of natural rights.

Now, of course, Nixon declared himself a Keynesian just before the doctrine began its last gasps, and, with one or two Obama/Hillary appointments, the "organic" and un-originalist Constitution could be back in business big time. But for now we should slap around some liberals on this.

Senator Obama’s Problem . . .

When he was a young man, he got Wright with God.

Pennsylvania

Rep. Murtha endorses Sen. Clinton. The latest poll shows Clinton ahead in PA by 26 points: "Clinton even appears to be making in roads among black voters in the state. She trails
just 63-27 with that group, which Obama has tended to get over 80% of the vote from in
key primary states so far. She has a 40 point lead, 63-23, with white voters."

Homeschoolers and the law in the Golden State

Is the title of my essay over on the First Things site.

Update: An attorney writes in response to my essay (I omit the honey that precedes the wormwood):

. You follow your quotation of the relevant statutes establishing the alternatives available to California parents to public schooling with the interpretation of those statutes in Turner, concluding that "[t]he clever and creative interpretation of the law that makes every home potentially a private school has no clear foundation in legislative intent." This begs the question, by assuming that Turner correctly interpreted the statutes, of what the statutes actually say. (By the way, do legislatures have intentions? They always struck me as being a more or less incoherent collections of interests with manifold purposes playing out in their every act. I might go so far as to observe that in the circles in which I move, we usually call judges who believe they are competent to divine "legislative intent" "liberal judicial activists".) Is it impossible that the distinction between the alternatives offered in the statutes does not turn on home vs. private school instruction
(I have searched in vain for any reference to home-based education in the credentialed tutor option), but rather on "full-time day school" vs. "study and recitation for at least three hours a day"? Let us not forget that California’s largest city was historically something of a company town, the industry centered therein being one of the few in the country that makes some considerable use of child-labor, necessitating education practices that accomodate that labor. As a homeschooler yourself, I am sure you are aware that the nature of homeschooling does not always readily lend itself to the hours and days parameters of classroom schooling (some would contend that this is one of its advantages). Nevertheless, hours and days requirements (usually calibrated to public school requirements) are quite common in state homeschooling statutes, though I cannot recall any that would allow a mere three hours beyond the earliest years of primary schooling (forgive me, I do not have my
statutes at hand). Might the credentialed teacher (as opposed to the person "capable of teaching") requirement of this alternative be directed at balancing the "full-time" and three hour a day options? (Perhaps I am wrong and the California statutes offer an incompatible definition of "private full-time day school". If not, I wonder what makes such a school: how many students must such a school have? is one enough? is it the parent-student relationship that is the problem? is that cured if I also teach my neighbor’s child music while my neighbor teaches my child mathematics?)


2. With all due respect to Justice White, his dicta in Board of Education v. Allen does not amount to res judicata. I do not believe the Supreme Court has delivered an opinion on homeschooling (other than Yoder, of course, which is really about free exercise of religion). Troxel v. Granville’s finding of a fundamental constitutional right of parents to rear their children, read together with Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the near universal (before the California court’s decision, I believe I could say simply universal) acceptance by the states of homeschooling, may be instructive. At the very least it challenges the notion that a private school adminitrator’s economic motivation is a more valid foundation of a child’s best interests than is parental attachment. That liberal judicial activist, Justice Thomas, I believe correctly identifies the test for restrictions on fundamental constitutional rights in his concurrence in Troxel -- compelling governmental interest ac
hieved by a narrowly tailored law or policy that is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. The education of minors is, without question, a compelling governmental interest; can a ban on home education (or even a restriction to home education by credentialed tutors) meet the tests of a narrowly tailored law or policy that is the least restrictive means necessary to achieve that interest? Forty-nine states (recently fifty), including approximately thirty by specific statute, seem content with less restrictive means.

The short of my response to his first point is that even if you don’t accept the notion of legislative intent, the plain meaning of the word "school" surely didn’t, at the time the legislation was adopted, mean the home.

With respect to the second point, I’m someone who appreciates (in both senses of the word) the difficulty that school authorities have in regulating homeschoolers. Conceding that the education of our children is a compelling state interest, I would as a judge defer to a legislature’s determination that this difficulty required a relatively restrictive homeschooling law. As a legislator or advocate, I’d argue against such a law. I’d cite this decision to bolster the case that the rights of parents should be given a great deal of respect, but I’d still make the argument that giving parents a relatively free rein produces results with which the republic ought to be content, both with respect to citizenship (including, by the way, the appreciation of diversity) and with respect to preparedness for a productive working life.

Quote for the Day

"Always be sincere. . . whether you mean it or not."--Flanders and Swan

Studies Confirm What You’ve Always Suspected

Studies show that liberals are messier than conservatives, and my office is much messier than that of some complacently liberal NEWSWEEK summarizer of studies. Because I’m so emotionally self-confident, I have no need for order or structure in my environment and barely any in my life. You won’t find any cleaning supplies or calendars in my bedroom. If I have any residual conservative inclinations, they may flow from my strange intolerance for tatoos and foreign travel.

What’s Really Wrong with Obama’s Church

...is explained by our friend Joe Carter. No, it’s not the rantings of a rogue pastor. The very mission of the church is to reconfigure the key ideas of Christian theology--such as salvation and reconcliation--into nothing more than a message of radical political liberation. However effectively Barack might mute that message or even domesticate it in terms of an aspirational Constitution (or Declaration), from an evangelical or orthodox view he remains much more heterodox or heretical than, say, a Mormon. The objection Joe raises to Barack is religious or Christian and not necessarily a criticism of his particular political views. But it does explain why Obama might literarlly confuse himself with the Messiah.

Hope Springs Eternal

Julie and Joe cover most of my reaction to Obama’s speech, but I’ll add two things.

One small point. Didn’t anyone fact-check the speech before it was released? In the first paragraph, Obama says this of the Constitutional Convention: "Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787." That’s when the convention began. It ended in September, 1787. Admittedly, a small point. But perhaps it suggests something about Obama. Like most Progressives, he’s better at understanding what he takes to be the goal of the constitution than its content.


More importantly, Obama seems to be trying to take the understanding of citizenship that is implicit in the constitution (at least as I read it), and combine it with the social gospel. In short, he wants the universality that is only possible in a limited government that covers an expansive territory, and the type of community and governmental responsibility that can only be had in a small republic.

Obama here takes an old line, one which is hard to reconcile with the very constitution that Obmama is claiming to support. That being the case, perhaps we should recall the wisdom of our friend Mr. Madison in Federalist 10:

"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property"

Or, in the words of my namesake, John Adams: “Divided we ever have been, and ever must be.”

I fear that the kind of unity that Obama seeks is not the unity of citizens supporting liberty, but that of tyrants managing our lives for us. I hope that I am mistaken because I fear that many Americans no longer know the difference.

Obama speech

I watched the speech this morning right before we hopped in the car and drove home from the grandparental abode. Aside from the fact that his dilatoriness and verbosity delayed our departure, my focus group (my dad, my mom, a nephew, his girlfriend, my wife, and kids) wasn’t impressed. Of course, I didn’t expect them to be, as they’re for the most part not exactly swing voters.

My first blush reactions (recalling them after a mind-numbing ride on the interstate) were that (1) he began by confusing the Declaration and the Constitution; (2) his "perfect union" is much less modest than that of the Founders, which isn’t surprising, of course; (3) for those who had read or heard lots of his speeches, there was quite a bit of recycling, with not much genuinely new; (4) he understands everyone’s anger, but only seems to blame conservative politicians and talk radio hosts for exploiting it; (5) the policy proposals are familiar, but he wants those who object to them to seem somehow crabbed and backward-looking; (6) the speech was quite self-referential in a way I found off-putting; and (7) his limited praise for conservative "Cosbyism" is undercut by the ways in which he continues to wish to apportion lots of blame for the plight of poor blacks on things like education (which has been massively funded by all levels of government since the 60s and which has been controlled in urban school districts by leaders elected by African-American majorities for almost that long).

I’ll have more to say when I can read and think about the speech at my leisure. My preliminary bottom line is that he probably won’t lose too many more Democratic voters over his relationship with Rev. Wright (barring any new bombshells), but that this speech doesn’t help him much with the rest of the electorate. It’s not, I think, a pivotal moment in his campaign.

The Wrong Conclusions

The best link for the Obama speech is here because you can both read and hear it. This bears doing--probably more than once. I will also have more to say about it later but, for now, let me say that it reminds me of a story Lincoln like to tell (and one that our own, Peter Schramm often re-tells) about a little boy who reported to his father that he saw his older brother run off to the barn with a neighbor girl and that they were taking off their clothes and were about to pee in the hay. The father explained to his young son that he had gotten the facts right, but that he had come to the wrong conclusions. In some respects, this can be said of Obama’s speech though--obviously--he did it with much more grace and less naivete than the mistaken boy of Lincoln’s story.

Also, Joe K. is right to point out that Obama places the blame for everyone’s anger (white and black) right on the doorstep of conservatives. This seems to be a cynical application of his principles--and yet, I detected no sense of guile in his remarks. They seem heartfelt--and I’m not sure which is worse. He admits no possibility, for example, of a black conservative. Such a man must, in his universe, suffer from a false sense of consciousness. Are we all just a product of our respective experiences? He seems to want to transcend them, but he also embraces them . . . all of them . . . as one embraces an embarrassing relative (or preacher friend). In understanding the anger that comes from all of those respective experiences, must we also excuse it? Can we move beyond the anger or must we marinate in it and come out with a flavor--similar to Rev. Wright’s--and then demand that people "understand" where we’re coming from? Is Obama the only man running qualified to be President because of his mixed-race background? He’s the only guy who can understand and be above all that anger? Where is the path out for the rest of us? He seems to sing a siren song . . . only Obama can absolve us from our guilt. In that sense, he descends from his higher aspirations in the beginning of the speech to a place that is far more ordinary and pedestrian and--oddly--racist. If you are at all thoughtful, it must disappoint.

As for his more pedestrian policy proposals . . . all of that is just the virus of progressivism. And that probably also explains why he’s focused on the "more perfect" Union of the Constitution instead of talking about the proposition in the Declaration. Obama’s "more perfect" Union is to be judged by an ever evolving standard of perfection. The Declaration rather limits it. Today’s liberals can’t embrace it.

Random Observations

1. I can’t believe how good Obama’s speech was. The Constitution perfecting itself over time is the perfect idea for his post-racist (that’s not really post-racist) candidacy. The Wright stuff has caused him to shine, and "God damn America" has morphed into invoking God’s judgment as a way of motivating us toward civic perfection, of dedicating us as a people under God to working on behalf of a biblical proposition. And Obama seems to have been the primary author of his own speech. I’m still not for him, but I hope we’re all over misunderestimating him. His critics will blame him for not repudiating Wright, but of course he couldn’t do that. He had no choice but to spin him, and he did.

2. Poor Hillary. The poll in the USA TODAY reminds us how high her negatives are in almost every area but problem-solving or competence. Americans seem to admire Obama and McCain highly and almost equally.

3. Nobody cares that Florida ain’t voting again, because nobody really believes that the result would affect the outcome of the convention.

Modern and American Dignity

Here’s the link to my chapter in the dignity volume issued by the Bioethics Council. And clicking will send you to free and immediately accessible versions of all the chapters.

What’s Wrong With Reverend Wright?

As this is a political year, it is understandable that many of us are caught up in the political implications of Senator Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright.

But there is another issue here. Wright shows us that there are indeed two Americas. One America that believes that America is fundamentally good, albeit flawed, and another that believes that America is basically bad, and needs wholesale change in order to become good. Mrs. Obama seems to share that view.

The Wright controversey, along with the polling data which shows the great differences between blacks and whites in America about such things as the origin of AIDS, the guilt of O.J. Simpson, and other things, that many black citizens of America live in a parallel culture.

For quite some time liberal whites have pushed affirmative action and other such remedies. But these have only reinforced the separation of the races by making race the first question whites ask when they interview a man for a job or for admission to college. Meanwhile, conservatives, disliking these programs, have hoped that the problem would die of its own weight. It has not done so.

Some of the support of Senator Obama has come from his ability to suggest that he wishes to end that racial separation. The trouble is he needs to bring the black community along with him. That won’t be an easy task.

Perhaps the Wright controversy should remind us all that race is still a real problem in America. The only solution seems to be to attack the idea of race in America (an idea that has become important to the black community, no less than if formerly had been to the white) and move to a nation in which categorization by race is regarded as absurd. There are many entrenched interests who will fight that tooth and nail. But there probably is no other solution.

Obama First Reacts

I missed Obama’s speech--I’m just finishing a conference in Indiana on (snore, snore) climate change--and now I have to dash to the airport to increase my carbon footprint, but from the brief news accounts just out it seems to me that Obama hit a home run. This comment in particular stands out:

"The answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution -- a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time."

This is not too far removed from Lincoln’s language in his speech attacking the Dred Scott decision. This contrasts rather sharply with Thurgood Marshall’s deprecations of the Constitution in the 1980s, when he said he wouldn’t celebrate the Constitution’s bicentennial because, as a black, it wasn’t his Constitution, or Jesse Jackson, who got the meaning of the three-fifths clause exactly backwards.

We’ll want to read the whole thing, of course, and especially watch for the reaction among blacks who have been fed the Marshall-Jackson line for along time now. Perhaps Obama can get them to change course at long last.

Jeremiah Wright’s Jeremiads

Historian Ralph Luker, last seen here, defends Rev. Wright. A snippet:

But Wright’s and Obama’s critics are too far removed from biblical study to recognize that Wright is following in the footpath of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, whose oracles interpreted the sufferings of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as punishment for their failure to live up to their covenant with God. To be in covenant with God, to be "under God," is to be blessed by the divine when we are faithful. But woe be us, the prophet Micah said, when we have failed "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."

Fair enough, but the biblical Jeremiah criticized his own people and called them to account before God. The new Jeremiah seems to regard the America he criticizes as "the Other" (didn’t he once refer to the United States of White America, or am I mistaken?) and to present the people to whom he ministers as victims. I realize that the clips have been cherry-picked, but I’d love to see evidence that Rev. Wright made his listeners uncomfortable about their own behavior, about their own responsibility for their plight. (My preacher does that all the time.) I’m not arguing that Rev. Wright’s preaching should consist entirely of a series of Cosby moments, but talk from the pupit about the faults of others shouldn’t exclude talk about one’s own responsibilities. I’d find Rev. Wright’s prophetic witness less offensive if there’s an admixture of self-criticism. Needless to say, it would also be less offensive if there were more than occasional references to America’s promise.

My second thought has to do with the "Historians for Obama" statement, which is remarkably free from any reference to race. There is this, however:

Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness - or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself.

Dr. Luker and his colleagues ought to hold Obama to this high standard, rather than let him off the hook here.

The Obama Bargain

While we await Obama’s speech on race, religion and politics today--sure the make-or-break moment of his campaign, more crucial to his chances than JFK’s speech on his Catholic faith in Dallas in 1960--don’t miss Shelby Steele’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Sample:

How to turn one’s blackness to advantage? The answer is that one "bargains." Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America’s history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer’s race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist.

Obama has a very tiny needle to thread with today’s speech.

Everyone’s Irish Today . . .

. . . mainly because our Irish have become such good Americans. This is the argument persuasively made by Michael Medved in this thoughtful piece celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Medved makes a very good case but then . . . there’s also green beer and good cheer. But, of course, good marketing is also very, very American.

The Black and The White

I am especially pressed today, so I am going to withold any lengthy (or especially thoughtful, ha ha) comments on this unnecessarily long Dan Balz piece in today’s WaPo on how white men are the critical vote. The point is that it is worth reading on many levels. It certainly has to do with the end-game of the Obama-Clinton race, as well as the Pennsylvania vote. If things weren’t complicated enough, Obama’s spiritual mentor, and his seeming anti-Americanism is now fully visible, and Obama will have to address it head-on, which he apparently will tomorrow. Much to contemplate here, and actions with large consequences.

STDs and the Teenage Girl

Because I’ve been reading this book and I’ve already read this book and because I’ve been paying attention to the shift in social mores during the last two decades, I was not shocked to learn last week that--according to the CDC--25% of American teenage girls carry at least one STD. Of course, this means that some of them carry more than one! But I’m not shocked by that either. I’m appalled by it, but not shocked. Given the state of our popular culture, the lack of discipline in our schools, the state of sexual education, and above all the clueless-ness of parents, I’m actually shocked that the number is still so low. When 80% of unmarried young girls are sexually active before the age of twenty, I don’t expect the number to remain at 25% in the coming decades. No wonder there is such a push for vaccines to save us from ourselves. At some point, it becomes very hard to see any room for reason to intervene.

Today, Dr. Miriam Grossman has a column discussing the contribution to the problem that comes from our misguided efforts in the area of sexual education. As always, her points are very measured and reasonable. She’s not unaware of this, but this article only addresses one front in this war. And it’s not even the most important one.

I said that I was not shocked by this news, but I am shocked by the shock of so many people I know in my life apart from the political/academic world. Primarily, I am shocked by the reaction of other mothers around my age. It is as if they really believed that time stood still in the late 80s and things now are no worse than they were then. I think this may be because the pop culture message of Madonna does not differ substantially from that of Britney Spears. She’s ratcheted it up a few notches, but that’s what kids do, isn’t it? We all listened to Madonna, imitated her dress (to the extent that our parents would allow it), got into one form of trouble or another and then, came out on the other side of it pretty sane. We know there were some among us who picked up a nasty disease and there were some who really ruined their lives. But these were the outliers. It certainly wasn’t 25% of us.

Why should we think it will be any different for our daughters? People always say young people are going to hell in a handbasket. Elvis shocked our grandparents or our great-grandparents. If we’re shocked by today’s kids, we’re just old fogies . . . right? The thing we’re forgetting is . . . two decades have lapsed. That’s a long time for decency to be defined down. Moms who grew up wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes along with "Boy Toy" belt buckles and singing "Like a Virgin" (which actually is all about emphatically NOT being like a virgin), may be shocked to find how quaint that all seems to today’s younger generation. Today it’s the virgins who lie about their status . . . not the opposite. Today’s song would be "Like a Slut" and there would be no sweet or enticing melody to it. These kids have never known anything but exhortations to be "sexy." Think of what they’ve got to do to shock parents who dressed like Madonna as teenagers! If we had to emulate Madonna in order to shock parents who grew up with Woodstock . . . well, what did you expect?

People who say it’s "all how you are raised" are wrong about the "all" part but they’re more correct than not. The trouble is that so many of us have abandoned the responsibility of raising sensible teenagers because we have listened to the siren song of those who also tell us that we shouldn’t get too excited over their antics. Kids will be kids. Yes, but that should be what we tell ourselves so as not to get discouraged as we try to teach them how to be adults. It’s not an excuse for not putting in the effort.

A Very Sobering Study

...one by the WALL STREET JOURNAL/NBC NEWS. It shows the huge advantage the Democrats now hold over the Republicans in public opinion, the negative orientation of voters in general, and almost incredibly pervasive contempt for the president and his poicies. Good news: Both Clintons have very high negatives, and McCain remains competitive with both Hillary and Obama. Mac, unlike anything or anybody else Republican, is viewed more positively and negatively.
This study confirms the view that Mac is probably the Republicans strongest possible candidate, precisely because he has distanced himself from both the president and the party establishment. A majority of Republicans, though, do wish that somebody else was going to be their party’s nominee.

The God Damn America Issue

Mark Steyn summarizes the evidence of the close--if selective--real and rhetorical connection between Obama and Rev. Wright. African-American churches have, with various degrees of intensity and imagination, developed "alternative narratives" of American history and all that. Some, of course, are genuinely instructive corrections to what we think we know, and others are willful and sometimes hateful distortions. Wright obviously tends toward the latter extreme; "God damn America" are the words of a hate-filled extremist. McCain has done well not to push this connection and or even imply that Obama can be identified with his pastor’s views. And this issue won’t hurt Obama in the quest for the Democratic nomination. In the short term, voters will want to believe his distancing denials. But there is something potentially very explosive here, and it will test the statesmanship of both senator-candidates.

Final Four, Baybee!

Last night, the Oglethorpe women’s basketball team beat #21 William Smith. Tonight, they made it four in a row in the NCAA D3 tournament, knocking off #11 Kean University, 98-86, on its home court. Friday, they were led by Katie Kulavic’s 23 points on 10-14 shooting, this evening by Anna Findley’s 44 points (including 8 of 10 from 3-point range). They travel next to Holland, Michigan, to join a field that already includes #4 Messiah College and will feature the winners of two highly competitive games (#1 Hope vs. #2 Howard Payne, and #6 DePauw, the defending national champs vs. #8 Wisconsin-Whitewater).

Oglethorpe has profited this season from a number of things--above all, five starters who have played together for three years, an excellent coach, and the experience of playing the defending national champs three times (twice during the regular season and then for the conference championship; the lost all three times, but twice by only two points).

I’ll be on tenterhooks all next weekend.

Update: Here’s a generous story from the Kean website, and you can read its Oglethorpe counterpart here. Howard Payne (with whose President I had the pleasure of working a few weeks ago) and Wisconsin-Whitewater join Oglethorpe and Messiah in the D3 Final Four. The Stormy Petrels (the first "e" is long only on our campus) are the Cinderellas here.

Obama’s Good Judgment?

Let me praise David Tucker for his boldly unfashionable pro-Obama for commander-in-chief post below. Basically, he says that Barack and Mac aren’t so different, really, except that the Senator from Illinois has exercised better judgment and is more open to multilateralism as a problem-solving method. I don’t really think David is anywhere near right, but I do think that’s the approach Obama should take to his campaign. Most Americans at this point regard the invasion of Iraq as a mistake (and so are readily seduced by Obama’s bragging about his prescience) and are a little concerned, at least, that McCain’s posture toward Iraq might be unrealistically bellicose.

But Pete Wehner, writing in COMMENTARY, explains that Barack’s view of the war has vacillated widely if not quite wildly over the years. It, for a good while, differed very little, as Obama himself admitted, from that of President Bush. And Pete has considerable evidence to back up his claim that Obama’s CHANGING view can be best explained not by his statesmanlike judgment but his calculations
concerning how the political wind was blowing at any particular moment.

Helicopter Ben and the Recession

I realize that "Helicopter Ben and the Recession" sounds like a Wall Street rock band, but I mean to raise a serious point.

In some ways, I wonder if our economy is witnessing a rerun of the 1970s. In the 1970s, the economy did what Keynsian theory said should not happen. We experienced stagflation--both inflation and slow growth. There was no trade off between inflation and growth.

Monetarists suggest that deflation and inflation are strictly monetary phenomena. Printing more or less money will cure them. Hence Chairman Bernanke earned the nickname "Helicopter Ben" for quoting Milton Friedman to the effect that one could fight deflation by dropping money from a helicopter.

But now we seem to have both a credit crunch and inflation at the same time. How can we both secure the value of the dollar and, at the same time, stave off what appears to be a decline in dollars in circulation? This is not to say that our best monetary theorist don’t have a reasonable explanation for what’s happening. I’m sure they do. Perhaps it has to do with the collapse of the domestic real estate market, and real estate securities, combined with the price of commodities, such as oil, purchased from abroad (and the rising prise of corn, due to ethanol). But that does not change the problem at hand.

Bernanke seems to be quite concerned, legitimately so, with the health of our credit system. He is dropping dollars in order to release the credit squeeze. When bubbles burst, the system needs cash. That seems to be historically true. It might be true that that problem has to be dealt with first. At the same time, that might only make it that much harder to get inflation back under control. But in life there are often tragic choices.

Economics is not my field, and in that sense, perhaps I ought not to be raising the issue. On the other hand, I do study general human things. And this would not be the first time that an imprtant and useful theory worked well until the one thing it presumed would not happen took it down.

I raise this issue not because I’m sure it’s what is going on, but because I’m curious about it. In the Socratic fashion, I would be grateful for any correction that might bring my understanding closer to truth.

Pastor Wright? Who?

Obama has come out strong condemning the worst of Rev. Wright’s inflammatory statements, on the HuffingtonPost, no less. But will he say the same thing on BET? (But doesn’t BET’s owner support Hillary?--Ed. Yes, good point. . . Hmm, this could get even more interesting.)

Obama is caught on the tip of a wedge between two Democratic core constituencies: black voters who, prepped by Jesse Jackson 25 years ago, believe a lot of this noxious message, and guilty white liberals who, at the end of the day, aren’t that guilty--at least not when winning the election is at stake. What was that great line in Phil Oakes classic tune "Love Me I’m A Liberal"? I think it went, ". . . as long as they don’t move next door."

I think Hillary’s chances are improving.

For This . . . I’m Tempted to Get Cable

This mini-series (to begin this Sunday on HBO) causes me, for the first time in more than a decade, to wish I had cable. The John Adams mini-series looks terrific and is getting great praise from Michael Medved and--what’s more--from David McCullough who, of course, wrote the excellent book upon which it is based. That book, I notice, is now re-released with a cover to reflect its association with the series. I prefer the old cover with the real John Adams and not Paul Giamatti on the front . . . but if Giamatti (and producer, Tom Hanks) get more people to read this important biography, so much the better.

Spitzer: changing the subject

The distinguished moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum tries to change the subject in this op-ed. Here’s her opening:

Eliot Spitzer, one of the nation’s most gifted and dedicated politicians, was hounded into resignation by a Puritanism and mean-spiritedness that are quintessentially American.


My European colleagues (I write from an academic conference in Belgium) have a hard time understanding what happened, but they know that it is one of those things that could only happen in America, where the topic of sex drives otherwise reasonable people insane. In Germany and the Netherlands, prostitution is legal and regulated by public health authorities. A man who did what Spitzer did would have a lot to discuss with his wife and family, but he would have broken no laws, and it would be laughable to accuse him of a betrayal of the public trust. This is as it should be. If Spitzer broke any laws, they were bad laws, laws that should never have existed.

A little later, she offers us this nugget of wisdom, comparing prostitutes and professors (indicating thereby a low view of both the mind and the body):

Professors, factory workers, opera singers, sex workers, doctors, legislators — all do things with parts of their bodies for which others offer them a fee. Some people get good wages and some do not; some have a relatively high degree of control over their working conditions and some have little control; some have many employment options and some have very few. And some are socially stigmatized and some are not. However, the difference between the sex worker and the professor — who takes money for the use of a particularly intimate part of her body, namely her mind — is not the difference between a "good woman" and a "bad woman." It is, usually, the difference between a prosperous well-educated woman and a poor woman with few employment options.

It’s true that I shouldn’t sell my thoughts to the highest bidder, saying (or writing) what I think people want to hear in order to make a buck. But my mind, and the capacity it embodies (reason) is meant to be public, meant to enable me to join a community. Nussbaum, who has written ad infinitum (or is it ad nauseum?) on cosmopolitanism (especially its ancient roots in Stoicism) is aware of this. Expressing her nature, one might say, she doesn’t keep her thoughts to herself. She’s trying to arrange a meeting of the minds. I might disagree with her on some counts, but I surely don’t think that I could offer her enough money--any sum of money--to change her mind.

Which brings me to her argument about prostitution. For her, it’s just another way of earning a living. We all do what we can. If we were truly enlightened, if we got over our "quintessentially American" mean-spirited Puritanism (well, at least she didn’t call it Talibanism; I’ll give her that), we’d recognize that our sexual organs are just another part of our body, to be used as we see fit, according to our "values." No natural teleology here. Everything’s exploitable for any end, so long as the partners consent. But, on this view, why should consent matter? What is it that makes us so worthy of respect that our consent should be required?

I suppose also that Nussbaum’s observation that Spitzer might have "a lot to discuss with his wife and family" has to do with the matter of consent (about which, at the moment, she probably knows nothing) rather than about the way he regarded his bodily parts and those of the women with whom he engaged in transactions. Nussbaum presumes that this wasn’t O.K. with his wife and daughters. On what ground? Perhaps the ground that marriage, procreation, and child-rearing have ineluctably "teleological" elements that point to proper uses for our bodies. We don’t regard our spouses as sex workers, nor do we regard our children as potential sex workers. We would, I think regard anyone who held this opinion about his or her spouse and children as depraved. I don’t think Nussbaum is depraved. As evidence, I cite the fact that she believes that Spitzer "ought" to have an issue with his wife and daughters. But this, it seems to me, counts against her argument that prostitution is just another industry, that various parts of our bodies are just profit centers.

If that’s the only defense of Spitzer a smart woman like Nussbaum can come up with, then her side of the argument is in pretty sad shape.

One-stop shopping on Obama and religion

I put together a post with links to "documents," my essays, and blog posts here.

Prediction

By the time the political world is done pressing Obama on his ties to the radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he’s going to wish he was Muslim.

P.S. Does anyone really think the Clintons didn’t have anything to do with this story breaking into the MSM this week?

What Did the Times Know, and How Did It Know It?

There’s one little detail in today’s New York Times news story recounting how the Spitzer matter unfolded that seems to demand more explanation or detail. The story reports that journalists were curious at the high level federal profile, especially people from the public corruption unit, in the indictments handed down last week against the Emperor’s Club; reporters "were convinced that a significant public figure was involved as a client of the prostitution ring."

Two paragraphs later the Times blandly says, "By Friday, The Times was confident that the official was Mr. Spitzer."

Um, just how did the Times become "confident" of this? Did someone in DoJ or the FBI leak it to them? Did the Times call reliable DoJ sources of their own? Did they follow the supposed two-source rule to establish this confidence? Were they hoping it was a Republican who would be implicated when they started their fishing expedition? (The initial house editorial on the matter was decidedly wimpy.)

Just curious.

Airborne Laser Cannon

This explains, roughly, how the thing works. It can, for example, can melt a hole in a tank from five miles away and 10,000 feet up. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese are also working on it.

Brooks on Point

Classic David Brooks column today that puts the Eliot Spitzer matter in a broader context without ever mentioning Spitzer’s name (though much of what he says could apply to Bill Clinton, needless to say). It gets at the heart of something that has long fascinated and worried me--namely, the often shriveled souls of too many people in public life. I used to observe, living in Sacramento, perfectly nice people who would get elected to the state legislature, and then turn into egotistical jerks. I used to speculate that there was some kind of electronic booth in the basement of the capitol building that looked like an airport metal detector--I called it the "A**hole Booth"--where freshmen legislators would be made to pass through on their first day on the job. In especially egregious cases, I would remark, "He went through the booth twice!"

Brooks sample:

But then, gradually, some cruel cosmic joke gets played on them. They realize in middle age that their grandeur is not enough and that they are lonely. The ordinariness of their intimate lives is made more painful by the exhilaration of their public success. If they were used to limits in public life, maybe it would be easier to accept the everydayness of middle-aged passion. . .

I don’t know if you’ve seen a successful politician or business tycoon get drunk and make a pass at a woman. It’s like watching a St. Bernard try to French kiss. It’s all overbearing, slobbering, desperate wanting. There’s no self-control, no dignity.

These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they’ve been a walking Asperger’s Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant. Because of disuse, their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels.

This puts me in mind of one of my favorite passages from The Education of Henry Adams:

The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self; a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies; a diseased appetite, like a passion for strong drink or perverted tastes; one can scarcely use expressions too strong to describe the violence of egotism it stimulates."

I often find myself trying to convey to students that this kind of hazard is of equal important to the principles of democratic government.

Obama for President?

If foreign policy and the war on terrorism were your primary concerns, for whom should you vote? Loren Thompson, an officer at the Lexington Instutute, which has several former Republican office holders in its ranks
argues that Obama’s foreign policy views are similar to McCain’s, except for Iraq, and where they differ, especially with regard to Iraq, make more sense than McCain’s. In addition, one should note that Obama has more experience in foreign and defense affairs through his committee work than Clinton does. And besides, the Bush administration demonstrates that experience does not lead to competence. To prove that she is man enough for the job, Clinton is likely to be more aggressive and violent than will be good for the country. Since terrorism is a self-limiting activity, the most important thing is to limit the damage it does before it expires. For that reason, controlling weapons of mass destruction and countering their proliferation is the most important task before us. Accomplishing that task will require a disposition to talk to all sorts of people and build alliances. Of the three candidates still in the race, Obama has shown the greatest inclination to undertake that kind of work.

Thoughts on the Election

A few thoughts on the election thus far:

Assuming that George Bush serves out his full term, it will be the first time since 1809-1825 that we’ve had two straight two-term presidents, and the first time it’s ever happened with two parties. That could mean either that the next president won’t serve eight years, or that something in America’s political mix has changed.

I’m glad that McCain is the Republican nominee, if only because it means that both major parties won’t have candidates with Ivy League pedigree. In this line, is it worth noting that Obama was a legacy applicant to Harvard? His father studied there in the 1960s. On the other hand, as the son and grandson of Admirals, McCain probably was raised with a certain feeling of priviledge to go along with his senses of duty and honor.

Given the party name, it is ironic that party elders will probably choose the Democratic party’s candidate for president this year--the party equivalent of what Jacksonians denounced as "King Caucus." Of course, the Democratic party has downplayed the centrality of voting and elections since the Progressive era.

The reason we have checks and ballances in our constitution is to prevent great, rapid changes in legislation. A fact to keep in mind if the Democrats win this year.

Were it not for concern over judicial nominees, would the election look very different to conservatives? Or would foreign policy concerns be enough to carry the day?

Legislation by any other name

In the department that things that probably are unconstitutional but we no longer notice is this item from today’s L.A. Times:

"Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson modestly lowered limits on ozone pollution Wednesday, angering both industry groups who lobbied against changes and medical, scientific and environmental groups who pushed for tougher limits."

Whatever happened to the non-delegation doctrine? Can the executive, or an executive agency, unilaterally change law or make law?

Some of my friends think that many of our constitutional difficulties stem from a failure to understand the nature and purpose of the executive power. There is some truth to that. At the same time, one could argue that the legislative power is also in serious trouble. Nowadays, Congress does not, as a rule, pass laws. It passes broad delegations of rule-making authority to agencies that are, nominally at least, in the executive branch. Such is the constitution that the Progressives have bequeathed us.

Jeremiah was a...?

Rod Dreher asks the right questions about the Jeremiah Wright clip embedded in his post. Wright says he loves his enemies but what’s clearer than anything else from this bit is who his enemies are. And, as Dreher says, it’s hard for Obama to distance himself from the man whose altar call he answered.

For more, see Hugh Hewitt and Michael Gerson, Power Line, and Dean Barnett (who connects Wright with Michelle Obama in an interesting way). Contrast that with the silence here and here.

Has anyone on the left said anything about Jeremiah Wright’s bile? I’m aware that Obama has said that he doesn’t agree with everything, but this is the man who leads his church home. He’s got to say more than that.

Thursday Thoughts

The indispensable Daily Show takes on Berkeley’s crusade against the U.S. Marines. Code Pink looks black and blue after this pasting. I’m starting to think the Daily Show and the Colbert Report can pull me through four years of an Obama Administration.

Meanwhile, Megan McArdle argues, re; Eliot Spitzer, that we should wiretap and spy on ALL of our politicians. She makes a good case.

Race and the Democratic Party

The Wall Street Journal�s Washington Wire is a good place to find all the opinions (left and right) on the Geraldine Ferraro issue, and the issue she brought up. This isn�t as complicated as it seems. The Democratic Party has put itself into this box. It has, over the years, wanted to emphasize issues of race and ethnic politics--always focusing on collective diversity, rather than on what we have in common--and that led to a weird feminism and race-based reverse discrimination, etc. So now they no longer know how to talk about how race should be only minimally significant in public matters. It is possible that the world does, after all, move on merit. That�s one reason Hillary Clinton isn�t beating Barack Obama. This will be a hard box for them to get out of, and, because they refuse to listen to say Clarence Thomas, for example, they will have to rely on Senator Obama�s capacity with words to explain what justice is and how the content of one�s character is more important than the color of one�s skin, and then maybe what charity has to do with any of this. So far, Senator Obama has not been able to oblige. There are just a lot of accusations. Now, I know that this is bad for the Democratic Party, and therefore I should be happy with their predicament. While this is true, it is not good for the country. This is an opportunity for these two Democrats to explain how we ordinary citizens should be thinking about these important things. Maybe I�m expecting too much. Maybe Senator Obama should first explain why his long-time pastor says blacks should not sing "God Bless America" but "God damn America." You would think this would be rhetorically easy for Senator Obama to do. Then he can tackle the more difficult problem.

Addendum: With his typical verve, Victors Davis Hanson has more on this.

Suppose they gave a culture war and nobody came

E.J. Dionne, Jr. declares the culture war over. Our various crises, he argues, are leading to a deemphasis of culture war issues, perhaps inaugurating a new version of what he calls the secular period from 1932 (FDR) to 1980 (RWR).

The crunchy con and the orthopaleo--or is it paleo-ortho?--con disagree.

So do I. My own peculiar reasoning has to do with Dionne’s chracterization of the secular period. He concedes that, for example, FDR used religious language. I’d add: quite confidently because American culture at that time was still watered-down mainline Protestant culture. But that was changing, especially among the elites, and it led to a judicial effort to purge the public square of the remnants of our past "religious" culture. By the time JFK is elected, it’s de rigeur for political figures to speak the language of separationism. In other words, what secularized American politics was not the press of "real" economic and foreign policy issues, but the efforts of elites (mostly under people’s radars) to drain what life was left out of our national vaguely religious, vaguely Protestant cultural consensus.

I’ll concede this much to Dionne: the cultural issues of the last two decades have receded a bit. Most of the states that want to affirm traditional marriage have done so, which means that issue, for the moment, doesn’t have much energy behind it. And, yes, kids don’t seem to care about it as much as do their elders. But abortion is still right there and, as MOJ’s Greg Sisk points out in this most excellent post, the oil Barack Obama wants to pour on our troubled cultural waters is highly flammable.

The stealth offensive that produced the reaction that we call our culture war started in the judiciary. Many social conservatives entered politics in response to judicial provocations. Does anyone think that a President Obama or a President Clinton won’t nominate Supreme Court justices whose opinions will constitute a new cultural casus belli?

I don’t relish this prospect, but I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I won’t be provoked by the judicial decisions that follow from four or eight years of Democratic dominance in D.C.

Should there be a Waiting Period for Suicide Vests?

This is a very good and serious debate about an aspect of Iraqi Law that we aren’t as familiar with as we ought to be. If you doubt your sense of humor, or confuse humor and compassion, please don’t watch this. And just remember (as I paraphrase Lincoln): I have never invented a good story, although sometimes I remember a good one that I’ve heard. I am only a retail dealer.

Republicans and the suburbs/exurbs

Reihan Salam points to this Barone post on the loss of Denny Hastert’s erstwhile seat.

The issue is one that deserves some attention. In 2000 and 2004, Republicans prospered as the party of the suburbs and especially the exurbs. Not so in 2006.

I’ve discussed these matters before here and here, but am now less inclined to be sanguine about the short-term nature of Republican difficulties. Iraq isn’t the only challenge.

Random Observations

1. The NATIONAL REVIEW seems to be saying that the Republican convention should be prepared to reject McCain’s VP choice should it be too strange or un-Republican. It might be the case that McCain manfully resisting the Republican establishment once again on national TV might help him in November. So it might be good to set up such a "pro wrestling" showndown to make the convention worth watching.

2. To Julie: Two-touchdown underdogs sometimes win, and Obama’s hyper-liberalism, inexperience, and naive views on foreign policy might do him in. Mac has a chance. But realistically speaking, the best case scenario is McCain squeaking by while the Democrats make significant gains in both the House and the Senate. The worst case scenario is a Democratic landslide everyhere, and that won’t happen because American has re-embraced ideological liberalism. People think the Republicans are screw-ups, and (to coin a phrase) it’s time for change. The Democratic Congress hasn’t been in power long enough for it really to be blamed for our discntents.

3. The national media has sort of flipped back to Obama by highlighting the alleged latent (and in the case of Ferraro overt) racism in Hillary’s and her supporters’ condescending and maternalistic comments about Barack. And his rejoinders have been very good and very featured.

4. Hillary’s claim that she’d be the better national security president has weight objectively but not in Democratic primaries or among superdelegates.

5. Her other claim that she’s more electable is incredible. (It’s going to be long six weeks [or much longer] for her and America.)

The Fall of Admiral George B. McFallon

I know that the resignation of a combatant commander who has publicly challenged the policies of his commander-in-chief is not nearly as riveting as the resignation of an arrogant, self-righteous, nanny-state Democratic governor who seeks out sex with prostitutes, but in the greater scheme of things, the former story is more consequential.

Yesterday, Admiral William Fallon, commander of US Central Command, stepped down after an article in Esquire made it very clear that he was actively undermining the Bush adminstration policy in the Middle East, especially with regard to Iran.

In a piece posted on the Daily Standard website of The Weekly Standard, I address this issue. I contend that as commander of CENTCOM, Fallon acted in a way that exceeded his authority and had Fallon not stepped down, the president would have been perfectly justified in firing him, just as Abraham Lincoln fired Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as Franklin Roosevelt fired Rear Admiral James O. Richardson, and Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Freedom as God’s gift

This breathless NYT article describes this speech, in which President Bush once again indicates the universalistic basis for his approach to world affairs. He says again what he’s said many times before--"Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to all humanity." He proceeds to lay out what might be called the anthropological evidence for the proposition that freedom has a transformative power. Of course, there’s room to argue with him, on anthropological and historical grounds (which is where he chooses to make his stand).

Stated another way, despite the efforts of the NYT reporter to make it seem as if Bush’s foreign policy is altogether faith-based, it just ain’t so. His argument surely could be much more nuanced than it is, but a number of propositions are clear. First, freedom doesn’t require Christianity. The God who created us in His image gave freedom as a gift to everyone; it’s a matter--in Reformed parlance--of common grace, accessible to the Shinto Japanese, the Muslim Afghans, and Americans of all faiths and no faith.

Second, freedom is hard. People with little or no experience of it appreciate it, but don’t immediately know how to protect it and use it well. They also have determined and unscrupulous enemies who don’t wish them to learn these things.

Third, the spread of freedom ultimately [I’d add--perhaps not in every instance immediately] serves America’s security interests.

So the demands of justice and (long-term) interest come together:

People of all faiths and all backgrounds deserve the chance at a future of their own choosing. That’s what America believes. After all, those were the ideals that helped create our nation. Those ideals were an honorable achievement of our forefathers, and now it’s the urgent requirement of this generation.

As I said, this is far from the first time President Bush has spoken in these terms. And I’ll add, in speaking this way, he’s perfectly in the mainstream of American presidential rhetoric.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for February

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

Sam Patterson

Jim Branch

Evanthia Campione

Mona Gallagher

Julia Rybicki

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 March’s drawing.

Eliot Spitzer, Constitutionalist

Spitzer, as quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

"I believe in an evolving Constitution. . . A flexible Constitution allows us to consider not merely how the world was, but how it ought to be."

Supply your own mordant punchline.

Teeth to tail in higher education

Studies show there asre more full-time administrators than instructors in higher education. You can download the full report from this site.

My immediate response, without looking more closely, is that the "business end" of higher ed is growing. This is especially clear in private higher ed, where fund-raising priorities drive the growth of development and public relations offices and admissions priorities lead to a demand for more folks in student services. I acknowledge the necessity of these functions to make sure that we teeth are properly compensated and have something on which to chomp, but still long for simpler times when higher ed wasn’t an "industry," students weren’t "consumers," and programs weren’t "profit centers."

More California homeschooling

A word, first of all, about my relative silence--welcome, I’m sure, to some: I’ve been working on a couple of papers with tight deadlines and, in my spare time, writing a piece on the California homeschooling kerfluffle. The latter should appear soon on the First Things website. It’s a more or less formal version of the arguments you’ve seen here in various posts. The short of it is that California has a bad law and the best way to deal with that fact is to change it, not to rely on judges or administrators to offer creative interpretations.

But if you want news of what’s going on now, there’s this from the LAT: the state Superintendent of Public Instruction will uphold the status quo ante, which ought to reassure no one. Just think of how easy it would be for an estranged spouse to make life miserable for a homeschooling single parent by seeking a court order. And think of what might happen when there’s a new Governor and SPI in California. As I said, this is a golden opportunity to change the law, not heave a sigh of relief.

Update: The LAT calls for a law recognizing homeschooling and this group (see the Board of Directors) wants to tilt at, er, amend the Constitution.

Satire Impossible Once Again

First the death of WFB left me with a monumental case of writer’s block. I just couldn’t come up with anything to express my thoughts about the man and his importance adequately. Now the Spitzer business has left me near speechless. I recall Malcom Muggeridge saying that he gave up doing satire in Punch magazine because real life had become so absurd that it was no longer possible to do satire.

So I’ll leave commentary on this to my better half and her sprightly blog SkepticsEye:

Spritzer!--I Hardly KNOW Her

Mary Ann, We Hardly Knew Ye

In other news, Dawn Wells, the actress who played feisty farm girl Mary Ann Summers (bet you didn’t know her last name, did you?) on the classic TV series Gilligan’s Island, is serving six months’ probation for possession of marijuana.

I’ve gotta say it--she looks pretty darn good for being 69.

By the way, in May 2009 the Mansfield Playhouse will be performing GILLIGAN’S ISLAND: THE MUSICAL, by Sherwood and Lloyd Schwartz. No, that’s not a joke.

Eliot Spitzer gets busted for seeing hookers....

...and the Dow surges 400 points. Coincidence?

Obama vs. Clinton

Well, after eloquent statements by Julie and Peter, let me say: Hillary would very likely be a much better and certainly less dangerous president than Barack. I have that opinion, in part, because I think Bill was actually a good president in a number of ways. And in those areas where he was rather trashy, he’s certainly learned his lesson. Hillary wouldn’t be as good, but she’d certainly be competent on foreign policy. Compare her with the very inexperienced most liberal member of the Senate, about whom we have very little real to admire or trust.

But at this point, I repeat, I think that Hillary has very little chance of being nominated. And what she’d have to do to get nominated would cause lots of racial and generational strife. So at this point I’m for Obama, and not at all because I think he’d be easier to beat. He’s at least a two-touchdown favorite against McCain, for the reasons Bill Kristol, for example, outlined. The 50-50 split Michael Barone describes when looking at, say, 2004 is no longer the real situation in our country. The Democrats have a significant edge now.

THE BERRY CONFERENCE

ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND POLITICAL LIFE will be on March 26th and 27th (Wednesday and Thursday) in the beautiful SCIENCE AUDITORIUM on America’s largest campus (in terms of acres)--Berry College in Mount Berry. GA.

Highlights include a 6pm Wednesday lecture by DR. PAT DENEEN in the spirit of Wendall Berry. Dr. Pat will be challenged by four distinguished respondents, including our friends Joe Knippenberg, Elizabeth "the Deist" Amato, and Kevin Pybas.

The next night--again at 6pm--we will hear America’s leading domestic policy expert--YUVAL LEVIN, late of the Bioethics Council and the White House Staff. He will be challenged by our friends Michael Papazian, Jack Moran, and "Ivan the K" Keneally.

Among other events will be a Thursday afternoon at 330pm panel of experts on the 2008 election, including famous Democrat and Berry grad Wendy Davis, the world’s best "regular" political scientist and Berry grad Jocelyn Jones, Eric Sands, the legendary South Carolinian Robert Jeffery, Mr. Postmodern Conservative himself.

Contact me at plawler@berry.edu for further and better information.

Free stuff

It isn’t the latest bioethics volume, which looks marvelously good, but Houston Baptist University is offering an interesting new publication, The City, to which you can subscribe here.

I have a little essay on Tolkien in the inaugural issue.

Advance warning

Although not in as great a demand as my colleagues Lawler and Deneen, I will leave my cloistered confines to cross paths with them up at Berry College on March 26th. Barely a week later, I’ll be attending this most excellent conference (program here), to be held in Plymouth, MA. I’ll also be working for the man at a couple of undisclosed sites next month.

There might also be some Knippenberg sightings in the the greater Washington, D.C. area next week, but that’s only because of a family history field trip. If you happen to see me there, I’ll be glad to chat with you; like Socrates, I frequently speak without demanding a fee.

Would Hillary Clinton Make a Worse President than Obama?

If you are a regular reader of NLT, then you know that I (and Peter Lawler) have been arguing that Hillary Clinton--despite her many faults--would still make a better President than Barack Obama. His liberalism is more strident; his hold on his followers is more irrational (and frightening); and he’ll be more prone to rookie mistakes (like threatening our allies). As far as it goes, I do not disavow this opinion. But there may be a sense in which it is true but incomplete. Peter Schramm points to it in this post.

If I understand the import of what he says, he is suggesting--contrary to Lawler and me--that because of the way the Clintons do politics, an Obama win would be less bad in the long run for the country than a Clinton win. Clinton’s policies may be more moderate and her Machiavellian nature may make it less likely that she’ll get caught in rookie mistakes--but the way someone wins in America has to count for something. Even if Obama is a fool and a charlatan and even if he is attached to very stupid and dangerous policy notions, his losing to Clinton in the way Peter describes may actually do damage the country’s soul.

If that happens and McCain does not then take the opportunity to point out what a nasty, vicious and un-American thing she has done, he will be making a bad mistake. He could, in this instance, have an opportunity to rally Obama’s supporters to his side by pointing out the ugliness of the Clinton camp. And he would be doing his country a service in a non-partisan and noble way. He would be--to borrow the left’s phrase--speaking truth to power. But I begin to doubt the eventual succession of the American Lady Macbeth to the title of Democrat Nominee. She just isn’t good enough. She’s always been over-hyped and her fatal flaw is that she has believed the hype about herself (partly because it was true about her husband). But marrying (and hanging on to) Bill does not make you Bill. In a way, it is too bad as it removes the possibility of airing out this argument about the Clintons and their method of politics on the national stage and giving the Clinton villains the political death by a thousand cuts they so richly deserve.

It’s a complicated political matrix this season. I begin to like Obama as the nominee because I think he’s becoming easier to beat. But beating him is going to mean a fairly conventional (he’s too liberal and besides, he’s corrupt) campaign. It will not result in much political movement. The country will remain roughly 50/50 and McCain--if he wins--will win by a small margin, and then he’ll govern like a trimmer. Moreover, it doesn’t give the proper punctuation to the demise of the Clinton dynasty. I don’t want the Dems to have the honor (because the do not deserve it) of killing them off.

On the other hand . . . Obama as president (should he beat McCain--which is far from unlikely) scares me more than Hillary as president (certainly in the short run--and probably also in some long-run ways). He will be a lot like Carter. He will do lots of damage that will stink things up for decades. We will be less safe, we’ll get horrible judges, and with a likely Dem majority in Congress, he’ll enact terrible policies that will be almost impossible to eradicate in the years to come--and this means bad news for the economy and for the political character of the nation.

But Clinton as president--after beating Obama in the disreputable and malignant way she means to do it--does irreparable (or nearly so) damage to the soul of the country. If the American people go along with it, they are an accessory to it. It is unworthy of us. It would represent a kind of loss of innocence on the part of the American people. It would mean they are more conniving and Machiavellian than they have ever been. If they accept her, they do so knowing how morally bankrupt she is. It is impossible to deny it now--the blood would be on her hands. At least an Obama victory could be attributed to a youthful naivete on the part of Americans . . . a kind of forgetting of oneself in hopefulness. Her victory would indicate a hardness and a jadedness that--what ever else it is--is not American.

The difficulty is that if Obama gets the nod and he wins, his victory may imply that the American people have bought into some ideas that are, themselves, distinctly un-American. Michelle points to these ideas more often than Barack, however. And people can be excused for ignoring the candidate’s wife. They can always return rotten ideas--though probably with great difficulty--but they cannot take back a rotten act once it’s done. So in that sense, I think I agree that Hillary is worse than Obama as president.

National Anthem

sung by girls, aged 8 to 11, called the Cactus Cuties. It’s terrific.

Political Nihilism

I guess Hillary Clinton is just about to lose the vote of a superdelegate named Elliot Spitzer. This isn’t good news for her campaign which needs every single delegate, super or not. Spitzer talks about something private, as if it really is private, as if his position as the chief executor of the law in his state means nothing. In the meantime he puts his wife next to him, without shame or meaning. His three daughters are mentioned by commentators, in passing.


Delegates, votes, majorities, and all such things are open to deeper meanings and interpretations in the Clintonian worldview. We are now deep into Clintonian metaphysics: She (and Bill) is making things up by claiming, implying to be precise, that the front-runner Obama should be running with her as the VP candidate; that way, as she said, "Democrats wouldn’t have to make a choice."
This, right after she asserted in the famous 3 a.m. phone ad that he is not ready to be president. The contradiction between the two things means nothing to her, of course.

Her problem is that the voters have made a choice and it is against her. But that is merely reality. So she re-structures reality a bit and this world of unreality ("dream ticket") in her mind becomes real, and all her epigones are out in public yelling the same deep-meaning-of-meaning-untruth as a new value into any TV camera placed in front of them. And they do this without shame, because in their world reality can be created or re-structured, the whatness of things doesn’t exist. It depends on what the meaning of is is, in those famous words. Nothing is and nothing matters. No votes. No rules. No manly Barack Obama demanding attention because he has earned his status as the front-runner. No thinker, no interpreter of the facts, matters. What matters is only the doer of the deed, the aggressive actor in a universe that is amoral to such will, to such assertion of power. If she wins, it becomes true.


I don’t know if Barack Obama will ever become president. If he does, in this or any other election cycle, I hope he merits it. We do know that at this point in time he is the front-runner in the Democratic primaries, and he should not be treated otherwise. For now, I recommend that he continue his hard response to Clinton’s attempt to re-structure political reality. After all, human beings are part of the natural structure of things, and sometimes that reality (which is not amoral) needs the support of human beings. Otherwise the aggressive nihilists might win, and that victory may seem impressive to those who are inclined to think that nothing is or nothing matters. That open door to nihilism can be closed by Obama. He should continue to make the right argument and keep getting the votes.

No recession

On the one hand everyone is saying we are in a recession, on the other hand UCLA’s Anderson Forecast "predicts that GDP will dip by 0.4% in the second quarter of this year, but then rebound. Anderson expects GDP to be growing at 2.5% by the end of this year."

Shameless Self-Promotion

Those who want to hear my message of hopeful and soul-mending love this week will have to travel on Thursday to Washington and Lee University in Lexington Virginia. I will be speaking at 5 on ">STUCK WITH VIRTUE.

Random Observations

1. Bill Kristol’s NYT column is very good in explaining what a bad year this is likely to be for Republicans--more like 2006 than 2004. He rightly cites the Democratic victory in Hastert’s district as evidence.

2. So, Bill contends, McCain has no choice to be audacious. As Machiavelli says, maybe the future belongs to the impetuous. This is clearly advice that doesn’t go against Mac’s grain.

3. Bill suggests that Mac embrace a sort of Sam’s Club domestic policy--following the example set by Huck. He shouldn’t mind alienating Wall Street Republicans as a result. If Mac can do this with conviction or "authenticity," maybe he should.

4. Another audacious Kristol idea is selection of Lieberman or one of the general-heroes of the surge as VP. I have to dissent strongly on this, obviously: The election is going to turn on issues surrounding anxiety intensified by the tanking economy. A double-warrior ticket would be audacious like Pickett’s charge.

5. The great dignity volume produced by the Bioethics Council is now available at bioethics.gov. You can either request a copy or download it.

Addendum: Here is the Bill Kristol op -ed.

Sweet Sixteen

Time out for a sports update: the Oglethorpe women’s basketball team entered uncharted territory Friday evening, winning its first ever NCAA tournament game (having lost the first round the previous two seasons). Last night, they took on the hitherto undefeated (29-0) Thomas More College Saints--#3 in the nation--on their home court and won, finishing the game with a 19-6 run.

Congratulations to Coach Ron Sattele and his remarkable group of players.

Random Observations

1. Fred Barnes goes through all the possible Republican VP candidates on THE WEEKLY STANDARD page and concludes that the weighty choice with the fewest liabilities is Romney. But the objections to Mitt are weighty too. Most important, it’s all too clear that Mac doesn’t like him, and this time especially the ticket should be a team. The point of Bush-Cheney was to give the president foreign policy expertise he really needs, and I think this time the message should be that the VP would give the president domestic expertise he really needs. Romney certainly is an expert, but would it seem clear enough that Mac would reply upon his advice?


2. I think McCain should check out very carefully another longshot VP possibility--Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. She’s young, smart, really popular, and probably America’s prettiest governor. Palin just announced she’s seven months pregnant with her fifth child. Apparently nobody had noticed (and not because she’s overweight or anything like that). There’s a lot--really a lot--to be said for a woman candidate who lives her family values. (A Romney-Palin ticket might even have been accused of being natalism run amok.)

3. I found out at the Bioethics Council meeting that health economists really respect McCain’s heath care plan. Mac would eliminate the bias in the tax law in favor of employer-based policies and give each American a $2500 ($5000 for families) subsidy to purchase his or her own insurance. His goal is to maximize your ability to choose your own provider and kind of coverage, detach your insurance from your job, and encourage innovative multiyear policies. The concern some economists have is that the subsidies may be too small to pay for adequate coverage and achieve McCain’s goal of getting all Americans insured. But all in all, there’s a good chance Mac could really become credible on this domestic issue.

Republican candidates and the Bush legacy

Jeffrey Bell surveys the wreckage of what appears--in the short term, at least--to be a failed Bush presidency. The lengthy survey defies easy summmary, but Bell reminds us of the continuities between Bush and Reagan and of the ways in which, in his view, Bush wasn’t stubborn or persistent enough. Whatever the long-term judgment will be, Republicans in 2008 have to contend with the here and now.

Here’s a chunk of his conclusion:

The temptation for Republicans trying to climb out of the wreckage of the Bush war presidency in 2008 will be to focus too intensely on Petraeus and his success in Iraq. It is true that the success of the surge is a precondition for GOP recovery in 2008; after being the greatest embarrassment, Iraq has emerged as the safest Republican talking point in all of foreign policy. But without a refocus of voters’ attention on the larger global war against jihadism, the Democratic narrative will continue to have life: If invading Iraq was a mistake, even our improved prospects there can be seen as a lucky sideshow to overall Republican blundering.


It is thus essential for McCain and other Republican candidates to point out the violent activities of jihadists all over the world. If these activities are real, and they are, voters can be not so much convinced as reminded that the American response to 9/11 was right.

Read the whole thing.

Obama’s constitution

The EPPC’s Ed Whelan conveniently summarizes what we knew or suspected about Barack Obama’s approach to constitutional adjudication. And somehow I don’t think he’ll "grow" in office.

The import of the California decision

People I like cite this reassuring post (see also here) concerning the California decision. Here’s the gist of the supposed reassurance:

So, generally, parents have three options for educating their kids in California: (1) public school; (2) private school; or (3) credentialed tutor. This is not as bad for homeschoolers as it looks. To be a private school in California, all the parent has to do is be "capable of teaching" the required subjects in the English language and offer instruction in the same "branches of study" required to be taught in the public schools. They also have to keep a register of enrollment at their "school" and a record of attendance. Once a year they have to file an affidavit with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction with things like their names and address, the names of the students and their addresses, a criminal background check (since we don’t want unsupervised felons teaching kids), and their attendance register. That’s it.

Here, by way of contrast, is a passage from the appellate decision:

Additionally, the Turner court rejected, and noted that courts in other states had
also rejected, the notion that parents instructing their children at home come within the private full-time day school exemption in then-section 16624 (now section 48222). The court stated that a simple reading of the statutes governing private schools and home instruction by private tutors shows the Legislature intended to distinguish the two, for if
a private school includes a parent or private tutor instructing a child at home, there would be no purpose in writing separate legislation for private instruction at home. (Turner, supra, 121 Cal.App.2d Supp. at p. 868; accord Shinn, supra, 195 Cal.App.2d at p. 693.) Moreover, even if being taught at a parent’s home could be construed as attendance at a private day school, the parents in Turner had not demonstrated that their
home already qualified as a private school under the requirements of the Education
Code. (Turner, at p. 869.)

The thrust of the argument here is that a typical homeschool is not a private school under the meaning of the law. The last sentence doesn’t really diminish the force of the opening sentences; the judges simply concede that, even if such a case could be made, these parents haven’t taken that route.

Later in the opinion, there’s this:

It is
clear that the education of the children at their home, whatever the quality of that education, does not qualify for the private full-time day school or credentialed tutor
exemptions from compulsory education in a public full-time day school.

This court hasn’t been persuaded that declaring a homeschool a private school makes it so. This court, by the way, also regards enrollment in an independent study program under the aegis of a private school as a "ruse":

Section 48222
provides an exemption from compulsory public school education for “[c]hildren who
are being instructed in a private full-time day school.” (Italics added.) It is the
language of the statutes that constitutes California’s plan for education of its children. Thus, under California’s compulsory public school education law, Mr. Neven’s occasional observation of mother’s instruction of the children and their occasional taking of tests at the private school is without legal significance.

If you look at two other cases cited here, you get a similar picture. Here’s People v. Turner, a 1953 case:

We likewise fail to find any merit in defendants’ claim that they come within the classification of a "private school" within the meaning of section 16624 and hence are exempted from the operation of the statute. The contrary was held in State v. Counort (1912), 69 Wash. 361 [124 P. 910, 911, 41 L.R.A.N.S. 95]; State v. Will (1916), 99 Kan. 167 [160 P. 1023]; State v. Hoyt, supra. [12] Moreover, a mere reading of sections 16624 and 16625 clearly indicates that the Legislature intended to distinguish between private schools, upon the one hand, and home instruction by a private tutor or other person, on the other. If a "private school" as that term is used in section 16624 necessarily comprehends a parent or private tutor instructing at home, there was no necessity to make specific provision exempting the latter.

And here’s In re Shinn, a 1961 case involving a family’s attempt to educate at home children they regarded as exceptional:

Home education, regardless of its worth, is not the legal equivalent of attendance in school in the absence of instruction by qualified private tutors.

To be sure, these cases are old, and what the parents were attempting at that time was, in a sense, extraordinary. But those two courts, along with the current appellate court, offer a very straightforward reading of the California statute, which (unfortunately for homeschoolers) hasn’t been amended. Perhaps state and local education administrators can be "creative" in their interpretation of the law, but they’re doing so against the clear reading offered by the courts. But there have been times, as I’ve noted in another post, that the state has been less willing to be creative. Do homeschoolers want to rely on the "grace" of the bureaucracy? Better, I think, to change the law, making explicit provision for homeschooling. That’s harder than persuading administrators or judges, but more consonant with the spirit of democratic republicanism, as it was articulated and practiced by the Founders.

Snow, and plenty of it


It has snowed, is snowing, and it will continue most of the day. I’m guessing over a foot already, maybe more. Everything is still and quiet, save the rare huge lumbering plow and salt truck. I have given orders to my brood: No one leaves the house. One has already disobeyed, my mother has not, yet. I am on my second cup of tea and reading James McBride’s new novel. It feels very good so far. It’s time for a smoke, so being a rare and special day, I’m starting with an expensive Ashton Heritage Puro Sol, sweet, nutty, soft, all sun grown, with a Cameroon wrapper. This is my new (expensive) love. This day will cost me.

Rezkorama

Rezkorama is a new site that serves as a clearinghouse for all things related to the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and Antonin Rezko. You may want to bookmark this.

Seven Questions Parents Should Ask

. . . before sending their children off to college. Dennis Prager compiles a great list of questions for parents who, quite rightly, sense that they might be getting taken for a ride by most colleges and universities. Of course, it goes without saying that parents of Ashbrook Scholars will be more than satisfied with the answers they get.

American Idol Spawns Country Stars

It’s Friday so we can be forgiven for taking up a light story today. So here it is. I’ve been wondering about this for awhile now. Isn’t it interesting that despite the best efforts of the show’s producers and judges to keep American Idol in the "pop" music tradition (at least in the first couple seasons before they saw the money) the show keeps churning out country and rock music stars? Where is the "Britney Spears" or the hip-hop rapper of American Idol? It seems that the American people, when asked, have different (and healthier) ideas than the music industry has about what’s entertaining.

Veep Choices

Quin Hilyer runs through an interesting list of five possible VP choices for John McCain. The two names I like best on his list are John Kasich and Chris Cox. Hilyer prefers Cox for his steady approach and suggests that Kasich’s many positives (including roots in crucial Ohio and Pennsylvania) may not outweigh some of what he considers his "hyperactive" tendencies. I dunno . . . is "hyperactive" really a negative when the candidate (however energetic) is a septuagenarian? And Cox, whatever his other merits, is a Californian. Shouldn’t a VP at least have the potential of bringing his state to the ticket?

Sophocles and the Democrats

A systematic accounting of the nature and specifics of the coming Greek-style tragedy facing the Democrats this summer can be read here. Tragedy, defined as the undoing of a man (or a party) by his own flaws can be seen unfurling all around the Democrats this season.

The thrust of it:

The tragic flaw of the Democratic Party is the hubris that allows it to style itself as the only force interested in the welfare of minorities and the poor, and the only party committed to real democracy. It is not accustomed to its own internal processes being subjected to much critical media scrutiny.

Now this is the kind of theater that makes politics so interesting.

A Campaign Slogan for Hillary?

In light of Senator Obama’s tergiversations regarding NAFTA, not to mention his economy with the truth in his speech in Selma, AL last year, among other things, perhaps Mrs. Clinton should say: "Let he who is without spin, change the first tone."

California homeschooling yet again

The LA Times has finally picked up the story, hitherto only reported, so far as I can tell, by WorldNetDaily. The good news is that the Pacific Justice Institute seems to have picked up the case, representing the Sunland Christian School, in whose independent study program the children had been enrolled.

The HSLDA is also involved, preparing to file an amicus brief in any appeal and circulating a petition in support of a legal effort to "depublish" the opinion, thereby depriving it of any precedential force.

I sent an email to a law professor acquaintance, posing the following questions:

*There are at least two different issues here, one having to do with the reading of the California law (where the state bureaucratic practice has been much more permissive than this appellate panel would be) and the other with the claim of a religious freedom-based right to engage in homeschooling. The second issue is one I find more interesting and on which I think I have a better handle, but it’s also less likely, I think, to provide the basis of a winning argument in the courts. (Am I right about that?)

*It looks to me like the courts have correctly interpreted the letter of the law (whose only provision for home education is through a credentialed tutor), but the bureaucracy has permitted homeschoolers to live by the more lenient standards available to private schools. Is the bureaucracy entitled to its interpretation of the law? Could he legislature affirm--or does it have to affirm--the bureaucracy’s administrative "modernization" of the law, already apparently upheld by two lower court decisions won by the HSLDA in the 1980s? Is a court likely to order the bureaucracy to adopt its understanding of the law, or would the more restrictive enforcement have to occur, if at all, on a case-by-case basis (either through the intervention of the child welfare bureaucracy or by estranged parents or grandparents seeking to compel institutional schooling of kids who are homeschooled)?

I welcome anyone else’s efforts to take a crack at these questions, and will post any responses I receive.

Update: This blogger has done some good digging and unearthed this old WorldNetDaily story, which shows that some time ago the California Department of Education took the position the court is now taking. But only a few sheriffs seemed to have the stomach for riding out after those menacing outlaw homeschoolers. You can read more about the old controversy here and here.

Another blogger (unfriendly to homeschooling) has dug up this court document in the current case. It paints a disturbing picture of that family’s home life. To put it mildly, they’re not the kind of people you want to have identified with a high-profile homeschooling case. They have a twenty-year history of encounters with child welfare authorities. Some might argue that catching up with people like this is a good reason to require kids to attend an organized school. I’d respond that these people attracted a lot of attention without having their kids in schools. There has to be some way of protecting children other than destroying an arrangement that seems to work quite well for the vast majority of families that use it.

Update #2: The Governor weighs in:

"Every California child deserves a quality education and parents should have the right to decide what’s best for their children," the governor said in a statement. "Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children’s education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don’t protect parents’ rights then, as elected officials, we will."

Someone should explain to the Governor that the problem is with the law, which should be fixed by the people responsible for making it, rather than by those who ought to have "neither force nor will, but merely judgment." If the law were written so as explicitly to acknowledge homeschooling, there wouldn’t have to be these subtle and complicated ways around the plain language of the statute.

Ohio Superdelegates and Hardball Politics

Steve Thomas brings this article from Politico to our attention. It seems the Ohio Democrat superdelegates are demanding a ring before they get into bed with either Hillary or Obama. Dennis Kucinich finally may have stumbled upon his moment of glory. He’s got an opportunity to define this presidential race here--not as a candidate--but as a convention superdelegate making demands in exchange for his support. Wouldn’t it be something to see the Democrats bowing to Dennis Kucinich and trying to sell that in November? I find myself in the very strange position of cheering him on . . . stand your ground Dennis!

Podcast on Moral Beauty

Adam Carrington graduated from AU and the Ashbrook Scholar Program in December with a BA in Political Science and Religion. He is off to graduate school to continue his studies in both, with an emphasis on theology. His Ashbrook Thesis was entitled: "Moral Beauty’s Divine Center: Jonathan Edwards and the Necessity of God in Ethics." His primary reader was Professor David Tucker (the others were Professors Justin Lyons and Peter Slade) and his hour-and-a-half oral defense of the thesis in front of the committee (and a couple dozen others) was a tour de force. You will get a sense of his excellence when you listen to this brief podcast with him. I will miss his well-disposed mind and great heart and wish him well in his future studies.

Liberal Fascism and The Road to Serfdom

Michael Tomasky has written a dismissive review of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism for The New Republic. “Tedious,” “inane,” and “deeply frivolous” are among its bouquets. Despite his contempt, however, Tomasky acknowledges that Liberal Fascism raises a serious question, one for which neither Tomasky nor liberalism generally has a comparably serious response.

The question is whether there is a slippery slope between liberalism’s social reforms and totalitarianism. It is a danger that conservatives have been warning about for decades; The Road to Serfdom and Capitalism and Freedom are two books that remain on conservatives’ shelves because they sounded this alarm. Liberal Fascism extends Hayek’s and Friedman’s arguments by contending we’ll have a more acute awareness of the possibility that liberalism and totalitarianism will converge beyond the horizon in front of us if we understand the ideas and language they shared beyond the horizon behind us. Goldberg excavates the intellectual origins of modern liberalism to reveal a disturbing contrast between its zeal for social reforms and a petulant impatience with all the ways liberal democracy can thwart those reforms.

Tomasky responds to this point by insisting that the slope between liberalism and totalitarianism is just not that slippery. Something “deep within liberalism . . . prevents it from degenerating into fascism, and that is its explicit recognition that the state must serve both common purposes and individual liberty.” When social reform “crosses the line into coercion,” true liberals “get off the train, and do their noncoercive best to derail it.”

Tomasky’s reassurance is a pretty good Rorschach test. If you find it so obvious and commonsensical as to wonder why the point even needs to be made, your politics and instincts are reliably liberal. If, instead, you find it as smug and condescending as the official spokesman who blandly announces, “Yes, we’re aware of the problem and have it under control,” while smoke seeps out from beneath the closed door behind him, you are a conservative.

The reason Tomasky’s reassurance does not reassure is that the more you examine the theory and practice of modern liberalism the less you understand why the slope is not slippery. You might think, for example, that if he had more time or space, Tomasky would describe, tangibly, the “something” that keeps liberalism from degenerating into fascism. Or that he would give us the coordinates of the “line” that defines the degree of coercion that liberals simply won’t tolerate, no matter how laudable the social reforms being advanced. But Tomasky’s other writings, and those of liberal advocates and theoreticians generally, do not make these distinctions any more distinct. The reassurance, such as it is, comes down to postulates about liberals’ sensibilities and character: We’re nice people, not thugs, who want to do good things, but have no interest in resorting to force to get our way.

Most liberals are nice people, not ogres pretending to be nice. But niceness isn’t always enough; principles can be useful, too. Put together enough nice people, determined to do enough nice things, and the line defining the sort of coercion that must not be used gets pretty elastic. Think of the nice professors and deans who have enacted speech codes at dozens of colleges to promote the nice goals of tolerance and self-esteem.

Or think of the nice officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, promoting the nice goal of better facilities for the mentally ill. When, 15 years ago, civic groups responded to this initiative by protesting plans to put such facilities in their neighborhoods, the humanitarians at HUD demanded the groups’ membership lists, any letters they had written to public officials or newspapers, and “any petitions, names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who had indicated support for the group’s efforts,” according to James Bovard. Roberta Achtenberg, the Assistant Secretary of HUD, defended the department’s actions in terms indistinguishable from Tomasky’s: “In every case of this nature, HUD walks a tightrope between free speech and fair housing. We are ever mindful of the need to maintain the proper balance between these rights.” If you liked Achtenberg’s sense of balance then you’ll love Tomasky’s sense of limits, and join with him in rejecting Goldberg’s overwrought hysteria about liberalism’s ominous possibilities.

Obama Collapse?

I give this the dramatic title, not because Robert Novak’s perfectly prosaic column deserves such drama (although what it says is true), but because there is an implication underneath the surface that says that Obama (and his advisors) are capable of total collapse near the end of the primary process which he still leads and almost cannot lose (the delegate count) until after the primary process. Their childish and imprudent behavior (and Novak doesn’t site all of them) was revealed before Ohio-Texas. The adults (notice I didn’t say the elder statesmen) left in the Democratic Party are now losing sleep. Indeed, they may have killed sleep because the ghost of McGovern’s huge loss in ’72 now begins to loom in the backs of their minds if Obama is the nominee. Hillary (this shouldn’t surprise) will play this ghost like a stradivarius. And this looming catastrophe will be the basis of all her attack ads from now on. It will resonate ten-fold more than it did the three days before the Texas and Ohio vote when it just started sinking in. This is also her only chance and basis for persuading the superdelegates to come out in her favor before the convention. Because she will take Pennsylvania by circa 16-20 points, her argument will have standing and even the blind will see it.

For the Record

At least according to this web page, and the souces it cites, Dr. Wurster denies having made the notorious comment I quote below, which apparently is attributed to him by on Victor Yannacone, one of the founders of the Environmental Defense Fund. When I have time, I will pursue the matter further.

Food for thought

Here’s the best case HRC’s people can make. Here’s Noah Millman’s effort to sketch out the arguments on both sides. I report; you know what to do.

Rural Ohio Voters

The Washington Post runs a story today about the intractability of rural Ohio voters that--while it offers some interesting observations for more thoughtful analysts to ponder--is a good illustration of the condescension and bewilderment of the media in the face of common sense and decency. In order to process the facts encountered in the investigation for this article, the author (Kevin Merida, whom I’m told also wrote a nasty hatchet job of a book on Clarence Thomas), has to slip into the "these hicks are too dumb to know better" mode of reporting.

His assault on the unsophisticated rubes of rural Ohio begins with an interview with a Democratic Party Chairman in Darke County, James Surber. Surber expresses his frustration with the inability of the people in his county to understand their own interests. "I have always said that the three most baffling questions you could ponder forever are: What’s the meaning and purpose of life? Why is Bruce Willis a star? And why do farmers vote Republican?" Surber said. But Surber, in typical Democrat arrogance, doesn’t think he needs to waste his time with imponderables. He has a practical understanding of rural Ohio voters. It’s all about abortion and guns, you see.

Former John Edwards adviser, Dave Saunders, agrees. "It’s all social and cultural," said Saunders, "It has nothing to do with policy. It’s about wedge politics. And the way you pull wedgies out is simple -- you say it’s a lie." To illustrate this, he pointed out that Harry Reid has an A+ rating with the NRA. Apparently Saunders thinks that all his people have to do in Ohio is go around talking about how Dems also love God and guns, skirt the abortion question, and things will come up roses there for them in the fall. Their strategy is to cut losses in rural Ohio counties like Darke--where Bush won in ’04 with 70% of the vote. But they see Southeastern Ohio (my old stomping grounds) and small northern Ohio towns (like Ashland?) as the big prize in this election.

They are right about that much. The area in question and the big prize in this election probably will be Southeastern Ohio and small towns in the northern part of the state. The Dems can’t win without them. But if this article is anything like a real indication of the means by which they intend to go about gaining favor in these areas, I think they’ve got some more hard lessons to learn about rural Ohio voters. For example, take a look at Troy Balderson’s webpage--a family friend who just secured the GOP nomination for State Rep in Zanesville. Guns and God certainly feature prominently among his priorities. But that’s far from all that motivates Balderson or his voters. Indeed, his GOP opponent in the primary lost because these were the only issues he talked about. Balderson is talking about taxes, excessive government regulation and interference in business and health care, and the harm these things do to the local economy. That message rings true in Southeastern Ohio.

Merida noted that, "In Ohio on Tuesday, nearly six in 10 voters called the economy their No. 1 issue, according to exit polls." Democrats seem to think that Republicans are oblivious to this. Apparently, they believe they’ve got a wide opening through which to sell us their snake oil economic remedies. They seem to think they can run from their Liberalism by "say[ing] it’s a lie." Perhaps they can get away with that on the God and Gun front--but on everything else, they will have to TELL lies in order to do it. I don’t think they’re above that, of course. But it will be much harder than they seem to think it’s going to be to convince the rural rubes I know--whose only problem with the Republicans is that they were trimmers when in power--that Liberal Democrats are going to be better stewards of the economy.

Random Observations

1. Hillary’s dilemma: She should drop out, she can’t possibly win. She can’t drop out, she just won some big victories.

2. The MSM media has clearly flipped to her. The reason: Her continued campaign is good news. It saves us from months of political boredom.

3. Her only chance is somehow to discredit Obama as a plausible nominee. I hope she doesn’t go too far down this negative road, and that the MSM doesn’t help her make mountains out of the molehills that have emerged so far. As Peter points out below, the Democrats have no alternative these days but to rely on her self-restraint.

4. McCain owes Huck big for staying in the race and allowing him to grab the headlines last night and this morning.

5. Here’s one rejoinder to the professor I talked about before who’s voting for Obama in the hope he will govern as a Democrat. One of my colleagues says it’s conceivable she’ll vote for McCain in the hope he’ll govern like a Democrat. Her hope, of course, is more reasonable, and it may be one reason that arguably Mac is the strongest possible Republican candidate.

6. One of Hillary’s comments this morning suggests that her real goal now is a Obama-Hillary ticket. And as Steve Thomas points out below, the role of the Superdelegates may end up being to facilitate that statesmanlike conclusion to this contest.

7. Obama-Clinton would be really, really hard to beat.

Obama’s first hundred days

Michael Gerson considers what the opening of an Obama Administration would look like, if he kept his promises in foreign policy. His conclusion?

Obama’s 100-day agenda would be designed, in part, to improve America’s global image. But there is something worse than being unpopular in the world -- and that is being a pleading, panting joke. By simultaneously embracing appeasement, protectionism and retreat, President Obama would manage to make Jimmy Carter look like Teddy Roosevelt.


Which is why President Obama would probably not take these actions -- at least in the form he has pledged. Sitting behind the Resolute desk is a sobering experience that makes foolish campaign promises seem suddenly less binding.


But it is a bad sign for a candidate when the best we can hope is for him to violate his commitments. And that’s a good sign for John McCain.

Read the whole thing.

Bellah on Obama

There was a time when everyone read--or claimed to have read--Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart. I came to think of him as the contemporary equivalent of Tocqueville--not in the sweep and penetration of his vision, but rather in being often quoted and perhaps less read.

Well, Bellah hearts Obama in ways that suggest that he hasn’t read (or perhaps understood) his Tocqueville. A snippet:

In Habits of the Heart I and my coauthors described four traditions that are powerful in America today. We called our primary moral language “utilitarian individualism,” the calculating concern for self-interest that is natural in our kind of economy, and a language that all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, must often use as they appeal to various interest groups to support them. But we have three secondary moral languages that give a greater richness and moral adequacy to our discourse (even as they are often shunted aside by the dominance of the language of self-interest), expressive individualism, biblical language, and the language of civic republicanism. All candidates use the language of expressive individualism when they try to show us their human side, tell their individual stories and the stories of those who support them. But the substantial alternatives to the language of utilitarian individualism are biblical and civic republican. Biblical language, like all the others, comes in several forms, but here I am referring to the language of Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloane Coffin—that is, a language that expresses the dominant biblical concern for those most in need, a language that reminds us of our solidarity with all human beings. When Obama says “we are our brothers’ keepers; we are our sisters’ keepers,” when he suggests, as he does in so many ways, that we all need one another, all depend on one another, he is using that biblical language at its most appropriate. And in his emphasis on public participation at every level, in his refusal to take money from lobbyists and political action committees, he is reviving the spirit of civic republicanism, of voters as citizens responsible for the common good, not political consumers concerned only with themselves.

There’s lots of biblical langauge about responsibility, sin, and hte next life that Bellah overlooks, even as Tocqueville doesn’t. And Tocqueville’s melding of religion and "civic republicanism" is much more subtle and locally oriented. But, unlike Bellah, Tocqueville’s view of the American scene isn’t frankly--I’d almost say rabidly--partisan.

Oh well, I like Putnam better than Bellah anyway.

Good news for Hillary, bad news for Democrats

Hillary’s "win" of yesterday seems significant to all of us because our minds are still in the winner take all mode; yet she hasn’t gained on Obama in delegate count, and I don’t think she will by more than a dozen even if she wins Pennsylvania by double digits, which she will. She hasn’t really won anything; the so called wins just give her psyche a boost to press on. She feels better about herself and her prospects, so she will psuh on with even greater vigor.

So, it will go to the convention, and be decided by the superdelegates and Michigan and Florida (which will have to be re-played); the DNC had better decide that now, not nearer the convention. The possibility of mischief and betrayal are huge; and I do not think that Hillary or her people (including her trimmer husband) are statesmen enough to handle all of it without engendering permament ill will of the Obama side. The fact that race is involved in the calculation is not a small point. If blacks in the Democratic Party think they have been taken for granted all these years, what do you think they are going to think if Hillary "takes it away" from him now? There will be so many deals cut before all this is over (including the VP slot) that we will not be able to count them all. The scenario of ’68 Chicago convention-blood-in-the-streets-stuff is an underestimation of what will happen in Denver and following. Hillary will not give in now under any circumstances and she will have no regard to the consequences to the party she has been using as a vehicle for her success. If there were elder statesmen in the party, people with real authority, who could step in and work it out, that would be another thing, but there aren’t. They are all partisans without standing or trimmers without principle. The Democratic Party will teeter on a precipice of anarchy because they forgot (or never knew) that forming a majority is not merely a problem in adding numbers.

Math vs. Momentum

I humbly and gladly admit I was wrong on Ohio and Texas. Not only that, Peter S. was right on a rather dramatic momentum shift to Hillary in the last few days. She won the late deciders something like two to one. Nonetheless, she didn’t close the delegate gap at all, and she still has virtually no chance of actually getting the nomination. It’s great that she gets to continue to campaign and poke more holes in the Obama’s myth of unflappability. He seemed a bit rattled on TV this morning.

The comeback kid?

As I write this, Hillary Clinton has won Ohio and is holding onto a narrow lead in Texas. If the exit polls in the latter are to be trusted, she could well pull out a victory there.


I watched a bit of the Clinton campaign festivities in Ohio and noted that both Ted Strickland and HRC herself mentioned Michigan and Florida. In listing the "battleground states" that she’d won, she included Michigan (where of course Obama wasn’t on the ballot).

The current Clinton argument seems to be that--so far as November is concerned--Obama’s victories in hitherto red states don’t mean much. Democrats are unlikely to win there, so Obama’s strength there shouldn’t sway anyone. The states that really matter are the most competitive ones, the purplish ones, the ones she’s winning. If I were a superdelegate, I’d at least take that argument seriously. I’d also take Obama’s reply seriously. (Will, for example, his young supporters turn out in extraordinary numbers for Hillary? I doubt it.) There are of course argument other than electability to be made, but let’s set them aside for the moment.

But the mention of Florida and Michigan should, as Bill Kristol put it on, yes, Fox, send chills up the spines of Democratic functionaries. If it’s close, the Clintonistas are going to make a stink about those states. Perhaps some of that can be avoided through a do over in Florida (and in Michigan?), but talk about changing the rules in the middle of the contest!

None of this is likely to be pretty.

California homeschooling follow-up

All the major homeschooling organizations in California are concerned. The case, which I discussed at length here, seems to have taken them by surprise. HSLDA had this to say:

The opinion holds that homeschooling is not a legal option in California. HSLDA strongly disputes this interpretation of California law. We believe that the court made a mistake when it relied on two decisions reached in the 1950s in order to show that homeschooling is not a legal option.


If the opinion is followed, then California will have the most regressive law in the nation and homeschooling will be effectively banned, because the only legal way to homeschool will be for the parent to hold a teaching certificate.

The court may well be right about the letter of the law, but the administrative interpretation of the law has clearly been more permissive. Whether it will continue to be so is an open question. At the moment, this decision applies only to these particular children; anyone who wants to pull other kids out of a homeschool setting and commit, er, place them in a more formal educational setting would have to seek a court order, citing this decision as a precedent. The state education bureaucracy is under no obligation to prefer the court’s reading of the law’s requirements to its own, though I suppose that it’s possible that they could use this as an excuse to crack down on homeschooling. The state legislature could also weigh in, indicating its preference as to how the law should be understood and administered.

If I had to bet, it would be that the bureaucrats and legislators will, all things being equal, let sleeping dogs lie. The common practice of declaring your home a private school will continue, as will the less common practice of following an independent study program affiliated with an umbrella school or organization.

Human Nature?

Hugh Hewitt posts a notice of a new National Geographic program called, "Aftermath Population Zero," which considers what the world would look like were there no human life on earth.

The most interesting sentence of the description might be this one: "After being controlled by humanity for millennia, nature reclaims the earth."

Do the powers that be at The National Geographic Society think that humans fundamentally unnatural? That would explain alot. Is Environmentalism, in its strong, quasi-religious form, misanthropic?

Update. On his blog, Jonah Goldberg posted this pearl of environmentalist wisdom, via Todd Seavey:

"Around the time of the DDT ban, Dr. Charles Wurster, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, may have revealed how some environmentalists really feel about human beings when he was asked if people might die as a result of the DDT ban: "Probably...so what? People are the causes of all the problems; we have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them, and this is as good a way as any."

Ohio Rules

Some of the reasons for this are familiar, others are less familiar and more particular to this year. I am glad to see, however, that John McCain recognizes the importance of Ohio. What remains to be seen is whether he will master a capacity to speak to Ohioans.

One thing he should not do as he seeks to develop this capacity, is listen to media reports about Ohio and Ohioans. They are out in full force traipsing about the state with their cameras and their "gotcha" style interviews with regular folks. Every one of these things I’ve seen (from a 60 Minutes segment to newspaper accounts) paints a picture of Ohio and Ohioans that is foreign to this native. You would think the state is over-run with racist, sexist, hillbillies walking around with hay stuck in their teeth if you believed these accounts. The reporters sit smug with their "they can’t help how dumb they are" expressions as they try to explain the ignorance they uncover by pointing to economic troubles in the state. These, we are supposed to believe, are a direct result of Republican policies and corruption. Even these stupid prejudiced people are now going to vote for Obama or Hillary--if only they can get past their racism and sexism. I do hope the media keep trying to paint that picture and that the Dems keep listening and they all get to see how Ohioans like it when they’re treated like morons. But McCain should look elsewhere for a true understanding of Ohio politics and, like he said, park himself there.

Gary Gygax, RIP

I’ll never forget the day I met Gary Gygax, the geek-culture icon who created Dungeons & Dragons, and who just passed away this morning. It was at Gen-Con, which at the time was the country’s biggest game convention. My parents--in what they still consider one of their worst parenting decisions--had allowed me to make the trip with a friend, on a Greyhound Bus, from Pittsburgh to Racine, Wisconsin. Monster Manual II had just come out, and he stopped me to ask if he could see my copy. It turned out that something that he wanted to be included wasn’t, or something that he wanted left out was included, or something like that. I wasn’t quite following what he was saying. For me, a pimply-faced kid about to start high school, it was like meeting Elvis. He thanked me, signed my book, and went on his way. That made the whole trip worthwhile.

That was nearly thirty years ago. Last summer, when my nephews came to visit, we played their version of D&D, which was a far cry from the game I remembered. I don’t think Gary’s name was even on the box; he had sold the rights long ago to a company called Wizards of the Coast.

I sold all of my old D&D stuff about fifteen years ago, but I still look back fondly on my years of near-obsession with the game. It was a great creative outlet for me and my friends. It also gave me my first exposure to what would probably be called "social conservatives" around here. They tried to close down our local club, charging that the game promoted devil worship or some such nonsense. They failed; we got to keep our group, and we played every Saturday until somewhere around my junior year of high school, when I moved on to other interests. But Gary Gygax’s passing makes me sentimental for those days. So, in my best uber-geek voice, I proclaim: "I raise a flagon of mead to you, my liege, and hope that the afterlife brings you nothing but natural 20s."

The Victim and the Victimizer . . .

. . . are one person according to Roger Simon in this astute look at Hillary Clinton and the Clinton game plan. She is staying true to her roots and playing a tight game. It has played out tighter than she may have hoped--but she is not Bill and the weapons in her "bag-o-tricks" are not as sharp. Nevertheless, they may prove just as lethal. According to Simon, she may just pull it out in the end by using best weapon, her victim-hood, as her final trump. She is now a master in handling this weapon. Critics can charge that her use of it is the political equivalent of throwing like a girl. But the thing is . . . sometimes throwing like a girl is exactly what you need. Sometimes the object is not to strike out the batter in a fair contest, but to elicit sympathy from the crowd.

Democracy in America

No, not the classic book, but rather Jay Cost’s sketch of the arguments the Clintonistas might make if she starts winning again.

He points out that neither Clinton nor Obama can win enough pledged delegates in the remaining contests to secure the nomination. It will come down to superdelegates, who have to be persuaded. I’ve alreadydiscussed the Obama argument. As Jay sketches it, Clinton’s would be roughly the same, with a wrinkle. She can make a potentially plausible claim (if she wins Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania) that she has won the majority of the votes (her case is helped if you count Florida as well). So far, that’s no different from the Obama argument. But she can also argue that caucuses (Obama’s strength) are "undemocratic" because they exclude people and because they overweight the influence of the generally elite participants. (Consider the irony of the classic democratic institution--a version of the town meeting--being regarded as "less democratic" than the bare act of voting, which is potentially pretty far from deliberative, as well as being not at all communitarian.)

I’ll end by quoting our friend Jon Schaff:

As an American I have no dog in this fight. But I must say, as a political scientist I am now rooting for Hillary Clinton because it would be lovely to see this argument play out in the public square.

Polymorphous Shamelss Self-Promotion

1. Those who want to hear my soul-mending message of hope and change and love this week will have to come to the meeting of THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS. It will be from 9-5 on Thursday (the 6th) and Friday morning at the Hotel Palomar in Arlington. There will be some excellent sessions on American health care (and I invite Senator McCain to come and get informed) and the ethics of of newborn screening.

2. On Friday morning at 9:45, they’ll be a fabulous panel featuring Jean Bethke Elshtain, Steven Pinker, and Evan Brann on the just-released HUMAN DIGNITY AND BIOETHICS: ESSAYS COMMISSIONED BY THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS.

3. You need to get a copy of HUMAN DIGNITY AND BIOETHICS, which includes contributions by Daniel Dennett, Robert Kraynak (and an argument between Dennett and Kraynak), Patricia S. Churchland, Diana Schaub, Charles Rubin, Richard John Neuhaus, Gil Meilaender, Leon Kass, Susan Shell, Ed Pellegrino, Rebecca Dresser, and many others.

4. No book on dignity would be complete without ME in it. My contributions include "Modern and American Dignity" and "Commentary on Meilaender and Dennett."

5. The new issue of PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE is also out, and it includes a symposium on Dr. Pat Deneen’s DEMOCRATIC FAITH, which features our own Joe Knippenberg.

Addendum: Here is the day’s schedule for this Friday’s conference that Lawler references. I can’t find a link to the book anywhere. (PWS)

Obama on the defensive

NAFTA. Rezko. All of a sudden there are pressing and unpleasant questions. The response? You can read about it here and watch it here.

Seeing how the sausage is made

This story shows a very vigorous response--behind the scenes--by the Obama campaign to what they regarded as an unfavorable story. I blogged about the story itself here.

Mrs. O has a "Teresa Heinz-Kerry" Moment in my Hometown

Byron York reports on an campaign stop last week with Michelle Obama at the Zanesville Day Nursery. At this informal gathering, Mrs. Obama chats with some moms and demonstrates her capacity to struggle with the issues that face an economically troubled central Ohio--particularly the tough choices that face hard working women with children. She empathizes with them . . . because, you know, she’s a lot like them. She knows the struggles of a working mother. She mentions feeling guilt. But here she makes no distinction between needing to work and choosing to work. The median annual household income in Zanesville, Ohio is around $37,000. I suspect that Michelle and Barack did better than that--even before they had what she calls the "magic beans" of Barack’s two best-selling books. (York notes the profits they made in the "help" industry, for example). I find Michelle Obama’s guilt over working and being absent from her children somewhat hard to stomach in the face of all that information. Acknowledging the difference between needing a second income and choosing one, I wonder if the guilt she’s feeling isn’t something she might easily address by making different choices. And I also wonder whether the women at the Zanesville Day Nursery wouldn’t be able to make different choices were it not for the confiscatory tax and regulatory structures that have helped to hurt the economy in Zanesville. But apparently the women at the Zanesville Day Nursery were too polite to ask these questions. It’s not every day that a potential First Lady comes for coffee, after all.

But if her fake compassion for these women and the guilt they feel made me want to gag, her follow up comments made me want to gag her. Expressing her understanding of the expense involved in raising children, Mrs. Obama noted that she and Barack spend around $10,000 a year just on extra-curricular activities and lessons for their two girls. $10,000? (!) Did I mention she was talking to women in a town where the median yearly-income is around $37,000? Oh, that’s right. I did mention that. So she and Mr. Obama spend a little more than a quarter of the yearly income of most of these women (before taxes) on extra-curricular activities. Oh, yes. She can relate. Like most wives, she even argues with her husband about these expenses . . . "Do you know what summer camp costs?" Summer camp? Do you mean like for 4-H? My guess is probably not.

Obama and religion...again

This article suggests that Clinton has been outpolling Obama among Catholics who vote in Democratic primaries. There’s no magic bullet explanation. Some point to her lead among Hispanics, others to her support among "traditionally Democratic" urban working class voters, and still others to the fact that he sounds more Protestant, while her religious appeals are less distinctive sounding. Of course, as Obama has gained momentum, Clinton’s Catholic margin has been diminishing somewhat. Except on life issues, where these isn’t much (of substance) to choose between Clinton and Obama, Catholics aren’t all that distinguishable from the American electorate as a whole. (To be sure, that’s potentially a very big "except.")

In a nutshell, I think Clinton’s margins among Catholic Democrats were the product of her early status as the presumptive nominee. As people have come around to Obama, so have Catholics, with one possible caveat or qualification: older folks are probably somewhat more likely to identify as Catholic and somewhat less likely to change their minds.

Bottom line: if he wins the nomination, he’ll get the kind of Democrat-leaning Catholics who vote in primaries. And I’m not confident that the McCain campaign will have the stomach to draw the difference on life issues with sufficient vigor and starkness. The Obamanauts will surely use McCain’s admirably consistent support of the Iraq war to muddy the waters for Catholic voters.

And if the waters aren’t already muddy enough, here’s a story about Obama’s bible-based support for civil unions. Turns out that the Sermon on the Mount "is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans." So the former passage supports treating everyone with equal dignity, which to Obama implies support for civil unions, but Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which contains the most sustained New Testament treatment of the relationship between religion and politics, is "obscure."

There’s lots to say here, some of it well said by people to whom the Baptist Press reporter spoke. But I can’t resist adding my two cents. First, of course Obama makes the typical liberal theological move, finding proof texts that support his preferences while dismissing passages whose import he doesn’t like. This won’t win him friends among those who have a "high" view of Scripture (see, for example, 2 Tim 3:16).

Second, the context of the "obscure" passage from Romans (1:26-32) is telling. Let’s begin with 1:19:

For what can be known about God is plain to [men], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For althought they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator....

Paul’s challenge here is based upon natural theology, and extends to all those who willfully deny the evidence of--dare I say it?--an intelligent design in the world around them. Rather than respond with gratitude to a beneficently designed creation and its Creator, men worship themselves and pursue their own pleasure. You might say that the context of the passage Obama dismisses condemns the all-too-human cleverness that leads him to dismiss it.

Update: More here, including a link to this transcript. Hat tip: The Friar.

Update #2: Ben Boychuk gets a discussion going at RedBlueAmerica, and calls our attention to John Mark Reynolds’s commentary on Obama, of which I’ll quote a snippet:

Paul points there to the existence of a common natural philosophy available to Christians and non-Christians. This allows for a civil society that need not be based on revelation available only to believers.


Obama should return to the passage he has called obscure to learn how to argue a tough case well. All lawyers used to read Romans as a model for persuasive rhetoric, but younger attorneys like Obama have missed out. The argument Obama uses is not persuasive, but Paul’s has persuaded billions over centuries. Perhaps, the argument that sexuality is naturally between a man and a woman is odd to a culture out of touch with the natural world, but it is not hard to recover the intuition that sexually men are designed for women and women for men.


Since it is impossible to think a church going man like Obama is as ignorant of Romans as he sounds, it is more charitable to assume that Obama is simply a conventional theological liberal who reads the Bible the way he reads the Constitution.

Random Observations

1. Well, I’m back from Alaska. Here’s what I learned: As far as I could see with my own eyes, there are no moose in Alaska, and I did get around. Anchorage is a very sophisticated city with plenty of amenities, but there’s no effective way to drive from there to another such city. Anchorage is not as cold as even Chicago or Detroit. When I left Atlanta last Wednesday afternoon, it was 25 degrees. It was 28 when I landed in Anchorage at midnight. The rest of Alaska is marked by incredible natural beauty and almost uniformly ugly or merely functional human additions. People in Alaska--unlike, say, people in Akron--mostly love it there and think in term of their state’s and their own bright future.

2. It’s possible that Obama has peaked in the lower 48 states, but not in Alaska. I had lunch with an excellent "postmodernism rightly understood"-type philosophy professor and a very erudite history professor. The philosophy guy said that he almost always votes for Republican, but he’s for Obama this time, although he can’t quite explain why. His hope is that Obama will govern like a Republican. The history guy originally hoped to be a Hillary delegate to the national convention, but decided to vote for Obama at the last minute. He was inspired by the all of Barack’s young people and went with his heart, not his head. I will go as far as to speculate that McCain’s moralism about oil drilling has made him unpopular enough in Alaska that Obama might even have a shot there, if the election were tomorrow.

3. I still think Obama will win the two big primaries tomorrow, but I will add that all the excitment over the alleged close races is fake. Hillary would have to win them big to have a chance. Of course, I really do hope she does win them big, and I’m happy to keep hope alive.

4. Economic pessismism is rapidly becoming more pervasive, and people want to believe it when Obama says that the recession is due to bad policies that he can readily fix. Anyone who can save the planet and repair souls should find economic growth and jobs easy. Again, McCain needs to become credible on domestic policies.

5. Does the idea of historicism depend on the Rousseauean/Darwinian view of nature as impersonal mechanism with no support for anything distinctively human (or social/linguistic)--a view that has been thoroughly discredited? Or to put it differently: Nobody really believes Rousseau’s description of non-human man in the state of nature, precisely because it is an unempirical radicalization of Locke’s already unempirical individualistic premises.

Ohio and Texas

The Ohio Poll claims that she has increased her lead in Ohio by nine points, to 51% (Obama gets 42%). A Texas poll claims she is ahead there (she is ahead 50-44), and has picked up a lot of Hispanic voters. Both these things sound possible because I think Obama has peaked. Judging by Tavern Talk conversations two things have happened to start deflating his bubble: 1. His (Bill Clinton-like) response to the Farrakan support question. Do you reject but not denounce? OK, if that’s what you want I both denounce him and reject him. 2. Folks were reminded that Obama comes from a very corrupt political environment (Chicago) that he has never tried to clean up. If Hillary wins at least one state she still thinks she has a chance; if she wins both large states, she really does.

Telephone is Ringin’

Looks like my previous post on the Mondale campaign’s "red phone" caught up with the Hillary campaign, which has now released its own version of the ad. Somehow the endlessly ringing phone (is anyone going to answer it already?) puts me in the frame of mind of the old Little Feat tune, "Apolitical Blues":

Well my telephone was ringing

And they told me it was Chairman Mao. . .
I’ve got the apolitical blues

And that’s the meanest blues of all. . .
,

Seriously, though, there is something odd about the ending of the Hillary ad, at least when you watch it on the YouTube small screen, and that is the studied androgyny of the parent figure who looks in on the sleeping children. Is it a man or a woman? Is this a reprise of the old SNL "It’s Pat!" sketch? Looks like it could be Tom Cruise, whose gender identity is open to question if you believe the tabloids (and who doesn’t?). Is this some kind of deliberate but subtle PC conformity on the part of Hillary’s ad people? I guess I’ll have to go back an reread It Takes a Village for clues.

Meanwhile, over at the Corner, K-Lo thinks the ad is aimed at defeating Obama in the general--that if Hillary can’t have the nomination, she secretly wants McCain to win.

Homeschooling in California

My wife sent me a link to this post about a California homeschooling decision, described in this World Net Daily article.

Here’s what I can figure out on the basis of a quick reading of the materials. First, California law doesn’t make it easy to homeschool. There are four ways to accomplish this: qualifying your home as a private school, hiring a qualified (appropriately credentialed) tutor, or pursuing an "independent study program," using a public school curriculum (and subject to public school supervision) or using a private school curriculum (and subject to its supervision). Without knowing any better, I’d bet the fourth has been the option of choice, enabling families to homeschool by affiliating with an umbrella program that provides some curricular support, some (probably minimal) supervision, and testing facilities.

Second, in this case, a complaint was filed on behalf of the three youngest children in a family of eight (the oldest is 29), alleging "physical and emotional mistreatment" by the father. Upon investigation, the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services discovered that the kids were being homeschooled. An attorney for the two youngest sought a court order requiring them to be enrolled in and actually attend a public or private school (that is, spend time in an educational setting outside the home). Despite the fact that the juvenile court judge regarded the education provided at home was "lousy," "meager," and "bad" (which might also describe some public school experiences), he found that there was a "constitutional right" to homeschool.

The appellate court rejected this right, upholding California’s compulsory schooling laws and interpreting them in such a way as essentially to invalidate the private school independent study programs that most families probably follow (asserting that they don’t provide adequate supervision of the parent educators).

The appellate panel also made short work of the parent’s assertion of a First Amendment right to homeschool their children, following from “sincerely held religious beliefs...based on Biblical teachings and principles.” Anyone could make such an assertion and escape state supervision. What’s needed is something more like a deep-seated and organized religious tradition, such as that found among the Old Order Amish in Yoder.

Now, this line of argument raises three sorts of interesting issues. First, there’s the complex of questions that arise out of attempts to accommodate relgious freedom in the face of generally applicable laws. Some justices we tend to like (e.g., Scalia) are very suspicious of free exercise exemptions. But I wonder whether free exercise means anything if it doesn’t permit some assertion of a right to be exempt from an otherwise generally applicable law. (And yes, I know that if I were a truly strict constructionist, I wouldn’t apply the First Amendment to the states. Fair enough; as I’ll argue in a little while, I think the best remedy for California’s law is to persuade the legislature to make it more accommodating to homeschoolers.)

Second, there’s the contrast between this court’s approach to homeschoolers and the Supreme Court’s approach to conscientious objector cases (like Seeger). In the latter, the Supremes broadened the letter of the law to include exemptions for those whose objections didn’t flow out of religion, let alone out of a traditional peace church. I recognize that the Court in this case was construing a statute and trying to avoid supposed problems of establishment: a law that granted c.o. status only to "religious" believers or peace church adherents might be regarded offering the religious a privilege that others aren’t offered. (Of course, some might argue that that’s the purpose of the First Amendment free exercise clause.) But my point here is simply that the California court here seems to read any free exercise exemption very narrowly. If a law were drafted so as to embody this narrow construction, it would likely be subject establishment objections under Seeger.

Third, in considering the possibility of a free exercise exemption, the California court treads on dangerous ground, putting itself in the position of deciding what counts as a genuinely religious ground of a duty to homeschool. If I were inclined to be generous, I’d say that they were erring on the side of extreme caution in permitting exemptions, so that only members of churches or denominations that positively ordered their adherents to homeschool their children would have access to a free exercise exemption. But don’t free exercise rights belong to individuals, who have to consult their consciences? How can a judge tell me what my genuinely conscientious duties are? In other words, the court’s caution here--if indeed that’s what it is--compels it to run the risk of deciding what counts as a religion or a religious/conscientious scruple.

Stated another way, in its efforts to protect the children in this case (I have no idea what the dad was doing or how the mom was teaching) and to promote some goods that public schools are said to accomplish (as do many families that homeschool) the court has potentially made it nearly impossible to homeschool in California. The many who are decent and scrupulous about caring for the good of their children and of their country are sacrificed because a few might not do well by their children. We might as well take all children out of their parental homes because some parents are abusive behind closed doors.

My conclusion from all this is that the court was probably too zealous in narrowly reading California’s law, but also that the law is unduly restrictive of homeschooling. The remedy I’d propose, however, is new legislation, making state law more accommodating to homeschoolers. Else we necessarily enter the thicket of judicially carved (and hence necessarily arbitrary) exemptions and restrictions. I can play that game with the best of them, but would prefer to use cases like this to make law the old-fashioned way, by legislators responding to the appeals of concerned citizens and deliberating about how most effectively to improve matters.

Update: Thanks to a commenter for noting both that the likely option of choice for California homeschoolers has been setting up your home as a private school and that it’s possible to read the appellate court decision as not permitting this option either.

According to the court, the intent of the California law is to protect the rights of children by seeing to it that their teachers are competent. Parents can "protect" the "rights" of their children by acquiring the appropriate teaching credentials themselves, hiring appropriately credentialed tutors, or enrolling their kids in a school that engages in quality control. Public schools do so by enforcing credentialling requirements. Private schools don’t have to hire credentialed teachers, but their administrators have an incentive to assure that their employees are "capable of teaching" and it’s relatively easy for the state to engage in quality control here.

In other words, it’s possible to read the state’s requirement that home tutors have appropriate teaching credentials to mean that no one can educate at home without such a credential. On this reading of the law, the private school affadavit is merely a dodge not in keeping with the intent of the law.

The recent appellate opinion relies on this old California ruling on charges filed against the proverbial great grandparents of today’s homeschoolers. All the reasoning found in the current decision is in place here.

Also worth noting that Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the great parental rights decision, contains the following two statements (I’ve reversed the order):

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

***

No question is raised concerning the power of the state reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.

While the first statement is a ringing endorsement of "the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children," the second indicates that this liberty is not absolute, that the state may reasonably regulate how parents exercise their liberty (and responsibility).

Update #2: You can read a little more on our commenter’s blog here; there’s some discussion of the practical import of the court’s dismissal of the First Amendment objection, offered by an attorney for the HomeSchool Association of California.

American Conservatism?

Joseph’s post below raises some interesting questions about the "traditionalist" stool in America’s conservative coalition. In particular, it is interesting to note how he goes back and forth between "virtue conservatism" and "traditionalists."

There’s an interesting tension there. Any given tradition may or may not be supportive of virtue. Men being creatures of habit, prudent statesmen must respect tradition. But seventy-five years after FDR’s election, the American tradition ain’t what it used to be.

In short, are our "traditionalists" truly traditionalists? Or might there be a better label for them.

To push this line of thought a bit further, or perhaps in a slightly different direction, might there be a difference, perhaps only of focus, between the conservatism of Edmund Burke, and that of my namesake--John Adams.

Burke defended English tradition, and as such opened the door to historicism. Adams’ situation and his approach were somewhat different. Viewing the French Revolution (an event that he predicted, as early as 1789 would cause substantial bloodshed), Adams suggested that the error was not, strictly speaking, disrespect for tradition, but rather disregard for the enduring truths about the human condition (among which was that men are creatures of habit, and thus it is very hard to change a nation). But perhaps that’s simply an artifact of Adams living in a county that made revolution in 1776 on the basis of natural right. The appeal was not so much to tradition, as it was to higher law.

Things Fall Apart

This piece in the Los Angeles Times reminds us that Chinua Achebe’s great novel, Things Fall Apart, is fifty years old, and of course, very much worth reading and re-reading. I have used it in class next to Ellison’s Invisible Man, with some effect.

FOX News on Bill Buckley

The Friar has posted, via YouTube, in segments, much of the FOX News special on Bill Buckley that was run on March 1st. Rusher, Lowry, Kesler, Jaffa, make appearances. Thank you, Friar.

Happy to be Aboard

As a new blogger here at NLT, I should thank Peter for inviting me to join. It’s good to be here, and to join the conversation. I hope to contribute to our discussion, and perhas amuse every now and then.

For starters, I thought I’d share this pearl of wisdom that I recently stumbled upon in Alan Brinkley’s U.S. History textbook, The Unfinished Nation: On Shaker communites in the 1840s: "They endorsed the idea of sexual equality. Within Shaker society, women exercised the greatest power."

Why are U.S. troops so hard to kill?

In tending toward an answer, Strategy Page’s short essay packs in some interesting facts. You might want to glance at this (same site) on how we are terrorizing the Taliban. I also liked this short note on the kind of motorcycles the Marines use in Iraq.

Back to the 70s?

At the Wall Street Journal, Allan Meltzer suggests that Ben Bernanke is taking the country down the road it was on in the 1970s:

A country that will not accept the possibility of a small recession will end up having a big one when the politicians at last respond to the public’s complaints about inflation. Instead of paying the relatively small cost of a possible recession, the public pays the much larger cost of sustained inflation and a deeper recession. And enduring the deeper recession is the only way to convince the public that the Fed has at last decided to slow inflation.

True, but it’s not only the Fed that’s at fault here. The White House and Congress will deserve shares of the blame thanks to their massive Keynesian "stimulus package."

Taylor vs. Lilla

Here and here, on this high-level academic blog. Bookmark it.

Bill Buckley on FOX NEWS Tonight

I have learned that FOX NEWS channel is airing a documentary on Bill Buckley TONIGHT 10 p.m. Eastern. The hour-long show will feature a previously unaired interview with WFB, and face time with folks like Charles Kesler and Harry Jaffa, among others. The interviews with Jaffa and Kessler were done last year, as part of a larger show on the rise of the right, as yet unaired. Thought you might like to tune in.

Obama’s bipartisanship

The WaPo’s David Ignatius glances at the record--there isn’t much--and finds it unpersuasive. Obama’s "bipartisanship" has never led him to defy his party’s base. If you want that, McCain and even Clinton have more scars to show for their "independence."

McCain’s citizenship

The New York Times ran this story a few days ago, while theoretically interesting, has of course nothing really to do with McCain’s citizenship. But because it has brought forth some interesting discussions (and some weird facts) I thought I’d bring some of it to you attention. Matthew Franck writes a few good paragraphs on the issue, and then Mark Krikorian comments with an interesting fact: "Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey found that there were 2.2 million people living in the United States in March 2007 who were born abroad but were citizens at birth. They are counted among the native-born."

The legislation that Obama’s introducing in the Senate to deal with this non-issue, doesn’t plug any loopholes. And all this because of a New York Times artcile? Natural born doesn’t mean native born.

Hillary’s angst and anger

The reason I like this Gloria Bolger column is because in it’s simplicity it reveals a massive fact. Hillary people (I include Bill in that) can’t figure it all out and they are unhappy: The hedgehog always wins the race against the fox. She will, of course, lose both Texas and Ohio, in my humble opinion.

Harry’s story

This is New York Times on how the Prince Harry story broke (Matt Drudge didn’t observe the news blackout), and how it was kept secret for three months. Harry is back in England, but no more Eastcheap for this boy man. He is determined to go back. The BBC has a number of stories on this.

Addendum: He was brought home to kept safe. Ironically, home bred "Muslim fanatics labelled Prince Harry a target for assassins last night after his heroics against the Taliban."