Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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 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: " 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."