Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.