As George Will reflects on the dark meaning of Kosovo’s independence, he mentions this article by Jerry Muller ("Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism") from the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Both are worth reading, in case you are slipping into optimism, or what Pat Moynihan called "the liberal expectancy."
Someone else gave a speech last week. As far as I know, President Bush’s speech on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war has received no comment on this blog yet. It also did not make a big splash in the news, in part because it said nothing new. The President repeated that we are fighting terrorists or al Qaeda in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them here. A short time before the speech, a review of 600,000 documents captured in Iraq appeared, concluding that Saddam’s regime had links to regional and global terrorism but that there was no direct connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.
I happen to be reading the memoir of a CIA case officer and high-ranking CIA official published in 1997 who reports a visit he made to Baghdad in 1986. The purpose of his visit was to get Saddam to live up to his part of the bargain he had made with the United States. We were giving him intelligence to help him in his war with Iran. In return, he was to sever his contacts with terrorists and expel them or turn them over to us. The former case officer lists many of the groups that have shown up in the recently published review of captured Iraqi documents. He mentions in particular that we wanted Abu Abbas who had been the mastermind, as they say, behind the hijacking of the Achille Lauro (1985), which resulted in the death of an American. Abbas was still in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion. By the way, the case officer, who by 1986 had about 30 years experience in the Middle East and South Asia, reported in his 1997 memoir that Iraq was known to be riven with factions and competing tribes and sects and that Iraqis were known throughout the Arab world as thugs.
Inveighing against injustice is one thing--and I won’t begrudge anyone that, even if I don’t agree with the mode of expression and perhaps even the instances cited--but adopting utterly implausible conspiracy theories is another. Couldn’t Obama have distinguished between "prophetic" hyperbole and the tinfoil hat variety?
Will the millenials care?
Update: Read this very long post that makes a number of good points distinguishing between Rev. Wright’s "prophecy" and its Old Testament counterparts.
Until I read the interview with Justice Thomas, to which Joe links below, I had not read the Judiciary Act of 1789 in quite some time, and had forgotten that it prescribes an oath of office for Justices (Section 8).
Justice Thomas notes that he takes his oath of office seriously. The text of the oath reads: To "solemnly swear or affirm, that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as , according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution, and laws of the United States. So help me God."
What stands out is the line, "and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."
Given the time and place at which the oath was written, the language was probably ultimately traceable to Leviticus 19:15: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." If so, it might have interesting implications for our establishment clause jurisprudence.
And the "So help me God" part of the oath suggests that they members of the First Congress agreed with John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration that atheists could not be good citizens, for "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist."
The goddess Fortuna does not ordinarily arrange for her favorites to spend five-and-a-half years being tortured in a prisoner-of-war camp. Nevertheless, the Economist may be on to something when it calls John McCain the “luckiest man in American politics.” Not only did he secure the Republican nomination seven months after his campaign nearly collapsed. Now, with a little more than seven months to go before November, it is becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama cannot lose the Democratic nomination, and cannot win the general election.
In today’s Politico, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen argue that Hillary Clinton “has virtually no chance of winning” the Democratic nomination. One Clinton advisor, off the record, estimates her chances against Obama as no better than ten percent.
The reason? Race. Clinton’s only path to the nomination requires Democratic superdelegates “to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency. . . . An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else. People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.”
There might be a semi-plausible pretext for the superdelegates to take the trophy out of Obama’s hands and give it Clinton if she wins the larger number of all the popular votes cast in all the primaries and caucuses from Iowa on January 3rd to Puerto Rico on June 7th. The Politico’s Ben Smith got out his calculator, however, and showed that Clinton will need “well over 60 percent of the vote” in the remaining states where she is likely to win. So far in 2008 her best states have been Arkansas, where she was first lady for 12 years and won 70 percent of the vote; Rhode Island, which gave her 58 percent; and New York, which she has represented in the Senate since 2000 and where she received 57 percent.
Why is Obama unlikely to win the general election? Again, race. Even before the Jeremiah Wright controversy became front-page news last week, there was growing evidence that despite all the talk about his post-racial candidacy, Barack Obama is not the Tiger Woods of politics. As VandeHei and John Harris pointed out earlier this week, Obama has won a majority of white votes in several states, including Wisconsin and Virginia – a historic achievement.
In the Ohio primary, however, held before Jeremiah Wright became a household name, Hillary Clinton took 64 percent of the white vote. Similarly, Obama has finished first among Latino voters in only handful of states, none of which have particularly large Hispanic populations.
John McCain is well-situated to appeal to “Reagan Democrats” – working-class whites who didn’t go to college, and Latinos. His heroic patriotism will appeal strongly to the former, especially against an opponent whose pastor invites his parishioners to scorn America. And McCain’s support of immigration reform will allow him to contest the Latino vote.
Obama’s Wright problem, for the general election, is that it gives voters in both these blocs, who might otherwise have felt guilty about voting against a black candidate, a way to do so with a clear conscience. There is nothing racist about voting against Obama anymore. Now, it’s just a matter of voting against a politician who feels comfortable around spiritual leaders whose views are as poisonous as Ward Churchill’s.
Michael Barone recently argued that the polling data are inconclusive as to whether Clinton or Obama would run the stronger race against McCain. His examination of the state-by-state data, however, shows Obama’s general election vulnerability. “Obama may be a stronger candidate than Clinton in Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Iowa,” he writes, “but he looks far weaker in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Missouri.” The trouble is that the five states where Obama looks particularly strong have a total of 41 electoral votes, while the four where he looks “far weaker” have a total of 67. Thus, McCain would get a net advantage of 26 electoral votes from those nine states voting in November the way their poll numbers look now. By contrast, John Kerry had an advantage of four electoral votes from these nine states, 56 to 52, in 2004. We’ve heard for weeks about the steeper slope facing Hillary for the nomination. It’s getting steeper for Obama in November, too.
Did you know that the CIA website has a kids’ page?
Supply your own punchline.
Charles Murray enters the lists on the side that finds more to praise than blame in Obama’s speech.
This business it not over. McCain--or his speechwriters--ought to be working on his own major speech on race. Now that the elephant in the room has been spotted, it won’t do to avoid it.
Our PR office gets Google alerts, which they pass along to me from time to time. Today’s alert called our attention to this article about Peter Lawler’s conference next week. I’m just sorry I can’t stay for the whole shebang.
Crusader nationalism and racial division are really two sides of the same coin. If crusader nationalism is the bond, or one of the bonds, that holds defense conservatives and religious conservatives together, racial division is the wedge that was used to separate the “Reagan Democrats” from the New Deal coalition. The first step in the construction of the Reagan coalition was, of course, the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon, the use of carefully coded race-baiting to alienate working-class whites from the Democratic party. From Nixon’s allusions to “states rights” and “law and order” through Reagan’s “welfare queens” and Bush Sr.’s “Willie Horton” ad, this has been a staple of Republican campaigns for over three decades.
To make a new Democratic coalition, one must therefore unmake the Reagan coalition. The first step is racial reconciliation. But if racial solidarity is to be deconstructed, what will take its place? That is the question to which Obama’s speech is an answer. And his answer is civil religion.
Insofar as the Republican coalition relies on racial antagonism, unmaking it requires racial reconciliation. But that is only a first step. The second step is to reconfigure the party landscape around class, to establish an alliance between the economically underprivileged and the culturally privileged, between those bereft of economic capital (black and white), and those rich in cultural capital (the “latte liberals”). Of course, the language of class is verboten in American public discourse. And Obama does not use it. Instead, in an Edwards moment, Obama argues that “the real culprits of the middle class squeeze ” are “a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.” Here, he invokes the approved language of populism, pitting ordinary people against greedy corporations and Washington lobbyists, against economic exploiters and pseudo-intellectuals.
This language has a second advantage as well. Not only does it allow him to elide the forbidden language of “class warfare.” It also allows him to invoke the language of democratic sovereignty and national identity. For “the people” is a term that plays on two registers: class as well as nation. In this way, demands for social justice are implicitly linked with claims to popular sovereignty and patriotism. And rejection of those demands appears as un-democratic and un-American.
So Obama’s "civil religion" is a form of class consciousness, albeit one expressed soothingly and smilingly.
There are a couple of other things about the post that serve, I think, to undermine its credibility (and that of its author). First, there’s this caricature of the Republican coalition:
One of the great, unremarked advantages of the Republican coalition over the last three decades has been its ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Apart from a few Jewish and black neo-conservatives — the Bill Kristols and Ken Blackwells — it is overwhelmingly white and evangelical.
Tell that to the Catholics, a majority of whom voted for GWB in 2004 and a significant minority of whom continue to identify with the GOP. Tell it to the business Republicans who regularly express disdain for evangelicals. Of course, it serves Gorski’s (and Obama’s?) version of civil religion to paint Republicans as "the Other."
Second, there’s his reliance on
this book, which I reviewed for PAL’s journal. I found the argument unpersuasive then and discover that it hasn’t improved with age. (If you want the text of my revew, either subscribe to Perspectives, or send me an email.
If, as Steve notes below, "We’re all originalists now," might we be able to revisit the absurd notion that being born on U.S. soil is a sufficient condition for citizenhip.
As Ed Erler notes, that conclusion is a far cry from the orignial intent of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had previously asserted that “All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” The immediate impetus for the Fourteenth Amendment was to constitutionalize and validate the Civil Rights Act because some had questioned whether the Thirteenth Amendment was a sufficient basis for its constitutionality. A constitutional amendment would also have the advantage of preventing a later unfriendly Congress from repealing it.
One conspicuous departure from the language of the Civil Rights Act was the elimination of the phrase “Indians not taxed.” Senator Jacob Howard of Ohio, the author of the Citizenship Clause, defended the new language against the charge that it would make Indians citizens of the United States. Howard assured skeptics that “Indians born within the limits of the United States, and who maintain their tribal relations, are not, in the sense of this amendment, born subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” Senator Lyman Trumbull, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported Howard, contending that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else . . . subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.” Indians, he concluded, were not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States because they owed allegiance—even if only partial allegiance—to their tribes. Thus, two requirements were set for United States citizenship: born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction.
By itself, birth within the territorial limits of the United States, as the case of the Indians indicated, did not make one automatically “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.
Peter Myers has written a very good book on Mr. Douglass. Indeed, it may the best book ever written about him. Myers takes Douglass seriously and, while acknowledging problems, tensions, complexities, and even misjudgments, in his thought and politics, he thinks that Douglass’ political thought at its core is both more coherent and subtle--and defensible--than most others who have written on him think. He maintains that Douglass was right in finding in the natural rights principles of the Declaration of Independence a necessary and sufficient theoretical basis for addressing the nations’ racial problem. I talked to Pete for about forty minutes. It was a very fine conversation! He agreed to do more at a future time and I thank him.
If Obama’s speech makes him a socialist, Progressive, etc, etc., then Condoleezza Rice, who wrote in Foreign Affairs of the need for the United States to be on the right side of history, is a Marxist-Leninist.
But seriously folks, it was a political speech and while it is fun to find all sorts of emanations and penumbras in it, I think you are missing what the man actually said. Given the state of public discourse, it is good that he did not repudiate the constitution and actually claimed that it has principles embedded in it. Lucas is right that Obama’s specific policy recommendations are a problem. That is the weakness that should be attacked. Lucas is also right to ask us to consider what Obama says about the black American experience, which no one on this blog has attempted yet. That is why I still find much of what is being said here fussy and doctrinaire and, I must say, beside the point.
Finally, what strikes me about much of the blogging here on Obama’s speech is its unhistorical character. One blogger or another defines what America is or what is American or in the Founding according to a set of theoretical preferences (which may in fact be right) and then finds Obama to be un-American or to have abandoned the principles of the Founding. Our actual history is more complicated than that. “Progressivism,” for example, is part of the founding, in part because Protestantism was part of the original America and it was a major part of what became Progressivism. Why ignore this complicated history? Is the actual America so unlovely that it must be made young and beautiful?
Mike Huckabee is getting some favorable play over at The Daily Kos because of his attempt to see the Rev. Wright with charitable eyes. He’s not eliciting much sympathy, however, from some conservative commentators--like Laura Ingraham--who takes the view that his remarks on Joe Scarborough’s show are something people of a younger generation cannot process. She sees it as a scolding that is not relevant to today’s world. Something that we might visit in a museum. "We’re so over [race] now," she said this morning. In a way, I think both are right.
I am no great fan of Mike Huckabee’s and I’ve never tried to hide the fact here, but I think his remarks about Wright represent the views of most thoughtful and decent people who witnessed (whether in person or in absentia) the horrors and injustice of a bygone era. Like Obama, they ask us to understand the anger. Dennis Miller expressed something similar recently when he said that when he looked at Wright he saw a grumpy old Marine who had been called the "N" word too many times. To be clear . . . Miller did not say that this excused his behavior nor--I think--did Huckabee.
Understanding and expressing sympathy for emotions such as anger is a helpful thing to do in our personal relationships. Between friends, family, and potential friends understanding and sympathizing with the root of someone’s anger can facilitate forgiveness, healing and stronger ties of union. But I am dubious about the necessity of doing this on a political or even a public level--particularly when the anger is not fresh. Put another way, I wouldn’t mind having a long one on one conversation with the Rev. Wright about his anger and the opinions he holds stemming from that anger. In such a context, I might even forgive him his anger--though I doubt I would in all things excuse or respect every opinion that was borne of it. On the other hand, I see no reason why we should elevate such sentiments to the level of a public discourse. Anger may be interesting and it’s a fair thing to note it, but it’s not always relevant. It becomes less and less relevant (as most fleeting things do) as it ages. In America, anger is not an inheritance. At least it shouldn’t be. This is why people like Ingraham (and me) who did not live through the Civil Rights movement look sometimes with amazement upon all the talk of race in this country. Folks who did live through it and are scarred by it (on either side of the line) are wrong to get indignant and say we’re naive because of it. From our point of view, the battle is more or less over and won. We have to wonder why, sometimes, you seem to want it to linger.
My cranky take on Obama’s "Perfect Union" speech can be read here.
The short of it is that Obama is Lincolnesque only if you overlook his failure to mention the Declaration of Independence, his rather cursory attention to Constitutional limits, and his playing the "mystic chords" of class warfare.
Update: Our friend Jon Schaff comes to many of the same conclusions, pointing to the apple of gold framed in the picture of silver.
My prediction regarding Obama’s speech pretty much came to pass. He used the historic location of Philadelphia not only to praise our nation’s ideals and call attention to their inconsistent practice, but also to reveal the ways in which black Americans, in particular, regard this “gap” between “promise” and “reality” a troublesome feature of the American polity. In addition, he used this discussion as the touchstone for his nimble criticism and defense of his “former pastor,” as well as jump-starting what he hoped would be a national conversation about race in America.
While he did not go so far as to quote Bill Clinton’s 1st Inaugural Address (“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America”), as I anticipated Obama did approximate the sentiment by stating that “the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution . . . [with] the ideal of equal citizenship under the law.” He one-upped the former president by addressing the question of race in America with all the candor, sophistication, and grace that was lacking from Clinton’s town hall meetings on the subject. As misguided as I believe Obama’s actual policies would be (on race and other issues), his speech landed between a "Sister Souljah moment" and Martin Luther’s King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, coming closer to the latter than the former in its high-minded appreciation of America’s noblest principles and its clear-sighted recognition of America’s inconsistent practices.
There’s a lot to comment on in his 43-minute speech, but I will close with two more observations (for now, as I am sure to hear soon enough about what I missed or got wrong). First, leaving aside his bold, nuanced criticism/defense of the Rev. Wright, here is a cynic’s schematic of the partisan message of Obama’s speech:
To solve America’s “monumental problems,” Americans need UNITY.
To become unified, Americans need to CHANGE politics as usual.
To change our politics, Americans need to follow someone who not only believes in a different way of doing things, but also literally embodies the UNITY and CHANGE the country needs.
Ecce homo: Barack Obama.
I hasten to add that it was not just a partisan speech, and not simply because Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics. To miss the non-partisan elements of his speech is to miss an opportunity to learn what Republicans in particular must learn in order to improve their prospects among black Americans. As Aretha Franklin put it, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” We can “find out what it means” to them by beginning with Obama’s rendering of the black church and the black American experience as a heritage that entails “embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of the past.” Well put; now discuss.
My second observation: The underlying question for candidate Obama is, what is the basis of American union? How would he lead so that the diversity of the American people becomes a unity that strengthens rather than a division that weakens us? The Party of Lincoln believes the central idea of American union is human equality, understood as the equal possession of the rights of humanity (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), whereby government exists to secure or protect the exercise of these God-given, natural rights.
As far as I can make out, the Democrats believe the American union is not the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, as Obama preaches in true e pluribus unum fashion, but merely a coalition of supplicant interests beholden to a national government. The notion of a common good that Democrats tout is less about the prosperity of a free, industrious, and self-governing people and more about a common condition of want, desperation, and disability. Does Obama recognize that the self-help gospel practiced by Obama and preached by the Rev. Wright would be undermined by the very policies he, as a Democrat, recommends?
Peter. All good points. In my post below, I should have started by saying that Obama gave quite a speech. It was eloquent, and it was refreshing to see a man of the Left ground his thoughts in America’s constitutional tradition, and to hear him appeal to basic American principles.
That’s all to the good. Perhaps he can help improve America’s race problem. On that point, that’s why distancing himself from Rev. Wright might be a bad idea. Wright’s ideas, as far as I can tell, are mainstream in black America. A man who wishes to bring America’s black community closer to the America’s mainstream might have to keep his connections with men like Wright for that reason. That is particularly true for someone who is half-African an half white, (and an Ivy Leaguer) rather than African-American.
On the other hand, Obama seems to think that America’s principles are the principles of Progressivism. The second half of the speech is, at heart, socialistic. I don’t think that circle can be squared. But on the other hand, he does make nods to the importance of self-help. Once again, perhaps he needs to talk that way to bring the Old Lefties along, and to help us move from a welfare state to an oppotunity society. (Obama’s voting record makes me think twice about that interpretation, but it is plausible).
The great question for America’s conservatives today seems to be this: now that we’re three-quarters of a century past the start of the New Deal, our tradition is a big-government tradition. That tradition rests in precarious tension with the principles of the founding. That being the case, statesmanship is a tall order.
I suspect that Obama’s policy bias it toward centralized solutions, decided by smart, Ivy League types in Washington, just as it was for the Progressives. That’s tied to his "unity" theme. Last night on TV, Frank Luntz highlighted his phrase: "Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive." The phrase suggests that Wright’s divisiveness is his greatest sin. It’s worse than his "wrong."
From that turn of phrase, combined with other things, I have grown to suepct that Obama does not appreciates the connection between the egalitarian principles upon which our constitutional union was built, and the checks and balances that are essential to its constitutional architecture. He wants simple unity, not a balance of forces. His belief he can sit down with any world leader and work things out appears to be the same principle, applied to foreign affairs.
1. Obama is a progressivist in the sense that the history of our country is progress toward full implementation of the Constitution’s egalitarian principles. He didn’t say anything, though, that would suggest he beleives that the principles themselves progress. At the level of principle, he might be called an originalist.
2. An evangelical, Joe Carter, judged Obama to be a heretic. That same way of judging might conclude American Protestanism has been rife with soft forms of liberationist heresy, I will admit. I will add that African-American theology, from the beginning, was about both otherworldly and this-worldly liberation. But Rev. Wright’s church’s theology of liberation is far from soft and very one-dimensional.
3. Although I remain almost as impressed with Obama’s distancing speech as David Tucker and Steve Thomas, Rev. Wright will continue to be a problem for Barack, one that may send waffling evangelical and orthodox Christians back to McCain. It seems to me that it would really help McCain to put an evangelical (and I don’t mean Huck at this point) on the ticket. Right now, I’m sensing that many evangelicals don’t regard the choice between a theologian of liberation and a Zeussian as very appealing. A candidate’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in voting, unless that religion makes insistent political claims.
4. I’m still virtually certain that the Democrats won’t be able to deny Obama the nomination. Nonetheless, as Peter S. pointed out, Hillary’s lead is lengthening in PA, and the most recent study has her tied in NC. The combination of a Hillary landslide in PA and a victory in NC could throw the party into genuine turmoil.
5. Both sides in the Second Amendment case before the Court are talking originalism. But it’s sometimes hard to know what originalism is. Randy Barnett--the one doing the most celebrating about it being so back in fashion--thinks that a true originalist would regard both LOCHNER and ROE as rightly decided. Some so-called originalists are big-time, promiscuous judicial activists. But surely the original constitutional view included a much more modest place for judicial view than almost everybody today (well, not Scalia and the Scalia-ites) thinks.
Reading the posts and comments about Obama’s speech, it strikes me that, except for Steve Hayward’s and Peter Lawler’s, they seem fussy and doctrinaire: Obama confused the Declaration and the Constitution (thank God, is all I can say, considering the alternatives—Steve is right about this); he got a date wrong by a few months; he’s a Progressive; his thought is un-American. Obama’s understanding of the need to perfect the constitution is sound. The answer to the slavery issue was in the constitution because “equal citizenship under the law” is embedded in the constitution. As Steve pointed out, this understanding could be called Lincolnian. There is no claim that the truth unfolds over time or was inherently blighted by its compromise with slavery and so we need constantly to improve the constitution or start over. Obama also said that Blacks had to take responsibility for their own lives, so he did not simple-mindedly blame the “system” or whites for the problems of blacks. I was also glad that he did not cave into pressure to disown the Rev. Wright. It was enough to disown his views. Wright has helped him it seems and so to disown him personally would have been an act of ingratitude and so of injustice and to have done so under pressure a sign of cowardice. I suppose we will all have differences over various of his policy prescriptions. I think he is wrong to criticize free trade, for example.
With regard to religion, I must add that I think Peter is wrong to stigmatize Obama or the religious tradition of the Rev. Wright as heretical. Or rather, if this is heresy, then so is much if not most Protestantism in America, which has tended to confuse itself with the Messiah and has been political and often too political from the beginning.
Kathleen Parker thinks Obama is a magician. He was almost able to convince her to wear sunglasses in the moonlight. He tried to cast a very subtle and seductive guilt spell yesterday, and for many Americans, it may have worked.
But if Rev. Wright is to be viewed as the crazy old uncle, I’d like to compare Obama to the Magician’s Nephew from the first (if read in the order he intended) of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In that story, the nephew means well. He wants to distance himself from his evil magician uncle. But the boy can’t help but be intrigued by the opportunity the magician offers. He wants to heal his ailing mother. His curiosity and his audacious hopefulness get the better of him and, in a hostile world, he touches a forbidden bell the sound of which unleashes a good deal of evil. If Obama really was a post-racial candidate, the speech he ought to have given yesterday would NOT have been about race. It would have been about his religion or the philosophy that informs his religion. Oh wait . . . it was. That’s why it was about race. But it was cleverly couched in a narrative we all might feel comfortable in swallowing. His attempt was to make the un-American seem American--though I am willing consider that he does not understand himself to be at odds with America’s founding principles. Whether he understands it or not, however, he will re-define what it means to be an American by insisting that the fulfillment of America’s promise means accepting a progressive agenda completely at odds with any fair reading of the meaning of liberty or equality. Like the magician’s nephew . . . he stepped in it. It will be up to others now to fix it.
I guess this was inevitable: Turns out there is a symmetrical blog to NLT: NoRightTurn.
Should we get together for a convention? Maybe they need to start the Koorbhsa Center (at Antioch College, no less. Oh wait. . .)
CORRECTION (sort of): Turns out this is a site in New Zealand. Now, in New Zealand, the right-leaning, free market, limited government party is the Liberal Party. Which means that, as was the case in the Soviet Union where "conservative" meant you were a Stalinist, in the New Zealand context, No Right Turn might actually mean don’t turn to socialism. Which would make the site our mirror image, not our ideological symmetrical image.
On closer inspection, the answer turns out to be. . . No.
Can you tell I’m taking the day off from my regular work?
As so often is the case, a cartoonist offers the most lucid explanation of how the subprime mortgage debacle occurred.
Randy Barnett has this to say over at The Volokh Conspiracy:
Significantly, then, both sides in Heller are making only originalist arguments. The challengers of the law contend that the original meaning of the Second Amendment protects an individual “right to keep and bear arms” that “shall not be abridged.” In response, the District does not contend that this right is outmoded and that the Second Amendment should now be reinterpreted in light of changing social conditions. Not at all. It contends instead that, because the original intentions of the framers of the Second Amendment was to protect the continued existence of “a well regulated militia,” the right it protects was limited to the militia context.
So one thing is certain. Whoever prevails, Heller will be an originalist decision. This shows that originalism remains the proper method of identifying the meaning of the Constitution. Heller reveals that today’s debate over originalism is really about whether old nonoriginalist Supreme Court decisions should supercede the Constitution’s original meaning when doing so leads to results that nonoriginalists like better.
Nixon famously said in 1971, "We’re all Keynesians now," and as I listened in C-SPAN radio yesterday to the oral argument in the DC gun control case at the Supreme Court, it struck me that even the liberals on the Court are all "originalists" now. I can’t remember a recent Court argument where the intent of the Founders, and the role of Blackstone, the English Bill of Rights, and the intent and understanding of Madison and the Founders in writing the Bill of Rights, was so central to the argument. The liberals struggled mightily to find an originalist ground to preserve some space for government to regulate handguns, but seemed to me trying to make water run uphill. To me this represents a broad triumph of the cause of originalism, even if we’re still far from restoring an older jurisprudence of natural rights.
Now, of course, Nixon declared himself a Keynesian just before the doctrine began its last gasps, and, with one or two Obama/Hillary appointments, the "organic" and un-originalist Constitution could be back in business big time. But for now we should slap around some liberals on this.
When he was a young man, he got Wright with God.
Rep. Murtha endorses Sen. Clinton. The latest poll shows Clinton ahead in PA by 26 points: "Clinton even appears to be making in roads among black voters in the state. She trails
just 63-27 with that group, which Obama has tended to get over 80% of the vote from in
key primary states so far. She has a 40 point lead, 63-23, with white voters."
Is the title of my essay over on the First Things site.
Update: An attorney writes in response to my essay (I omit the honey that precedes the wormwood):
. You follow your quotation of the relevant statutes establishing the alternatives available to California parents to public schooling with the interpretation of those statutes in Turner, concluding that "[t]he clever and creative interpretation of the law that makes every home potentially a private school has no clear foundation in legislative intent." This begs the question, by assuming that Turner correctly interpreted the statutes, of what the statutes actually say. (By the way, do legislatures have intentions? They always struck me as being a more or less incoherent collections of interests with manifold purposes playing out in their every act. I might go so far as to observe that in the circles in which I move, we usually call judges who believe they are competent to divine "legislative intent" "liberal judicial activists".) Is it impossible that the distinction between the alternatives offered in the statutes does not turn on home vs. private school instruction
(I have searched in vain for any reference to home-based education in the credentialed tutor option), but rather on "full-time day school" vs. "study and recitation for at least three hours a day"? Let us not forget that California’s largest city was historically something of a company town, the industry centered therein being one of the few in the country that makes some considerable use of child-labor, necessitating education practices that accomodate that labor. As a homeschooler yourself, I am sure you are aware that the nature of homeschooling does not always readily lend itself to the hours and days parameters of classroom schooling (some would contend that this is one of its advantages). Nevertheless, hours and days requirements (usually calibrated to public school requirements) are quite common in state homeschooling statutes, though I cannot recall any that would allow a mere three hours beyond the earliest years of primary schooling (forgive me, I do not have my
statutes at hand). Might the credentialed teacher (as opposed to the person "capable of teaching") requirement of this alternative be directed at balancing the "full-time" and three hour a day options? (Perhaps I am wrong and the California statutes offer an incompatible definition of "private full-time day school". If not, I wonder what makes such a school: how many students must such a school have? is one enough? is it the parent-student relationship that is the problem? is that cured if I also teach my neighbor’s child music while my neighbor teaches my child mathematics?)
2. With all due respect to Justice White, his dicta in Board of Education v. Allen does not amount to res judicata. I do not believe the Supreme Court has delivered an opinion on homeschooling (other than Yoder, of course, which is really about free exercise of religion). Troxel v. Granville’s finding of a fundamental constitutional right of parents to rear their children, read together with Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the near universal (before the California court’s decision, I believe I could say simply universal) acceptance by the states of homeschooling, may be instructive. At the very least it challenges the notion that a private school adminitrator’s economic motivation is a more valid foundation of a child’s best interests than is parental attachment. That liberal judicial activist, Justice Thomas, I believe correctly identifies the test for restrictions on fundamental constitutional rights in his concurrence in Troxel -- compelling governmental interest ac
hieved by a narrowly tailored law or policy that is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. The education of minors is, without question, a compelling governmental interest; can a ban on home education (or even a restriction to home education by credentialed tutors) meet the tests of a narrowly tailored law or policy that is the least restrictive means necessary to achieve that interest? Forty-nine states (recently fifty), including approximately thirty by specific statute, seem content with less restrictive means.
The short of my response to his first point is that even if you don’t accept the notion of legislative intent, the plain meaning of the word "school" surely didn’t, at the time the legislation was adopted, mean the home.
With respect to the second point, I’m someone who appreciates (in both senses of the word) the difficulty that school authorities have in regulating homeschoolers. Conceding that the education of our children is a compelling state interest, I would as a judge defer to a legislature’s determination that this difficulty required a relatively restrictive homeschooling law. As a legislator or advocate, I’d argue against such a law. I’d cite this decision to bolster the case that the rights of parents should be given a great deal of respect, but I’d still make the argument that giving parents a relatively free rein produces results with which the republic ought to be content, both with respect to citizenship (including, by the way, the appreciation of diversity) and with respect to preparedness for a productive working life.
Studies show that liberals are messier than conservatives, and my office is much messier than that of some complacently liberal NEWSWEEK summarizer of studies. Because I’m so emotionally self-confident, I have no need for order or structure in my environment and barely any in my life. You won’t find any cleaning supplies or calendars in my bedroom. If I have any residual conservative inclinations, they may flow from my strange intolerance for tatoos and foreign travel.
...is explained by our friend Joe Carter. No, it’s not the rantings of a rogue pastor. The very mission of the church is to reconfigure the key ideas of Christian theology--such as salvation and reconcliation--into nothing more than a message of radical political liberation. However effectively Barack might mute that message or even domesticate it in terms of an aspirational Constitution (or Declaration), from an evangelical or orthodox view he remains much more heterodox or heretical than, say, a Mormon. The objection Joe raises to Barack is religious or Christian and not necessarily a criticism of his particular political views. But it does explain why Obama might literarlly confuse himself with the Messiah.
Julie and Joe cover most of my reaction to Obama’s speech, but I’ll add two things.
One small point. Didn’t anyone fact-check the speech before it was released? In the first paragraph, Obama says this of the Constitutional Convention: "Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787." That’s when the convention began. It ended in September, 1787. Admittedly, a small point. But perhaps it suggests something about Obama. Like most Progressives, he’s better at understanding what he takes to be the goal of the constitution than its content.
More importantly, Obama seems to be trying to take the understanding of citizenship that is implicit in the constitution (at least as I read it), and combine it with the social gospel. In short, he wants the universality that is only possible in a limited government that covers an expansive territory, and the type of community and governmental responsibility that can only be had in a small republic.
Obama here takes an old line, one which is hard to reconcile with the very constitution that Obmama is claiming to support. That being the case, perhaps we should recall the wisdom of our friend Mr. Madison in Federalist 10:
"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property"
Or, in the words of my namesake, John Adams: “Divided we ever have been, and ever must be.”
I fear that the kind of unity that Obama seeks is not the unity of citizens supporting liberty, but that of tyrants managing our lives for us. I hope that I am mistaken because I fear that many Americans no longer know the difference.
I watched the speech this morning right before we hopped in the car and drove home from the grandparental abode. Aside from the fact that his dilatoriness and verbosity delayed our departure, my focus group (my dad, my mom, a nephew, his girlfriend, my wife, and kids) wasn’t impressed. Of course, I didn’t expect them to be, as they’re for the most part not exactly swing voters.
My first blush reactions (recalling them after a mind-numbing ride on the interstate) were that (1) he began by confusing the Declaration and the Constitution; (2) his "perfect union" is much less modest than that of the Founders, which isn’t surprising, of course; (3) for those who had read or heard lots of his speeches, there was quite a bit of recycling, with not much genuinely new; (4) he understands everyone’s anger, but only seems to blame conservative politicians and talk radio hosts for exploiting it; (5) the policy proposals are familiar, but he wants those who object to them to seem somehow crabbed and backward-looking; (6) the speech was quite self-referential in a way I found off-putting; and (7) his limited praise for conservative "Cosbyism" is undercut by the ways in which he continues to wish to apportion lots of blame for the plight of poor blacks on things like education (which has been massively funded by all levels of government since the 60s and which has been controlled in urban school districts by leaders elected by African-American majorities for almost that long).
I’ll have more to say when I can read and think about the speech at my leisure. My preliminary bottom line is that he probably won’t lose too many more Democratic voters over his relationship with Rev. Wright (barring any new bombshells), but that this speech doesn’t help him much with the rest of the electorate. It’s not, I think, a pivotal moment in his campaign.
The best link for the Obama speech is here because you can both read and hear it. This bears doing--probably more than once. I will also have more to say about it later but, for now, let me say that it reminds me of a story Lincoln like to tell (and one that our own, Peter Schramm often re-tells) about a little boy who reported to his father that he saw his older brother run off to the barn with a neighbor girl and that they were taking off their clothes and were about to pee in the hay. The father explained to his young son that he had gotten the facts right, but that he had come to the wrong conclusions. In some respects, this can be said of Obama’s speech though--obviously--he did it with much more grace and less naivete than the mistaken boy of Lincoln’s story.
Also, Joe K. is right to point out that Obama places the blame for everyone’s anger (white and black) right on the doorstep of conservatives. This seems to be a cynical application of his principles--and yet, I detected no sense of guile in his remarks. They seem heartfelt--and I’m not sure which is worse. He admits no possibility, for example, of a black conservative. Such a man must, in his universe, suffer from a false sense of consciousness. Are we all just a product of our respective experiences? He seems to want to transcend them, but he also embraces them . . . all of them . . . as one embraces an embarrassing relative (or preacher friend). In understanding the anger that comes from all of those respective experiences, must we also excuse it? Can we move beyond the anger or must we marinate in it and come out with a flavor--similar to Rev. Wright’s--and then demand that people "understand" where we’re coming from? Is Obama the only man running qualified to be President because of his mixed-race background? He’s the only guy who can understand and be above all that anger? Where is the path out for the rest of us? He seems to sing a siren song . . . only Obama can absolve us from our guilt. In that sense, he descends from his higher aspirations in the beginning of the speech to a place that is far more ordinary and pedestrian and--oddly--racist. If you are at all thoughtful, it must disappoint.
As for his more pedestrian policy proposals . . . all of that is just the virus of progressivism. And that probably also explains why he’s focused on the "more perfect" Union of the Constitution instead of talking about the proposition in the Declaration. Obama’s "more perfect" Union is to be judged by an ever evolving standard of perfection. The Declaration rather limits it. Today’s liberals can’t embrace it.
1. I can’t believe how good Obama’s speech was. The Constitution perfecting itself over time is the perfect idea for his post-racist (that’s not really post-racist) candidacy. The Wright stuff has caused him to shine, and "God damn America" has morphed into invoking God’s judgment as a way of motivating us toward civic perfection, of dedicating us as a people under God to working on behalf of a biblical proposition. And Obama seems to have been the primary author of his own speech. I’m still not for him, but I hope we’re all over misunderestimating him. His critics will blame him for not repudiating Wright, but of course he couldn’t do that. He had no choice but to spin him, and he did.
2. Poor Hillary. The poll in the USA TODAY reminds us how high her negatives are in almost every area but problem-solving or competence. Americans seem to admire Obama and McCain highly and almost equally.
3. Nobody cares that Florida ain’t voting again, because nobody really believes that the result would affect the outcome of the convention.
Here’s the link to my chapter in the dignity volume issued by the Bioethics Council. And clicking will send you to free and immediately accessible versions of all the chapters.
As this is a political year, it is understandable that many of us are caught up in the political implications of Senator Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright.
But there is another issue here. Wright shows us that there are indeed two Americas. One America that believes that America is fundamentally good, albeit flawed, and another that believes that America is basically bad, and needs wholesale change in order to become good. Mrs. Obama seems to share that view.
The Wright controversey, along with the polling data which shows the great differences between blacks and whites in America about such things as the origin of AIDS, the guilt of O.J. Simpson, and other things, that many black citizens of America live in a parallel culture.
For quite some time liberal whites have pushed affirmative action and other such remedies. But these have only reinforced the separation of the races by making race the first question whites ask when they interview a man for a job or for admission to college. Meanwhile, conservatives, disliking these programs, have hoped that the problem would die of its own weight. It has not done so.
Some of the support of Senator Obama has come from his ability to suggest that he wishes to end that racial separation. The trouble is he needs to bring the black community along with him. That won’t be an easy task.
Perhaps the Wright controversy should remind us all that race is still a real problem in America. The only solution seems to be to attack the idea of race in America (an idea that has become important to the black community, no less than if formerly had been to the white) and move to a nation in which categorization by race is regarded as absurd. There are many entrenched interests who will fight that tooth and nail. But there probably is no other solution.
I missed Obama’s speech--I’m just finishing a conference in Indiana on (snore, snore) climate change--and now I have to dash to the airport to increase my carbon footprint, but from the brief news accounts just out it seems to me that Obama hit a home run. This comment in particular stands out:
"The answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution -- a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time."
This is not too far removed from Lincoln’s language in his speech attacking the Dred Scott decision. This contrasts rather sharply with Thurgood Marshall’s deprecations of the Constitution in the 1980s, when he said he wouldn’t celebrate the Constitution’s bicentennial because, as a black, it wasn’t his Constitution, or Jesse Jackson, who got the meaning of the three-fifths clause exactly backwards.
We’ll want to read the whole thing, of course, and especially watch for the reaction among blacks who have been fed the Marshall-Jackson line for along time now. Perhaps Obama can get them to change course at long last.
But Wright’s and Obama’s critics are too far removed from biblical study to recognize that Wright is following in the footpath of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, whose oracles interpreted the sufferings of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah as punishment for their failure to live up to their covenant with God. To be in covenant with God, to be "under God," is to be blessed by the divine when we are faithful. But woe be us, the prophet Micah said, when we have failed "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."
Fair enough, but the biblical Jeremiah criticized his own people and called them to account before God. The new Jeremiah seems to regard the America he criticizes as "the Other" (didn’t he once refer to the United States of White America, or am I mistaken?) and to present the people to whom he ministers as victims. I realize that the clips have been cherry-picked, but I’d love to see evidence that Rev. Wright made his listeners uncomfortable about their own behavior, about their own responsibility for their plight. (My preacher does that all the time.) I’m not arguing that Rev. Wright’s preaching should consist entirely of a series of Cosby moments, but talk from the pupit about the faults of others shouldn’t exclude talk about one’s own responsibilities. I’d find Rev. Wright’s prophetic witness less offensive if there’s an admixture of self-criticism. Needless to say, it would also be less offensive if there were more than occasional references to America’s promise.
My second thought has to do with the "Historians for Obama" statement, which is remarkably free from any reference to race. There is this, however:
Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness - or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself.
Dr. Luker and his colleagues ought to hold Obama to this high standard, rather than let him off the hook here.
While we await Obama’s speech on race, religion and politics today--sure the make-or-break moment of his campaign, more crucial to his chances than JFK’s speech on his Catholic faith in Dallas in 1960--don’t miss Shelby Steele’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Sample:
How to turn one’s blackness to advantage? The answer is that one "bargains." Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America’s history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer’s race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist.
Obama has a very tiny needle to thread with today’s speech.
. . . mainly because our Irish have become such good Americans. This is the argument persuasively made by Michael Medved in this thoughtful piece celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Medved makes a very good case but then . . . there’s also green beer and good cheer. But, of course, good marketing is also very, very American.
I am especially pressed today, so I am going to withold any lengthy (or especially thoughtful, ha ha) comments on this unnecessarily long Dan Balz piece in today’s WaPo on how white men are the critical vote. The point is that it is worth reading on many levels. It certainly has to do with the end-game of the Obama-Clinton race, as well as the Pennsylvania vote. If things weren’t complicated enough, Obama’s spiritual mentor, and his seeming anti-Americanism is now fully visible, and Obama will have to address it head-on, which he apparently will tomorrow. Much to contemplate here, and actions with large consequences.
Because I’ve been reading this book and I’ve already read this book and because I’ve been paying attention to the shift in social mores during the last two decades, I was not shocked to learn last week that--according to the CDC--25% of American teenage girls carry at least one STD. Of course, this means that some of them carry more than one! But I’m not shocked by that either. I’m appalled by it, but not shocked. Given the state of our popular culture, the lack of discipline in our schools, the state of sexual education, and above all the clueless-ness of parents, I’m actually shocked that the number is still so low. When 80% of unmarried young girls are sexually active before the age of twenty, I don’t expect the number to remain at 25% in the coming decades. No wonder there is such a push for vaccines to save us from ourselves. At some point, it becomes very hard to see any room for reason to intervene.
Today, Dr. Miriam Grossman has a column discussing the contribution to the problem that comes from our misguided efforts in the area of sexual education. As always, her points are very measured and reasonable. She’s not unaware of this, but this article only addresses one front in this war. And it’s not even the most important one.
I said that I was not shocked by this news, but I am shocked by the shock of so many people I know in my life apart from the political/academic world. Primarily, I am shocked by the reaction of other mothers around my age. It is as if they really believed that time stood still in the late 80s and things now are no worse than they were then. I think this may be because the pop culture message of Madonna does not differ substantially from that of Britney Spears. She’s ratcheted it up a few notches, but that’s what kids do, isn’t it? We all listened to Madonna, imitated her dress (to the extent that our parents would allow it), got into one form of trouble or another and then, came out on the other side of it pretty sane. We know there were some among us who picked up a nasty disease and there were some who really ruined their lives. But these were the outliers. It certainly wasn’t 25% of us.
Why should we think it will be any different for our daughters? People always say young people are going to hell in a handbasket. Elvis shocked our grandparents or our great-grandparents. If we’re shocked by today’s kids, we’re just old fogies . . . right? The thing we’re forgetting is . . . two decades have lapsed. That’s a long time for decency to be defined down. Moms who grew up wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes along with "Boy Toy" belt buckles and singing "Like a Virgin" (which actually is all about emphatically NOT being like a virgin), may be shocked to find how quaint that all seems to today’s younger generation. Today it’s the virgins who lie about their status . . . not the opposite. Today’s song would be "Like a Slut" and there would be no sweet or enticing melody to it. These kids have never known anything but exhortations to be "sexy." Think of what they’ve got to do to shock parents who dressed like Madonna as teenagers! If we had to emulate Madonna in order to shock parents who grew up with Woodstock . . . well, what did you expect?
People who say it’s "all how you are raised" are wrong about the "all" part but they’re more correct than not. The trouble is that so many of us have abandoned the responsibility of raising sensible teenagers because we have listened to the siren song of those who also tell us that we shouldn’t get too excited over their antics. Kids will be kids. Yes, but that should be what we tell ourselves so as not to get discouraged as we try to teach them how to be adults. It’s not an excuse for not putting in the effort.
...one by the WALL STREET JOURNAL/NBC NEWS. It shows the huge advantage the Democrats now hold over the Republicans in public opinion, the negative orientation of voters in general, and almost incredibly pervasive contempt for the president and his poicies. Good news: Both Clintons have very high negatives, and McCain remains competitive with both Hillary and Obama. Mac, unlike anything or anybody else Republican, is viewed more positively and negatively.
This study confirms the view that Mac is probably the Republicans strongest possible candidate, precisely because he has distanced himself from both the president and the party establishment. A majority of Republicans, though, do wish that somebody else was going to be their party’s nominee.
Mark Steyn summarizes the evidence of the close--if selective--real and rhetorical connection between Obama and Rev. Wright. African-American churches have, with various degrees of intensity and imagination, developed "alternative narratives" of American history and all that. Some, of course, are genuinely instructive corrections to what we think we know, and others are willful and sometimes hateful distortions. Wright obviously tends toward the latter extreme; "God damn America" are the words of a hate-filled extremist. McCain has done well not to push this connection and or even imply that Obama can be identified with his pastor’s views. And this issue won’t hurt Obama in the quest for the Democratic nomination. In the short term, voters will want to believe his distancing denials. But there is something potentially very explosive here, and it will test the statesmanship of both senator-candidates.