Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Of Rockstars, Drop-Outs, and Leaving Kids Behind

Ben Boychuk at RedBlueAmerica writes with insight about a plethora of education problems—all of which are made worse by virtue of federal intervention and, Boychuk argues, the agendas dominating teacher’s unions. Particularly galling is the anointing of "rockstar" level superintendents with exorbitant salaries, budgets and perks in some of the country’s worst school districts. Of course, the market (such as it has been manipulated by federal intervention, regulation and tax dollars) dictates that "good" people won’t do this job without such accoutrement. They’re asked to come in and perform the duties of a Messiah, after all. Messiahs cost money and—apparently—lots of it. It’s a real question, however, whether these Messiahs have to answer to any reliable authority for their savior activity. The staggering dropout rates in many of their districts probably suffice for an answer to that question.

Obama’s Surge

The most recent studies show that Obama has caught up in Pennsylvania. His brilliant strategy was to play possum and let Hillary’s lead widen as far as possible and only then begin his counterattack. That means even a respectable defeat will seem like a huge comeback victory. This campaign, to repeat and repeat, has been over for awhile, but it’s good to remember the strategery of Obama continues to be pretty formidable.

Waiting for Gore

Dick Morris writes about whether Al Gore is waiting silently on the sidelines to be a compromise Democratic nominee in the event of a Hillary-Obama deadlock heading into Denver, or whether he might instead be holding back to end the contest by intervening along with other party leaders with the Superfriends, or Superdelegates (or whatever these supes are in the Democratic party), presumably in favor of Obama since Gore really really doesn’t like Hillary (though Morris isn’t so sure).

My own speculation is that Gore doesn’t really want to run again. I think, just from his waistline, that he is enjoying private life too much, and this is doubly so for Tipper, whose noticeable weight gain during the 2000 campaign was a sure sign of her discomfort with presidential campaigning. Besides, as you may have heard, Gore these days has A Cause (g----- w------) that is his sole preoccupation, and one that, we are told, he regrets not having emphasized in the 2000 campaign (a fact for which the rest of us are grateful).

But suppose he does become the nominee, and decides to make g----- w------ the centerpiece of his campaign? Surveys and focus groups I have seen show that the public is not at all behind higher energy prices, de facto rationing, international giveaways, and other measures that the Goreacle insists we must have to solve the global climate crisis. If Gore really does run as the save-us-from-global-warming candidate, my guess is he will lose another election that ought to be a layup for the Democratic Party.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force celebrates it’s 90th birthday. See these good pictures of the London fly-over. More here about Spitfires and blue-eyed boys. Churchill, August 20, 1940: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

The Shape of a McCain-Obama Campaign

Peter Wehner thinks that John McCain should take the ideological fight to Barack Obama, who—his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding—is a conventional liberal through and through. But is this still a center-right country, as Wehner contends? And can McCain effectively articulate a conservative "political philosophy," as Wehner would like him to do?

If the country still is center-right, then McCain’s connection with Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina shouldn’t hurt him. The presence of the former close to McCain ought to help the old warrior with the Republican base. And the presence of the latter ought to assure everyone that McCain does get the world of high-tech business.

On social issues, Michael Gerson reminds us of Obama’s down-the-line support for abortion, up to and including his most recent infelicitous formulation. But will Obama be able to talk his way around this record by taking Gerson’s advice—"safe, legal, and rare" 2.0?

The Error of Big Government

Charles Kesler has a fascinating essay in the latest issue of Imprimis.

In brief, Kesler reminds us that we need to distinguish between limited (or constitutional) government and small government on one hand, and expansive government and unlimited (or unconstitutional) government on the other.

Limited government can be distinguished from small government. The two concepts are easily confused because they usually overlap. We are in the habit of invoking, for example, the percentage of Gross Domestic Product that is consumed by government as a sort of criterion. If that percentage goes up, we become alarmed for our liberties. If it goes down, we breathe a sigh of relief. And there is something to this: It is illuminating, for instance, that in 1930, before the New Deal, federal spending was 3.4 percent of GDP, whereas today it’s about seven times that. But there are other instances, perhaps more instances, where that figure can be misleading. At the height of World War Two, for example, the federal government spent 43.6 percent of GDP. But was this big government in the pejorative sense?

The problem with our government is not simply its size, but the kinds of things it does. In addition, Kesler reminds us that "the state" is only our enemy in the peculiar German sense of der Stadt.

The Progressives believed that freedom did not come from nature or God, but instead is a product of the state and is realized only in the modern state. Far from being the people’s servant and, therefore, a possible threat to freedom—because servants can be unfaithful—the state is the full ethical expression of a people. The state is the people and the people are the state. This strange use of the term represents the Progressive attempt to translate the German concept of der Staat into American politics. America did not have a state theory of this sort until the Progressive era. Conservative and most libertarian anti-statism arose in opposition to this innovation; but too often, in recent years, hostility to der Staat has been confused with opposition to government per se.

Read the whole thing.

The Dandy

My good friend and author of The Suit is richly profiled and extensively interviewed in the NEH magazine, Humanities.

It is a doubly pleasing interview because Bruce Cole, the NEH director, knows his stuff. If you have not yet read The Suit this interview will whet your appetite. If you have read already read the book, this interview is like the movie with outtakes and a "Making of…" sequence. Enjoy.

Paybacks are Hell

…particularly when you’re running a losing campaign and you can’t afford to pay your small-time sub-contractors. The news that Hillary was not paying the health insurance premiums of her campaign workers rightly stuck out like a sore thumb yesterday, given her sanctimonious views on health care benefits. But the first story, which recounts the ways in which her campaign is stiffing small businesses all over the country—including a couple of event organizers in Youngstown, Ohio—hit closer to home for me. One of the employees from one of these stiffed companies had this to say:

"We worked very hard to put together these events on a moment’s notice and do absolutely everything to a ’t’ to make it look perfect on television for her and for her campaign," said the employee. "Sen. Clinton talks about helping working families, people in unions and small businesses. But when it comes down to actually doing something that shows that she can back up her words with action, she fails."

I remember that feeling. It was one of the many small lessons I learned along the way as a kid that made me skeptical of Democrats and their big talk of concern for the little guy. In 1984, one of the first jobs I had for pay was to assemble a huge pile of Styrofoam visors (yes, they probably contained CFCs) for the primary campaign of John Glenn. My mother and I sat in our basement for days putting little plastic balls into little plastic tubes and tying them off to create the backing of these hats. My father—even though he was voting for Reagan—was quite pleased to get the account. For our family at the time, it was a big account and a big deal. Dad—who explained that he was a good Republican—paid me to do this work, but it cost him. Like the Youngstown company in this story, he got stiffed. And we ended up with a pile of ridiculous Styrofoam hats in our basement. I believe we still have some of them somewhere. Anyone want a hat?

Opening Day

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

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

The Spitzer Comedy

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

McCain and His Laurels

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

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

The Unbearable Lightness of Edwards

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

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

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

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

Race and Identity

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

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

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

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