Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Shameless Self-Promotion of (My?) Kidneys

Here's a fascinating interview with ME.
Categories > Bioethics

Sound advice for John McCain

The ever-incisive Andy Busch offers his view of the big themes John McCain should stress. I can’t wait for the campaign to be over so that he and his co-author can write the book about it.

Read the whole thing.    

Superheroes vs. Saints

A most thoughtful man of the cloth makes a deep and original contribution to BATMAN STUDIES. The diabolical Joker is confident that we live in a world cruelly governed by chance. No mere masked superhero can defend good and evil from him. Gotham needs a person who openly displays and defends the good. But can a saint do what’s required to defeat the evildoer on the battlefield?

Kasich for VP?

Rich Lowry and Michael Novak over at the Corner wonder whether John Kasich wouldn’t be a good pick for McCain as VP. I like it. I like it because I have always liked Kasich but, more important, I like it because it recognizes the crucial Ohio vote and the importance of getting someone young (o.k., younger) and fresh. Kasich won’t be a tired or anti-climatic choice because his name has not been tossed about as openly as Romney, Palin, Jindal, and Pawlenty.

A Good Story to Engage the Voters

I am still enjoying my extended visit with my parents in the great state of Ohio and, as chance would have it, my father was invited to attend a reception for Ohio Supreme Court Justice, Evelyn Stratton. Noting that she would be speaking at the Ashbrook Center in September, I decided to tag along.

The event was a fundraiser for her campaign and, because I’ve never heard a judge give a campaign speech, I was very interested to see how she would do it. A judge cannot and, really, should not campaign in the same way as a Congressman or a State Representative. The job description of a judge requires impartiality before the law and not naked partisanship. To be sure, one may speak of one’s understanding of the Constitution and laws but it cannot be in such a way as to promise outcomes or guarantee certain types of decisions. Justice Stratton gave a clear accounting of her strict constructionist judicial philosophy but--what was more important for this audience and also helped to illuminate her understanding of the Constitution--was that she told a great story explaining who she is and what she is all about.

You can hear that story here. You get the sense that this is a woman who understands herself and who knows, not only what she is doing, but why she is doing it.

It seems to me that there is probably a lesson to be learned for McCain in this narrative approach to a campaign. Stratton has a great story to tell and she tells it well. McCain could and should do the same. And do note the multiple postings on YouTube for Stratton. According to Stratton, this is explained by the fact that people under the age of 39 don’t really watch television in the same way that people used to do. If they want to make a decision about who to vote for in an election (especially a judicial election) they’re more apt to Google the person’s name than remember anything they’ve seen in a TV ad. (I know this is true because I plead guilty to the charge! I always do that when I have to vote for judges . . . how else would one know a thing about them?)

TV ads cannot be considered as effective as they once were in campaigning for this reason and because you have to run them so much earlier to get the absentee votes. This makes them more expensive and less effective. Thus, money--though still important--becomes much less important than old fashioned methods of campaigning like word of mouth, new fashioned methods like email (Stratton called this "the power of send" . . . as in email 25 of your friends about her), and other unconventional methods of getting one’s story told like YouTube. If this is all true, I have to say first that I am impressed with Stratton’s adaptation to the new order of campaigning and, second, that I think it is a positive development in the history American campaigns. Television ads, even when clever, are sorry substitutes for an engaging story and thoughtful conversation between citizens. Of course, a Presidential election is very different from an election for a judge and an engaging story isn’t the only thing a candidate should offer the voting public (substantive engagement on the issues would be wonderful too) but it is a start. If I were John McCain, I’d be talking to Eve Stratton.

Voegeli on Capitalism and Energy Policy

NLT readers might want to check out Bill Voegeli’s piece Keep the Capitol out of Capitalism from Sunday’s L.A. Times. A sample:

Americans are souring on the idea of free markets, according to some newspaper reports. Gas at more than $4 a gallon, plummeting home values, a volatile stock market, tightening credit and mounting job losses are said to have undermined the consensus, politically dominant for a generation, that the heavier burden of proof falls on those who want the government to intervene to correct the market, rather than on those who believe that the market should be allowed to correct itself.

For capitalism’s defenders, having to face skeptical audiences could prove beneficial. Capitalism, like most ideologies, has received dubious assistance from its most zealous publicists. "The market" becomes the focus of every grievance when people have been encouraged to believe that it is the best system imaginable.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Link fixed.

Random Observations

1. Greetings from Quebec. Ì`m at the ISI summer honors conference. I probably won`t be able to do much to spread my message of hope and love this week.

2. I saw STEP BROTHERS. I can`t recommend it to you. Occasionally funny, but the two adult step brothers are just too creepy and overly gross. I long for TALLEDGA NIGHTS...

3. Here`s a good TV show I recently discovered: MAD MEN (apparently that`s what advertising men called themselves in 1960). It`s sort of like the Sopranos without the upside of the family loyalty and the downside of the killings and all. The show is a bit too politically correct: It goes too far in highlighting the smoking and drinking of the time for our horror. We`re supposed to scream at the screen: Don`t you idiots know you`re killing yourselves! The show is less politically correct than realistic in reminding us that working women weren`t treated that well in those days.

Yesterday’s "Soccer Moms" are Today’s "Active Grannies"

. . . and the angry white male is now a grumpy old man. That is, at least, if you believe this article from Mark Penn at Politico. It makes a certain amount of sense when you consider that 16 years have lapsed since the 1992 election. Their natures are similar but their interests have changed. Penn notes that McCain does not have any particular edge with this voting block just because of his age; if anything, they tend to look toward people who remind them of their (now grown) children and who seem equipped to deal with new and emerging problems that they do not feel comfortable with thinking about themselves. Their husbands (or male counterparts) Penn characterizes as "grumpy" and resentful. They look upon the younger generation as a group that has not had to work as hard as they have had to do and as a group with frivolous values and questionable patriotism.

It’s probably not a surprise that the two states with the highest percentages of active grannies and grumpy grandpas are Ohio and Florida. Florida has always attracted older couples seeking relief from the harsh winters of the North and Ohio (and other industrial mid-Western states) has seen the sons and daughters of my generation leave their parents behind in search of better job opportunities in other states. I am not sure McCain has any natural advantage with either block of voters--except, perhaps, the so-called grumpy grandpas. Penn notes that Obama’s proposal to eliminate tax on the first $50 K of senior income will appeal to them but it’s also true that most of these men probably have some concern for their children and don’t much like the idea of seeing them taxed beyond what is necessary and reasonable. But McCain is not of the Boomer generation and that group is responsible for the huge jump in senior numbers between ’04 and today. Even without a candidate of their own, the Boomers may be the ones who call this election.


I just completed a podcast with Ashbrook senior Caitlin Poling on her senior thesis, "Power and Pretext: The Status of Justice in Thucydides." You can download a PDF copy of the thesis here. Caitlin is interning at The Heritage Foundation in Washington this summer and will be spending the fall studying in Avignon, France.

Pervasively unconstitutional

That’s the title of my short piece on Michael McConnell’s excellent opinion for a unanimous appellate panel in a case regarding student aid in Colorado.

All the usual suspects don’t agree with him. Where’s his erstwhile HLR editor and law school colleague?

Inequality of Smarts

According to Derbyshire, we don’t resent rich people, but smart people. That may be because our high-tech aristocracy of brains isn’t particularly lovable. In the good old days, people actually loved--or at least saw admirable personal qualities in--their rulers. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

No Small Tomoatos

So now the Food and Drug administration says it thinks that bad jalopenos are behind the recent salmonella outbreak, which has made about 1,200 people sick.

A couple questions. Will the FDA compensate tomato farmers for losses they incurred due to their initial comments indicating that tomatos were to blame? Should they?

Beyond that, does the FDA do cost benefit analysis of their work? What is the cost to the U.S. economy of the losses to the tomato business? Is 1,200 people a major enough outbreak to spread the kind of alarm that they spread in this case (or did the jalopeno warning come soon enough to keep the outbreak down)? How major should the threat be for the FDA to release a national alert? Or is salmonella so serious that the FDA should warn us of even the slightest outbreak?

The WASHINGTON POST on Obama’s Eccentric Strategic Vision

Here’s a summary of that fair-and-balanced paper’s skewering of Barack’s strategery: Are you nuts? Iraq’s no distraction! Any idiot can see it’s much more important than Afghanistan!

More Wisdom from Free Frank

You have to check Frank out this morning.

He explains, as he does in the thread below, that Maliki is making Obama better, more flexible and prudent when it comes to a deadline for withdrawal. This will help America and Iraq win the war, and Barack win the election. And the Democratic activists won’t be able to do anything about it. Let me repeat: Obama isn’t going to defeat himself. Maliki, of course, wouldn’t be where he is if he weren’t quite an able Machiavellian.

And Frank contributes to BATMAN STUDIES by offering the interpretation that the new Caped Crusader IS George W. Bush. He’s displaying the president’s fortitude and courage in defense of freedom. Wayne and Bush are above not only money but honor. They’re willing to be mistaken for vigilantes to protect political freedom against terrorists. They’re so heroic that they don’t need to be recognized as heroes.

More Batman Studies

I have to say that I’m stunned by the astuteness and moral depth of the political analyses of the new movie by Clint and Ralph below. And so I interrupt that thread with very great hesitation. But I have to post another political philosophical approach to THE DARK NIGHT by Dr. Schaff of South Dakota. (Scroll down to July 18.) In his view, good is at least as interesting as evil in this film: Bruce Wayne (Batman) and DA Dent respond with prudence and integrity to tough political dilemmas, and the seriousness of their choices, as well as their searching inquiry into their own motives, trump any deficiency (such as excessive earnestness) in their dialogue. The film, in Jon’s view, also makes it quite clear that evil is really evil; the Joker is too cruel and sadistic really to be funny. So when the audience laughs, it is in error.
The Joker, Jon adds, is a Nietzschean; he’s a anti-bourgeois and anti-moral man of action for deep theoretical reasons. And he certainly shows that if you have the "why" (even if the why is chaotic) you can get by with almost any "how." The best class of criminals don’t care about money, the Joker says. The film displays at least two kinds of men who aren’t moved at all by money. I’ve been led to see they’re both very interesting and worthy of a second viewing--despite its excessive length and some boring action scenes. (Is it true that only the woman--the girl friend of both the good guys--isn’t very interesting?)

Question for Discussion

Mickey Kaus has been making a big deal of the National Enquirer’s story about John Edwards’ infidelities. The folks at the Corner (and here) are tut-tuting.

Question: Is public shaming an improper penalty for adultery? Part b. What impact might the changing legal status of adultery have on the answer to that question both as a practical matter and as a question of public morality?

How many electoral votes does Germany have?

Surveying the coverage of Barack Obama’s speech in Germany, it appears that the politician in him took over completely, causing him to forget which nation he is campaigning to be president of. His implied criticisms of the United States and his talk about being a world citizen made him sound like he was trying to win the German vote by running against the United States.

It worked, too. He has the German vote locked up!

But the speech bolsters the view that despite his disavowal of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he really does share, to a degree that matters, Wright’s poisoned view of the United States. Not that this should be a surprise. Many liberals tend toward Wright’s views to one degree or another, and to one degree or another, they think the United States deserves to be humbled. This is why liberal American presidential candidates such as Kerry and Obama are so popular in Europe, because Europe also wants to see the United States humbled.

Frank Warner on Opie Obama

Frank explains why Obama’s Germany speech seemed underwhelming: He "still looks like a kid trying out for a leading man’s role...[H]e was reciting Sheriff Andy Taylor’s lines but looking more like Opie."


Here’s a thoughtful appreciation of the new BATMAN movie. As I said before, I don’t really think the dialogue does justice to the action. But I completely agree that Ledger’s is the "utterly definitive" Joker--the man with a deep insight into who people really are and who unreservedly embraces madness for what it is. Although, as a whole, not as impressive as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this movie does better in capturing the pyschology of big-time evildoing. It also acknowledges the possibility of being incorruptibly good, while making being incorrigibly bad seem a lot more interesting and fun. Compared to the Joker, Batman is boring, although the behavior of neither of them can be reduced to the impersonal necessity that governs the rest of nature.

Krauthammer on Obama and Maliki

Maliki’s virtual endorsement has made it more likely that Obama will win the election. So Barack owes him. That means President Obama is likely not to ask much from Iraq. It’s possible that the surge’s success has made Maliki way overconfident about being able to go it alone now, and Charles seems somewhat bitter about his ingratitude. I think there’s more room than Charles thinks for McCain to use these facts to his advantage, although not simply by urging Obama, the American people, and the Iraqis themselves to be more grateful for the surge. And I have to add, at the urging of several threaders, that, although it makes good sense that Obama would get a bump from "winning the Iraq primary," there’s no evidence of it yet.

Questions for the Day

In his speech today in Berlin, Senator Obama said (according to Politico):

“People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment. This is our time,” he declared, offering himself “not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen, a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”


"We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye towards the future, with resolve in our heart, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”

1. What does it mean to be a "citizen of the world"? Is citizenship by nature particular or can it be universal?

2. Is the desire to "remake the world" misanthropic, or, perhaps we should only ask if it tends toward misanthropy. Does it imply dislike for what human beings are, even if it does so in the name of charity?

Bob Novak’s Campaign Judgments

Bob says that Obama’s overseas tour has been "an unqualified success." It has "increased Republican defeatism" and "Democratic triumphalism." Obama now looks "experienced and effective," McCain "constricted and wooden." I would go further: McCain increasingly looks out-of-the-loop when it comes to American foreign policy, world leaders, and such. I say this not as a defeatist or fatalist, but only to wonder when a really effective McCain campaign might begin.

Bob adds that McCain’s teases about naming his running mate this weekend are lame attempts to steal Barack’s thunder. And it looks to him like it’ll be Romney (but not this weekend), because of the help he gives the ticket in Michigan. My first comment might concern how things are going in the other 49 states.

Pervasively sectarian pervasively unconstitutional?

An appellate decision written by First Amendment superstar Michael McConnell has rejected Colorado’s use of the hoary old--so 70s--"pervasively sectarian" language to deny students attending Colorado Christian University access to state aid.

You can read a story about the decision here and more here. I’ll have more to say when I’ve had a chance to read the opinion.

"Honor" Killings in America

This New York Post article recounts a case in Georgia where the father of a 25 year-old woman, who told him she wanted out of her unhappy (and arranged) marriage, then strangled his daughter to death with a bungee cord. The author of the article wonders why--apart from the fact that the woman was not an attractive blonde--the story is not getting wall-to-wall coverage on the networks that ordinarily cover sensational crimes. In the end, she concludes, it comes down to the fact that this case (and a growing list of others like it) demands that we pass judgment on the faith and the culture of people who live this way. It demands that we do an uncomfortable thing and call for the assimilation of both male and female Muslim immigrants. The author also wonders why American feminists seem to be silent on these matters but, then, it was only a rhetorical question. Of course the answer is that they are too busy worrying about the waistline measurements on Barbie dolls to be concerned with things like strangulation, stabbing, and other forms of murdering young women who dare to be free.

Religious change in America

Way back in February, I appeared on Radio Free Acton talking about Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. While it was fresh in my mind, I also wrote something about it, which appears here.

A New Kind of Summer Vacation

Early this week I had a the opportunity to get away for an afternoon, so I drove up to visit with old friends in Ashland (including grad school friends now teaching in the MAHG program) and to do a little work for the Ashbrook Center. I knew things were going to be busy there because the Master’s in American Government and History program is in full operation this week and next. Still, I only had a vague idea of why everyone would be so busy. I guess I underestimated how serious and impressive the program actually is. This is probably because I recall working as an intern at the Ashbrook Center in the summer of 1991 when the first incarnation of this program, the "Constitutional Government in America Institute" for high school teachers was underway. We brought in 30 teachers who spent two weeks in seminars with great professors and a pretty serious reading list. I thought we worked as hard as anyone might during that summer and the one following it and that we had done some real good for the cause of improving the quality of high school history instruction. That program was nice . . . but it’s nothing compared to this.

Back then, our primary goal was to get teachers to look beyond the textbooks and incorporate original documents in their teaching of the Constitution, the convention and the Founding in general.

Today with the MAHG, these teachers (some 400 already) are getting an education that rivals and, frankly--to my mind, at least--it surpasses anything that one might get at most serious graduate schools. This is because in addition to the excellent faculty at Ashland, the MAHG program gets to draw upon some of the best faculty from around the country. These professors are experts in the subjects they teach, and the camaraderie the program inspires is remarkable. Meeting in the summer as they do, they complete a semester’s work in a week’s time. They’re in class virtually all day and engaged in conversation, writing and studying all night. But the most remarkable thing about the program is the students who attend--coming from all over the country. Many have given up summer vacations to be here and most have no regrets about it. Indeed, now that the program is beginning to produce its first graduates, the biggest lament I heard (repeated more than once) was that they didn’t want it to end. Who can blame them? You’d be hard-pressed to buy a vacation this interesting.

More McCain VP Pick Gossip

Mac may have given "a serious hint" that it’s going to be Pawlenty.

Maliki and Obama

The remarkably fair-and-balanced WAHINGTON POST has published a good article by Max Boot explaining why we should be skeptical of the Iraqi chief executive’s apparent endorsement of the Obama withdrawal timetable. Maliki surely isn’t wrong to believe that it’s prudent to curry favor with the guy with good odds of becoming our next commander-in-chief. And I can’t help but think he’s really helped Barack: He’s helped to create the impression that our withdrawal would not be, as it was in Vietnam, a dishonorable abandonment of our ally. It would be what the sovereign nation really wants. McCain’s challenge in dispelling this impression is pretty formidable.

Accreditation, assessment, and the liberal arts

I have served on accreditation teams for the standard regional accreditors and for the American Academy for Liberal Education. I’ve worked in various capacities on self-study committees in preparation for accreditation visits. Suffice it to say, I know a little about the accreditation business.

I was relieved to learn that Margaret Spellings (whose tenure will--thankfully--end soon) has extended AALE’s recognition for three (as opposed to the standard five) years.

I can say with some confidence that the colleges with which I have dealt as a representative of AALE are performing marvelously with respect to the concerns Spellings cites, at least as well as those who deal with regional accreditors.

I can also say that we still have to pay attention to the difference between busy work and assessment that actually helps colleges improve what they’re doing. I’m not certain that Spellings knows the difference.

Calling Obama’s Bluff

Shelby Steele offers some interesting thoughts on the distinction between Barack Obama’s cultural cache and his political message. Steele argues that Obama’s promise of absolution for white guilt and relief of black anger explains most of his appeal. It’s not a terrible thing that people want to move beyond the sledgehammer racial politics of Jesse Jackson and say "enough already." Much evil might have been avoided had this desire manifested itself sooner. But Jesse Jackson’s got a legitimate gripe with Mr. Obama because of the way that Obama has played this hand. The irony is that white guilt has to be alive and well for Obama’s promise to assuage it to be appealing. If we were really past the "Age of Jackson" then Obama would be forced to talk more openly about the mess that is his political thinking. He’d be forced to answer questions very similar to those John Kerry had to answer in 2004. Instead he is fawned over and celebrated as a healer . . . because, clearly, something in America needs healing. Just ask Obama. So now the election appears to be about cultural appeal. And there is no contest between him and John McCain when it comes to cultural appeal. Trouble is that there’s also no contest (and this time the difference is not in Obama’s favor) when it comes to experience and political understanding. When it comes to the real work of politics, Obama comes up a little short.

Jesse may not think that his protege has the testicular fortitude necessary for a full-on political charge exploiting white guilt--he may seem to be giving up the leverage he needs to secure victories. But sometimes the student can be wiser than the professor and a much more astute practicioner of his teachings. Obama has observed the small-time jackpots Jackson has greedily called his own and he is not impressed. Perhaps Obama can get a bigger jackpot if he uses this trump card more sparingly. It’s straight out of Machiavelli. But this means that he can no more disavow Jackson’s politics than he can the Rev. Wright. Obama learned to play the game better than the Clintons because he could play it better than the Jacksons and the Wrights of this world. If McCain wants to get in this game he needs to call Obama’s bluff and force him to show the cards in his political hand.

Nudge: The Government as Jewish Mother

I was in Philadelphia last weekend, and happened to catch this article about Cass Sunstein’s new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness:

So what is a nudge? The book’s path to explaining that simple term passes through some clunkier ones: behavioral economics, choice architecture and (deep breath) libertarian paternalism. Behavioral economics, which Thaler helped shape, hinges on the belated (for the dismal science) recognition that human beings often resemble Homer Simpson more than they do Mr. Spock.

Psychologists have shown that we humans harbor many quirks that don’t resemble the hyperrational Economic Man of free-market theory. We’re experts at inertia (those lingering magazine subscriptions). We’re overconfident, sure that we invest our money better than the average bear, that our marriages (unlike half of everyone else’s) won’t end in divorce. We’re impulsive, suggestible, and slaves to peer pressure.

So, the authors argue, "choice architecture" - the way choices are presented and explained - inevitably sways the decisions we make. Given that, they say, shouldn’t government and institutions set up choices to nudge people toward the most beneficial decision?

That’s an improvement upon the simple support for entitlement, as it is a step toward the "tough love" approach to hand-outs. On the other hand, I suspect that Sunstein et al. don’t apply the same principle to the government itself. (And when hand-outs go to most of the country in one way or another, it can be hard to reconcile with basic liberty). Should we not apply the same principle to the atministrative state? What is checks and balances if not a means of structuring incentives? Unfortunately, modern regularory bureaucracy tends to collapse executive, legislative, and judicial power in one place.

Republicans and religious voters

I offer a slightly more fully worked out version of this post in this little essay that the good people at AmSpec agreed to post.

Overrated and Underrated Movies

...according to Mr. Evangelical Outpost.
Here are the films that Joe regards as underrated that I think deserve high praise:

The new Batman movie is way overrated, by the way. That doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty darn good. It tries to be a philosophic and edifying defense of nobility and goodness against the nihilistic, chance-and-necessity NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. It also defends the philosophic thought that telling the truth just isn’t the way to go in the world of decent people who cry out to be deluded. But the dialogue, by aiming too high, is often just wooden and corny, and the genre is, for the most part, not transcended. But Ledger as a brilliant psychopathic nihilist (the Joker) transcends his dialogue through being always witty, eery, and endlessly engaging or sort of charming. (He should get a posthumous Oscar--actually he almost certainly will.) The revenge of the Joker and jokers everywhere is a glimpse into an authentic heart of darkness. To show my vulgarity, let me add that I was always looking forward more to STEP BROTHERS, another joint venture of Will Farrell and John C. Reilly.

Polling constitutionalism

This poll suggests, among other things, that we have our work cut out for us. While I’m not quite sure what people were thinking when they answered in this way, 52% agreed that "[i]n making decisions, the Supreme Court should consider changing times and current realities in applying the principles of the Constitution." Only 40% averred that "the Supreme Court should only consider the original intentions of the authors of the Constitution." Why, then, do we need a legislature?

Other interesting/disturbing findings include these:

*57% of respondents think abortion should be legal in most or all cases (a result that has remained stable over the past few years).

*Roughly equal proportions of respondents support same-sex marriage, civil unions, or no recognition. Asked simply if they favor or oppose same-sex marriage, opponents lead 55-36, but 40% of the opponents could live with (so to speak) civil unions, if state courts permitted them to occupy this middle ground.

*Roughly similar proportions oppose requiring a state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state (50-44) and a law in their state banning same-sex marriage (49-45). Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be "personal." People are "pro-choice" here, not fully realizing that being pro-choice is the same as favoring same-sex marriage.

*A small majority favors some sort of faith-based initiative, while a much larger majority doesn’t think that religious organizations that accept government money "should be able to discriminate in favor of hiring people of their own faith." One wonders if the answers would be different if the question were different. How would you answer this: "Do you think that religious organizations that accept federal money should have the same hiring rights as other religious groups?" Or this: "Do you think that religious groups that accept federal money ought to be able to hire only those who support their mission, just as other recipients of federal money can?"

*By a 43-39 margin, respondents disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is doing its job. By a 42-33 margin, respondents think the Court is moving in the wrong direction. The Court’s positive rating has dropped almost 20% in little more than a year. The right direction/wrong direction numbers have flipped in a little less than a year. This suggests that those who think that judicial nominations are an issue that cuts in favor of John McCain might be mistaken, although independents are evenly split (41-41) on the first question and very narrowly take the wrong direction side on the second one.

For me, the bottom line is this: on many of the matters treated in this poll, people are relying on the haziest of impressions, largely formed by media coveerage. Getting their attention and changing their minds is extremely hard work. But there’s no better time than during a presidential campaign to try to do it.

Hat tip: MOJ’s Rob Vischer.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

More on Populism

Some populism is good--Bryan was more right than Darrow. It’s the populists that know what’s wrong with Darwinism--its denial of personal dignity or significance and its encouragement of eugenics. And the people, by opposing themselves to the interests, remind us that people are more than beings with interests. It’s also good to be reminded that too many of our policies are basically socialism for the rich, and that wages have dropped in relation to productivity. The case against judicial activism and especially against ROE is basically populist. The religious right--or real religion in general--is a true populist reaction against the elitist atheism or indifferentism. The Republican party has fourished for a generation on the basis of a populist reaction against the elitist liberationism of the Sixties. When the Republicans become too libertarian--or show contempt for the moral concerns or understandable anxieties of ordinary people, they lose. It’s not surprising that the WALL STREET JOURNAL doesn’t have a proper appreciation of the virtues of populism.

Here are the worst things about populism: racism, prohibitionism, and no faith in what’s true about "trickle-down economics."

With unions, public and private pensions, our health care system all collapsing under pressures for productivity in our globalizing economy, I would say that, on balance, the populists are losing today. The average guy is more on his own than ever. And, to repeat myself, it’s just not true that we’re slouching toward soft despotism.

Are We All Populists Now?

In his book, Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’ Rourke has a chapter called "The Whiffle Life"--no matter what we do, we can often save ourselves from the consequences of our actions. In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, the influential financial writer, Jim Grant has a fine essay arguing that the recent bailouts of Bear Stearn’s creditors (though not Bear itself) and of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suggest that that attitude has hit our financial markets. Why? Because the Populists won the 20th century:

Wall Street is off the political agenda in 2008 for reasons we may only guess about. Possibly, in this time of widespread public participation in the stock market, "Wall Street" is really "Main Street." Or maybe Wall Street, its old self, owns both major political parties and their candidates. Or, possibly, the $4.50 gasoline price has absorbed every available erg of populist anger, or -- yet another possibility -- today’s financial failures are too complex to stick in everyman’s craw.

I have another theory, and that is that the old populists actually won. This is their financial system. They had demanded paper money, federally insured bank deposits and a heavy governmental hand in the distribution of credit, and now they have them. The Populist Party might have lost the elections in the hard times of the 1890s. But it won the future.

Read the whole thing.

A Great Big Head for Politics

Joan Vennochi writes with flair about Obama’s super-sized ego in today’s Boston Globe. Vennochi notes that Obama’s recent exploits have made McCain look ever so humble . . . so maybe he does have some special powers after all!

He Almost Made It

Michael Barone must know everything about the history of American elections in the last 50 years. How he remembered or dug this up, I don’t know . . . but it’s a spot on memory for this election. He tells the story of how Gerald Ford came back from a 33% deficit behind Carter to nearly defeat him in November--a change of less than 10,000 votes spread across two states (and yes, one was Ohio) would have made all the difference. (It might have made a difference, too, if he had chosen to play football at OSU instead of Michigan as a young man . . . but that’s probably speculation!)

What made the difference? An ad man. A very good ad man. Academics and intellectuals tend (not always without good reason) to turn up their noses at the crassness of the ad man. But the ad man in a campaign--if he does his job correctly--is the same thing as a popular historian or biographer. He examines his subject well and he tells his story in narrative. That’s what Ford’s man did and, though he was not hired until August 7, he got as close as Ford had any right to hope or expect. Though the political scene today is much like the one in 1976, McCain is not in anything like the poor position Ford was in. He’s only a few point behind . . . if that. But imagine what he could do with the right storyteller. And, really, he’s got such a great story to tell. Barone is right to say that he should quit thinking that everyone already knows this story. Most people still know virtually nothing about either candidate. They’ll start paying attention during the conventions. McCain should give them something really good to pay attention to.

Religious affiliation and voter preference

Well, this time we have a less obviously religious Republican candidate and a more obviously religious Democrat. Does this have any influence on voter preferences? Check out this Pew analysis, comparing voter preferences at this stage in ’08, ’04, and ’00.

The unchurched even more overwhelmingly support Obama, despite the fact that McCain is hardly identified with religious conservatives. Might there be a secularist ceiling for Republican candidates, with even the most resolutely irreligious conservative (if that isn’t already an oxymoron) facing a pretty low ceiling of support among the religiously unaffiliated?

And Obama hasn’t (yet) made many inroads among white Protestants, who may not be supporting McCain at quite the levels they supported Bush, but aren’t yet transferring their affection to Obama. There are a few more undecideds. The question about the latter is whether a more obviously religion-friendly McCain could win those over. (Please note that I’m not saying that McCain isn’t religion-friendly, just that that’s pretty far from the core of his self-presentation.)

Note finally that white, non-Hispanic Catholics favor McCain over Obama by a larger margin than they favored Bush over Kerry. McCain doesn’t do quite as well as Bush did, but Obama seems to fare considerably worse than Kerry did. 13% of this group are undecided. If one or the other candidate can make the sale here (given the concentration of Catholics in swing states), this could be the election.

Of course, it’s only July....

The Economy

I hate to whine or be negative: But I’ve gotten four emails from economists with real jobs and a hedge fund guy, all with the same message. The economy is going to get much, much worse. I have three questions for discussion: 1. Why? 2. What should people do? 3. What’s going to happen to our aging population so dependent on the performance of the stock market? It’s always possible (it’s happened before) that these experts are wrong.

Estrich on the Polls

Susan Estrich is nervous. She’s nervous because the polls don’t show Obama leading with the kind of numbers he should have given all the smiles he’s attracting from the gods of campaign fortune. He’s got money, an adoring media parade following him around like he’s the pied piper, a frenzied and energetic youth base, a less than ideal Republican opponent with a host of his own problems, a demoralized GOP, an unpopular incumbent, a sagging economy, high oil prices, an unpopular war which he opposed . . . shall I go on? And he’s what, 8 or 9 points ahead at best? And it’s July. As Estrich says, ask President Dukakis what it means to be up in July (or ask President Clinton what it means to be down in July).

Estrich posits a host of possible reasons for Obama’s less than stellar numbers and, regrettably, race rates highest on her list. She also wonders whether people are worried about Obama’s youth and lack of experience. It’s fair to say that both are legitimate points for an honest political analyst in this season. But Estrich’s emphasis draws heavily on her ideology. It’s clear that race hurts Obama with at least some small percentage of voters and it would be foolish to claim otherwise. But this factor alone cannot be enough to decide this election. I think Estrich knows that (hence her tentative reference to age and inexperience) but she has reasons for wanting to emphasize race (just as she also had reason to emphasize Obama’s tensions with Jesse Jackson). She wants you to feel guilty about not liking Obama. She wants you to think your legitimate gripes secretly or subconsciously might be racist ones.

One way Estrich attempts to help that guilt along is to remain silent on a number of Obama’s obvious flubs. She didn’t hold back in her criticisms of other Democrats or of the Democratic Party more generally, but she is reserved when it comes to Obama’s real difficulties with voters. For example (and incredibly!) she never even mentions the perception of him (now growing with this Brandenberg Gate nonsense) as an arrogant, wannabe punk. Inexplicably, she makes no mention of his many (Freudian?) slips of the tongue (rural voters clinging to guns and God, etc.). Remarkably, she never thinks to mention the names of Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers or Fr. Pfleger. She assiduously avoids any mention of Michelle. She doesn’t talk about Obama’s slick re-engineering of himself and his positions and his absurd tendency lately to take himself way too seriously. Indeed, as Estrich ticked off her list of recent Democratic candidates, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Obama now seems to Kerry, Gore and Dukakis. With the exception of Bill Clinton, Democrats really do have had an uncanny knack to nominate insufferable people who are very difficult for regular people to like. Whatever one may say about his differences with either of the Bushes and Reagan, one didn’t get the sense from any of them that they considered themselves to be above reproach. On some level you knew that these were normal people (or as normal as politicians probably get) and that they didn’t get up every morning reveling in how much smarter they were compared to you. Obama (like Dukakis, Gore and Kerry before him) tends to give the impression that he is a very earnest and very grim student affairs director in charge of a grievance hearing whenever he is attacked. It is hard to imagine him laughing at himself and it looking genuine.

That said, Estrich does ask a fair and rather pointed question about Republicans as she closes her article, "You know there will be a major effort on the Republican side to destroy Obama. But will there be anything else? And if so, exactly what will that be?" It could be a lot more than it has been so far, that much is certain!


Shameless Self-Promotion: I'm Coming to the Land of Lincoln

I will be giving a plenary session lecture next Saturday afternoon (the 19th) in Deerfield, Illinois at a conference for MDs, Christian leaders, and such on Health Care and the Common Good. My talk is at 2; there'll another by the legendary chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, Ed Pellegrino. A basic Google will give you more information. I'll be in town from Friday evening through very early Sunday morning should any Deerfieldians etc. want to come by. My talk will cover everything from Solzhenitsyn to subsidiarity in evaluating our present health care situation.
Categories > Bioethics

Random Observations

1. I’ve been up in Northern Virginia visiting. I had the opportunity to talk to some experts and read print versions of the WASHINGTON POST and the WASHINGTON TIMES. Both those papers are always very informative, and I gotta say the POST is the most genuinely fair-and-balanced paper in the country.

2. The POST’s new poll has Obama up 50 to 42, which is his largest margin yet. The reason: Huge advantages when it comes to the economy. The economy, for obvious reasons, is quickly emerging as the issue for the campaign. Bernake etc. all seem all to agree that growth will continue to slow and inflation will continue to grow, at least through the election. The issue: Which candidate can deal better with STAGFLATION? Two pro-Barack conclusions: He CARES more about the economy, and he is more likely to provide CHANGE.

3. Obama and McCain are about even, or Mac has a slight edge, when it comes to foreign policy, security etc. But right now such issues aren’t that important with the voters. The POST did have an incisive editorial complaining that Barack’s Iraq policy doesn’t really taken into account our recent successes there. He conveys the impression that he might cut and run on the cusp of victory, or at least tolerable stablity.

4. I saw part of McCain’s NAACP speech waiting for my flight at Dulles. That isn’t the best venue for enjoyment. I agree with Joe that the content was fine and showed competence on a domestic issue--education--of interest to all Americans. But I have to add that it reads somewhat better than it sounded. It wasn’t an eloquent address, although it might turn out to have been effective as the first of many efforts to counter eloquence with competence.

5. All the experts seem to agree that the VP picks, although they make for interesting gossip for slow summer news days, will make very little difference.

6. People feel particularly AT RISK right now. Their WHINE is not that we’re in something like a recession, but that this isn’t a normal recession, but something new. Their retirement plans, for example, are more dependent on the stock market’s performance than ever, and the thought is floating everywhere that we may be entering a 10-year period when the market doesn’t easily beat inflation. It goes without saying I have no idea whether or not this is true. My job is easy and usually fun, so I don’t mind working until I drop. But most Americans, with good reason, don’t feel the same way.

7. So Mac’s appeal to an AT RISK population has to begin with the thought that an ALL DEMOCRATIC government (given the failed policies of the past) is very RISKY BUSINESS. Most people know well enough that they can’t really be saved by government bailouts. But the Sam’s Club swing voters--the key to carrying the crucial swing states--have a right to know that government will be orienting itself to helping families do their indispensable jobs in the emerging more individualistic social/economic environment.

Electoral College Watch

Stuart Rothenberg lists Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada and Michigan as the five states most telling and decisive in this election. Ohio Straussians: notice the location of your state on that list . . .

But seriously, Rothenberg gives a good review and one that is also (probably) going to be good for future reference.

McCain at the NAACP convention

This, to my mind, is a first-rate speech. It doesn’t pander, it sharply delineates differences, and it effectively advocates for generally conservative positions.

I especially liked what McCain had to say about education. Here’s a snippet:

After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms. That isn’t just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children. In Washington, D.C., the Opportunity Scholarship program serves more than 1,900 boys and girls from families with an average income of 23,000 dollars a year. And more than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all have in common is the desire to get their kids into a better school.

Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?

Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of "tired rhetoric" about education. We’ve heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We’ve heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.

This stands in sharp contrast to Obama’s position, which (to be sure) isn’t all bad. He simply doesn’t acknowledge that the parental responsibility that he rightly highlights can genuinely be fulfilled only if there’s real school choice, the same kind of choice the Obamas themselves exercise.

Obama’s faith-based initiative yet again

Last week, I wrote something for the First Things site, which is posted here. I’m still defending religious hiring rights against those (like Obama) who don’t think that religious freedom is compatible with government cooperation with faith-based groups.

Actually, I don’t know whether Obama actually believes this, but it’s the position his party has held ever since George W. Bush took office: government dollars must needs be secularizing dollars. And rest assured, Barack Obama wants more of those secularizing dollars out there.

Hence Acton’s Robert Sirico thinks that the faith-based initiative is--always has been--a bad idea. If, for Rev. Sirico, there’s a silver lining in Obama’s cloud, it is that perhaps some groups will stay away from those secularizing dollars. But the dollars--more of ’em--will still be there. And, unless I miss my bet, those dollars (secularizing or not) will be there regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

For another version of Rev. Sirico’s argument, see this post by our friend Jordan Ballor.

Update: MOJ’s Tom Berg has the best brief account I’ve seen of the state of religious hiring rights, an account so nuanced and subtle as to make Harvard Law’s Martha Minow look like an ideologue by comparison.

A Can-Do Attitude for the 21st Century

Is it only a coincidence that the first article I read upon arriving today in Ohio for my annual pilgrimage to the Heartland was this one from Victor Davis Hanson? Maybe not. Hanson offers a sensible and spirited argument about how we might conquer whatever it is that seems to be ailing Americans today; from the economy to immigration to the war to personal depression. A good deal of our recent pessimism, he thinks, stems from a failure to appreciate the value of and properly honor hard work. And this comes from habits born out of lacking much of a need to do much hard work. It seems to him that we have had a couple of generations who forgot that affluence (to say nothing of freedom) was never won but through massive work and sacrifice and was never kept but through constant diligence and effort. But VDH does not despair. He thinks necessity may awaken our latent capacities and that a new generation so awakened may turn out to be hungrier than the one that’s running the show now.

If there’s anything like a grain of truth (and, really, I think there’s more than that) in Hanson’s hopes for the younger generation, then I think McCain should examine this article very carefully. This is the way he should be talking to young people. It’s appealing because it is empowering instead of merely critical (gratuitous reference to Madonna excepted) . . . and it appeals to their vanity and sense of rebellion. It’s saying: "You can do what your parent’s generation couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do. You can make America even greater than she is now and make it stick. You can achieve even higher levels of success than you had hoped to achieve and, more important, you can ground your success in something tangible and solid instead of the latest trends in finance, academia and salesmanship. You can do real things, make real money, and achieve lasting rewards." Considering the unreal nature of much of this campaign’s rhetoric and the lack of solidity in most of the recommendations for young people (Hope! Change!) tell me how a serious and a hard argument won’t sound more authentic? Real hope and real change is going to entail real work and real sacrifice. These happen to be things that John McCain can speak about well and with real authority. Critics who say he needs to be careful about over-doing the stern grandpa who "walked to school uphill both ways without shoes in a snow-storm" routine have a point; but it’s a point that is just as easily over-stated as the thing they’re criticizing. It’s important for McCain not to be critical of the young (and anyway, that’s too easy) but he’s right not to flatter them.

As we approach the Olympic season, consider the coaches you may have had when you were young. When presented with the choice between a mere flatterer and stern but big-hearted coach who will show his devotion to you through sacrifice, real athletes almost always pick the latter. But the choice is not always so clear. Sometimes a coach may mean well but, though he understands perfectly the fundamentals of his sport, he can never convince his potential athletes that he is anything other than an overbearing jerk. This is because such coaches seem to enjoy complaining about the negative or (alternately) seem overwhelmed by the negative; everywhere he looks he sees things that need improving. These coaches don’t inspire confidence in their athletes because they don’t seem either to have it themselves or to really love their athletes. And so the athletes don’t trust the intentions of this kind of coach. It will be John McCain’s (and the GOP’s) task this fall to convince voters (and especially young voters) that they do have confidence in themselves and in America and, especially, in young people. They need to offer a real path toward success that calls for hard work and they need to pledge to honor hard work.

By Bi-Lingual?

Belgium provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of bilingual nations.

Mr Leterme’s short-term political future is, however, a different question from whether this week’s storm will turn into a cyclone that sweeps away Belgium as a state. With every crisis Belgium appears to edge a little closer to the precipice, without ever falling off.

Bilingualism can work, but it sure is difficult.

A Hemi-Demi-Semi Self-Promo Alert

What would you get if you crossed This Is Spinal Tap with An Inconvenient Truth? The answer is Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, which will premier later this week at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Doesn’t that just sound like a place I’d fit in? (The link takes to you to trailer, where you get about a half-second glimpse of me from last summer before I dropped 40 lbs. and sold my calorie offsets to Al Gore.)

The filmmaker and "star" of this "mockumentary," Randy Olson, is a former marine biologist who gave it up to go to film school and make films like this. Now there are several ways to go in commenting on this film. The hard core greenies won’t like it because it has fun with this dreary subject, and you’re not supposed to joke about global warming, which, I learned this morning, is even going to lead to more kidney stones! The global warming fanatics remind me of the old joke about how many feminists it takes to change a light bulb. Answer: "That’s not funny!" No doubt Olson will hear from the Green Commissars that he shouldn’t have given the likes of me and Pat Michaels one second of screen time. The film’s sendup of Hollywood superficiality will appeal to any serious person on any part of the political spectrum. The two gay producers of the film tell Olson early on: "We really, really want to make this film, and we feel very, very passionate about global warming, and we’re very, very upset about it. We just don’t know why.” Any why not get Tom Cruise as the host? He’s a Scientologist, you know, and isn’t that the same as a scientist?

But Olsen has a serious purpose, which is to try to debunk, cleverly and with misdirection, skeptics and semi-skeptics like me, and point out to the climate alarmists that they really stink at getting their message across. Turns out Olson and his crew engaged in a bit of performance art in the making of this movie, including an African-American cameraman who affects being persuaded by the skeptics. Seems I didn’t fall for this ruse, though I don’t remember what I said a year ago in the studio taping and my reaction didn’t make the rough cut I have seen. In this and other respects the film is a very postmodern piece of work. It is certainly better viewing than Gore dirge-fest.

The scientific claims throughout are naturally contestable (especially the Hurricane Katrina section), but toward the end the film veers off into the politics and policy of the whole Kyoto Protocol debacle. I’ve made clear to Olson my critique of this section, which really requires a whole separate film treatment to begin to do it justice. There are a couple of factual mistakes here that I have flagged, and a few interpretive issues, too. But on the whole I expect the alarmists will be more unhappy about the film than I might be if I were the sort to be unhappy about such things. One blog comment I’ve seen I suspect will be typical of the reaction: "While I understand the rationale for making a light-hearted film about climate change, it also seems a bit odd to make a comedy about something that could plausibly exterminate the human race."

A new War Powers Resolution?

Recognizing that the old one never worked, a commission has proposed a revision of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. I thought the old version was stupid. Stephen F. Knott, who knows a heck of a lot about a heck of a lot, thinks that the new version is equally bad. Let’s hope that a Democratic Congress resists the temptation to "improve upon" the handiwork of its 1970s successor.

The late 00s are looking more like the late 70s all the time.


New Yorker Cover

I’ve had more time than usual (in a Philadelphia hotel room) to note how the TV talking heads and CNN have reacted to the now famous New Yorker cover of Obama and his wife. I heard the word shocking more often than any other word on CNN. Rather pathetic, all this, revealing how the chattering class need to protect the ignorant demos, as

Jack Shafer notes. The only thing the fake outrage reveals is that many folks actually do not know much about who Obama. Perhaps that’s why he has lost steam in the last few weeks, note this Newsweek Poll. I am still waiting to see if Obama’s fund raising continues its decline (note the decline from February through May). He has yet to release the figures for June. This is not a campaign on the upswing, that’s for sure.

Happy Bastille Day!

In honor of Bastille Day, we offer an amusing reflection on French character and a salutary reminder about the nature of popularity in international affairs, courtesy of John Adams:

[The French] consider nobody but themselves. Their apparent respect and real contempt for all men and all nations but Frenchmen, are proverbial among themselves. They think it is in their power to give characters and destroy characters as they please, and they have no other rule but to give reputation to their tools, and to destroy the reputation of all who will not be their tools. Their efforts to ’populariser’ Jefferson, and to ’depopulariser’ Washington, are all upon this principle. To a Frenchman the most important man in the world is himself, and the most important nation is France. He thinks that France ought to govern all nations, and that he ought to govern France. Every man and nation that agrees to this, he is willing to ’populariser’; every man or nation that disputes or doubts it, he will ’depopulariser,’ if he can.

How One More California Could Save the Electoral College

The principle of democracy is equality, and the political expression of that principle is majority rule. Majoritarianism is democratic because it treats every vote cast by every citizen as equal.

The Constitution departs from the principle of majority rule in several ways, such as requiring overwhelming rather than narrow majorities for constitutional amendments, or giving each state two senators, whether it has 523,000 people, like Wyoming, or 36 million, like California. The rationale for these qualifications of majoritarianism is not opposition to democracy but support for good government. The authors of the Constitution were good democrats, and, as Harvey Mansfield has written, good democrats “must not think that government is automatically good merely by being democratic.” Rather, they understand that “democracy can be good, and when they see that it is not, they take responsibility for reforming it. To do this they must think that good government as a standard is above democracy.” National cohesion and reassuring as many groups as possible that their concerns will be respected are among the aspects of good government that can be advanced by compromising the principle of majority rule.

If the Electoral College is abolished in favor of giving the presidency to the candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote, American government will be rendered more democratic but less good. The most important virtue that will be lost is that the Electoral College penalizes candidates who amass deep but narrow support, and rewards those who secure broad support. A national popular vote doesn’t, and could lead to unpleasant consequences.

Suppose that access to fresh water becomes one of the nation’s leading controversies, with most of the nation favorably disposed to increased irrigation, but the states with shorelines on the Great Lakes – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York – strongly opposed. If we abolish the Electoral College and elect the president who gets a majority of the national popular vote, a candidate could get 60% of the vote in those 8 states, lose the other 42 states and the District of Columbia with an average of 45.6% of the vote, and still win the presidency. (This calculation is based on the number of votes cast in each state in the 2004 presidential election.) If a candidate gets two-thirds of the vote in the Great Lakes states he could win despite receiving only 42.7% of the vote in the rest of the country; 75% majorities in those 8 states and he would need only 39.1% elsewhere.

The winner-take-all feature of the Electoral College, by contrast, makes it impossible for a candidate to win the presidency if he is widely opposed but also wildly popular in a few states with a common concern or outlook. There is no incentive to run up the score by increasing your majority in the states that already favor you. Instead, you have to campaign in enough states, and appeal to enough voters in different kinds of places and situations, to win. The eight states in the above example cast 141 votes in the Electoral College, far short of the 270 needed to win. The Electoral College, in the scenario sketched out, would give a clear victory to the candidate who received the second-largest number of popular votes, but who demonstrated a much broader degree of popular support, or at least popular tolerance. It would be moderating rather than polarizing.

The problem with the Electoral College is that it is also capable of denying the presidency to a first-place finisher who did not run up the score in just a few states, but who merely had the bad luck to get a national majority distributed among the states in a way that was a little less favorable for the purposes of the Electoral College’s math than his opponent’s. No one has ever contended that Al Gore’s defeat in 2000 was a good thing because his plurality of the popular vote – 48.38% to Bush’s 47.87% - was narrowly drawn from just a few states. Gore won 20 states plus the District of Columbia, including states on the West Coast, New Mexico, the upper Midwest, the middle Atlantic, and New England. Leaving aside the Florida controversy, his margin of defeat in 5 other states was less than 5%. America may have been spared, or denied, many things because of the Gore presidency that wasn’t, but it did not avoid the misfortune of president whose popular support was narrowly rather than broadly based. By the same token, if 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 had switched their votes from Bush to John Kerry, Bush would have lost the election despite receiving nearly 3 million more popular votes than Kerry out of the 122 million that were cast, winning 30 states, and coming in second by a margin of less that 5% in 7 others.

Such outcomes, real or hypothetical, are rightly seen as capricious and arbitrary, rather than curtailments of the principle of majority rule for the sake of promoting good government in some intelligible way. Under the Electoral College, winning a majority of the national popular vote means nothing. If we abolish it in favor of direct popular election, it will mean everything. The best system would be for it to mean something, but only something.

Modifying the Electoral College by means of a “national bonus plan” would accomplish that goal. When I learned that one of the advocates of this reform was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., I was skeptical, too. But good ideas can come from surprising precincts. The national bonus plan calls for keeping the Electoral College, but awarding the presidential candidate who finishes first in the nation-wide popular vote an additional number of electoral votes. The idea is to prevent the silver-medalist from becoming president in an election like 2000, but enable him to do so to thwart something like the Great Lakes coup described above.

How big should the bonus be? Schlesinger suggested 102, two votes for each of the 50 states plus Washington, DC. If you make the bonus that generous, however, you might as well just go ahead and abolish the Electoral College. The number of electors will grow from 538 to 640, meaning the majority needed will increase from 270 to 321. Since the candidate who finished first in the popular vote will already have 102 electoral votes, he would need only 219 of the 538 awarded on a state-by-state basis – 40.7%. Such an outcome advances only slightly the idea that the president should have broad, and not just deep, support.

A smaller bonus promotes both goals. Suppose the winner of the popular were awarded a bonus equal to the number of electoral votes cast by the most populous state. Under the allocation in effect since the 2000 census, that would mean a bonus of 55 votes, California’s total. The new Electoral College would have 593 votes, and a candidate would need 297 to win the presidency. The first-place finisher in the popular vote would have 55 in his pocket, meaning that he would have to win 242, or 45%, of the 538 electoral votes awarded the old-fashioned way.

If you think a president who could have only secured 242 votes under the existing Electoral College still has a base too concentrated for the good of the republic, make the bonus smaller. If it’s 27 votes, one tenth of the number needed for victory today, the number of electors grows to 565, the majority needed for victory increases to 283, and the number a candidate would need to win on a state-by-state basis is 256, 47.6% of 538. If the bonus is only 11 votes, the mean number cast by the 51 states (including DC), then the magic number becomes 275 electoral votes; the winner of the national popular vote would still need to get 264 electoral votes by winning individual states, 49% of the total available by that avenue.

Even the 11-vote bonus would have given Al Gore a 278-271 victory in the 2000 election. Had John Kerry won Ohio in 2004, he would have secured an Electoral College majority of 272-266. The 11-vote national bonus, however, would have given Bush a 277-272 victory.

The national bonus modification of the Electoral College has the additional virtue of making the election of the president partly national and partly federal. When we cast our ballots, we would be voting in our dual capacity as Texans (or Virginians or New Yorkers), and also as Americans. It will prevent miscarriages of political justice, like the one that happened in 2000 and nearly happened in 2004, but also retain the Electoral College’s protections against political competition that becomes divisive and extreme.

American aristocracies

In a recent print issue of NR, Michael Knox Beran argued that Barack Obama and John McCain represented diferent aristocratic alternatives for our liberal democracy. Beran clearly prefers the latter, but seems to prefer even more a Hayekian vision that he recognizes is at odds and in tension with McCain’s military conception of honor.

He suggests that people aren’t "reasonable" enough to Hayekians, and that Republicans can’t win the argument about how best to deliver a chicken in every microwave, even though that seems to be the argument he takes most seriously. What he doesn’t seem to recognize is that the argument he’d prefer to have is one that depends in some measure on the debasement he seems to deprecate in Obama and the people to whom he appeals.

Skipping the Electoral College Pep Rally

Joe Knippenberg has directed our attention to David Lewis Schaefer’s defense of the Electoral College. The November election results might direct our attention to the subject again. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic Monthly and Harry Siegel of have recently argued that the planets are lining up for John McCain to lose the popular vote but win a majority in the Electoral College and, thus, the presidency.

There are two plausible developments that could lead to this outcome. First, Barack Obama could do significantly better than John Kerry in some of the bluest states, such as Illinois, New York and Maryland. Because of increased turnout by black voters and Whole Foods liberals, he could exceed Kerry’s margins of victories, winning a bigger percentage of significantly larger state electorates. The winner-take-all feature of the Electoral College, used by every state except Maine and Nebraska, guarantees that improving on Kerry’s performance by hundreds of thousands of popular votes in heavily Democratic states will not add even one electoral vote to Obama’s tally.

Secondly, some of the states that Kerry lost decisively could be ones that Obama loses narrowly. Kerry barely managed to secure 40% of the popular vote in such southern states as South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana. Here again, increased black turnout could add hundreds of thousands of votes to Obama’s national popular vote total, but not a single electoral vote.

If both these things happen, Obama wins a clear popular vote majority while McCain wins a close but clear majority in the Electoral College. One political consultant told Siegel the odds of this split-decision happening in November were 50/50. Another thinks there’s only a 20% chance, while a third says that an Obama popular vote victory in excess of 52% to 48% would make the split-decision highly unlikely, but “if he gets it by 2 or 3 points, it is plausible. Absolutely.”

Would this be a big deal, or a big nothing? The latter, says Schaefer, who sees no need to abolish the Electoral College “just because candidates who ‘lose’ the popular vote by a small margin sometimes come out on top in the electoral vote.” He is serene about this prospect because “the true purpose of an electoral system . . . . is to choose an effective leader whom even most supporters of the losing major-party candidate will regard as tolerable – so that the government is perceived as representing the people as a whole, not just victorious partisans.”

Prof. Schaefer must hang out with Democrats who take way more Prozac than the ones I know. My impression is that an awful lot of Al Gore’s supporters have never regarded George W. Bush as a tolerable, effective leader representing the people as a whole, as opposed to his own victorious partisans. Many of their reasons are unrelated to the Electoral College, but the ones that concern it cannot be waved away.

These Democrats don’t think that Bush, quote-unquote, “lost” the popular vote in 2000. They think, correctly, that he lost the popular vote. Much of their anger derives from the discovery that under the Electoral College – which they remember vaguely from American Government 101 as being odd, complicated and something they hoped wouldn’t be covered on the final exam – winning the national popular vote not only isn’t dispositive, it isn’t even relevant to the business of picking a president. The starting point of their thinking, in other words, is that the guy who gets the most votes ought to win the damn election, just like “American Idol” or the local school board. If we’re going to have a system where the guy who gets the most votes for our most important elective office doesn’t necessarily win the damn election, the reasons why had better be clear and compelling, rather than murky and esoteric.

This is why Marc Ambinder says that if McCain loses the popular vote but wins the presidency of our nation, where the overwhelming majority of citizens do not have post-graduate degrees in political science, there could be a “constitutional crisis.” According to “one Republican who has advised the McCain campaign,” America “can stand that sort of thing once every 100 years, but not twice in 8 years – especially with the Republicans winning every time.” Ambinder wonders whether our democracy’s “ability to perpetuate itself without violence” can “sustain another disparity.”

It’s probably overwrought to think that McCain’s election as a silver-medal president would bring down the curtain on the American experiment in republican government. But it is merely wrought to think that it would spell the end of the Electoral College. Either a constitutional amendment or the National Popular Vote initiative would have enormous political momentum. Democratic legislators, more numerous and riled up than they have been for many years, would put it at the top of their agenda.

In my next post, I’ll argue that the best solution is to retain, but reform, the Electoral College.

Colson vs. Pills

...with the help of ME. I am some less pro-bad mood than Chuck’s quoting would suggest. But I agree, of course, that you can’t find salvation in any kind of bottle, and that our experts are too likely to believe there’s a chemical solution to whatever ails us. I’m only pro-bottle in a qualified and relative way. According to the country song: "I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

New book!

Our friend Paul Seaton sends word that his excellent translation of Chantal Delsol’s new book is hot off the presses.

Here’s the blurb I provided the publisher (and I meant every word of it):

“Chantal Delsol has written a magnificent and timely book. Displaying the fruits of immense learning and profound reflection, she argues that our current infatuation with the politics of human rights is ultimately unpolitical and anti-human. But for her, this is not a counsel of despair. The proper response to our condition is, she says, a patient hope rooted in a prudent awareness of our particularity and an openness to a universal and transcendent moral horizon. She saves politics from those who would abolish it in the name of morality and morality from those who would make political action its only vehicle. In so doing, she holds open a place for humanity between god and beast.”

Buy the book.

Race and Conservatives

Many thanks to Julie Ponzi, and the commentators on her post yesterday, for their kind words about my recent CRB essay.

David Frisk raised an interesting point in the comments section: Do speeches and articles by prominent conservatives half-a-century ago tell a fair-minded person anything about what conservatism stands for today? Josh Patashnik of the New Republic raised a similar point. “Every party and ideology has its past errors to answer for,” he said, but arguing about whose were worst or most recent is a “pointless” endeavor, “best suited to late-night conversations in freshman dorm rooms.”

I agree that harping on the past is often a way to win debates that no one is watching, and thus a waste of time when we should be working on the issues that confront us right now. The dogmas of the quiet past are often inadequate to the stormy present. Sometimes, however, those dogmas are implicated in these storms, and we cannot disenthrall ourselves without scrutinizing them.

Consider the 1974 Supreme Court decision in Milliken v. Bradley. By a vote of 5-to-4 the Court rejected the mad scientist scheme, devised by a federal district court and approved at the appellate level, to bus school children all over the Detroit metropolitan area - the city plus 53 suburban school districts - in order to achieve racial balance. The four dissenters included William Douglas, Byron White, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. All, especially Brennan and White, are liberal heroes. (White complicated his legacy with liberals by joining William Rehnquist in dissent against Roe v. Wade.) Many liberal writers and politicians openly hope that the next Democratic president will nominate Supreme Court justices who emulate Brennan and Marshall.

A 34-year-old court decision about an issue that gets discussed in history books, not newspaper stories, remains relevant for two reasons. First, even though busing is old news, the question about jurists who have such a high degree of confidence in their abilities and prerogatives to be social engineers is likely to come up in other contexts. Conservatives have a right to ask whether this is the kind of jurist Democrats intend to nominate and confirm.

Secondly, the question of liberal condescension, and even hostility, to working-class whites is not moot just because it’s trite. Obama’s famous remarks about bitter folks in small towns were clumsy and clueless, but the anthropologist’s vantage point he adopted vis-à-vis his fellow citizens has had malign implications in liberalism’s history, not just supercilious ones. The position Marshall and Brennan took in Milliken was primarily stupid and secondarily wicked, but the wickedness of busing cannot be discounted. More than a few liberals took satisfaction in the torment white parents felt about the prospect of sending their children to distant schools in dangerous neighborhoods. Busing was intended as a way of doing penance for America’s racist past, and the reaction against busing confirmed liberals’ belief in the continuing pervasiveness of racism among whites less enlightened than themselves. The liberals who levied these penalties to atone for racism, of course, unfailingly arranged for other whites to pay them by suffering the adverse effects of busing and affirmative action.

Liberals, now, would be happy to go on as if all this had never happened, similar to the way many conservatives treat the legacy of states’ rights and Dixiecrats. Conservatives would do themselves and the country some good by insisting that liberals come to terms with this part of their past. Conservatives, however, can hardly press for such a reckoning without going through their own.

The conservative position, now, about the civil rights struggle then embraces three tenets. First, America did well to eradicate Jim Crow and conclude the long, disgraceful era of second-class citizenship. Second, the conservative case brought to bear against the landmark civil rights decisions and laws may or may not have been right, but it reflected a legitimate and commendable concern: to maintain “a system of divided governmental authority intended to stand against absolute tyranny.” Third, neither in the 1950s nor at any point since, have conservatives described an alternative path to the eradication of Jim Crow, one not raising this specter of tyranny.

The interconnections among these three propositions are uneasy at best, untenable at worst. As a result, conservatives face a tough crowd when they talk to black voters about school choice, faith-based initiatives and safe streets. The suspicion lingers that a tepid commitment to securing blacks’ unimpaired rights as citizens is not an accident of conservatism’s history, but a reflection of its ideological essence. Conservatives’ protestations about their own benign sentiments won’t allay these suspicions; rigorous examination of their intellectual heritage to distinguish the good parts from the bad might.

The hardy quadrennnial

Our friend David Lewis Schaefer persuasively argues that the latest efforts of mess with the Electoral College are ill-conceived. Some people just can’t think beyond the most simple-minded democracy. How un-American!

Tony Snow, RIP

Tony Snow died today at the age of 53 following a long and courageous fight with cancer. President Bush called him a "man of character" in a statement today and noted the "great love of country" that Snow brought to his work and the joy that others derived from observing him at his work. Character, patriotism and a zeal for the activity of one’s life are all traits that endear because they point to a kind of fundamental gratitude for one’s gifts in this world. Gratitude, it seems to me, may be the starting place of every well-lived life--particularly when it becomes clear that this life, however wonderful, may be cut shorter than expected. I heard Snow interviewed many times and asked about his cancer and in those exchanges I don’t recall anything that even came close to resembling a whine or a lament. He talked of life and of his great loves: America, his family, and his calling. RIP, Tony Snow and God bless your family in their time of loss. It is a great loss, but then, the fact that the loss must be so great is a reminder that the gift of such a life is remarkable.


Race, the Election, and Conservatives

Ken Blackwell argues that though McCain has virtually no chance of winning the black vote in this election, it speaks volumes about his seriousness and his integrity that he means to address the NAACP in Cincinnati next Wednesday. Blackwell also argues that this is no mere pointless exhibition of (correct) principle; McCain can, if he does it right, make real and important inroads with this audience. He should, at any rate, operate on the assumption that he can. If you understand the real interests of these Americans in the same way that you understand the real interests of all other Americans, the argument for voting for Obama boils down to little more than racial pride. That can be a powerful argument (particularly given our history) but this does not make it a good argument. McCain should not make the patronizing mistake of seeming to grant that it is. Blackwell offers solid advice.

In a similar vein, I'd like to reintroduce the subject of William Voegeli's fine essay in the CRB, "Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement." He was right to caution in his post about it that reading it would take a while. It's not the kind of thing you can do on the fly or after four hours in the sun by the pool with active children. It demands attention and hard thinking. If (like me) you didn't live through the period it may be an eye opener. There are a dozen things that could be said about the piece (and I hope will be said) by folks who are smarter than me, but one inescapable conclusion is a more mature understanding of why so many black voters still believe they cannot trust Republicans or conservatives. And, perhaps, there is a bit of old-fashioned American tragedy involved in that story. Do check it out.

Categories > Elections

Religion and presidential preference

This Gallup analysis finds that voters who say that religion is an important part of their daily lives tend to favor the less overtly religious John McCain over the soft theocrat Barack Obama. (There are exceptions: religion doesn’t play much of a role in the preferences of Latino and African-American voters.)

But to explain the other, one may not have to look any further than this.

Accusation and calumny

Danielle Allen’s well-crafted op-ed in today’s WaPo is on the theme--with Machiavelli well-used--of the distinction between accusation and calumny, or slander. She explains why accusations are fine, but calumny is not. She is right, of course, in principle and her piece is a good short treatise on the subject. Yet, her soft-accusation that the slander is only against Obama is another matter. I would guide her to be careful not to start slandering those who may just be accusing Obama of something or other (needless to say, by saying this I mean no defense of those who are actually slandering). For example I think I am going to start accusing him of not standing for anything, or, of not being principled. I wouldn’t mind it so much that he lacked principles, if he had a larger record of accomplishment, but, alas, he does not. As far as I can tell, he only has charisma at the moment. And, of course, I will sign my name to such accusations.

Evans and Novak VP Gossip

Well, here it is. All in all, an informative report.

Issues: Can carrying VA really trump all the negatives--including no charisma and few accomplishments--in the case of Kaine? I don’t believe he’s at the top of Obama’s list. I predicted Biden before, although Bayh would be better (both those choices would be from the standpoint of confidence in victory). In my opinion Rendell does look and sound presidential, and Bob Casey is just pathetic. The gay community will probably veto Nunn, and it’s true enough he hasn’t been in real politics for a long time. Gore and Hillary would be annoying gimmicks Barack doesn’t need.

More evidence that Romney is no. 1, although he’s not popular and Mac doesn’t like him. Pawlenty and Portman don’t offer what McCain needs, although for different reasons. Crist’s getting married late in life may allow Mac to pick a man he actually likes. I didn’t know about Jindal’s missteps in LA, or that Thune is an EARMARKER. Where is Sarah Palin??

Art imitates life, life imitates art

I have a confession to make: I used to watch West Wing. Turns out that Andy Busch might have, too. You must read his excellent piece on Obama/Bartlet (or is it Bartlet/Obama or Santos/Obama?).    

Larry on Lincoln and Darwin

Arnhart claims they share roughly the same view of human cultural evolution, but Darwin didn’t comprehend Lincoln’s prudence. Prudence itself, Larry adds, has an evolutionary explanation. Still, we have to ask both Larry and Charles about an evolutionary theory that depends so much on statesmanship and chance (The South could easily have won the war). Despite Darwin’s progressivist musings and naive belief that reason exists to serve the instinctual moral sense, it still seems to me that the real theory of evolution must be natural and impersonal. (You have to scroll down some to get to the very interesting Lincoln and Darwin post.)

More on the faith-based initiatives

Keith Pavlischek gets it right (and not just because he cites me). He also shows how E.J. Dionne, Jr. (predictably) gets it wrong and how (somewhat less predictably) Michael Gerson doesn’t quite get it right. Gerson calls Obama "opaque" on religious hiring rights. That’s too generous.

Pavlischek also tells us that John McCain gets it:

"John McCain supports faith based initiatives, and recognizes their important role in our communities. He has co-sponsored legislation to foster improved partnerships with community organizations, including faith-based organizations, to assist with substance abuse and violence prevention. He also believes that it is important for faith-based groups to be able to hire people who share their faith, and he disagrees with Senator Obama that hiring at faith-based groups should be subject to government oversight."

Of course, not enough people will care about the details of this issue to make a difference politically. It’s yet another example of how Obama’s clever but vacuous (and in some respects insidious) talk lets people think happy thoughts about him.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for June

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

Gary Gerken

Jeff Upton

Carol Browning

Tony Winger

John Karian

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 July’s drawing.

Yes, Still MORE Shameless Self-Promotion

Here’s a new article by ME on our crisis in self-evidence. It includes a modest contribution to our inquiry into NOMINALISM.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Here’s Ivan the K’s fine review of a great book by ME.

Advancing Truth and Racial Progress

Diana Schaub shows what Frederick Douglass did and what Rev. Wright completely fails to do. (Thanks to Paul Seaton.)

Kristol on the Campaign So Far

According to Bill, McCain’s has been characterized by frittering and diminishing. Obama’s by getting bigger and more plausibly presidential. Why do I fear these trends may continue? Maybe Murphy will come to the rescue, as Bill predicts. But can one guy really solve the problem? What is the problem exactly?

Obama Rules the Young

...for a LOT of reasons. It’s not just that he’s young and McCain is old. And it’s not just that he knows all about what’s on the internet and Mac can’t use a computer. Young people have been trending liberal since 2000 (when there was virtually no generation gap at all in voting behavior), and the Barack candidacy just accelerated the trend. Among the young, the "culture gap" that opposes the working class to the bobo class doesn’t seem to exist. It seems to me there’s also a "talent gap": Where are the intelligent, admirable, and attractive young Republican politicians (aside from Bobby Jindal)?

Good News from the Universities?

Liberal professors from the 1960s generation are starting to retire And not a day too soon.

But what kind of professors are replacing them?

More on Obama’s faith-based initiative

The NYT’s Peter Steinfels engages in wishful thinking about a more nuanced Obama approach to government cooperation with faith-based organizations than the one I criticized here.

The Senator himself continues to speak about his faith and faith-based policies. I haven’t yet seen a transcript of the latest speech, but I think I’ve read most of it before.

Twenty Years

Friday (the Fourth) saw me finish the FDR/Lincoln seminar I taught with Jean Smith. A few friends sat on my front lawn to observe the fireworks and then, a bit tired, I retired right after they left. Since Vicki is up at Hillsdale looking after her ailing father, on Saturday I had breakfast with my mother, talked with our oldest, Joseph, about some of his business ventures, made a visit to Dr. Mohinder Gupta, my eye doctor (all is well), read into three new books (by Maddox, Krannawitter, and Burger), smoked a Cuban over a latte, and then attended a fine wedding of two former Ashbrooks, USMC 2ndLt James Kresge and his wife Lauren (nee Conn) and had the chance to talk with a few other Ashbrooks and Marines (no former in either category). This was an altogether wonderful day, during which I was reminded that I arrived in Ashland on the same day twenty years ago. Perhaps I lack imagination, but I cannot conceive of a better twnety years. My days may have grown old, but so have my loves and comforts increased. God willing, I hope to say the same of the next twenty. I am grateful.

Independence Forever

"Independence Forever" was, of course, John Adams’ final toast to his countrymen. His eldest son, however, gave serveral major addresses on July 4th. Thus far, I have found the full text of two of them available online.

On July 4, 1821, Adams gave an address in Washington, DC. And on July 4, 1837, Adams gave an address to the city of Newburyport, Mass. (He also gave July 4th addresses in 1793, 1828, and 1831).

The Finality of the Declaration

On July 4 it is good, of course, to remember the words of the Declaration itself. But in order that we might remember why we must remember them, consider this speech from Calvin Coolidge. An excerpt:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
Have a glorious Fourth!

All Honor to Bill Kristol

For placing such thoughtful reflections on Mr. Jefferson and the Declaration in the NYT. According to Bill, our exercise of equal rights depends on unequal honor--on "the worthies" who moved first.

Random Observations

1. Ken Blanchard of South Dakota also concludes, for good reasons, that Lincoln is far more important than Darwin. And he likes Darwin.

2. The best argument I’ve read in a long time for the pernicious character of not only Dawinism but Darwin himself is the first chapter of the Calvinist novelist/essayist Marilynne Robinson’s THE DEATH OF ADAM. I’ll say more about that soon. Robinson reminds us of the important--maybe decisive--role Calvinism played in abolishing slavery in our country, and she displays for our admiration the Christian egalitarianism of antebellum upper Midwest. We Straussians and we Catholics probably don’t give the Calvinists the credit they deserve. We actually probably shouldn’t today; I don’t think they had that much to do with the big event of July 4th.

3. Have a great Independence Day!

Happy Fourth!

And here is the wonderful 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st century version of the Declaration of Independence. Annuit Coeptis.

Barack Obama’s faith-erased initiative

I read Julie’s post after reading and writing about Barack Obama’s speech on his own version of the faith-based initiative.

He doesn’t say much that he hasn’t at least hinted at before, nor much of anything that would jar the ears of the most hardened secularist Democrat. "Faith-based"--I’d say, faith-erased--groups are welcome partners with government as long as they’re virtually indistinguishable from the bureaucrats they’re assisting.

If you care about this issue--a particular hobby-horse of mine--there’s more background here, here, and here.

Madrid Diary

Greetings NLT readers. I’m coming up for air from finishing Age of Reagan Vol. 2 (due to the publisher at the end of this month) long enough to nip over to Madrid for the launch of the Spanish edition of my Reagan-Churchill book, Grandeza!. Turns out former Pres. Jose Maria Aznar (with whom I enjoyed a delightful lunch on Monday), leader of the right-leaning Partido Populare, bought my book at a Barnes & Noble in the U.S., liked it, and arranged for a Spanish translation to be published.

I’m getting lots of interviews from the media--they really do take authors more seriously over here--and, like journalists at home, most seem anti-Bush and pro-Obama, but above all are curious and confused. How can America really elect another Republican after Bush? But will America really elect a black man President? I put the matter as simply as I can: if American voters come to perceive Obama as a leftist, he will lose. Right now he is skillfully and rapidly moving to the center, and may succeed in concealing or disguising his previous leftism, in which case he will win. Comprende?

Once Age of Reagan II is finally in the can at the end of the month, I’ll be blogging up a storm here. I notice the prolific Lawler has passed me in the number of NLT posts, so I have some catching up to do.

P.S. By the way, I’ve met a substantial number of Spanish conservatives, of all ages (but especially young ones); they are deeply serious and impressive. There is a lot of spirit in them, and I suspect the Partido Populare has a promising future.

You Americans!

My class was just considering questions related to polygamy in the 1850’s when this caught my eye later in the day: The FLDS women have launched a

new clothing line. And then the human mind (being what it is) notices this short mention of the utility of watermelon rinds.

Second in War, Second in Peace, Second of July

As we prepare to honor our nation on July 4th, it worth returning ourselves to the scene. On July 2, 1776, a unanymous Continental Congress approved the resolution that "these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states."

John Adams wrote Abigail twice the next day:

Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony "that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do." You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’d Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill’d with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. -- Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us. -- The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable [ as] the Faith may be, I firmly believe. (link)

Letter II: But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it. -- The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. -- Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. -- This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (link)

More on East vs. West (according to Ceaser)

In response to a private request, I’m offering another snippet from Jim’s commentary on the two main kinds of Straussians: "In their public faces, the East is more philosophic, the West more political. Some allege that the far East, by which I do not mean China but Boston College, is not much interested in "the regime" at all, but only in philosophy. Political science today needs to be practiced today only as a way of protecting philosophy, which by accident finds its home in America today chiefly in political science departments. Easterners invite speakers to talk on political subjects and then deride them for deigning to be concerned with the real world....Westerners invite speakers to talk on a variety of philosophic subjects, but then are disappointed that more time has not been spent parsing the Declaration and Lincoln."

Jim does add in a note: "For reasons of space, I will not speak here of faith-based Straussians, many of whom live in France."

Obama as Typical Politician

This unfriendly NEW REPUBLIC article actually gives McCain some good advice. It’s a mistake to brand Barack as a "typical politician." If that’s what he seems to be, he’ll easily win the election, given all the advantages of merely being a Democrat right now. If Mac seems an honorable man of character and Barack seems just a typical Democrat, Obama wins. The Republicans have to convince Americans that Obama is, in fact, too ideological to be mistaken for a typical politician or a typical Democrat.

Obama Does Zanesville

Barack Obama did a smart thing today. He visited my hometown and he went there to talk about faith. He knows that he needs to win Ohio. And he knows exactly where he needs to go to help facilitate that victory. He went to the Eastside Community Ministry to talk about his support for faith-based initiatives in government anti-poverty programs. Here’s the text of that speech and here is a link to his plan for a faith-based initiative.

As I read through his remarks in Zanesville, I was struck by a couple of things. First, he wants to distinguish his faith-based initiative from that of his predecessor. He does this in the following way:

Well, I still believe it’s a good idea to have a partnership between the White House and grassroots groups, both faith-based and secular. But it has to be a real partnership – not a photo-op. That’s what it will be when I’m President. I’ll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart – it will be a critical part of my administration.
Second, his faith-based initiative seems less a way to help these groups to do their jobs than a way to get them dependent on government in order to do what they’re already doing. And, of course, this means that his sort of folks can direct what it is that these groups do (because, after all, you can’t expect people who "cling" to God and guns to know anything about helping the needy):
First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.
The takeaway line from this story today is Obama’s call for "all hands on deck." I’ve heard this repeated all day on radio and t.v. news. But the full context of that quote is this:
You see, while these groups are often made up of folks who’ve come together around a common faith, they’re usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they’re particularly well-placed to offer help. As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.

That’s why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.

I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

This is, rhetorically, very smart and it has had the desired effect. He’s doing what Bush should have done about the war. He’s explaining why the American people are needed to help in the effort--except Obama’s "effort" is "saving our planet" and "ending poverty." (Hey, at least he’s ambitious!) This flatters people who, naturally, love their country and want to be a part of something good and larger than themselves. But the fact is that Obama’s call for "all hands on deck" is telling. A captain orders all hands on deck not because he feels they have some new insights to offer on swabbing it. He calls them up top to work according to his will. This is what Obama’s faith based initiative appears to offer too. Groups will have to agree to be secular and "non-discriminatory" even in their hiring . . . so Catholic Charities could not, I presume, require that their efforts be led by a Catholic? They will not be permitted to proselytize? And what will we call "proselytizing"? Could it be that even a conversation about Jesus might cause a group to lose its funding? And God-forbid we suggest that these groups do a better job at lifting people up (because they do). Suggesting that might put the Democratic party out of business.

A Manly Question about Lincoln and Darwin

Who is more important?

Well, there are certain crucial similiarities. They both were "compulsive scribblers." And they both get attacked by fools for no good reason.

Lincoln, though, was more IRREPLACEABLE. What would have happened to our country without Lincoln? Who knows, exactly? But things very likely would haven turned out very differently and much worse. But there was no urgency about Darwin’s discoveries, which would eventually have been made by someone else. In general, great STATESMEN are more important than great SCIENTISTS. And they won’t hesitate to tell you that.

Can Darwin’s theory account for Lincoln? Or Darwin? Can Lincoln’s understanding of human equality survive what’s true about Darwin’s theory? Can it correct what’s false or incomplete about that theory? According to Darwinian Larry, Lincoln and Darwin are, if properly understood, perfectly compatible.

We certainly can’t hold Darwin acccountable for those who use the evolutionary metaphor to explain political progress (like Woodrow Wilson). We can blame him for being nerdy enough to be poltically naive, to think that the human moral sense will almost inevitably continue to get stronger as the world gets more enlightened scientifically. Lincoln was pretty darn realistic when it comes to both politics and science.

Here’s another similarity: There are some people who (quite mistakenly) think Darwin explains it all. They’re not usually big NLT fans. And there are some people who think Lincoln explains it all. Although the characteristic error is to underrate Lincoln (and so he does need vindication), is it possible to overrate him?

Obama and the Transfiguration of America

Barack Obama has been called many things: Messiah, Redeemer, a Lightworker (?!), Jedi Knight, the New Testament to JFK’s Old Testament, a "quantum leap in America’s consciousness," and so on. But Jonah Goldberg in trying to understand (and NOT, I’d add, question) Obama’s patriotism, makes the case that Obama’s patriotism is trans-figurative. In other words, Obama argues that his patriotism can be seen in his views about "what will make America great." [emphasis mine] Jonah, like a Jewish mother, asks "What? It’s not great now?" Why does Obama think it needs to be "made" great? And how does this square with his speech yesterday at Independence, MO where he stated that, "Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given." If she needs to be "made great" why is your love for her a given?

Contrast Obama’s sentiment for America--his "given" love for a thing that still needs to be "made great"--with Abraham Lincoln’s expression of admiration for Henry Clay:

He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.
In other words, Henry Clay’s love of country was also (though only in part) a given. We all love the things that are our own--sometimes even when they don’t deserve our affection. If this is the sense in which Barack Obama means patriotism, he is right to argue that it is no great testament to a man. It is inhuman not to love oneself and one’s own. But the real test of love--the kind of love that deserves the highest admiration and respect--is whether that love has ever asked and given a good accounting for the "why?" of itself. What is worthy of our love in this country we call our own? Not "do" we love her, but "why" do we love her? It is only in answering this question that we can aspire to be worthy of her and call ourselves Americans in the best sense (and not the mere factual sense) of the term.

It seems to me that Barack Obama has got it all wrong. America does not need to be "made great"--she was great from the beginning when, on that first of Independence Days, we declared:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The problem now, as it always has been, is that Americans need to continue to make themselves worthy of her. It goes without saying (or, perhaps, not) that any number of Americans have failed to live up to Americas ideals over the centuries. We continue to see examples of that today and (God willing and the nation endures) we will always see these examples. But our failures to be good Americans do not mean that America is a failure as a force for good in the world. If Obama were merely saying that we can do better by making ourselves worthy of our own founding principles, that would be one thing. And then we could have a conversation about how we might go about doing that and, of course, we could have legitimate disagreements about the best way to proceed. But he is not saying that. He’s saying that we need "make America great" and he is dismissing patriotism as a "given" because he sees it as something ordinary. He argues that his ideals can transfigure America. In truth, what we really need is to look to a deeper understanding of patriotism and then to transfigure ourselves accordingly. What we really need is to learn to "love [our] country partly because it is [our] own country, but mostly because it is a free country" and we need to "[burn] with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because [we see] in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature."

UPDATE: I note in passing that it is interesting to see that in his speech yesterday, Obama noted Lincoln’s arguments in favor of suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War as a questionable use of patriotism . . .

More VP Gossip

Ted reports in the thread below what I’ve also heard from a couple of other sources: Palin and Romney are, at least for now, McCain’s two top choices. Romney is waging a campaign for the nomination, and he has his supporters. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. And I don’t know enough about Sarah to say for certain that she doesn’t have any downsides that should disqualify her. Still, my tentative conclusion is that she would be an exciting choice that would narrow the enthusiasm gap.