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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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??
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?).
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.)
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.
Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:
Here’s a new article by ME on our crisis in self-evidence. It includes a modest contribution to our inquiry into NOMINALISM.
Diana Schaub shows what Frederick Douglass did and what Rev. Wright completely fails to do. (Thanks to Paul Seaton.)
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?
...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)?
Liberal professors from the 1960s generation are starting to retire And not a day too soon.
But what kind of professors are replacing them?
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.