Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Ehrenhalt on demographic inversion

Alan Ehrenhalt reminds me why he’s one of my two favorite writers on things urban. In this piece, he talks about the migration of wealthy and young folks (largely white) back to central cities and the movement of "traditional" inner city dwellers (African-Americans and immigrants) to the suburbs. He reminds us that this was the 19th century European model, which isn’t an altogether ringing endorsement (think of the Parisian banlieue, with its "vertical Corbusian ghettos").

Obama at Chicago Law

Apologies for my absence--a wasted week punctuated by minor surgery, the aftereffects of which I’m still feeling. So I’m playing catch-up.

This NYT article and this earlier TNR piece paint a picture of Barack Obama’s ethereal existence at the University of Chicago Law School--engaged on a "personal" level with the students, but not really intellectually with his colleagues.

“I don’t think anything that went on in these chambers affected him,” said Richard Epstein, a libertarian colleague who says he longed for Mr. Obama to venture beyond his ideological and topical comfort zones. “His entire life, as best I can tell, is one in which he’s always been a thoughtful listener and questioner, but he’s never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings.”

He was apparently somewhat closer, of course, to Cass Sunstein and Geoffrey Stone, two of the prominent liberals on the Law School faculty.

But his political career always came first, despite the best efforts of the folks there to hire him on the basis of the very thinnest of resumes.

Big Daddy Barack

Duane Patterson points us to a speech from Michelle Obama on July 28 in which she attempts to explain complain that women need an advocate like her in the White House in order to address the eternal female angst of wearing too many hats. Government can step in, she argues, and create policies to ease their pain. Barack can take some of the pressure from all those hats off of their heads. Perhaps it is helpful to have a big head when you start taking away other people’s hats? Of course, there is a big problem with all of what Michelle Obama is saying (mainly that it is blather) but there’s a more obvious problem too.

If Barack Obama is such a master at dissipating female angst, why has Michelle got so much of it? Why can’t she feel assured when she is working that her girls are well? Why can’t she be content when she is with her girls and not feel anxiety about needing to do more work? She claims to have come to grips with the fact that there is no machine to clone her so she can be in more than one place at a time (doing it all, of course). She claims to have accepted that there will never be enough hours in the day for her to satisfy all the demands on her labor. But it sounds to me like she’s still looking. What’s even more amazing (and ladies, you will understand me here), she’s still looking in the same darn place and at the same darn face: Big Daddy Barack. When he is president, apparently, government will be have to be saddled with the job of calming the female heart. Men . . . I guess you will have to keep sucking it up and, no doubt, paying for it.

Obama Bubble?

Michael Barone writes that Obama’s slim lead seems to be dissipating in the wake of his much hyped world tour. There was a slight increase in his numbers at the peak of that tour but, in the days following it, one poll (the Gallup/USA Today poll of so-called "likely voters") McCain even had a slight lead. As Barone explains, this particular poll is considered less a true reflection of where the race stands than an accurate measurement of the direction in which enthusiasm is trending.

If that is all true then Obama’s balloon may not be on the verge of bursting, exactly, but it may be slowly deflating like a forgotten Mylar Birthday balloon left in the corner long after the flowers have lost their bloom. Still, McCain’s strategy probably should not be one of waiting it out. Pins in a deflating Mylar balloon will not cause it to "pop" but they certainly can speed things up. Here’s hoping McCain will use sharper pins than Britney and Paris.

How Progressives Read the Constitution

From the preface to Correa Walsh’s 1915 book, The Political Science of John Adams:

The theory reviewed in this work is obsolete, but it was extensively in vogue at the time of the framing of our American constitutions. In fact, we live under arragements produced by a modified form of it. Our State and Federal systems of two chambers and veto-possessing governors or presidents, are remnants of the old theory of mixed government. Luckily the entire theory was not carried out of having all the elements equal in the mixture; yet, unfortunately, it was applied to the extent of making two of them nearly so. Although the balance was not brought up to its ideal, the opportunity for obstruction was suffered to remain.

It is submitted that a theory which has passed away but which has left its effect, is highly deserving of sudy, and in its most perfect manifestation.

The study may also lead to practical results. The theory which presided at their birth being a thing of the past, the form still lasting of our governments is an anachronism, and the question arises whether it should longer continue.

The burden of Adams’ argument was that putting "all authority in one center, that of the nation" (in the words of the French minister and intellectual, Turgot) was a terrible idea. On the contrary, Adams argued that checks and balances were necessary. Adams believed both in separations of power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches and in a bicameral legislature coupled with an executive armed with a veto. (The burden of his Defence of the Constitutions was, in part, that the separations of power, in practice, need such a "tri-cameral" legislative branch in order to rest secure.)

In this passage from Walsh, we see that, in the first part of the 20th Century, American intellectuals, flush with the belief in progress, concluded that our constitution, with its system of checks and balances was an anachronism, and they sought to change it. Before he became President, Woodrow Wilson praised the Parliamentary system as superior to the American constitutional system. For most of the 20th century, America’s intellectuals regarded checks and balances as anachronistic. The argument between Progressive intellectuals and the founders’ constititon is still very much with us. What has changed is that, a century after the Progressive movement developed, many American intellectuals regard the Progressive tradition as the authentic American tradition.


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?