Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Ranasinghe on THE GORGIAS

Nalin’s interpretation is ingenious, innovative, and ably and admirably defends both the wisdom and the nobility of Socrates. At no extra charge, you get an introduction--"Our Hero, Socrates"--by ME.
Here’s a quote from ME: "Ransinghe shows us a Socrates old and beautiful, the hero most needed to remedy what ails an aging society consumed by image and vanity. He helps us to appreciate that Socrates is the anti-technological thinker most able to show us how to benefit from our technological progress. This Socrates gives us confidence that the best way to win friends and influence people is through truth and love."

Truth in Advertising

Liberalism is a religion. (H/t Instapundit).

Reviewing the Various Views of the President’s Stimulus Victory

It was achieved behind closed doors in response to Obama’s gloomy words exaggerating the prospect of doom. The right word to describe the messy package is WASTEFUL. But we shouldn’t use that word, because confidence in its stimulating effects is the key to stimulating our ANIMAL SPIRITS. If the stimulus works, it’s as a placebo to get investors investing.

Belated Happy Birthday to Lincoln and Darwin

Here are some very thoughtful comments by Ivan the K. People who care about people--and human freedom--have to admit that Lincoln was more important than Darwin. But Darwin, to be fair, was a great critic of the idea of personal importance or significance.

Classical Frank’s Eloquent Defense of Freedom

Warner wonders whether making the transition from CYNIC to DEMOCRATIC LEADER is above our president’s paygrade. There’s some encouraging rhetorical evidence, but it’s yet to be matched by deeds. (Frank and our Pete, in my opinion, are the most astute [and so somewhat appreciative] critics of Obama around.)

Kyrgyz Eyes: Slanted Toward Moscow

I’m not only missing Bush, I’m beginning to miss Rice! It’s that bad. See, for example, this story on an American base in Kyrgyzstan , which was important in the Iraq war. Now the Kyrgyz want to boot the Americans.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced his intention to oust the Americans [from their base] after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow last week. The Russians insisted, however, that they had nothing to do with the decision, saying the aid package had been under discussion for months.

The Washington Times reported last week that the Obama administration was prepared to engage in a bidding war with Russia to retain access to the base, which is a major hub for U.S. troops and cargo. It warned the Kyrgyz that they might be hoodwinked by the Russian offer, and that keeping the base open would be more beneficial to them than the aid package, which includes loans and grants.

I tweaked a former Kyrgyz student of mine, for its tilt to Moscow. She responded in turn:

Based on mass media resources I see that US wants to cooperate with Russia on major issues as anti-missile defence, terrorism, etc. I also read that Vice President of US stated that US was open for cooperation with Russia on the international conference in Germany. Politicians say that that was the first reaction of the new administration toward American-Russian relations. I see changes.

If the U.S. wants to get along with Russia, so do the Kyrgyz!

The Best Inter-Generational Rant Ever

And very topical to our current economy: Four minutes of Lewis C K on Conan O’Brien.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Something

I neglected to mention that while Steve has been busy today gracing the pages of the Wall Street Journal and hanging with Neil Cavuto on cable T.V., and while Lawler was busy talking about important topics at a conference with Bill Kristol and Mark Blitz, and Schramm spent his afternoon addressing a large gathering at Ashland on Lincoln’s Bicentennial, I had the pleasure of spending my morning with 28 fourth graders and talking to them about Abraham Lincoln.

We began with what they knew and, typically, the first thing that they were pleased to report on that score was that Mr. Lincoln wore a size 14 shoe. So I learned something too--there was give and take. I was allotted half an hour for the talk but, because I did not lecture and instead engaged them in a conversation, an hour had passed before I even noticed that we were going over my time. I apologized but they insisted that I stay and they continued to pepper me with questions and demand explanations. They were fascinated with the hardships of Lincoln’s life but were even more astonished by the great joy he took in reading, memorizing and talking. Before it was over, they had read (with highlighters in hand) the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, discussed why Lincoln found them so striking, read the Gettysburg address (and done the math)and discussed what might be the difference between a self-evident truth and a proposition. They even discussed the idea of consecration (as in "we cannot consecrate") and ended by suggesting to me that what we ought to do, instead of consecrating Gettysburg or Lincoln or anything/one else, is to continue to work to make sure that we and our nation are dedicated to the proposition in the Declaration and that, if the time ever (God forbid) comes, we are ready to do our part to consecrate it. As I said, there was give and take. It is safe to say that I took more than I gave from this morning. Thanks, especially, to these 4th graders for making it a certain thing that I will never believe anyone who tells me that it is impossible to get kids interested in American history.

Remembering Mr. Lincoln

That Abraham Lincoln is worth remembering 200 years after his birth is self-evident. Much can be said about him, and I will say a few words at a talk here today, and we will say more in the upcoming issue of On Principle which is going to press today (ten good essays...well, nine, plus mine), but for now let me just bring to your attention a passage from Fred Kaplan’s book, Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer in which he points to a passage in Lincoln’s Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society and re-arranges it typografically and says this: "the paragraph reveals a free verse poem of sophisticated triadic phrases, alliteration and assonance, and a delayed climactic phrase that remembers the first sentence, providing both recognition and unity." He calls it "Lincoln’s best poem." Read aloud, please.

Every blade of grass is a study;

And to produce two,

Where there was but one,

Is both a profit and a pleasure.

And not grass alone;

But soils, seeds, and seasons

Hedges, ditches, and fences,

Draining, droughts, and irrigation—

Plowing, hoeing, and harrowing—

Reaping, mowing, and threshing—

Saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops,

And what will prevent or cure them—

Implements, utensils, and machines,

Their relative merits,

And [how] to improve them—

Hogs, horses, and cattle—

Sheep, goats, and poultry—

Trees, shrubs, fruits, plants, and flowers—

The thousand things

Of which these are specimens—

Each a world of study within itself.

More Self-Promo

National Review kindly asked me to contribute to their symposium on the Best 25 All-Time Conservative Movies. My contribution, ranked #10, is up over at The Corner this morning.

Self-Promo Alert

Me in today’s Wall Street Journal on why Obama got off to a bad start--and may not get any better.

UPDATE: I’ve been booked on the Neil Cavuto Show on Fox Business News channel at 6 pm eastern time to chat about my article. Tune in if you have cable or satellite TV.

Common Wisdom

How did Bernie Madoff get away get away with it? His crime was too simple to be believed:

In reality, the SEC is already one of (if not the)most well funded and professional federal agencies. SEC staff make way more money than most federal employees, and that is out of necessity because the SEC has to recruit people out of very highly paid private sector positions. I work with the SEC staff on a regular basis, and have a number of close personal friends at the agency. They are most definitely NOT suffering from a lack of funding, morale or White House support for a strong investor protection mission. According to my acquaintances, the Madoff failure was simply a big screw up. The SEC is very good at rooting out sophisticated fraud, especially in accounting gimicks. But they, like most human beings, are simply not that good at identifying accounting statements that are simply made up out of whole cloth. Hindsight is 20-20 though and I’m sure plenty of people will be calling for heads to roll.

What You Find in the Middle of the Road

Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg has a nice column about the so-called centerists in the Senate who supported the porkapalooza "stimulus" bill. His reflections put me in mind of an old saying from Texas made popular by Jim Hightower.

Now I never cared much for Hightower’s "populist" aka socialist politics. But he had this right: "The only thing you find in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead skunks." Fits Specter to a tee, don’t you think?

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking on LIBERALISM AND THE FUTURE OF NATIONS tomorrow (at 9:30 a.m.) at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. If you come to hear ME, you’ll also get to hear Mark Blitz and Bill Kristol, among others.

What Kind of Liberal is He?

According to Charles Kesler, our president is the prophet of American unexceptionalism.

Obama’s Secret Plan

Obama is reminding me more and more of the John Cleese character in the Monty Python skit about the highway robber Dennis Moore, who says in exasperation: "Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is tricker than I thought!" But I think I’ve figured out his secret plan: Simply destroy enough wealth and you won’t need to redistribute it. Churchill nailed it with his characterization of socialism: The equal sharing of miseries.

Cross posted at The Corner.

UPDATE: From Jay Leno last night: The economy is so bad Obama’s new slogan is "Spare change you can believe in."

"The American people don’t care about pork spending"????

I think this is going to come back to haunt Democrats come election time next year:

Statistic du Jour

From Robert J.Samuelson’s latest column:

The real collapse has occurred in securities markets. Since the 1980s, many debts (mortgages, credit card debts) have been "securitized" into bonds and sold to investors -- pension funds, mutual funds, banks and others. Here, credit flows have vaporized, reports Thomson Financial. In 2007, securitized auto loans totaled $73 billion; in 2008, they were $36 billion. In 2007, securitized commercial mortgages for office buildings and other projects were $246 billion; in 2008, $16 billion. These declines were typical.


Concern for the Common Good . . .

. . . must also demonstrate concern for common sense. Senator Jim DeMint explains his vote against a hasty bill in Congress meant to address the "lead crisis" in certain small children's toys and novelty items coming (most often) from China. DeMint argues that the bill, as now written, subjects re-sellers and small time Ma and Pop stores to the same costly regulation, testing, and threats of litigation to which it subjects big-time manufacturers and mass retailers. The impetus to "do something" in response to a very real problem (discovered, in part, because of some pioneering research done at Ashland) appears, once again, to lead Congress to do "anything" rather than to do the smart thing. Is it really impossible for Congress to deliberate and take action that is both responsive to the common good and to common sense? If this demonstration offers any guidance on the matter, it cannot offer much hope to those looking to Congress for common sense (forget wisdom) in response to our economic woes.
Categories > Congress

The Pelosi GTxi/ SS/RT Sport Edition

This is the best laugh I’ve had in while. (YouTube video; about 4 minutes long.)

Crossfire, Jerusalem edition

American politics is civil by comparison.

Studies Show That We Don’t Know

...whether or not government STIMULI really work. Our born-again faith in being stimulated is based in some mixture of hubris and anxiety. Still, this might be a really good time build lots of highways and other infrastructure stuff, for reasons having nothing to do with stimulation.

Our President is no Jack Kennedy

...when it comes to press conferences, even his friends admit. (Truth to tell, it turns out he’s not even a Bill Clinton.) I may need to revise my judgment that he’s a cool ad libber.


President Obama's faith-based initiative

As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm the local faith-based initiative maven, having written much about it for the Ashbrook Center and and elsewhere.

By now, you've probably heard about the President's attempt to tweak the initiative, renaming the office and expanding somewhat its mandate. If you leave aside the breathless media accounts of his efforts, the most measured response I've seen is this one, written by two prominent evangelicals long involved in these issues.

Candidate Obama called for an "all hands on deck" approach to our social problems, with government as the senior partner and the payer of the piper. He said much about the evils of religious discrimination and not much about the wonders of religious freedom. That was disheartening and led me to fear that he would follow the lead of his erstwhile Congressional colleagues and sacrifice religious hiring rights on the altar of equality. He may still do that, but not in one swell foop. Instead, we're told, the new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (so different from the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives!) will consult with the Department of Justice about the law and these rights on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps, then, the Obama Administration will nibble away at religious hiring rights somewhat out of the limelight, avoiding the public repudiation of them embraced by candidate Obama. And I have a hard time believing that the President will spend any political chips resisting the efforts of Congressional Democrats to promote equality and non-discrimination at the expense of religious liberty.

In other words, I think that the President is trying to extend his honeymoon a bit, but that, in the end, the only deckhands he'll really welcome are those who are willing to serve secular governmental ends in a secular governmental way.

One last point: the new head of the OFBNP, Joshua DuBois, seems to get high marks from everyone. I can't speak from any experience of him, up close or at a distance, which is only to say that he wasn't involved in the substance of these issues during the Bush Administration. I will note that he comes to this position from the political side of Obama's life (is there any other?) and that he lacks the stature and long-standing experience with faith-based social services that all those associated with the Bush Administration efforts had. Perhaps this is a good thing, on some level, for if this version of the faith-based initiative is closer to the political heart of the Obama Administration, perhaps folks outside the OBNP will take it seriously, which seemed always to be the problem in the Bush Administration.

But then let's not delude ourselves about the nature of this initiative: its goal is above all to keep the religious Left engaged (as opposed to enraged) and to charm those theologically and socially conservative evangelicals who are charmable.

Update: I slightly revise and extend my remarks here. I'm ultimately working toward some sort of op-ed, so feedback is welcome.

Categories > Presidency

Lincoln Exhibit

We put together a special section on Abraham Lincoln in honor of his 200th birthday over at that you might find interesting or useful. Take a look at the lessons plans Moser, Morel, and others did for NEH, if you haven’t already seen them. They’re terrific.

Here is his farewell speech in Springfield, February 11, 1861: "My friends———No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."

Ashbrook in Florida

Jeff Sikkenga is going to speak at The Villages (Florida) next week, for President’s Day. The title of his talk is "What Makes a Great President: President’s Day Lessons from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln." The talk is Monday, February 16th, at 2 p.m., and I recommend it. If you are in the area, drop in. Sikkenga is a smart guy and a good speaker.    

Fulfilling the Promise of a Nineteenth Century President?

David Forte writes a thoughtful piece reflecting on the striking similarities between Barack Obama’s approach to the Presidency and the approach of a certain American president from the middle of the nineteenth century. No, not THAT president. Forte also examines the ways in which the tired comparisons between Lincoln and Obama are little more than window dressing.    

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for January

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

Steve Clarke

Donna Hatcher

Sally Sudeen

Margaret Brickman

Debra Fraley

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 February’s drawing.

Madison’s mind and politics and the first parties

I just noticed that John Zvesper’s "Political Philosophy and Rhetoric: A Study of the Origins of American Party Politics," is back in print (paperback) from Cambridge. Pricey, but worth it. Also note that the, what to call it, less philosophical--and more readable--version of it, called "From Bullets to Ballots" is avaliable here for free (note the good documents section as well).    

A handsome volume landed on my desk yesterday (also from Cambridge) by Colleen Sheehan: "James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government". I read about twenty pages into it and then had to force myself to put it aside (to go back to Lincoln) because it was so enticingly written I was afraid that, out of control, I would read it all now. It’s hard to be moderate sometimes. You should look at this book as soon as you are able to allow yourself pleasure.    

So You Think You Got a Revolution

Well, I’ve now seen REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and am continuing to inch closer to ridding myself of filmic illiteracy.

I wouldn’t recommend that you see it. It’s a highly unentertaining movie portraying less than admirable characters. It’s a display of over-acting intensity, and director Mendes comes off as a rather deranged control freak.

Still, it may have some redeeming features. It seems to me it’s not about the hopeless emptiness of suburban life in the comformist fifites. It doesn’t show the suburbs driving people insane, but an insane person living in the suburbs. It’s about the vanity of thinking yourself more "interesting" than the people around you. In a way, it’s about the hopeless emptiness of the word "interesting." Insanity is nicely displayed as the inability to be a relational being, an inability to find meaning in personal love. Sanity is displayed in terms of abandoning one’s interesting pretensions for a life more in accord with your personal responsibilities and natural paygrde. The movie also seems to have a sort of pro-life message: There’s something unnaturally self-destructive about a woman who wants to kill a baby to achieve personal liberation.

The suburbs themselves are treated ambivalently. It’s sometimes clear enough that they can be a blessing for good family people, and they aren’t that ugly or devastating to nature. People in the suburbs are shown dancing at a cool nightclub wth a great band. Smoking and martinis are displayed frequently in the manner of MAD MEN. But they don’t always seem altogether evil, but at least sometimes real and fairly harmless pleasures. The living room of the home of the main characters is made to seem very tacky and quite claustrophobic. That might be more evidence still that they’re less interesting than they think, or it might be a shot at the fifties’ smallness of suburban houses. Or it might be a shot at "interesting" people yesterday and today who view ordinary nice houses as claustrophic.

This reminds me of the beautiful post by our Kate on the experience of raising six kids in a small, three-bedroom house. Maybe a part of our crisis today is putting too great a premium on "the right to privacy" achieved by lots of square footage.

Who Says Good Journalism Is Dying?

This is news you can use (at a frat party at least): Wired magazine on the changing body-mass index statistics for Playboy playmates over the years.

Hat tip: Instapundit.