Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Medvedev Might Tutor Obama on Tocqueville

Given President Obama’s dramatic power grab, crushing and baiting American indviduals, e.g., the ex-GM Chairman and Rush Limbaugh, we are nonetheless confounded to see that he can get a lesson about American freedom from the President of Russia.

Medvedev concludes his otherwise saccharine WaPo op-ed by affirming gthe truthh of Alexis de Tocquevillefs words predicting ga great future for our two nations.h Tocquevillefs actual words are sobering. At the conclusion of volume I of Democracy in America he predicted (in 1835) that Russia and America each seemed destined to ghold the destinies of half the world in its hands one day.h His conclusion emphasizes the dramatic differences between the nations, then and now:

g[T]hus the conquests of the American are made with the plowshare of the laborer, those of the Russian with the sword of the soldier.

gTo attain his goal, the first relies on personal interest and allows the force and reason of individuals to act without directing them.

gThe second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man.

gThe one has freedom for his principal means of action; the other servitude.h

Does Obama realize "the truth" of these distinctions? Medvedev asks that Russia and the U.S. should "work together" and thus renounce their specific characters. With his latest actions Obama seems to be meeting him more than half-way.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking next Saturday as part of a first-rate conference at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, PA (no longer the home of Rolling Rock) on the idea of the university in our country today. The conference begins Thursday and it’s one great presenter after another.

I will also be speaking at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Scholars at Duquesne tomorrow at 4 p.m. on something like Berry College and academic freedom.

Here’s my take on that Kronman book mentioned below: I actually see a lot good in the idea of liberal education as the display of the best arguments for and poetic presentations of a variety of forms of human excellence--such as the saint, the poet, the philosopher, the inventor, the artist, the statesman, and even the agrarian gentleman. But the way Kronman tells the story, this sort of education is "secular humanism" because it depends on the obvious untruth of religious dogma (which is usually all about the tyannical, "supernatural" God). One limitation of that view is that it’s obviously contrary to the self-understandings of many great men and women, past and even present. Kronman presents the choice for religion or a personal God as obviously a choice against the truth about the responsibilities given to self-conscious mortals; all "real religion" is fundamentalism to him, and one goal of college, for him, is to get over that sort of thing. All "humanism" and so the humanities are secular. That view can hardly make the study of the humanities attractive to our evangelical and orthodox believers. But before we’re too critical of Kronman, we have to think about how many defenders of liberal education today more or less agree with him. One Christian criticism of his approach would be its inability to even search for dignity or even holiness in ordinary life; not all virtue is about greatness.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Liberal Education and Republican Self-Government

I enjoyed my little shindig yesterday. It started off with a lively panel featuring my AALE colleague Mark Bauerlein, my old Toronto buddy Herb Hartmann, Judd Owen (another Toronto guy from a little after my time), and my Oglethorpe colleague Brad Smith. Many shades were invoked, ranging from Bernard of Clairveaux to Oakeshott, Strauss, and Bloom. Our allegedly short attention span students stuck it out for almost 90 minutes of give and take among the panelists and the audience.

Our own Dr. Pat delivered the keynote and wove together a number of themes centering on our multiple crises, among which (and perhaps near the center of which) is a crisis in higher education. In a nutshell (and he can clarify and correct me on this), he argued that many of our crises can be traced to a failure to appreciate and respect our limits, a failure of which "the new science" (that is, Baconian science) is the cause. The contemporary university is in some sense the central institution housing the new science and celebrating the self-fashioning which is its most common expression. (Readers of C.S. Lewis might regard it as a N.I.C.E. place.)

We also had an interesting discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of Anthony Kronman's recent pretty good book on Education's End, which covers some of this terrain, albeit not nearly as well, in large part because he can't bring himself to admit that to counterpose (or indeed oppose) the humanities to religion (or to the possibility of religious truth) is to deprive them of a principal source of their vitality. He treats religion as essentially "fundamentalist" and anti-intellectual and thinks that one can contemplate life's big questions without taking seriously religious alternatives. I suspect that it's closer to the truth to argue that Kronman's "secular humanism" (which isn't too far from the kind of conversation across the ages that someone like Allan Bloom would have suggested) must collapse into Baconian self-fashioning if it rejects out of hand (as Kronman seems to) the possibility of religious truth.

Many thanks to all the conference attendees (among them three of Lawler's students who made the trek down from Berry and an assiduous reader of Dr. Pat's blog) and to its various sponsors, including ISI.

Honor Among Surrogate Moms

So far, they’re staying on the job, even when they’re not being paid. This is another installment in the the Saletan series on the creepy side of IVF and the commodification of motherhood.

New UC Berkeley Center May Investigate Ashbrook

and Claremont, Hillsdale, Heritage, AEI, et al. I thought California had a budget crisis, but the expanding boundaries of scholarship require the
Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements.
I recall way back when journalists compared Goldwater and Hitler. "From which political direction the financing for this latest effort is coming is masked. The donorfs request for anonymity may be more to ward off requests for other contributions than for political reasons." The usual suspects, such as this feminist scholar and sociologist Lawrence Rosenthal, are in charge.

The Clicker!

It’s the latest innovation in classroom technology. Students can give their immediate, anonymous imput, and some studies are showing better attendance and attention as a result. Some classes at my college require students--at significant expense--to purchase their own clickers. I might prefer some device that simulates the sound of the Beatnik snapping his fingers, which would be used by students every time his or her learning style resonates with my teaching style.

It takes a thief

How about making George Soros Treasury Secretary?


Joseph Tartakovsky explains that you can like a thing even though you may be ambarassed by it. Also, Shakespeare and Burke liked puns. The simpler ones are, as Charles Lamb said, “a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.” But there are complex ones, from Richard Whateley: “Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred." Good essay. Best thing in the New York Times today, and I say that because I read it all, smoking a good Cuban, sitting in the morning sun on Decatur St in New Orleans. Perfect morning to write, and I tried, but it was pointless, my pencil was broken.

Rio Bravo

Allen Barra writes a footnote, even an imperfect footnote, to a very large theme of westerns, by asking the question why this movie is still popular (and hip). I do like this: Quentin Tarantino, whose "Pulp Fiction" was also both popular and hip, told an audience at a 2007 Cannes screening of "Rio Bravo" that he always tested a new girlfriend "by taking her to see ’Rio Bravo’ -- and she’d better like it!"

Ashbrook Center

Lincoln at 200

This is the PDF version of our recent issue of On Principle, devoted entirely to Abraham Lincoln. There are ten pretty good essays by people you know and the artwork is by our own Chris Burkett. You can also access the individual essays at our main site. I hope you like it.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Sen Dodd in trouble

Cook Political Report now analyzes Sen. Chris Dodd’s bid for a sixth term, and concludes that he is one of the most vulnerable incumbents on the ballot in 2010. His race is downgraded to "toss-up."

The oldest hatred

Has returned.

Discovery of John Wilkes Booth’s Diary?

In a previously undiscovered tunnel in New York? Very interesting video and compelling Indiana Jones type story. In another life I’d have loved to have been an archaeologist.

California Continues to Lose It

Jim Lakely over at Infinite Monkeys brings our attention to an absurd proposed regulation of the California Air Resources Board that would ban the sale of black cars in California after 2012. The reason? Seems the geniuses over there are making the case that black cars absorb too much heat and make it necessary for people to run their air-conditioners too much and, thereby, consume too much fuel and emit too much carbon. They want to try and force auto companies to produce a kind of black paint that will not absorb so much heat. This ought to be good. Keep watching.

And here’s another one near and dear to my heart . . . a proposed ban from the LA city council on a whole variety of new and modern billboards. Because it’s always a good idea, in a down economy, to make it really, really difficult for people to advertise and sell things. (Full disclosure: Dad makes and sells billboards . . . good ones too!)

Don’t Forget Over There

While everyone is focusing mostly on Obama’s ruinous economic plans, Ralph Peters draws our attention to Obama’s opening foreign policy missteps. Sobering.

Money quote: "By comparison, the Carter administration is starting to look like a model of manly strength, courage and patriotism." Ouch!

Alexander Hamilton

as prime exemplar of American opportunity and enterprise

is well recounted by Mayron Magnet for the City Journal. He may have been "that bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar," (Adams) but also he was smart, ambitious, and proud. A good read.   

Electronic voting not secure, CIA says

I have always said that a pencil and paper is all you need for voting; and fellow citizens counting the ballots, and, if necessary, recounting them. The paper trail is good. The

CIA seems to agree with me, noting some interesting developments in places like Venezuela.


The President's Step Backwards on Stem Cells

Here's a response by members of President Bush's Council on Bioethics to Obama's recent statement and new policy. The president has undermined progress that has really been made to reconciling the needs of science and the moral concerns of many Americans, and it's not at all clear that he hasn't opened the door to reproductive cloning. I urge bloggers of all stripes to link this response to ensure that it provokes a real national discussion.
Categories > Bioethics

Global Currency?

While President Obama flatly rejected the notion of a new global currency at last night’s press conference,

Treasuury Secretary Geithner today didn’t seem to rule it out. This is confusing. If the Geithner position is reasonable, then Obama should have said so last night. Allowing his Treasury Secretary to either flatly contradict him, or to interpret what he said, just the day before is unclear at best and doesn’t help build confidence in this administration, whether obfuscation was intended or not. Also see this; Austan Goolsbee seems to agree with Geithner.


Constitutional Amendment?

I talked with Matt Spalding regarding his recent testimony to a Joint Committee that is looking into the possibility of amending the Constitution; insisting on immediate election of a U.S. Senator in case of vacancy. You know, democracy above all considerations, including federalism. Matt was the only guy testifying against the proposal.  
Categories > Courts

Labor Unrest in France

If you thought ACORN’s tour bus of AIG executive mansions was bad, look at what’s going on in France. It’s really too bad we’re not more like Europe . . .

Obama’s Legislative Steamroller Losing Steam?

Betsy Newmark details the ways in which conservatives can credit luck as Democrats have blinked in order to make Obama’s legislative hope for change not so hopey and not so changey . . . at least not yet. But, as she says, " They’ll [conservatives] need to marshal their best arguments if they’re going to win these policy arguments. They had no chance when the Democrats, flushed with their exhilaration over their 2008 victory, were poised to cram them through. Now there is a chance that they can modify such proposals for the better. It will be up to them to build on that opportunity, slight though it is." In other words, now is not the time to get side-tracked with intra-mural spit-wad fights.


The air seems to be slowly leaking out of Obama’s balloon--or was it another bubble? One obvious dilemma is plain: big expansions of government require a major crisis, hence Obama and Company’s crisis talk of the early weeks. But it became evident that such talk was making the economic situation worse, such that Obama had to turn on a dime and become a cheerleader for the nation’s economy, even as centrist members of his own party begin rebelling against huge spending, card check, cap and trade, etc. Still, we are in a contest to see whether the government can attain even more mastery over the private sector, and the private sector is starting to fight back.

Now, if I was in a conspiratorial frame of mind, and thought Obama was an evil genius, I’d wonder whether the murky TARP II provision that allowed the AIG bonuses was deliberately calculated to provoke outrage in order to justify greater government control over executive salaries across the board, as indeed Barney Frank has intimated is his desire. Nah. Can’t be that clever, can they?

Obama’s Poor Performance = Possible Economic Turnaround?

This economist seems to suggest it. The Calafia Beach Pundit has a very readable and engaging blog--even if you are a novice like me. Some months ago, he even managed to make a discussion of the winding down of credit default swaps sound interesting. Perhaps the reason he can manage this is because he is also thoughtful about the intersection between politics and the economics. His thought now seems to be that because Obama appears to be winging it, he is losing some of his credibility in very public ways. The markets are cheered by this because they take it as an indication that he may not be able to go forward with the most absurd of his costly and business killing plans. I did not watch the press conference tonight, so I suppose I should take a gander in case it suggests any action one way or the other for the portfolio in the morning . . .


President Obama at Notre Dame

Notre Dame has invited President Obama to be its commencement speaker this year. Since Jimmy Carter, every President except Bill Clinton has done so.

Perhaps Clinton was excluded because of his stance on abortion. As retiring Notre Dame professor Ralph McInerny and WSJ columnist William McGurn note, Obama's position on life issues ("safe, legal, and government funded"?) has certainly not disqualified him.

The University promises a dialogue, to engage him. The President likes dialogues, but only when others are open to being persuaded by him. Certainly the most prominent lectern in American Catholic higher education is a bully pulpit, so to speak. I predict that his approach will not be much different from that of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, speaking at Boston College, who gave lip service to the diversity of American higher education but ultimately urged subordination to national goals, quoting Woodrow Wilson to this effect:

"It is not learning," said President Wilson, "but the spirit of service that will give a college place in the public annals of the Nation." "It is indispensable," he said, "if it is to do its right service, that the air of affairs should be admitted to all its classrooms... the air of the world's transactions, the consciousness of the solidarity of the race, the sense of the duty of man toward man . . . the promise and the hope that shine in the face of all knowledge .... The days of glad expansion are gone, our life grows tense and difficult; our resource for the future lies in careful thought, providence, and a wise economy; and the school must be of the Nation."

As The President has reminded us in other contexts, he wants all hands on long as he's the one steering the ship.

Categories > Presidency

Men and Women

What Do Women Want?

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes a frighteningly compelling article in which she details just a few of the bizarre and unhappy consequences of our confused and futile attempt to deny sex differences. One is that young women, when polled, are now more apt to blame the victim of domestic violence than they would have been in saner times. Another even more illustrative consequence is a trend (discussed here in Oprah's very mainstream O Magazine) of women leaving men because they are attracted to women who seem to have a better grasp of masculinity and chivalry.

Sad as it is, this last reminds me of the famous study in which little girls were given toy trucks to play with in lieu of dolls. The researchers found that the vast majority of the girls would play with the trucks as if they were dolls . . . bathing them, putting them to "bed" and, in general, nurturing them. And we all know about the propensity of boys to turn any available item into a weapon. What mother with children of both sexes hasn't been "shot" by a Barbie-doll gun? Have we really come to the point when women, unable to find men who are both masculine and chivalrous (or, perhaps, unable to recognize him when she does) must now resort to contorting themselves into the objects of their own desire? And what happens when the so-called "husband" or "butch" in these situations begins to awaken the needs that remain unfulfilled for her in the relationship?

The trouble with nurturing a truck is that no matter how amazing the powers of your imagination may be, it remains a truck. This may be fine when the question is child's play. At some point, however, we all long to put away childish things.

Categories > Men and Women

Political Malfeasance

Another note on banana republics, George Will at his short best. Much of it is laughable, despite the looming tragedy.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Shameless self (and others) promotion

If you haven't yet subscribed to THE CITY (it's free!), you should. The upcoming issue features some of our favorite writers.

And then there's my review of this book by Francis Beckwith.

And while I'm at it, let me mention a couple of other books that I am reading or will read soon. There's The Soul of a Leader, written by a guy I have a hard time calling Waller R. Newell. And there's this eagerly awaited hardy quadrennial.

Pop Culture

Maggie Gallagher on the Meaning of Marriage

Maggie Gallagher has a series of posts over at the Corner discussing the potential impact of changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. The one I link to above raises the question of the formal stigmatizing effects that would necessarily befall those who did not jump on-board to embrace homosexual "marriage" as a positive good. In other words, making an argument that there is something fundamentally different about the marriage of a man and a woman and the union of two men or two women, would become tantamount to a public admission of bigotry. There would be legal and quasi-legal effects enforced by both law and public opinion as a result. And marriage as it has always been understood, Gallagher argues, would remain something nameless in the public square and unmentionable in polite society.

It seems to me that something also to be noted--if one has serious compassion for one's homosexual friends and relations--is that if Gallagher is right and the nature and purpose of marriage could be so fundamentally altered, the civilizing effects of both marriage and these unions would be cheapened, coarsened and diminished by this change. When marriages are fully categorized by law and in "polite society" as being nothing better or different or more trans-formative than are the sexual unions of homosexual couples, there will be no civilizing idea or example to which either kind of couple can look for an example. That is to say, one reason homosexual couples today may find the idea of marriage so appealing is likely the good marriage does for society and the changes it induces in its participants. If homosexual couples find that their own "non-marriage" unions do not quite measure up by way of comparison, is it any wonder that they look to something outside of the nature of the thing itself for a cause? What happens when they find that a rose by another name does not smell as sweet? What happens when there is no longer any rose-tinted glasses through which to view their situation? Sweet little lies on a personal level may serve some good purpose and I've really no problem with encouraging them in those whose personal situation demands them if they encourage a better public comportment. But when we try to pass off these little lies onto the rest of the world on a grand scale, this goes well beyond what Mark Twain might call a stretcher.

Categories > Pop Culture

There’s No Shame in Self-Promotion

I’m going to give the VERITAS lecture at MIAMI OF OHIO next Thursday (March 26) at 7:30 p.m. It’ll be on human dignity, public policy, and higher education today. Here is a little taste of what I’m going to say about irresponsible professors and lonely students.

Obama’s Katrina?

It is widely thought that Bush started losing his authority by his imperfect reaction (perceived) to Katrina. Frank Rich suggests that Obama may have already reached that point. The point here is not to dispute much of his piece, but to note that when Frank Rich thinks that Obama (and the administration generally) is nearing the precipice, he may already have fallen off.


By chance, this is the only hyped movie I didn’t get to see--until yesterday. It’s easily the best movie of the year, or maybe the last several years. There’s more about the strengths and weaknesses of our country as it once was and now is than in all the Oscar nominees put together. There’s also more about the proper relationship between the real, lonely, and judgmental inwardness of a real (wounded) man and the loving realism of (tough) real woman than almost any movie I’ve ever seen. The most hilarious scenes are about the Eastwood character teaching a shy Hmong young man with promise how to talk--with profane and politically incorrect affection--like a real American man. The movie is genuinely multicultural insofar as it shows that true virtue makes possible kinships that transcend profound cultural differences. It’s also "multicultural" in the sense that it causes us to reflect on the violence we did to our admirable and very traditional allies we abandoned (the Hmong) by forcing them, quite abruptly, to take up residence in some of the most decadent and dangerous places in our country. It’s also very pto-Catholic; one of the heroes is a priest who looks like a boy but (with some help) acts like the best of men (while still believing in sacred promises and the power of sacraments). And the Eastwood character (who believed, like a warrior, that religion is all about fooling credulous women) confesses to the boy priest who earned his admiration and is saying the Hail Mary at the hour of his sacrificial death (an unarmed warrior dying to make men--his friends--free). That this movie gives a much deeper and more convincing analysis of the American 1950s than REVOLUTIONARY ROAD goes without saying. There’s depravity portrayed realistically in this movie--but always for a reason.

Health Care and Discriminiation

In many countries, medical spending is limited by restricting options for the elderly. For example, in Great Britain, as Michael Barone notes, "if you want a hip replacement at age 57, well, you’re just too old." Would that be legal in America? Would it run afoul of our age-discrimination laws? If health care is "a right" as our President thinks, wouldn’t that mean American laws about rights must apply?

A second, related, point. People on the Left in America like to frame the issue by saying "health care must be a right, not a privilege, in America." Is that phrase helpful? In a free country, the government does not have the right to say you can’t go to the doctor. The only reason why the governmnet would deny that right to people is if it rations health care-something that would be done, ironically, in the name of making health care a "right." Under Britain’s national health service, people over 57 don’t have the right to have hip replacements.

Andrew Busch has a nice short article on the question of the right to health care in the latest Claremont Review of Books.

More Evidence of Creeping Individualism (in the Tocquevillian sense, of course)

Susan McWilliams observes that narcissistic bottled water has replaced the convivial beer as our beverage of choice. Beer helps us enjoy ourselves with others--it’s BOHEMIAN. Bottled water (which is the biggest scam going) keeps us from dying--it’s BOURGEOIS. Susan also speculates that the coming depression will lead to drinking (no one will be able to afford bowling) alone, an abuse of the proper purpose of alcohol.


...and man-dates and man-caves. All these are treated with some wit and insight in the film I LOVE YOU MAN. I’ll make the obvious point that the movie could easily have been better, even funnier, by not being needlessly gross. Still, it captures pretty well the sheer awkwardness of male friendship in our time, and marriage and same-sex friendship are reconciled nicely at the end. We get to see a dog named Anwar Sadat who really does look like Anwar Sadat. And we learn that most real men think CHOCOLAT is stupid, but sometimes find themselves stuck with calling it delightful. I LOVE YOU MAN isn’t a great or even all that edifying a movie, but it’s certainly more enjoyable than all those academy award nominees I sat through.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD is also worth seeing. Apparently it’s based loosely on the life of the Amazing Kreskin who appeared so often on Johnny Carson. This movie has the charm of and is sort of like MY FAVORITE YEAR (with Peter O’Toole), but "mentalist" Buck Howard (played with expert quirkiness by John Malkovich) is much less dashing, certainly more vain, but finally more noble and responsible than the alcoholic English actor played by O’Toole. THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD portrays its small-time hero as he would want to be portrayed--as a classy (okay, ambiguously classy) gentleman with a real talent, and, being a sort of period piece, it’s certainly not needlessly gross.

During this period of severe recession, anxiety about our futures, and uncertainty about whether President Obama is in over his pay grade, the film industry appears to be flourishing.


Ways of a Banana Republic?

Everybody in politics, including the president, is outraged. Anger is encouraged, even by the president. People are picking up pitchforks and are threatening. What does this remind us of? Is this deliberation and choice, or accident and force? Congress, instead of being outraged at itself for not deliberating about or even reading bills in front of them--for Congress could have prevented all this--has now voted a confiscatory tax, and it feels like it has accomplished something significant. I heard Barney Frank demagogue his CNN interlocutor a few minutes ago. Impressive. John Hinderaker also thinks that the Pelosi bill has accomplished something, none of it any good. He is rightly outraged and sends a warning.
Categories > Congress


She's Not Laughing . . .

Jim Geraghty reports that Sarah Palin finds no humor in President Obama's off-hand gag about the Special Olympics last night on Leno. And it seems that she's not lending a sympathetic ear to his belated apology either. I can't say that I blame Sarah Palin. If I had been treated in the way she's been treated by that man and his flunkies, I probably wouldn't be cultivating any generosity of spirit about him either. That said, I actually think the comment from Obama ought to be left alone. There's no doubt that it was a mortifying and stupid thing to say . . . but it was clearly an innocent and self-deprecatory gaffe. Anyone who claims that he could never make such a gaffe is either lying or is an insufferably scrupulous and inhuman sort of person whose opinions are probably equally interesting. Still . . . one cannot help but wonder what sort of frothing mob would be chasing after Bush or, God help him, Limbaugh if either of them had said anything of the kind. The whole thing does, however, present an interesting case study in what happens when the politically correct behave in a way that is considered politically incorrect.
Categories > Presidency

Advice from a rainy day

We spent the better part of the past week on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Since there was lots of rain, we did the geeky homeschool thing and spent time in museums, among them the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (one of my all-time favorites and worth a detour for anyone within a few hours) and the Museum of Mobile, just off I-10, as is the U.S.S. Alabama (one or two exits to the east).

In addition to a very fine exhibit about Mardi Gras (invented in Mobile), there was a rather nice piece about Mobile’s role in WWII. (The short of it: they built a lot of ships down there.)

If someone from the Obama Administration were to pay the museum a visit, he’d learn that the royal road to socialism passes through total mobilization for war. But, fortunately or unfortunately, the instinctive talkiness of Obama and his krewe (they’d not be out of place throwing government checks from a Mardi Grad parade float--and the checks would be worth as much as many of the "throws" on display in the museum) precludes this approach.

Organic Food, Spiders, and Interesting Side Effects

Perhaps this story explains the strange fascination of some for organic bananas . . .

My Clarence

I was up in Cleveland last night, giving a talk to the Westpark Republicans, a very nice group of two dozen folks. To say I gave a talk is being too formal for we rather had a fine conversation on Lincoln lasting almost two hours. It was good, almost like doing politics in the 1850’s. After the talk, as I was lighting up a Henry Clay in my car, a club member came up and admired him. So we talked a bit about cars--much like folks would talk back then about their horses--and Cleveland and rock ’n roll and I was happy to hear that he knew the guy my Hummer is named after, Clarence Frogman Henry. So I played
Aint Got No Home for him and--embarrassingly--I almost got out of Clarence and danced in the parking lot, which is what I want to do every time I hear this song, one of the first I remember hearing in my new home. I mention all this because some of you have come think he is rather named after a famous author or judge. Not so.

While I’m at it...

Fouad Ajami has some choice words regarding the Obama Administration’s indecision regarding the erstwhile "good war." The conclusion:

He can’t build on the Iraq victory, because he has never really embraced it. The occasional statement that we can win over the reconcilables and the tribes in Afghanistan the way we did in the Anbar is lame and unconvincing. The Anbar turned only when the Sunni insurgents had grown convinced that the Americans were there to stay, and that the alternative to accommodation with the Americans, and with the Baghdad government, is a sure and widespread Sunni defeat. The Taliban are nowhere near this reckoning. If anything, the uncertain mood in Washington counsels patience on their part, with the promise of waiting out the American presence.

Mr. Obama does not have to offer the Iraq campaign post facto vindication. But as he does battle in the same wider theatre of that Greater Middle East, he will have to draw the proper lessons of the Iraq campaign. This Afghan war can’t be waged in stealth, and in silence. Half-measures will not do. This war will have to be explained -- or explained away. For it to have any chance, it will have to be claimed and owned up to even in the midst of our economic distress. It’s odd that so articulate a president has not yet found the language with which to describe this war, and the American stakes in it.

Neither hedgehog nor fox

Peggy Noonan, who (if memory serves) once flirted with being impressed by Barack Obama, nails it, or rather him.

There are many good zingers in the piece, but I’ll restrict myself to two:

Leadership is needed here. Not talkership, leadership.


These are the two great issues, the economic crisis and our safety. In the face of them, what strikes one is the weightlessness of the Obama administration, the jumping from issue to issue and venue to venue from day to day. Isaiah Berlin famously suggested a leader is a fox or a hedgehog. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In political leadership the hedgehog has certain significant advantages, focus and clarity of vision among them. Most presidents are one or the other. So far Mr. Obama seems neither.

Read the whole thing.   

California Dreamin’

So President Obama is in California today making the rounds and reaching out to the people. He means to promote his "economic message" in much the same way that an author promotes a book or an actor promotes the release of a movie. There was the big rally yesterday in Orange County and tonight he’ll round out the trip with an appearance on Jay Leno. The Dallas Morning News is among those not impressed with the Leno appearance. But to hear the breathless and giddy coverage of the local media is to be transported in memory back to a misspent adolescence when adulation of this sort was much too freely given.

It is difficult to watch the "man on the street" interviews with Obama supporters. Usually, they are asked why they are willing to tent it for the sake of a chance to see their hero . . . what is it about this guy that has made him the hottest ticket in town? Their answers reflect incredulity at the question when they are not merely vacant. The lucky ones, decked out in their Obama gear like so many concert-goers, flashed their "tickets" before the camera with a triumphant air. A few, made suddenly conscious (if not quite embarrassed) of their fawning behavior, made pretense of coming armed with serious questions. Their questions had a common thread: i.e., "When do I get my bailout?" One guy wanted to know when he’d get medical insurance without having to have a job. One gal--a state worker now subject to furlough in bankrupt California--wanted to know whether she could get compensation from the Feds for that lost pay so she could make her mortgage.

It’s almost always a mistake to watch too much local news as it has a way of sucking you in. And this night, it did. But as I continued to watch it was near impossible to avoid making comparisons between the Orange County campers and the crowd gathered outside of the "Octomom" Nadia Suleman’s house. That crowd was hoping to get a glimpse of the just-released two of the famous eight. But this rowdy crowd had one thing over the OC Obama-maniacs: at least they were honest: "Look into the camera, honey!" shouted one star-struck (and clearly disturbed) mother when her young daughter scored an interview with the local FOX outlet.

I’m very glad not to be anywhere near Burbank this evening . . .

Justice Clarence Thomas at Washington and Lee University

To watch a splendid lecture (March 16) by Justice Thomas on his understanding of originalism and the role of the Supreme Court in America’s federal system of government, see W&L’s YouTube site.

He spoke on originalism, his own upbringing, the Founders, earning the right to benefit from the sacrifices of previous generations, and the limited role of the courts in protecting those rights. Quoted Lincoln a few times; noted that he annually takes his law clerks to Gettysburg at the end of the term. He has a profound, dare I say Ellisonian, appreciation for the liberty and equality promised in the Declaration of Independence and secured (by fits and starts, of course) by the Constitution. He mentioned the "reality" of this promise ("the acorn of liberty" that became an "oak" thru our constitutional history, which included a civil war) for him in his youth at a time when no one could believe it would ever come to pass. Repeated this sentiment when referring to the nuns who preached this reality as he contemplated the marvel of his becoming a Supreme Court justice many years later. As Schramm would say, What a country!

He mentioned the Plessy case twice, one time with particular reference to Harlan’s lone dissent. Liked how Harlan distinguished his personal opinion (e.g., superior status of whites) from his constitutional opinion ("The Constitution knows no caste."), and cited it to exemplify his understanding of originalism cf. judicial policy-making.

Stench and Terror

Gary Saul Morson reviews Inside the Stalin Archives: Inside the New Russia. I read into Inside (part of the Yale University Press’s Annals of Communism series) a few months ago and the thing was so familiar--I could smell it all again--I had to put it down and remember picking up a book about American things. Morson explains why I did that.

Shakespeare life portrait reconsidered

The Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare is not a "life portrait" of the Bard, claims Catherine Duncan-Jones.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Shameless Self-Promotion: Dignity and ME

The new INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW has an article by ME explaining why THE PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS was right to say that now is the time for Americans to start talking seriously about human dignity.

How Do You Tell a Woman Her Baby (in Her Womb) Probably Isn’t Hers?

This case, described by the ever provocative Saletan, certainly highlights the creepy side of IVF. You signed up for the procedure because couldn’t be satisfied with anyone’s baby but your (biological) own. So getting stuck by mistake with someone else’s is the cause of both litigation based on mental anguish and the abortion of a perfectly healthy foetus (who surely would have been loved by his or her biological mom). For any pro-lifer, this case is a horror, but it raises troubling issues even for a pro-choicer. This Saletan is tricky. He’s officially pro-choice, but he’s constantly revealing the moral limits of his position. And he’s on record as saying that surgical abortion will be looked on by future, higher-tech generations as perhaps the most brutal and brutalizing feature of our time. He’s a young man educating the ambiguously pro-life "youth vote."

Manly and Not-so-Manly Cities

According to this market research study commissioned by the Mars Snackfood corporation, Nashville is America’s manliest city. Ohioans needn’t fret, however. Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo were all in the top 10 and Dayton ranked 15. According to the story on the study, "Factors used to determine the manliest city rankings included the number of U.S.-made cars driven in the city, number of sports bars and BBQ restaurants, number of home improvement and hardware stores as well as manly salty snacks consumption." Factors that could doom a city in the rankings included the number of home-furnishing stores, beauty magazine subscriptions and minivan sales.

Portland, Oregon ranked pretty low on the survey--coming in at 47 among the 50. Their reaction? Well, of course! They’re depressed.

Bipartisanship in the Obama White House

O.K., I’m being sarcastic.

But what’s next? Referring to the Republican klavern?


Strippers and the Rule of Law

I thought that might get your attention. The late Anna Nicole Smith is back in the news. Smith died from a drug overdose in 2007, but her lawsuit against the estate of her former husband, J. Howard Marshall, lives on. In the latest legal maneuver, the executor of her estate, Howard K. Stern--who is currently facing legal troubles of his own after being " target=new>charged with conspiring to prescribe and administer drugs to the late model in violation of California law--asked Justice Kennedy to lift a stay issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in order to allow the estate to collect on a judgment issued by a California federal court against Marshall's estate. Kennedy rejected the request, which comes as little surprise, given the merits of the case, and the lack of merits of the petition.

The whole tawdry tale is one of litigation run amok, which I have previously discussed here and the ever-insightful Professor Rotunda had discussed more recently here. Recapping the case briefly, in an attempt to gain more than the millions in cash and gifts that she had received during his life, Anna Nicole challenged her billionaire husband's estate plan, claiming that he had made a verbal promise of half of his fortune. The jury in Texas didn't buy this story, so she shopped for a more receptive court in California, and she found one in a federal bankruptcy court. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the millions awarded by the court based upon a federal jurisdictional rule, but the Supreme Court in 2006 reversed, saying that the federal court could consider the merits of the case. Contrary to Stern's failed petition, which suggests that he is now entitled to the judgment, his case looks grim. For when the Ninth Circuit looks at the merits, they will be obliged to apply Texas law and to respect the final decision of the Texas probate court. That court was crystal clear:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED by the Court that J. HOWARD MARSHALL II did not intend to give and did not give to VICKIE LYNN MARSHALL, A/K/A ANNA NICOLE SMITH, a gift or bequest from the Estate of J. HOWARD MARSHALL II or from the J. Howard Marshall, II, Living Trust either prior to or upon his death.
And yet, despite this clear finding, finality is not had. All the original players in the sad drama are now dead, but the litigation continues. The law treats probate court judgments as determinative of these questions for a reason: to avoid the protracted litigation and gamesmanship that have been the hallmark of this case.

Cross Posted on The Foundry.

Categories > Courts

Old Lion

In an unusual cooperative effort between Cuban and an American groups (with Bush administration approval), thousands of pages of letters, documents, etc., of Hemigway,
found in the basement of his Cuban house are being preserved. The work started in 2002. I note in passing this interesting new thing found: One subject arousing interest is a series of letters from a young Italian countess, Adriana Ivancich.

"My crazy good sweet old lion," she calls him.

They had met in Europe and Adriana later visited Hemingway in Cuba, becoming the inspiration for his 1950 novel, Across the River and into the Trees.

Health Care

Veteran groups are opposing an Obama administration proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for treatment of combat-related injuries. A cartoonist’s view of the matter. (H/T Instapundit)

Obama’s First Judicial Nomination

Obama yesterday nominated Judge David Hamilton to the Seventh Circuit, which hears federal appeals from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Hamilton is a former ACLU board member and fundraiser for ACORN, whose decisions from the bench appear to track what you would expect from an ACLU board member and fundraiser for ACORN. Wendy Long and Ed Whelan, both of whom participated in Ashbrook’s conference on The Presidency and the Courts, offer their thoughts on Hamilton’s nomination here, here, and here.

Given this new nomination, Quin Hillyer’s article in the DC Examiner is particularly timely, and worth a read. The article features advice offered to Obama by Clinton administration Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, and law prof and Volokh Conspiracist Jonathan Adler at an event hosted by The Heritage Foundation. (The fact that I am deputy director of the Legal Center there is surely a coincidence.) Despite their different political and jurisprudential philosophies, Quin notes that all three panelists agreed that Obama should follow President Bush’s lead by renominating several of his predecessors blocked judicial nominees, and they likewise agreed that DC Circuit nominee Peter Keisler would be a good choice. There are more details, including Dellinger’s take on how the judicial issue cuts politically (better for conservatives), so you should read the whole thing. Of course, the question is whether Obama will entertain any of this advice, or whether we will see in President Obama an executive version of the liberal and doctrinaire Senator Obama, who voted for judicial filibusters and against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

Bonus Babies

What percentage of the bonuses everyone is complaining about will go to taxes? Might it be as high as 40-50% between New York City, State, and the U.S., for those employees who live in the Big Apple?

Tackling the Big Issues

The European Parliament has it down! Our enlightened times do not permit members of that body to refer to one another with terms such as Miss or Mrs., Senora or Senorita, Frau or Frauline. Good to know that there’s nothing more pressing in Europe . . . like, oh . . . I don’t know . . . economic meltdown, declining birthrates, or the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

More Lead Lunacy

Here's yet another report on the many ways in which the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is proving itself to be a wonder of stupidity and a master of harmful unintended consequences. Public libraries are being ordered to remove all pre-1986 children's books from their shelves. Fortunately, not even librarians (who, as a group, are not exactly known for their right-leaning politics) are as lacking in common sense as, apparently, our Congress is. Director of the American Library Association's Washington office, Emily Sheketoff said, "We're talking about tens of millions of copies of children's books that are perfectly safe. I wish a reasonable, rational person would just say, `This is stupid. What are we doing?'"

UPDATE: Also worth reading is this interview with Hugh Hewitt and Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair, Nancy Nord.

Goodness Trumps Brilliance

Dennis Prager hits it out of the park with an article that should be required reading for parents of school-aged children and anyone who presumes to vote.     

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

...the feast celebrated by our most rebellious and most patriotic immigrants.

Yesterday (5 minutes ago) was the birthday of James Madison--maybe the deepest and least manly (in the good and bad senses of self-displaying) of our great Founders.

Obama: The First Fifty Days

You can ready my (barely) two cents’ worth contribution to the discussion here.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Nations, Liberalism, and Science

Now you’re free to read this article by ME.

Hypocrisy is the homage the New York Times pays to its readers

Last week, the New York Times ran an editorial renouncing blue slips, a practice by which a senator may delay or in some cases block a nominee from his or her home state. Ed Whelan has ably discussed the editorial in some detail over at Bench Memos here, and here, and
here. While reasonable academic debate can be had regarding the blue slip policy, the New York Times editorial page has now joined both sides of that debate, although their interest is clearly less academic, and more political. Thus, under a new Obama presidency, the Times now proclaims: “Blue slips have no constitutional basis, are undemocratic and are subject to abuse” and “should be allowed to die a quiet death.” What did the Times think of the abuse argument during the Bush administration? I’m glad you asked: “[P]ast abuse does not mean the Democrats should now abandon the blue slip policy completely and give the Republicans carte blanche . . . .” NYT (editorial), April. 27, 2001, A24. In the wake of Bush’s first nominations to the bench (which included nominating two Clinton nominees), the Times reiterated its support for the blue slip: “A key is for the Democrats to stand firm on enforcing the prerogative under the so-called blue-slip policy that allows any senator to block a nominee from his home state.” NYT (editorial), May 11, 2001, A34. As I said, a reasonable, academic debate can be had regarding the use of blue slips, but the New York Times’s comedy of contradictory positions shows that it is less interested in the debate over “constitutional basis,” and far more interested in political outcomes.

He’s baaack

I had a very nice dinner with Peter Schramm last week when he was in DC, following which he twisted my arm to write a bit more for the blog. While I can’t promise to match his pace, for good or for ill, you should be seeing a bit more of my postings in the coming days.

Clarence Goes to Washington

Ben and I took Clarence to D.C. last week, Ben to work, me to lounge around. Got everything accomplished. The best part of the trip was dinner with two-dozen Ashbrooks now in the capital. One of them introduced himself as a former Ashbrook to a stranger and I corrected him. There are no former good things. Once in it, then you are in it, because we live in deeds and thoughts and feelings, not in time counted. These Ashbrooks live well and nobly for they think and act and feel the best. What a great pleasure to be with them at dinner and before and now. They made fun of my Clarence and I made fun of their virtues, and I count myself happy remembering friends and students. On the drive home the ear bounced between Fats Waller and Rush.

The Fundamentals of Our Economy Are Sound!

So says our president’s top economic advisor.

Is Chaos Our Natural Condition?

Well, MINE is.

What’s Wrong with California?

Victor Davis Hanson pretty much nails it. Of course, what do I know? I moved into rather than out of California! But increasing numbers of folks who are smarter than me are giving up and moving out. Hanson recalls a better time in California history but a time, perhaps, that did not do enough to prepare the current generation of California natives to appreciate their inheritance. It is a cautionary tale, it seems to me, for the nation as a whole. Why? Because California--for all its defects and all its charms--remains a trend-setter.

Looking for new Afghan supply routes

This New York Times story on how the US is developing reliable alternatives to routes through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan; this is a short lesson not only on the the complications Afghanistan poses, but on the political geography of the region. Also note that the Washington Post had a story on this issue about four months ago. In the meantime, the political temperature in Pakistan was lowered a bit. But, The Taliban rejected reports on Monday its leader Mullah Omar was willing to hold peace talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, saying it would continue attacks until all foreign forces withdrew from the country.

"If you wait for 3,000 years, our position is that the Taliban will not enter into any kind of talks in the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the Pakistan-based AIP news agency on Monday. This
Con Coughlin article in The Telegraph on the Khyber Pass is pretty good. I like his description of a Buzhkashi (which means, I am told, "goat grabbing" or "goat ball") "in which two teams of expert horsemen competed to drag the corpse of a decapitated goat from one end of the field to the other. If you’ve ever wondered what a full-blooded cavalry charge looks like at close quarters, Buzhkashi is the game for you, as man and beast become entangled in a melee of sweat, blood and dust, and give no quarter as they wrestle for the rapidly disintegrating carcass." I saw a Buzhkashi game--and was almost killed--in Peshawar back in the late ’80’s. A spectacle.

Doubt sets in as Honeymoon ends

It is now being reported that the White House is admitting they handled Brown’s visit badly, gave the wrong gift, and should not have given back the Churchill bust. They say they learned from the mistakes: "Mr Obama has now told his staff to learn from the errors made during Mr Brown’s visit and to ensure that the protocol is observed when he meets the Queen later this month." Also note that the Dean of journalists (and resembling David Gergen), David Broder is now saying that the honeymoon is over. "Among those who follow government closely, there has been an unmistakable change in tone in the past few weeks. These are not little Rush Limbaughs hoping that Obama fails. They are politicians and journalists measuring him with the same skeptical eye they apply to everyone else." We are back to doing politics, it would seem.

Does He Know What He’s Doing?

Lots of people voted for Obama because they thought--not without evidence--that the Republicans had become too incompetent, corrupt, and generally clueless. Certainly there was a perceived "competence gap" between the two candidates for president, and certainly one sounded more cooly competent than the other. Most of all, competence--and not ideology--was the change Obama promised people believed in. People still like our president (and it’s easy to see why), but his actual policies and some of his key appointments are causing people lose confidence in his competence. Even some of his most enthusiastic supporters are asking whether he really knows what he’s doing. It’s likely he doesn’t in many ways, being very short on experience, too ideologically complacent, and saddled with Congressional leaders he can’t or at least shouldn’t (most Americans agree) trust. We shouldn’t hope that he fails, so we should hope that he’s a quick study with an astute eye for what’s working and what’s not. And we shouldn’t hestitate at all to offer tough and helpful criticisms of policies that aren’t personal attacks on the man.

Mark Steyn nonsense

Mark Steyn read this article in The Economist and then had this amusing reaction to it.

Brown gave Gilbert’s bio of Churchill to Obama

I mentioned that President Obama gave the Churchill bust back to the Brits. And others noted that when PM Brown came to the White House he got some DVD’s from Obama, while Brown gave some rather thoughtful gifts, including an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. It was said that the unique present delighted Mr Obama because oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved to make a desk that has sat in the Oval Office in the White House since 1880. Mr. Brown also handed over a framed commission for HMS Resolute.

And then the story notes, almost in passing, that Brown also gave Obama "a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert." Other stories on the exchange of gifts didn’t mention this, as best as I recollect. The story does not say if President Obama was delighted with this gift.

Worse than Moral Abdication

That’s how Charles Krauthammer described the new "policy" revealed in our president’s recent stem cell speech. Charles, remember, is not religious, and he disagreed with President Bush on where the "moral line" should be drawn on this issue. But Obama replaces Bush’s decision with no moral line at all. Now we’re completely in the hands of "the integrity of science," and Charles reminds us that such scientific freedom hasn’t worked out so well in the past. He also reminds us that Bush’s famous stem cell speech was much more measured, more mindful of the real scientific evidence, and in every way many pay grades above Obama’s.

Lack of Activity--from Me, and from Cyclones

Well, in my case, it’s lack of NLT blogging activity, although there’s been plenty of "activity," more broadly speaking. My wife and I returned a few weeks ago from China, where we adopted a baby girl. Anyone interested in seeing photos or videos, both of our Stanzi and of our trip to China in general, should go here.

Now for the political part. A meteorologist at Florida State notes that the apocalyptic predictions of cyclones and hurricanes in recent years--allegedly tied to global warming--have failed to materialize. Indeed, "Tropical cyclone (TC) activity worldwide has completely and utterly collapsed during the past 2 to 3 years with TC energy levels sinking to levels not seen since the late 1970s." The reason? "During the past 2 years +, the Earth’s climate has cooled under the effects of a dramatic La Nina episode."


The Obama administration has renamed enemy combatants something else. I sense something of the many levels of meaning in this, and was ready to pontificate on it when I noticed a couple of other things having to do with words: There was a U.S.-Chinese naval standoff; and the US was interested in retooling US-Pakistani relationship; and then I noticed that Russia weighs bases in Cuba and Venezuela, but then a Russian general clarified and said while it is possible to have a base in Cuba, not so in Venezuela because their constitution prohibited establishment of military bases of foreign states on Venezuelan territory and described the Russian possible use of the facility there as "we land, we complete the flight, we take off." Good, I thought, that clarifies things.

English likes to take words it likes from any language and use it, sometimes changing their meanings. We get many words from Spanish, of course. Never mind place names like Los Angeles and California, Montana and Colorado. Other personal favorites are hombre and tobacco and cigar. Another is embargo. Lasso. Renegade. Cockroach. Vamoose. Buckaroo. Desperado. Hemingway introduced the Spanish phrase, hora de la verdad as "moment of truth" in Death in the Afternoon when he was bemoaning how base and decadent bullfighting had become. Not like the old days.

I was reading a simple volume called Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends when I came across this surprising explanation, put forward as a persistent legend, of the origin of the word "gringo". I like it, so I pass it along, trying to keep a good myth alive. In the Mexican-American War soldiers (many Irish and Scot) liked to sing Robert Burns’ Green grow the rashes, O (written) and sung and spoken. And as the Mexican soldiers heard this, they made "green grow" into "gringo."

Charles Murray’s "Aristotelianism": American Exceptionalism

At AEI the noted social scientist views America in terms of the best practical political order--in other words, like the ancient political philosopher Aristotle. Murray may need more work on teleology and natural law. Excerpts:

American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I’m thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. That’s quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America--by and large, Americans celebrate others’ success instead of resenting it. That’s just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism--the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close....

The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.

Paglia on Obama and lessons from the Illiad, Limbaugh, Pope Leo X

The always delightful Camille Paglia--a thoughtful and independent-minded supporter of Barack Obama--thinks Obama needs to do some deep soul-searching. She’s inclined still to give him too much credit and blame his missteps on stupid advisers, but with great lines like this: "The orchestrated attack on radio host Rush Limbaugh, which has made the White House look like an oafish bunch of drunken frat boys," who cares? But what I especially liked about this article was its closing paragraph. It’s too good for me to attempt a clumsy summary, so here’s the whole thing:

President Obama should yank the reins and get his staff’s noses out of slash-and-burn petty politics. His own dignity and prestige are on the line. If he wants a second term, he needs to project a calmer perspective about the eternal reality of vociferous opposition, which is built into our democratic system. Right now, the White House is starting to look like Raphael’s scathing portrait of a pampered, passive Pope Leo X and his materialistic cardinals -- one of the first examples of an artist sending a secret, sardonic message to posterity. Do those shifty, beady-eyed guys needing a shave remind you of anyone? Yes, it’s bare-knuckles Chicago pugilism, transplanted to Washington. The charitably well-meaning but hopelessly extravagant Leo X, by the way, managed to mishandle the birth of the Protestant Reformation, which permanently split Christianity.

Ponnuru on Limbaugh, Reformers and Traditional Conservatism

Ramesh Ponnuru writes the most measured and sensible piece I’ve yet seen on the whole ridiculous dust-up within conservative circles over Rush Limbaugh. So many of the tragic and self-destructive problems on our side of the aisle (the other side suffers from this also but that is their problem and it’s not in my interest to point it out to them) seem to stem from frustration born of the inability to persuade. And yet there is no acceptable alternative to persuasion and also no shortcut to it. It’s fair to say that perfect persuasion almost never happens and it’s also fair to say that there is no formula for persuasion that works in all cases. One really cannot make another person’s mind exactly as his own or change it exactly as he would have it change. And yet, for all our talk about the stupidity of Utopian notions, isn’t there just a bit of Utopian frustration bubbling under the surface of this . . . what to call it? I’m tempted to call it a contest having to do with what goes on at a urinal. But, as I said, Ramesh Ponnuru is measured and sensible and, because he says all of this with more class than I have said it, he’s either less irritated than I am or he’s a better master of his irritation. Whatever the cause of it, it is well done. Do read it.   

Stephen A. Obama?

Over on the main Ashbrook site, I wonder whether the real Illinois precursor to our current president isn’t actually Stephen A. Douglas.

Have a Smoke, Barack!

Even Bill Galston thinks Obama is doing too much too soon--and not just because he’s fretting about what Obama is doing to his and the Democrats’ future political prospects. Although for reasons other than the ones most commonly cited here, Galston also worries that Obama’s efforts could hurt the nation’s economic situation and suggests that Obama may, in fact, be more like Carter than either Reagan or FDR. An interesting read.  

Sunday Morning Rituals: Church or Soccer?

Mary Beth Hicks writes an interesting column today for the Washington Times in which she speculates that one cause of the waning interest of Americans for religious affiliation and, perhaps, also for simple morality may be the rise of Sunday morning youth sports and sales at department stores. I know about the sales because we often hit them after mass (and I see nothing wrong with that) . . . but I confess to being a bit stunned to hear about sports. I’ve had my kids participate in any number of sports and activities (and I’m a big fan of them when they are conducted in the proper spirit) but I’ve never heard of or experienced anything scheduled for a Sunday morning. To this day I know that in one particular suburb of Cleveland, there is a law against scheduling any youth activities on Sundays. There, it is so strict that the town even shuts down the public pool on Sundays. I know this because my sister complains loudly about this last thing--mainly because it means that her husband almost never gets to spend time at the pool with their children. But, much as she and her husband enjoy youth sports, I doubt even they would be thrilled by the prospect of a Sunday morning game or, worse, practice. Is this really something that is becoming a wide-spread menace? I could see some validity to Hicks’ point if it were, but I’m skeptical. I can’t imagine that even Atheists want to get out of bed early on a Sunday just to go to a kids soccer game. But then again, maybe it’s an east coast thing . . . in which case, I wouldn’t understand. I’m still trying to understand the appeal of soccer, after all . . . thank God my kids like baseball.

Another Good Lincoln Story . . .

. . . has emerged in the news. This one concerns his pocketwatch and an internal engraving added by an enthusiastic supporter at a watch shop who was reacting to the rebel attack on Ft. Sumter in the only way he could--given that the rest of his shop (in a divided Washington, D.C.) were Confederate sympathizers. The story of this engraving has circulated for years but was only confirmed yesterday as curators at the Smithsonian pried open the watch to investigate. Thanks to Craig Scanlon for pointing me toward this fascinating story.

Save those dates

On Monday, March 30th, I’ll be hosting a little confab on "liberal education and republican self-government" at Oglethorpe University. Our keynoter will be our old friend Patrick Deneen. Other well-known participants include Mark Bauerlein (author, most recently, of The Dumbest Generation) and Judd Owen, both of Emory University.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, our friends at Mercer University will be hosting a conference featuring John Danford and Michael Zuckert as keynoters. I’m in my usual subaltern position as a panelist.

On April 16-19, my favorite professional organization, the Association for Core Texts and Courses, will be holding its annual meeting in Memphis. I’ll be there saying something or the other about something or the other.

Finally, on April 23rd, Lawler’s crowd at Berry will be hosting an event keynoted by James W. Ceaser. I will of course be present as a kibitzer. You’ll have to ask him for the details, as I couldn’t find anything on the Berry website.


Liberal Education at Liberty University

Creationism misses both the beauty and the truth of the account of creation in Genesis. (See Leon Kass.) But this account of a field trip by Liberty University students to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum illustrates how rigorous attention to science and biblical faith can complement each other. Such students would appear to have a far better understanding of science (not to mention respect for faith) than those in higher education generally. Concluding the field trip at the Jefferson Memorial--Jefferson, that notorious religious skeptic--is the crowning touch.
Categories > Education

Great Moments in Political History

You can’t make this stuff up. (H/T Drudge).

Not Your Momma’s "Cheerleading"

An amusing video clip from ABC News shows how the American sport of obsession with cheerleading is invading China. One old Chinese gentleman objects to this latest form of American cultural imperialism, saying he prefers something more Chinese to this glizty, gyrating, parade of nubile young things shakin’ what their momma’s gave ’em. This old cheerleader was also unimpressed . . . but I didn’t know that I was hankering for something more Chinese. I just thought I was missing what we used to call . . . well . . . cheerleading!

Last Photo of Lincoln Ever Taken . . .

. . . is found by Ulysses S. Grant’s great-great-grandson. Good story!   

Politics Mediates Science: We Believe in Politics

And we don’t mean political science.
Yuval Levin

My own simplistic analogy: Imagine scientists who invent a flame-retardant suit. To test it, they grab ten people off the street, strip them naked, force them into the suits, and then into fires of varying degrees. The results are recorded and observed. The data would have scientific use but would plainly have been obtained through monstrous methods. Of course "we believe in science" (as though scientific truth were a matter of human will)--it’s the scientists who need controlling. And every society has controlled its scientists through moral teaching and ultimately through the laws. To do otherwise is to submit to the tyranny of science. Such reasoning is not beyond anyone’s "pay grade." The Bush Administration had one way of respecting science, and the Obama Administration is showing its nihilism in the way it is abdicating public responsibility in favor of the will of scientists.

It was rumored that Yuval was a runner-up to Bill Kristol as a regular New York Times columnist. With Bill’s leaving, I hope he captures the prize this time.

See of course Joe K’s post below .

Have We Fork-gotten?

Dr. Pat Deneen explains the connection between our recent tailspin and the decline of our use of the most civilized utensil. Pat has done well, in all seriousness, in following Leon Kass in reflecting deeply on the connections between how we eat and who we are. We Americans, in our love of fast food, have invented and embraced many ways of getting around the fork, and so of dispensing with the leisurely family meal. It is somewhat repulsive to observe a generation unschooled in the ways of the fork. But that doesn’t mean, it seems to me, that we’re more casual about the eating of meat or inching closer to cannibalism. Big slabs of meat--such as those served in steakhouses--can’t be eaten without forks and have fallen out of fashion. It also might be that finger food is especially conducive to conversation, and our bigger problem, as Susan McWiliams has explained, is a new preference for the narcissistic beverage bottled water over the more convivial beer. I might add that I also see a contempt for proper form in people who use a fork inappropriately--for example, for eating fried chicken, ribs, pizza, or doughnuts.

The Folly of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act

I have been following with some interest the efforts of Senator Jim DeMint to make the public more aware of the massive defects inherent in the CPSIA of the last year. This act was passed in a mad rush to stem the ominous tide of (mostly Chinese) lead in cheap children’s toys and products and, also, an additive to plastics that makes them pliable. DeMint has noted that the wholesale regulations have long-ranging consequences that no one foresaw and have hit small time mom and pop businesses (not to mention resale businesses like charity thrift shops) especially hard. They require expensive and extensive testing of so many products geared toward children and provide for an outright ban on the sale of some products (like children’s ATVs) that have a high lead content in parts that would never be ingested by any semi-sentient child. (In the case of the ATVs the lead is in the battery pack . . . and may I just say that if you’re kid is sucking on the battery pack of his motorbike, lead is probably not the most important concern on your plate . . . ) Hugh Hewitt is doing an excellent job of following this story, interviewing knowledgeable sources, and considering the economic and liberty implications of the legislation.


Science, ethics, and majoritarianism

I read with some interest President Obama's prepared remarks regarding his reversal of the Bush Administration's stem cell research policy.

Aside from the transparent preening about "restoring scientific integrity to government decision making," there's this very interesting and revealing bit:

Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans - from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs - have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.

That is a conclusion with which I agree. That is why I am signing this Executive Order, and why I hope Congress will act on a bi-partisan basis to provide further support for this research.

With respect to science and the ethical dilemmas we might confront, what matters most of all is what the majority thinks. And how do we discern what the majority thinks? Surely the election wasn't fought on this issue, so there's no "mandate" for this. (Is there a mandate for anything other than not being George W. Bush?) And while opinion polls might--in a way that is both too casual and too easily manipulated--take the public's temperature on an issue, I would be loathe to affirm that any matter of genuine high principle should be concluded by referring to the wishes of the majority. On this matter Barack Obama seems closer to Stephen F. Douglas than to Abraham Lincoln.

The President is right about one thing. He recognizes that he is "advancing the cause of science," which he professes to recognize might reveal to us some "inconvenient truths" (to borrow a phrase from some obscure former politico). Is "the cause of science" always consistent with our moral and religious principles? This language at least leaves open the possibility that it is not:

[P]romoting science isn't just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

The agenda of science is supposed to trump any merely political agenda, even one presumably endorsed by a "majority." But what if the "political agenda" is based upon high principles, and the "truths" we discover are inconsistent with those principles? At the moment, President Obama seems to have one sticking point--reproductive cloning. But what if a majority of people decided that that would be just fine with them? (I'm sure some clever pollster could construct a question in a way that yields a majority in favor of reproductive cloning.) And what if some scientist--those Olympians beyond all merely democratic or republican questioning--promised a cure of some awful disease, if only we let him wander beyond the currently acceptable ethical limits? How much would we give to prolong our lives or the lives of loved ones?

Will President Obama have us choose the scientific way or the majoritarian way, if the two should happen to conflict? If you take him seriously here--a great risk, I know, but it's also, as we're learning, a great risk not to take him seriously--then I'd have to say that he'd go with science. After all, what we're talking about, he says, is "the progress of all humanity," which is no small consideration. This, he implies, is even endorsed by religion. We can avoid a "false choice" between "sound science and moral values" if only we interpret the principal goals of religion in terms of "car[ing] for each other and work[ing] to ease human suffering." If the goal of religion is, as that great political scientist Francis Bacon would have it, the "relief of man's estate," then President Obama is a Baconian "Christian." But I was persuaded a long time ago by a very fine Bacon scholar (no member of the religious right, he) that Bacon was well aware of the moral ambiguity and extraordinary heterodoxy of the project he was pursuing.

One wishes that our faux thoughtful and respectful President actually did take seriously the issues he so cavalierly and magisterially addresses.

Rick Garnett has some of the same reservations I have, and Yuval Levin demonstrates how political Obama's approach is.

Categories > Bioethics

Yuval Has Become MSM!

Here are his NEWSWEEK thoughts on the Republicans’ road back. There’s no substitute for genine prudence, and it might be that the party is, for now, short on the statesmanship required to apply enduring principles to new and somewhat unprecedented circumstances. But the Yuval-Jindal combination might be our best hope.

Missile Defense

Rep. Eric Cantor and Senator John Kyl are not encouraged by the Obama Administration’s promises to seek cuts to our missile defense.

On Athens and America, Knowledge and Decisions

Not a small subject, but Danielle Allen grapples with it in a review of Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens . An interesting, complicated, and useful essay. I wonder if the book is as good.   

Facebook attacked

Matt Labash writes a good essay on Facebook, friendship, his wife, and boredom, and maybe even why a bad memory is better than a perfect one.  

Shakespeare portrait unveiled

Thought to be the only portrait made of Shakespeare during his lifetime has been unveiled. Good story. 

Inhuman Reproduction

Jennifer Roback Morse makes the perfectly sensible point that the larger and more devastating tragedy in the Nadya Suleman case is not that she has been irresponsible with other people’s money (that of the taxpayers and of her parents) and not that she is now in a the hard situation of trying to raise 14 children by herself. The real horror is in the way she got to where she is today and the attitudes our society has fostered about children and fathers that permitted it. Roback Morse shows that the view that one has a "right" to have children treats children as if they were a commodity rather than as persons with rights and obligations of their own. Artificial reproductive technology and the legal structure supporting it, untethered as they are to any kind of human good, turns fathers into "legal strangers" to their children--and all in the name of the "rights" of the mother. Of course, fathers in this situation may not particularly desire any other rights obligations with respect to their children . . . but that might also be said for many a father who sired his children in--uhhh, shall we say the more "traditional" way? It is at least interesting that fathers are so completely cut off from their rights and obligations as parents when they sire children in this most determined and purposeful way but can be held legally bound when children are the result of an "oopsie."

Yuval on How Obama is Addressing the Economic Crisis

To look at his budget, we’d have to say he’s IGNORING it. The ideological expansion of government it promotes--through, for example, effectively nationalizing health care--is unaffordable (and counter-stimulative) in times such as our ours (LBJ was expanding government in the midst of prosperity--and saying that an affluent people could afford to do more). Meanwhile, the president is just not addressing the bad debt that has turned so many of our financial institutions into dead banks walking.

The Inalienable Right to Same-Sex Marriage?

Steve Chapman has a sensible analysis of the current dispute in California. Can a high court of a state use "inalienable rights" as a way of declaring part of a state constitution unconstitutional, as the attorney general of that great state (Jerry Brown) claims? Chapman’s democratic view is that the war over marriage in California and throughout our country should be political, not judicial. Advocates of same-sex marriage want to short-circuit the democratic process, even though the trend of public opinion is clearly on their side. Chapman reports that the California court is not, for now, likely to accept the invitation to declare the constitution unconstitutional.

Anyone reflecting on what’s going on in California can’t help but think that our national high court might soon be tempted--based on what’s actually said in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS--to use "inalienable rights" (as embodied in the Constitution through the word "liberty" [which has become equivalent to autonomy] in the Fourteenth Amendment) to declare a right to same-sex marriage. And of course the Supreme Court can, it seems, declare parts of states constitutions unconstitutional with that amendment in mind. The possibility of that new birth of freedom, of course, excites libertarian judicial scholars such as Randy Barnett--who of course rightly discerned the radical implications of the Court’s opinion on LAWRENCE. Surely that’s not the "natural rights jurisprudence" that we believe in(?), if we do believe in it (which, for Scalia reasons, I tend not to in most cases).

This is an issue that America needs to be discussing now.

Bad Press for the Pres

Articles like this are not good, even if they are not entirely true. He should have a smoke.


Notion for GOP Comeback

It seems to me that if the GOP can turn this simple schematic of the financial sector meltdown into a 30-second TV spot next year, they'll retake Congress.
Categories > Congress

The President: “I have never found Wall Street a source of good economic advice.”

Barack Obama last week? Nope. Ronald Reagan in 1981.

(This should confuse a few NLT readers and trolls.--Ed. Precisely. Happy Saturday!)


The last leader of the USSR, Michael Gorbachev, "has given some of his strongest criticism yet of the politics of modern Russia.

He says the United Russia party of the current Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, behaves like the old-style Communists." Don’t you love politics?


Obama causes stock slide?

Possible, according to Business Week. "Polls still show the President has strong popularity among the general U.S. population, and Obama continues to command power in Congress. But among investors, fairly or unfairly, there is griping that the new Obama Administration is at least partly to blame for the recent slide in stocks. Since Nov. 4, Election Day, the broad Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is off about 25%, and since Jan. 20, when Obama took office, the '500' is down 15%." And this history of the market is interesting. And then this from Michael Boskin.
Categories > Presidency

Clinton Gaffe

Our Secretary of State handed her Russian counterpart a present, with a word on it, the wrong word. Both meaningful and amusing.

Shameless Self Promotion

The current Claremont Review of Books carries my review of two books on Frederick Douglass.

Hyper-masculine and Hyper-feminine?

James Poulos writes a very thoughtful and a very timely essay on the mixed messages our culture sends, especially to young women. His argument comes down to the claim that we seem to be trying to produce a female creature that is both hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine. In other words, she has a kind of cartoon toughness as well as a Jessica Rabbit-styled sexiness. She wears a bikini and she carries an Uzi.

My first impulse upon reading this was to say that I followed him with hyper-masculine bit, but lost him on the hyper-feminine bit. This is because the kind of femininity that Poulos cites is not really feminine in the strict sense. It is more a masculine definition of femininity, or a side of femininity that is incomplete without the rest of itself. It is also true that the masculinity he describes is limited--but there is something else about the femininity he describes that deserves more scrutiny. This is kind of femininity that masculinity--in all its untethered extremes--desires but does not respect. And the thing, above all others, that a truly feminine woman wants is respect. The eternal question for all women (though few care to admit this) is how to obtain the respect and admiration of a man. Civilized men have to ask this question in reverse about women . . . but uncivilized men do not.

But this response does not do Poulos’s argument enough justice. I think he’s really on to something here--though less with his use of "feminine" than with his use of "hyper." For the sort of people we see emerging today and propped up by our culture as objects for our consideration, admiration and imitation are human beings of a much less complex variety than used to pass muster in days of yore. The human icons of old may have had cartoon-like personal lives . . . but they worked at hiding it and maintaining a sense of mystery about themselves. Today’s cartoon people--like our cartoons more generally--are more honest, but they have no shame and do not strive to be anything better than their inclinations suggest. And they are all one thing: decidedly masculine.

Many, even conservatives, will object. We are used to hearing more about the feminization of the culture. But for all our talk about the of the emasculation of today’s culture and the feminizing of our boys, the real truth is that in the "war between the sexes," men have already "won" (if "won" is, indeed, the right word for this conquest). Indeed, men "won" as quickly as the war was declared--as they must have done. We are all more masculine now.

The real problem in our society is not that we have less masculinity . . . it is that we have an abundance of it and it is untethered to anything truly moderating or feminine. For all of our soft talk (especially popular in elementary schools) about "feelings" and not being "too aggressive" or "competitive" and so on, opponents of this softening are the first to note the sharp elbows of those implementing these new "preferences." The soft things have become nothing more than the preferences of the Will of the strong (and masculine). They have moved from being elements of persuasion and guideposts for personal behavior to codified doctrines replete with punishments for disobedience. They now serve as instruments to keep us subjugated to the Will of the stronger.

Meanwhile, man has been given permission to become a cartoon thug and to turn woman into a cartoon-like sex-slave to itself. It is an insult to the feminine (but one that is perfectly in line with this shift toward cartoon masculinity), to suggest that in making boys more cowardly, we have made them more feminine. It is not feminine or female nature to be cowardly, after all. What true heroine is cowardly? It is female nature to be cautious and male nature to be responsive--together, they can come to a civilized judgment. But when we went to war with each other, we gave up on rational judgment and sided with eternal thuggery. We seem to forget that it is possible to be both aggressive and cowardly. This is what a real man, a civilized man, a man who strives to be admired and respected by a woman, recognizes as a thug. But he’d be hard pressed to call that thug a sissy.

The High Cost of Hope and Change

Laughter has become a kind of coping mechanism in the face of the bloodbath on Wall Street (and in all of our stock portfolios). But how much longer will Americans maintain their good humor? And at what price? Lost financial dreams and vague retirement plans are one thing. But who can summon laughter (nay, even a smile) at the prospect of what lies before us in the face of massive defense cuts of Carter and Clinton proportions? We see before us a world with a host of dangerous tyrants and hostile regimes . . . and our President chooses to engage in guerrilla warfare against which of these beastly personages? Why, Rush Limbaugh of course! The promised change has come, but we maintain hope in it at our peril. It is now time to start hoping and, more important, working for yet another change. Michael J. Boskin’s piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is not to be missed. If there is any lingering doubt on the part of Obamacons regarding their complete and utter imprudence this November, this should be the final blow to it.

Cyrano de Obama: The Plot Thickens

Not only teleprompters, but also computers or video screens installed into the President’s podium.

What Kind of CHANGE Will Obama Bring to Education?

Here’s Bruce Thornton’s astute answer: None at all, because our schools and our universities are already infused with the spirit of TRANSFORMATIONAL LIBERALISM. The big goal of anyone who wants real education to return to our country is to break the monopoly of schools of education, but our president feels the love from "professional educators" too much to even consider such a thing. And how could he do anything but embrace the system that produced the youth vote? (More evidence still that localists should have rallied around McCain, with all his faults.)

Obama’s Therapeutic Populism

Ivan the K incisively reveals that it’s really technocratic statism. (More evidence still that you front porchers should have rallied around the genuinely honorable McCain.)

Obama and his TelePrompter

While it’s not exactly news that the new pres is relying on his TelePrompter (and probably way too much, and what that means we must address at some later time, as we see with more clarity what his mode is really like), I thought it interesting that a student who brought this to my attention didn’t know that not all past presidents did what Obama is doing. In fact, no other pres has used it so much, so consistently, for events large, and small.

Morning Theology in the Ponzi House

Son (age 7): "Mom, if God made the Devil and He gave the Devil free will but the Devil chose to be bad, why didn’t God just take away his free will?"

My answer: "Well, would you like for me to love you if the only reason I loved you was because someone was forcing me to by holding a gun to my head?"

Daughter (age 9): "Mommy, I would give up having your love if only that person would put the gun down!"

Lesson learned.

The Dangers of Snail Gas

We’ve all heard of the potential environmental hazards posed by cows and their CO2 laden flatulence. But did you know that a bigger hazard is posed by snails? Apparently, they emit laughing gas when they "toot." This is not a joke.

Clinton Nostalgia

The hope of many a moderate, fueled by some of Obama’s early appointments, was that the new president would govern a lot like Bill, but with more class and less collateral trashiness. But that hope can no longer be kept alive, as Steve Chapman explains.

History Fun

They Might be Giants sing Tippicanoe and Tyler Too!

Mr. Crunchy Con Expresses His Gratitude a very classy way for my uncharitable criticisms of his celebration of his own way of life. There really is something to crunchy idealism, once you get past its selective nostalgia and overbearing judgmentalism about decent, ordinary Americans. One big issue raised by Dreher and Dr. Pat Deneen: Does liberalism depend on virtues that liberalism can’t help but erode? Does liberalism have within it the seeds of its own destruction? (I’ve said more than once that there might be something a little too Marxist about the crunchies and their theorist MacIntyre, but Marx might not be totally wrong about everything.)

Bad News for America’s Charities

Obama doesn’t believe in a trickle down tax code either.

Rush and the MSM: The Today Show Today

So the Today Show OPENS this morning with extended coverage of of Rush and Michael Steele. Here are some of the points emphasized: The Republican Party is less popular now that ever (although the actual study showed a decline of only 1% since December). Michael Steele (maybe a admirable black guy) had the guts to marginalize Rush as an over-the-top entertainer, and then was forced to eat those words by the powerful (old white guy) Rush. Obama is more popular than ever (although the point wasn’t emphasized that his huge personal popularity can be contrasted with only a narrow majority supporting his actual policies). What Rush wants is for Obama to fail, meaning: He wants America to descend into a horrible Depression for partisan reasons. Republicans, of course, are selfishly indifferent to personal suffering, unless it’s by the rich. Meanwhile, a clip of Rush speaking in the strange all-black outfit with the unbottoned, chest-revealing shirt is constantly playing in a box on the screen.

I believe this evidence supports my conspiracy theory. So let me repeat one piece of praise of Rush that’s found in the threads. He was much more astute than the moderate Brooks or the Obamacon crunchies about what the new administration would be like. I hope the Obamacons aren’t sticking to the position that it was better that McCain lose to pay for Bush’s sins and because Palin screwed up the interviews. Obama’s politically correct paternalistic statism is surely taking direct aim at the remnants of what was doubtless a thriving rocking chair culture. Let me add: I certainly hope that the president succeeds in making the economy better. Let me repeat: Rush and Newt can’t be the core of the opposition.

An Amazing Birthday Day

Happy Birthday to Tom Wolfe, Dr. Seuss, Emerson, Longfellow, Steinbeck, Ralph Ellison, Victor Hugo, Renoir, and Anthony Burgess. You might rank these in order of human excellence or in terms of improving the world.

I’ve particularly enjoyed and learned from Wolfe, Ellison, and Burgess. Seuss, Steinbeck, and Emerson are overrated and may have done more harm than good, although I can see that Steinbeck and Emerson are geniuses who have plenty of moments. Dr. Seuss always annoyed me, although I generally like children’s book and children. Hugo and Renoir are certainly French and may be above or not relevant to my paygrade. It’s a sign of our lack of class, perhaps, that Longfellow’s edifying amd finely crafted poems were so popular in his day but not in ours, although I have to admit that I’ve never read one voluntarily.

American Conservatives Rockin’ the Front Porch

Here’s an elegantly literary and insightful new blog, featuring Jeremy Beer, Dr. Pat Deneen, Rod Dreher, and other crunchy conservatives. This is not, in some ways, the alternative to Rush that I believe in, although it’s one that has to be incorporated into a larger non-European view of our future. I have, I confess, no front porch--although I do have a screened-in back porch and a couple of chairs (redneck style) in the front yard.

Limbaugh, Elitism, and an Unworthy War

There’s a good Jonah Goldberg column today in the LA Times. He talks about the stupid war on Rush Limbaugh and, more generally, on conservative talk radio and its vast audience. Of course, the broad political strategy from the Democrats in this is to try and shame ordinary people away from listening to arguments other than their own and to conflate all conservatism with the most extreme of the shouters. And there is an element within conservatism that has it’s own reasons for wishing to help this along. Along with it is a host of predictable over-reactions to all of this from the vociferous defenders of talk radio and its audience. As I watch it, I can’t help but think everyone is losing his mind in trying to talk about it. It looks like a lot of nothing to me.

This is really nothing more than a continued re-hashing of an un-winnable debate within conservatism about tastes and inclinations that we saw emerge first with the nomination of Harriet Miers and then with the selection of Sarah Palin. Democrats tried this attack on Limbaugh without success in the 90s and the early 2000s--and now they’re back at it with the help of some of us. The both unfair and substantive point on one side is that there is a kind of low-brow brashness inherent in the format of talk-radio and TV. With a good number of notable exceptions, there is some merit to the point and there are, certainly, some outspoken jackasses in the format who are there for no other purpose but self-glorification (though, I think, not Rush). The both unfair and substantive point coming from the defenders of talk radio and a more populist conservatism generally is that their critics tend to come off as bi-coastal elitists, ivy-league snobs, and effete kowtowers. With a good number of notable (and not so notable) exceptions, there is also a fair amount of merit in this critique. And, as it goes, I think the merit in this critique ought to be taken more seriously than the merit in the other. For the perceived turning up of the nose is much more inexcusable. Why?

There is something unseemly (and amazingly stupid) in the attack coming from sophisticates and leveled at the so-called unsophisticated. Urbane sophisticates ought to be able to develop a more effective method of persuasion and, part of that development ought to include some contemplation of the possibility that there is something deeper and also good within those they wish to persuade and refine. Else, why bother? They ought to keep in mind Lincoln’s credo that one attracts more bees with honey than with bile. The problem between the two sides of conservatism stems from an inability or unwillingness on both sides to understand the other and, perhaps, from a bit of jealousy for the popularity of one or another personality. But those who cannot master this art of persuasion without giving offense perhaps do not deserve the attention they seek. And those who have reached their summit in the persuasive arts, should be left where they are unmolested. It makes no sense to tear down one side of the foundation in order to build up another.

There are and always have been/will be yahoos glomming on to the conservative movement both as would-be leaders and as mind-numbed followers--just as there are on the other side of the political spectrum. Unless their offenses are grievous, there is no cause for commentary about them. And there will always be a sometimes unfair debate about which side of the political spectrum attracts more nuts. The truth is that there’s probably a pretty fair distribution on both sides. It proves nothing so . . . so what?

I think that what I find most offensive about this whole debate is that it is an attempt to strong-arm the argument by attaching shame to it--Rahm Emmanuel and the Dems have one reason for it and certain elements within conservatism have another. Let people think for themselves and they may surprise you. Despite the disappointing outcome of the last election . . . Americans really are not stupid. We should all show a little respect for that; especially the winners.

There’s No Moderation Obama’s TRANSFORMATIONAL LIBERALISM, the moderate David Brooks finally notices. More moderates should have noticed this BEFORE the election, along with what would surely be the consequences of UNIFIED Democratic government. Brooks is right that rallying the moderates against Euro-transformationalism can’t have much to do with Rush.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Buckley Stops Here

Over the weekend I read Chris Buckley's Boomsday, and amusing novel to read just now. I stumbled over the following paragraph:
"The national situation continued to decline: plunging stock market, soaring prices, inflation running at 18 percent. This last factor, combined with six consecutive quarters of negative growth, officially signaled stagflation. The U.S. Treasury was furiously printing dollars, while the dollar itself had lost 40 percent of its value over the last six months. The Federal Reserve, meanswhile, had announced yet another hike in the discount rate, to 14 percent. Amid this calamitous economic news, the Congress adamantly--some said magnificently--refused to cut federal spending, with the result that the year's deficit was not projected at $1.1 trillion.
Ah, the good old days. When a $1.1 trillian deficit was so unthinkable that it was fodder for a satirical novel. It was disinclined to note this sign of the times on NLT, but then I read Buckley seems to be having second thoughts about his support for Obama.
"Hold on--there's a typo in that paragraph. "$3.6 trillion budget" can't be right.The entire national debt is--what--about $11 trillion? He can't actually be proposing to spend nearly one-third of that in one year, surely. Let me check. Hmm. He did. The Wall Street Journal notes that federal outlays in fiscal 2009 will rise to almost 30 percent of the gross national product. In language that even an innumerate English major such as myself can understand: The US government is now spending annually about one-third of what the entire US economy produces. As George Will would say, "Well."

Gordon Lloyd on teaching the natives

I talked with Gordon Lloyd (Pepperdine) for about thirty minutes on (as Gordon puts it) how "the Americans have emigrated from the Founding" and "how do you get Americans to be comfortable about being Americans." Needless to say, it was a great conversation with this fine American, partly wisdom, partly skimble-skamble stuff.

Drunken Writers

Brian McDonald’s essay isn’t as good as some of the drunken writers he loves, but it’s not bad. Aside from Niven/Pournelle’s Inferno, I’m walking through Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, having been told by a friend, "I think it’s his best, but I don’t understand it. It’s too complicated." Well, no need to understand the whole when you get parts like this: "There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can."

Dow Tumbles, Obama Parties On

Yes, the headline is a bit unfair. But can you imagine the media response to stories like this if the current occupant of the White House were anyone else?

Real Changes

1. Obama is economically more leftist/European than some dared hope.

2. The economy is much worse and will prove to be much more recalcitrant than most hoped.

3. There seems to be a Democratic/MSM conspiracy to focus on Rush and Newt are leaders of the opposition. I hope I’m not dissing these smart and eloquent men by saying that they’re old and white, have some questionable personal features, and seem to many to be yesterday’s news. More generally, the heightened MSM coverage of the CPAC conference was clearly meant to marginalize the impetus to oppose the president.

4. Romney is saying some good stuff about Obama’s Europeanization of the economy, and it’s worth discussing whether this observant believing, economically savvy, and personally admirable family man should be encouraged to take the lead. There are obviously arguments in the other direction, such as his inability to resonate...

5. The pressure is necessarily on Bobby Jindal and Eric Cantor. Bobby J was obviously overhandled the other night and needs to get back to his fast talking, policy wonkish, high IQ self.

Muslims in U.S.

A Gallup Poll "of Muslims in the United States has found that they are far more likely than people in Muslim countries to see themselves as thriving."

Question for the day

What do people around here make of the "tea parties" around the country? Instapundit has a whole bunch of pictures and links about the tea parties. Just keep scrolling.

Your tax dollars hard at work

It’s hard to say that the government is less corrupt than private industry:

Carrie Lopez, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, charged taxpayers to fly from Sacramento, where she works, to Los Angeles, where she lives, to attend a Justin Timberlake concert with her daughter. She listed the trip on her expense report as a meeting with the energy company that paid for the concert tickets. Lopez also billed the state for meals on days she received those meals for free from corporations, according to state records.

Rosario Marin, head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, blamed a miscommunication for her failure to repay $582 the state spent to fly her to Washington in July to speak at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an appearance for which she received $1,000. She reimbursed the state for the airfare after The Times inquired about the trip last month.

Over the last two years, as California has slashed services and scrambled to pay bills, top administration officials have made free use of government expense accounts with little oversight and, in some cases, no documentation, The Times has found.

Together, they have spent tens of thousands of dollars on state-funded trips between Sacramento and the areas where they live, justifying the travel as necessary for state business. Some built weekend trips around one short meeting, and some charged the state to attend events with no apparent connection to their jobs. . . .

"Is anybody at the wheel here?" said Michael Josephson, president of the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles.

"The best possible case for this, which is still not a good case, is [that] nobody is providing oversight. . . . The worst case is that you have some people who are knowingly taking advantage."

That’s why increasing the size and scope of government is unlikely to do what so many hope it will do. As Walt Kelly put it, we have met the enemy, and he is us. There is little evidence that the wealthy are more corrupt than the poor or that business is less corrupt (and corrupting) than government. Madison does a nice job with this idea in Federalist 51.

Francis Canvanan

A friend recently informed me that Father Frank Canavan died at the age of 91. The services start today. I met Father Canavan over thirty years ago and he baptized the first three of our children (the fourth was baptized in Ashland). He was a good and serious man (he taught at Fordham for over 20 years) and he had a tender and quiet way of reminding me to think deeper, but maybe not so loud. Canavan, Jaffa, and Cropsey attended the same high school, as this introduction to his thought by Kenneth Grasso notes. Requiescat in pace.

Escape from Hell

As I strolled by the science fiction section of the bookstore yesterday, I spotted Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and I got it, of course, thinking it might be a how-to-guide. Then I remembered that thirty years ago I read their Inferno and loved the thing. It was both gripping and funny and made me look at Dante more seriously. In it, Carpenter, a science fiction writer who doesn’t believe in Hell finds himself there, and as this Dante meets his Virgil (Benito Mussolini) the journey begins....But, that was both a long time ago and I have no memory, so first I will re-read their Inferno before learning the Escape. This might be a good week.

Obama hands Churchill bust back

President Obama has decided not to hold on to the bronze bust of Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein which was loaned to George W Bush from the British Government�s art collection after the September 11 attacks. Here is another story on the case, with a photo of the bust.

Not to be Missed: Rush at CPAC

Rush was both captivating and on-target in his analysis of the cowardice of conservatives: You can watch this in clips on Youtube, but it is much better viewed in full, on C-SPAN or, perhaps later, on the CPAC site . He pays homage to President Obama, arguing that he could destroy the GOP if he would use his talents to affirm the American character. Rush’s argument needs refining but is fundamentally correct.

UPDATE UPDATED: Rush’s speech is up on C-SPAN, here.