Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.