Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Second Opinion Well Worth Listening To

Scott W. Atlas, professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical School, offers us ten reasons why the U.S. health care system is a lot better than we’ve been led to believe lately.

The Citizens United Case--Now a YouTube Video!

So as you may know, the Supreme Court granted a rare rehearing of the Citizens United campaign finance case in September, with indications the new members of the Court may sweep away several bad decisions of the last couple decades, and perhaps junk major parts of the McCain-Feingold law. My better half has written an amicus brief for case, but, since we’re at the beach, we decided in a clowning mood to do a a You Tube video about the case! Enjoy (2:32 long.)

P.S. A few people have asked, and No, no deer were harmed in the making of this video.

Bad Prescriptions and Obfuscation

Sally Pipes writes that citizens should not confuse this week’s so-called "breakthroughs" in Congressional health reform negotiations with anything high-minded or genuinely aimed at discovery of and service to the public good. All that was achieved, she argues, is an agreement to produce "a public plan with a rural accent." Those "blue dogs," she says, didn’t really serve to moderate out the extremes of the plan.

In other words, they didn’t kill the socialized government-plan option; they just made sure that it spends enough money in their districts.
She also very astutely notes that promises to reduce Medicare spending in favor of more universal coverage deliberately mislead. Such a shift in funding would, inevitably, result in fewer services to seniors who would, just as inevitably, loudly object, win that fight, and add yet another bill to mounting debt that is already over-burdening American taxpayers.

Good money after bad

The Cash for Clunkers program is about to run out of money, but, never fear, there’s talk about throwing more money into the program, about which we’ve already talked here and here.

Of course, car dealers like the program, though (of course) they’re frustrated by the paperwork. It will be interesting to see if anyone can come up with numbers regarding how many "American-made" cars will eventually be purchased through this program. I’m sure that the Koreans and Japanese are quite pleased that "we’re" helping out their automakers’ bottom lines, at least at the margins (though perhaps more significantly if we put more money into the pot).

Another question: will this program ever go away, or will Congress always find some spare change to "stimulate" a lagging domestic (and foreign) industry and distort the marketplace?

Democracy in Action

Remember Miss South Carolina, who spoke so eloquently about "U.S. Americans"? Well, behold someone who I dearly hope auditions to be Miss Santa Cruz, telling the Santa Cruz City Council how to arrange utopia in California.

Hat tip: My old pal Mike Bowman, on FB.

Shatner does Palin

Even if you are inclined toward her, you must agree that this, from The Tonight Show, is very funny.

Barone on Inspiration vs. Persausion

We’re losing confidence in our president, Michael explains, because it’s getting clearer and clearer he has no detailed conception of what we wants to get done. He’s bad at legislation partly because he no experience in it and partly because he seems indifferent to the factual concerns that should animate tough policy choices. The last Democrat to be in his favorable situation was LBJ, who knocked himself out getting the schemes of his policy wonks through Congress. The results, of course, were a lot more negative than not. So on balance we should be sort of happy that BHO is no LBJ. We should also be worried, of course, that he might turn out to be a quick study who will learn from his recent bad experiences. We certainly shouldn’t count on his favorability rating continuing to drop.

It’s Only Common Sense . . .

. . . to believe that the way to end stuff like this is to get the government to fund the possibility for more of it. Right? Oh . . . wait . . .

Gay Marriage and Radical Individualism

Folks on this blog have been making this argument for some time. Here’s a first-rate piece on the subject from Christianity Today. A snippet:

We cannot very well argue for the sanctity of marriage as a crucial social institution while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church authority. We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years.

In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue. Until we admit that, and take steps to amend our ways, our cries of alarm about gay marriage will echo off into oblivion.

Read the whole thing.

Enforcing Moderation

H/T Joseph C. Phillips. The LA Times health blog today suggests that it is time for "tough love" when it comes to America’s obesity "epidemic" and argues that the methods employed by the war on tobacco could be successful in a new war on America’s ever expanding waistline. Simply tax, at confiscatory and outrageous rates, all the "bad" food and beverages. The wise and all knowing bureaucrats who will be in charge of our government-healthcare-industrial complex, in their infinite wisdom and genuine concern for nothing more than our well-being (because I’m sure there won’t be any food or restaurant industry lobbying affecting this), will be able to determine which substances deserve our scorn and high taxes and which foods probably ought to be subsidized and (possibly?) force-fed to all of us poor, ignorant, fat asses masses.

I have no doubt that such a determined effort led by determined do-gooders would, indeed, have the desired effect of reducing the numbers of super-sized Americans. But at what cost? Liberals love to throw out the red-herring that they don’t want government interference with what goes on "in their bedrooms." Fine. Pretend that actually means what it appears to mean on the surface. I agree. But why would a person who understands the evils of a government enforced panty raid suddenly find himself passive in the face of a pantry raid?

This Federalist Takes the Cake

The Food Channel (8 pm, EST) just now featured a substantial Federalist (not just Madison and Hamilton on the colorful cover but some pages of #10 from an original column as well) cake, made to honor a law professor. Justice Scalia wondered out loud how many members of the Federalist Society had actually read the classic. May it be said of these students, following the German saying: "Man ist was er isst." (One is what he eats.)

Why was I watching the Food Channel? When I heard "Federalist Papers," I thought it was on C-SPAN.

Paul Rahe On The Conservative Prospect

Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, by Paul A. Rahe, is a book that will NLT readers will enjoy and learn from. I reviewed the book last month for National Review, and Mark Steyn wrote about it for The New Criterion. Prof. Rahe, a historian at Hillsdale College, has been contributing essays to Power Line over the past few weeks, the most recent of which explored some of the questions raised in these two reviews. The fellows who run Power Line were kind enough to let me respond to Prof. Rahe, in a post that appeared yesterday.

Money for nothing

I wrote up my NLT post on the Cash for Clunkers program.

As an extra added bonus, the newspaper version comes with a picture.

California needs a new constitution

so thinks Tom Karako. His major point is this:

"To the extent that California is ungovernable today, it is partly because its legislative and executive branches are too weak and dysfunctional to resist entrenched special interests and non-elected bureaucracies." So you can’t fix the fiscal mess unless you re-write the constitution to make it more Madisonian.

He has many detailed suggestions worth considering.   

Banish me from the blog, if you will

But I’ve taken advantage of this program to purchase a new mobile soda can, trading in a decrepit minivan for a hefty sum (roughly what it would have taken to repair it). I thanked my children and as-yet unborn grandchildren and great-grandchildren for my new car.

The Tyranny of Statistics

Most people who have studied the matter note that Body Mass Index is a deeply flawed statistic. What sense does it make to claim that Kobe Bryant is overweight?

Why is the number so popular? I suspect it’s because it is easy to calculate. Our bureaucrats and number crunchers need statistics with which to do their magic. Hence it is important to them that there be reliable statistics. BMI is easy to calculate, and, therefore, is very useful. What use will be made of this and other like statistics as health care gets even more regulated than it already is, one can only imagine. The more unified our health care system is, the harder it will be for a doctor to be skeptical of the standards created in Washington. The trouble is those standards are often created for convenience of calculation, rather than because of their accuracy.

The abuse of statistics is an old story, of course. Why did "disparate impact" become the standard in race discrimination cases? Because it’s much easier to compare the proportion of each race in a given population with the percentage of each race in a given profession or workplace than it is actually to study each population, workplace, etc. closely. The more things we ask Washington to do, the more likely it is that imperfect statistical models will become the standard for operation.

More Shop Class as Soulcraft, on Motorcycle Repair Versus Modernity

More on Matt Crawford’s bestseller Shop Class as Soulcraft, with photos.


"There’s this false dichotomy out there between intellectual work and manual work," he’s saying. "The popular image of the plumber is just the butt crack, not that of a skilled tradesman who sets his own hours, figures out complex problems on the fly and probably earns more than most of his clients. Plus, there’s that satisfaction of imposing one’s will and intellect on the physical world, to immediate effect."

Obama: Be nice to our enemies, but hector our friends

I have an op-ed intoday’s Wall Street Journal about President Obama and Israel. This may be the most anti-Israel adminstration in US history.

Question Authority

Some recent poll results:

A larger majority (60 percent) say major reform isn’t possible without a tax increase. Indeed 79 percent think their own tax bill will go up if ObamaCare passes.

Most Americans have, it seems, learned not to trust what people in Washington are saying. Often a wise thing. Now if we could just start connecting that idea with the idea that it’s not wise to give people you don’t trust so much power.

Noonan on the National "Mood" and the Possible Demise of Obamacare

Sometimes she just gets it. This strikes me as one of those times. Spot on.

Gates and race

Here is Rich Lowry’s sensible take on the matter. And Ben Smith at Politico thinks Obama made a mistake, perhaps a large one, in commenting on it.

A good contest for students!

The Frazier Institute is sponsoring a video contest on "What is the Appropriate Role of Government in the Economy?." There are two seperate contests, for high school students and college students. Mucho bucks are involved.

The Health Darwinians

Betsy McCaughey introduces us to some of President Obama’s main advisors on health care.

There’s Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the Chief of Staff’s brother, who is not much of a saviour for certain classes of people:

Emanuel bluntly admits that the cuts will not be pain-free. "Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality are merely ’lipstick’ cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change," he wrote last year (Health Affairs Feb. 27, 2008). . . .

Emanuel, however, believes that "communitarianism" should guide decisions on who gets care. He says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those "who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens . . . An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia" (Hastings Center Report, Nov.-Dec. ’96). . . .

He explicitly defends discrimination against older patients: "Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination; every person lives through different life stages rather than being a single age. Even if 25-year-olds receive priority over 65-year-olds, everyone who is 65 years now was previously 25 years" (Lancet, Jan. 31).

And there’s Dr. David Blumenthal:

Blumenthal has long advocated government health-spending controls, though he concedes they’re "associated with longer waits" and "reduced availability of new and expensive treatments and devices" (New England Journal of Medicine, March 8, 2001). But he calls it "debatable" whether the timely care Americans get is worth the cost.

It seems that the Progressives are returning to their roots. Although historians have covered for them, eugenics was the quintessential Progressive science. William Jennings Bryan attacked Darwin because of how Darwin was being used to attack the idea that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. More broadly, the Progressives thought that social science (recall that the social science PhD was a new invention then, and inspired great hopes in many) could manage society more calmly, rationally, and justly than could the American political system as it had previously been known.


I’m working up a head of steam to do a long comment on "Obama at 200" (days, that is, since there was so much written about the magical FDR-like first 100 days Obama enjoyed), but here’s one large theme that is taking shape in my mind. Bush ran aground in his quest to reform Social Security with private accounts, despite a serious blitz for it in his second term. Private accounts are the Holy Grail for certain types of conservatives. But the political alignment of the planets against it is too powerful to overcome, as FDR intended.

The liberal Holy Grail ever since FDR has been national health insurance. But it appears on a knife edge right now, and may soon prove to be the liberal equivalent of Social Security reform--compelling in the abstract, impossible in practice. In other words, these two grand objectives of Right and Left may simply not be possible no matter how large the partisan majority in Congress--an unappreciated symmetry of the two poles in American politics today. (What about the obvious compromise?--Ed. Interesting question: no one anywhere has even raised the possibility in an op-ed.) Stay tuned: the next three months are going to be fascinating for students of politics (and citizens, too).

The Pathetic Gates

Having once had a stupid run-in with the local sheriff’s department out in California (I was not arrested, because I was sane throughout), I can have some sympathy with Henry Louis Gates, as I’m often testy after flying anywhere on modern air travel. But, my god man, the race card business is really weak even if you are short tempered from jet lag.

As the Wall Street Journal points out tomorrow, "Mr. Gates lives in a city with a black mayor, a state with a black governor and a country with a black President." Get over it, dude, and apologize to the cops. Then STFU.

Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.

Unlike President Obama, I will not comment (or attempt to qualify or retract a comment) regarding a situation about which I only know what I’ve read or heard.

Generally speaking, however, it is folly to express anger at a police officer when he is in the process of doing his duty as he sees it. He (or she) is probably going to arrest you. If the situation calls for indignation, better to have a lawyer express it by filing a lawsuit after the fact. You’d think that prominent Harvard professors and public intellectuals would know that.

A quick anecdote to illustrate my meaning: About a year ago, we were stuck in Atlanta rush hour traffic on our way to a friend’s house for dinner. As we were crawling past a state trooper who had just pulled over an SUV, the driver of the SUV did someting incredibly stupid: instead of waiting for the trooper to walk up to his car to ask for his license and registration, the driver got out of his car and strode purposefully toward the trooper while reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Of course the trooper immediately pulled his gun and got behind his cruiser. He didn’t know what this guy was going to do and did what he had to to protect himself and gain contol of the situation. The stupid driver of the car--as an eyewitness, I can use the adjective quite confidently--ended up spread-eagled on his car being frisked and receiving a very pointed lecture from the trooper about how he’s supposed to behave when pulled over. (Yes, traffic was that slow; I saw it all.)

The bottom line: police officers have a life-or-death interest in being in control of the situations they face. Those who are in those situations have a life-or-death interest in being cooperative. I know that, but, then again, I’m not an intellectual "Master of the Universe" (apologies to Tom Wolfe).

They Shoot, They Score

The NRA had issued statements expressing concern and ultimately opposing Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation based upon her anti-Second Amendment record, and her failure to adequately allay concerns about that record during the hearings—but the big question remained: would they pull the trigger and score the vote? The NRA grades congressmen based upon gun-related legislation or nomination votes that they choose to “score.” Thus, if the Sotomayor confirmation vote were not scored, a Senator could have a perfect rating from the NRA, even if they cast a vote regarding Sotomayor that could do long-term damage to gun owner’s interests. Today, the NRA sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell confirming that they will be scoring the vote.

Why does this matter? Just ask Harry Reid. He joined 19 other Democrats in voting for Thune’s concealed-carry amendment yesterday—an NRA scored vote. Democrats crossing the line included:

Baucus (D-MT)

Bayh (D-IN)

Begich (D-AK)

Bennet (D-CO)

Casey (D-PA)

Conrad (D-ND)

Dorgan (D-ND)

Feingold (D-WI)

Hagan (D-NC)

Johnson (D-SD)

Landrieu (D-LA)

Lincoln (D-AR)

Nelson (D-NE)

Pryor (D-AR)

Reid (D-NV)

Tester (D-MT)

Udall (D-CO)

Udall (D-NM)

Warner (D-VA)

Webb (D-VA)

Indeed, Reid joined 15 Democrats who, in three other NRA-scored votes this year, consistently voted the pro-gun position. The scorecard ends up being very important in red state races, where voters scrutinize a candidate’s gun-rights record—whether that candidate is a Republican or as a Democrat. The White House will undoubtedly put tremendous pressure on these red-state Democrats to vote for Sotomayor, but given the NRA’s decision to score, they will likely be seeing increased pressure from constituents, as well, whether now, or come re-election time when they have to explain their vote.

Cross-posted at Bench Memos on National Review Online

The constitution, the administrative state, and Health Care

Among the provisions President Obama supports for health care reform is the creation of IMAC--the Independent Medicaire Advisory Council.

The council would be made up of five members, all selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The president could fire any one of them for cause. They would have two jobs. First, each year, the council would make recommendations to the president regarding inflation updates to Medicare’s payment rates for hospitals, doctors, and other suppliers of services. Those recommendations, if approved by the president, would automatically go into effect in thirty days unless Congress passed a resolution disapproving them — which the president would also have to sign into law. Of course, if the president approved the council’s original package of recommendations, it is unlikely he would sign a Congressional disapproval resolution overturning them. So, as a practical matter, the proposal would force Congress to find a two-thirds supermajority to stop presidentially-approved IMAC recommendations from going into effect.

This provision is constitutionally interesting, to say the least. Law is made by an unelected body. That law remains law unless Congress disapproves. That would be an unconstitutional legislative veto, except the President also has to sign the legislation blocking the new law. I suspect that’s why it’s in there.

That very provision, however, undermines the checks and balances of our system. In effect, a council would be able to make law for health care, with the consent of the President. In what way will such a body be accountible to we the people, through the people we select to represent us in Washington? Our representatives are supposed to make law. The don’t have the right to let others do it. Government by unelected experts is not democratic, or republican, government. As Justice Cardozo noted when striking down the First New Deal, this is "delegation running riot."

On the other hand, if one believes in a living constitution, checks and balances are antiquated elements of the past, unsuited to the modern world. That has been dogma for Progressives since .Woodrow Wilson’s day.

Blue State Meltdown

Joel Kotkin takes a close look at the blue state economic model--pervasive in the Obama Administration--and doesn’t find it very encouraging. Policies that favor and are favored by the elites of the so-called knowledged-based economy don’t do much for "ordinary working Americans."

What should money buy?

The health care debate raises several interesting questions. Among them is the question of justice.

Americans, as Tocqueville notes, live and breathe equality, even as we praise competition and excellence. Asking what we ought to pay for collectively asks, by implication, what individuals (and families, and private charity, to a degree) ought to pay for themselves.

I suspect most Americans would agree that it’s perfectly fair for people who make more money to be able to afford bigger houses and nicer restaurants. Beyond that, it gets harder. Should wealth buy better schools and doctors? What about less than life-saving surgery? Cosmetic plastic surgery, probably. Would it be fair for a wealthy 65-year-old to be able to pay for hip replacement when someone without the means could not have the same procedure? Tougher question.

Would it be fair for a wealthy person to buy better prescription drugs? On the other hand, would drug companies create such things without such a market? Is the drug market like the TV market. Few Americans think it is unjust that the wealth can buy the latest, biggest TVs. And many understand that, over time, the cost will drop for the rest of us. The market for the wealthy is the entry way. But is the drug market like that? And if so, why is that fair? If there’s an anti-cancer drug, is it just for only people who happen to be wealthy to get it? What if, allowing the wealthy to get it, at first, it is most likely to become widely available most quickly?

On one hand, I suspect most Americans would say that someone who works hard, is prudent, and saves, ought to benefit from that. Is it fair that someone who eats right, works hard, lives within his means, and saves up money for a rainy day can pay for special medical care when bad luck happens? Most Americans, I suspect, would say that’s fine. But what about someone who eats junk food, does not exercise, has run into debt buying fast food, big-screen TVs, etc., and has the same bad luck? Is it fair that he can’t affort health care? Should we not treat him? On the other hand, is it fair to the prudent guy that he has to pay for someone who has been self-indulgent?

But what about people who are poor by bad luck? Should they get less than the prudent guy? If not, what is the incentive to live prudently? If yes, why is that fair to the poor?

How about schools? When we focus on the individual who has earned his way, Americans would probably be comfortable with such a person paying extra for private school for his children. (After all, many Americans do exactly that). They might even say that it is not unreasonable that such a person is, through his children, able to help his grandchildren go to good schools, etc. But when we ask the opposite question, is it fair that a child born in a poor household cannot attend a good school, it bothers most Americans.

The question of who should pay for health care, and how, raises, among many others, this very question of what advantages wealth ought to bring in America.

Kindle and us

Here is something interesting and useful to consider for those of us who like our Kindles.

THE NEW YORKER on Kidney Markets

This pretty fair and balanced article is important mainly because it quotes ME

The Early Stages of the Democrats’ Suicide March

That, according to David Brooks, is what we’re seeing right now. The president isn’t giving us any real leadership, and the result people are losing confidence in his policies, even as they still like him personally. People really didn’t think they were voting for government by Pelosi, especially when it comes to health care. They voted in good faith that Obama would be too smart to let that happen.


Where Is He Now?

John: Cindy Sheehan isn't the only such personality to disappear down a memory hole. NASA's chief climate scientist James Hansen--you know, the one who compared the Bush White House to the Gestapo or the Soviet gulag (because they monitored his media appearances?!?!)--is loudly saying the Waxman-Marley cap and trade bill is a fraud. Yesterday I told a reporter, "James Hansen is the Cindy Sheehan of climate change--great to have around in opposition, but inconvenient, as Gore might say, when you're in power."
Categories > Environment

Where is She Now?

July has proven to be the deadliest month so far for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Cindy Sheehan, meanwhile, has concluded that there is no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats.

For those of you out there who don’t know who Cindy Sheehan is, she’s a peace advocate. She used to get plenty of attention back when there was a Republican in the White House.

Leszek Kolakowski, RIP

The great Polish intellectual and philosopher Leszek Kolakowski has died at 81. John Derbyshire offers his salute over at The Corner, rightly noting Kolakowski’s massive achievement, Main Currents of Marxism, probably the best and most complete account of that malignant fad ever written.

In my forthcoming Reagan book I quote Kolakowski’s prescient prediction made in May 1983 (two years before Gorbachev and his wrecking crew arrived in the Kremlin): "We can imagine that the Soviet rulers, under the combined pressure of self-inflicted economic disasters and social tensions, will accept, however grudgingly, a genuine verifiable international disarmament plan and concentrate their efforts on a large-scale economic recovery, which they cannot achieve without a number of social and political reforms. This might conceivably usher in a process of gradual and non-explosive disintegration of the empire."

In that same article he anticipated the "velvet revolution" of 1989: "Certainly in Poland or Czechoslovakia (or in Hungary) Communism would fall apart within days without the Soviet threat." RIP.

Wow. Cohen Strikes Again

Back in the mid-1990s a conservative editor of an important daily newspaper editorial page (they fit in a phone booth then and now) told me that his biggest problem wasn’t finding good conservative columnists to print, but a good liberal columnist to print. This was shortly after Murray Kempton died, and he seemed the last of the interesting old liberal writers.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the WaPo’s Richard Cohen went off the liberal reservation regularly, and today he does so with his column about the mediocrity of soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor. Sample:

She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past. . . This is the sad state of both liberalism and American politics. First-class legal brains are not even nominated lest some senator break into hives at the prospect of encountering a genuinely new idea. The ceiling is further lowered by the need to season the court with diversity, a wonderful idea as long as brilliance is not compromised. The result has been the rout of sexism: The women are as mediocre as the men. From all we know, Sotomayor is no Scalia. She is no Thurgood Marshall, either, or even a John Roberts, who is leading the court in his own direction. She will be confirmed. But if she is not, liberalism will not have lost much of a champion or a thinker.

There were lots of other women jurists Obama might have chosen who could go toe-to-toe with Scalia, and also sway the impressionable Justice Kennedy. (Sotomayor is likely to antagonize him if anything.) The only thing Cohen misses here in his column is the conclusion that Obama is unimaginative and, dare we say it, lacking in audacity when it comes to Supreme Court appointments.

The Moon

Needless to say, lots of chatter today about the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. I’ve got mixed feelings, some of them deeply personal. My family’s company (absorbed in the late 1970s into a Fortune 500 company) designed and manufactured the parachute release relays for the Apollo capsules, as well as the stage separation relays for the Gemini booster rockets before that. The dramatization of the amperage problems in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 movie was true to life: dad was up all night that week with all his engineers re-running tests to see if the parachute release relay could work on less power.

I was always jealous that my dad got to go watch the launches at Cape Canaveral, while I had to watch on TV back in LA. But dad always said NASA, as a government agency, was a pain to deal with, so he decided against bidding on any shuttle work when that came along after Apollo. There’s probably a lesson there. Then, too, the narrow scientific argument that the moon program was a diversion of scarce engineering talent is probably right. But--the politics of it was so fun.

Lots of folks-Tom Wolfe in the NY Times yesterday,
Megan McArdle in The Atlantic blog today--say it is a failure of imagination that we haven’t continued our space program in a serious way. They are right, but miss one big reason why: contemporary liberalism. I submit for your consideration a passage from my first Age of Reagan volume:

The reaction to the moon landing in 1969 is a good example of national exhaustion and liberal guilt at work. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberals’ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular cliché of the time went: “Any nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].” (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three months’ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.) A 25 person delegation from the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Martin Luther King’s successor), came to the Apollo 11 launch at Cape Canaveral “to protest America’s inability to choose human priorities,” while Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that “The needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.” Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: “I think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”

Still wish we were going back there, though. And to Mars, too. But we’ve got to nationalize health care first, right?

Common Wisdom

From an article about Regina Benjamin, common sense from a common citizen:

Duffy, a disabled 52-year-old who runs a fruit stand, knows Benjamin’s story well: how she will treat almost anyone in her tiny medical office; how she accepts payments in oysters and shrimp when patients can’t pay cash; and how she elected to stay in this backwater after her clinic was ravaged by two hurricanes and a fire.

"I think she’s done wonders for this town," he said.

But ask Duffy what he thinks about the Democrats’ plan to broaden health coverage with a government insurance plan, and his brow furrows. Sounds like communism, he says. Or, at the very least, an overreach.

"Now we’re talking about [healthcare for] the whole United States, not just Bayou La Batre," said Duffy, a wheelchair-bound victim of an auto wreck whose medical costs are covered by Medicare. "I just don’t know how that’s going to work."

The difference between charity and legal mandates, like the difference between focused progams and general programs, and between local programs and a national system, is obvious to the common citizen. If only the powers that be in Washington had the wisdom to listen.

Crisis of the House Divided at 50

Peter Robinson at NRO does the first of five interviews with Harry V. Jaffa. This one is about 6 minutes long.

Liberal Adults?

Of North Korea, Secretary of State Clinton’s recently comented: "And maybe it’s the mother in me or the experience that I’ve had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don’t give it to them, they don’t deserve it, they are acting out."

Here we find a liberal cliche. It reminds me of Peter Jennings’s
famous 1994 comment when the voters elected a Republcan Congress:

Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It’s clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It’s the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don’t have to be dirty words: the nation can’t be run by an angry two-year-old.

I wonder if these comments don’t reflect something central to liberalism, or perhaps liberal self-image?

Whose at Default?

Modifying or renegotiating loans in trouble does not seem to be working all that well. Alan Abelson posted a good chart noting the high re-default rate in last week’s Barrons. As it’s not available on line, this graph will have to do. in brief: "About 30% of modified loans re-default in the first quarter after modification and about half within the first year. This suggests modifications have not been very effective."

I fear that our politicians will conclude that the only way out of the problem is inflation.

But Isn’t This True Every Day??

So I’m reading Ross Douthat’s NY Times column online this morning (ruminating about the future of affirmative action), and at the end there appears the italicized good news, Paul Krugman is off today. But then it occurred to me that this is not news, but truth in advertising: Isn’t Krugman "off" every day?

Malaise Forever!

One of my favorite vignettes from "The Simpsons" is the statue of Jimmy Carter in Springfield with the legend "Malaise Forever!" Everyone is talking about the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk today (more about that in a moment perhaps), but how could I have let last week slip by without noting the 30th anniversary of Carter’s famous "malaise" speech? Fortunately, the Washington Times didn’t forget, and nudged me to write this piece, noting that some folks are actually trying to persuade us that it was in fact a great speech. Next, they’ll be telling us that government spending is the way out of a recession. Oh, wait. . .

P.S. I neglected to call everyone’s attention to Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie’s great piece in the WaPo over the weekend comparing Obama and Carter. Time to get your cardigans out of mothballs.

NASA Needs a Philosopher

Why it makes some sense for Tom Wolfe to think so is explained by ME here. If you scroll down, you can read Jim Ceaser’s report on his summer vacation in Kansas--with a validating picture.

Joe Biden’s revealing mouth

James Lileks writes a terrific piece on Biden’s latest "gaffes" and why they are not, "they’re simply what the administration is really thinking."

Have we still got the right stuff?

Ben Domenech, the editor of this very fine journal, quotes Peter Lawler on his way to asking whether we’re up to the challenges we currently face. He doesn’t appear very hopeful:

We are Americans. We measure and self-evaluate ourselves in a world we construct actively and incessantly, one filled with followers, requests, and online polls instead of the human relationships of the past. We worship at the altars of the convenient distraction. We believe ourselves audacious to invest our hope in a man who has no ideology that is rightly understood as audacious or hopeful. We place our trust in the mastery of unchecked government, that one example of eternal life on earth, because we have no children to care for us as we get old.

We have accepted a very great lie. Call it the Persistence of the Founders — the idea that Americans are by their nature exceptional, and are always making their nation so, the myth that this exceptionalism is not something that can be lost. We were wrong: American greatness is no birthright, but constantly forged in adversity, in conflict, in fearfulness and flame.

The part of his argument where he discusses our reproductivity has elicited some no altogether friendly responses from conservatives, to which he replies here. Here’s the core of the critique:

I’d also like to push back against Mr. Domenech’s culturally driven arguments, which seem to assume that delaying marriage and family imply devaluing those things. Maybe that’s happening, but I’d argue that the opposite is going on too. Young people in the middle and upper classes in America delay marriage partly out of a desire to avoid the rampant divorces that plagued their parents’ generation. The conventional wisdom that some folks "just married to [sic] young" leads to years long relationships wherein the participants are cautiously "making sure" that they are "ready to get married." They may be right to do so!

Reproducing is even more fraught. Young people raised by relatively prosperous Baby Boomers know that if they reproduce in their early twenties, it is possible -- even likely -- that they’ll be unable to afford their children all the same advantages they remember. Even among my Catholic high school friends who married young and desire children, there is a widespread practice of waiting many years to do so, a period that is one of financial and emotional preparation. The middle class notion of what it means to be a good parent is simply much higher today than it was in the past.

Conor Friedersdorf, the author of the critique, thinks that delaying marriage is a "responsible" reaction to the prevalence of divorce and to economic uncertainty. It’s certainly not a bold reaction, and I’m tempted to regard it--at least in some of the instances I’ve watched from afar--as evidence of an immature fear of commitment, especially on the part of men. All of which is to say that I’m leaning in Domenech’s direction on this one.


Progressive Condescension

This exchange between Senator Barbara Boxer and National Black Chamber of Commerce President, Harry Alford (and my new hero) is priceless. She really cannot understand why Mr. Alford does not back off once she quotes from a memo of the NAACP and cites the opinions another group of black businessmen about the impact of Cap and Trade. All of the independent research and work that he and his group have been conducting for the last 13 years on the impact of global warming legislation on business are supposed to be thrown out the window because Barbara Boxer is now setting him straight on the way black people are "supposed to think." But he will have none of it. I really cannot think of a more vile representation of the condescension that characterizes so much of "Progressive" ideology. Do note, also, the way that Mr. Alford repeatedly refers to her as "M'am" . . . she didn't dare tell him to stop and please use the title she had "worked so hard" to get.
Categories > Congress

Old School Propaganda

From a Committee on Public Information poster distributed during WWI. Beware the German University:

In the vicious guttural language of Kultur, the degree B.A. means Bachelor of Atrocities. Are you going to let the Prussian Python strike your Alma Mater, as it struck the University of Louvain The Hohenzollern fang strikes at every element of decency and culture and taste that your college stands for.

Alt on Lou Dobbs

Our wise Robert Alt will be on Lou Dobbs (CNN) tonight talking about a wise Latina. The pre-recorded interview can air any time after 7pm. All wise guys should watch it.

Don’t Drink to That!

Andrew Busch’s latest column dubs today’s Democrats in Congress and the President "Bourbon Democrats" after the infamous French line of Bourbons about whom it was said that they, "forgot nothing and learned nothing." With their attempts at healthcare "reform" Democrats today are proving that they know the lyrics to only one song and that they haven’t yet learned that rotten tomatoes will come flying their way every time they sing it.

Busch reasons:

Needless to say, this is not the first time that enthused liberals have had an opportunity to impose their visions on the nation. There is a record which the President and Congress could consult for wisdom, but which seems to have slipped down the Orwellian memory hole. Given that record, any disasters which follow cannot be excused on account of ignorance.
Then he examines the results of these previous attempts during the New Deal and, especially, the Great Society and looks at what were the political consequences for Democrats and--unfortunately--the real costs for the nation.

It has been suggested that Republicans prefer the darker liquors, like bourbon and scotch while Democrats prefer vodka and other colorless drinks. It may be fair to say that Republican response to Democrat action on healthcare entitlements has been murky in ways similar to their drinking preferences--though not at all smooth. Yet there is only one thing clear as vodka about the current healthcare proposal: as Busch argues, "Once it is enacted, there is no turning back."

How "Cap and Trade" Became "Hairnet and Giveaway"

I’ve neglected to offer a link to my analysis of the Waxman-Markey "cap and trade" farce.

Don’t worry: my analysis is not as long as the bill, which I actually read most of. I do it so you don’t have to!

An American in Chile Reflects on What it Means to be an American

. . . and he turns to our own Professor Schramm as well as to his own experience for the words that help him define it. If you have not yet read Peter’s Born American essay or the speech to which Mr. Lewis referred in his remarks, now is a good time to grab a cup of coffee and reflect upon your birthright as an American and the duties you have as a result of it. This essay is also on point.     

Are Conservatives Losing the Battle But Winning the War?

NRO’s Jonathan Adler offers this hypothesis in his third-day wrap-up for the Washington Post:

It is almost as if [Judge Sotomayor] and her White House handlers believe that a more forthright explication of a liberal judicial philosophy – a philosophy like that articulated in her speeches and defended by the president – would pose an obstacle to her confirmation.

If so, this would be a remarkable concession to the way conservatives have sought to frame judicial confirmations. If a Senate with sixty Democrats would be wary of confirming an overt and unapologetic liberal – as this Senate has thus far been regarding the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel – does this mean there is little political support for a progressive constitutional vision? It seems conservatives are winning the larger war over the judiciary, even if losing the battle over this nomination. President Obama’s nominee will be confirmed, but not because she embraced his philosophy of judging. Indeed, it seems she will be confirmed, in part, because she rejected it.

DeMint: Sotomayor’s "Jaw-droppers"

Readers of National Review’s Bench Memos have seen our merry band highlight enough inconsistencies between what Judge Sotomayor is saying now compared to, oh, what she has said publicly for all of her previous life, to have doubts as to whether maybe, just maybe, she is being less than forthcoming. Well, it seems that not all of the Senators are buying what she has to sell either. In response to a question from Commentary’s Contentions blogger Jennifer Rubin at Heritage’s recent Tele- Town Hall, Senator Jim DeMint referred to Judge Sotomayor’s assertion that she never read and was unaware of the PRLDEF legal arguments (which included such gems as arguing that a failure to provide public funds for abortions is akin to Dred Scott’s denial of citizenship) as a "jaw-dropper." Furthermore, Senator DeMint didn’t seem to be buying Judge Sotomayor’s answers from their private meeting together, in which she claimed that she had never thought about whether unborn children have any rights. Given her claims of ignorance regarding PRLDEF, former Attorney General Ed Meese told Rubin that the Committee must engage in further fact-finding:

Meese went onto explain that it is now critical for senators to insist that the PRLDEF documents, which have yet to be produced in their entirety for the Senate, be obtained to verify or disprove Sotomayor’s startling claim that she was ignorant of the legal positions being taken by a group for which she served both as a board member and on the litigation committee. He added that until the documents are produced the hearings should be continued. That, he said, is what must be done when "critical issues" arise "concerning the veracity of the candidate."

Gerry Bradley on What to Ask Sotomayor

Begin with the significance of LAWRENCE v. TEXAS. Ask her whether that precedent points to the Court recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, making her make it clear why she thinks (if she does) that the definition of marriage is not left to the people acting through legislatures. Then work back to ROE, asking her if she thinks the Court’s effort to resolve the abortion controversy judicially was a failure, as many pro-choice advocates now do. The Court’s reasoning in PLANNED PARENTHOOD and LAWRENCE needs to be highlighted: The word liberty in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was left vague or undefined by our Framers to allow it to be used as a weapon by each generation of Americans--really, by the Court--for what amounts to the invention of new rights or the elitist resolution of controversial moral issues on which people reasonably disagree. The issue, for the Judiciary Committee, shouldn’t be being for or against the "choice" position on abortion or being for or against same-sex marriage. It is, in a way, about the right of citizens to be both for and against under our Constitution and to have their voices heard in the making of laws. Because the president has voiced his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, she should be asked whether she regards his view as having the same constitutional status as that of a segregationist.

Do the Democrats Know What They’re Doing?

Mr. South Dakota Politics says the preponderance of evidence is that they don’t. The stimulus is a dud because it wasn’t designed to stimulate. Health care reform is floundering because the president doesn’t really know what he wants to accomplish and refuses to make hard choices. The real reform of ending or reducing the tax break to employers is off the table, and so is any realistic discussion of affordability. The huge deficit, meanwhile, is weighing down everything and keeping investors of all kinds from betting on our country. Nobody is facing up to how big it is going to get. The good news for Republicans is that, despite their own astounding incompetence and lack of leadership, a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress with experienced leadership can’t seem to get much done. Barack is no LBJ, and it’s not really good news that he sounds better than he is as our chief executive.

Statistics du Jour

If the new health care taxes go into effect:

As calculated by the Tax Foundation, when factoring in the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, average state and local income taxes, Medicare taxes, and the new surtax, the average top marginal income tax rate in the U.S. would be 52 percent!

The top rate in the U.S. would then be higher than countries like France, Canada, Italy, Spain and Germany. Only 3 countries in the 30-member OECD, an association of the most economically developed countries in the world, would have a higher rate. Taxpayers in the 6 highest taxed U.S. states would pay higher rates than every country in the OECD except Denmark. Taxpayers in every state, even the 9 that do not levy a state income tax, would face a higher top marginal rate than taxpayers in 21 out of the 30 OECD countries.

Obama on Signing Statements and Article II Powers

"Mr. Obama’s signing statement said the IMF and World Bank provisions ’would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.’" Yes, he’s doing signing statements and telling Congress not to interfere with his (exclusive) authority to conduct foreign policy. Liberals who denounced Bush for signing statements, "torture memos," FAISA end-around, etc. would have been better off opposing the policy, not the Article II assertions of power. Their hero Obama is not surrendering any of those.

Ben Kleinerman’s terrific forthcoming book makes a lot of these Article II issues clearer, criticizing the Bush Administration for its lack of political skills and admiring Lincoln all the more. John Yoo has a history of presidential power coming out next year.

Mid-Summer Observations

It really is starting to look like "That 70s Show." The consumer price index measure of inflation showed a big jump this morning (though maybe it is a temporary spike from volatile energy prices, which are already coming back down, but then. . . what happens when the economy really does recover and China starts gulping down oil again?). In any case, the rapid money supply growth of the current period surely looks to be storing up a world of trouble in the future. I hope the smart folks who say we still face a threat of deflation are right.

Meanwhile, in Washington the left is beating the drum to investigate the CIA further, apparently about a targeted assassination program that was never put into operation (why not?), and hopefully charge former Vice President Darth Vader Dick Cheney with some kind of crime. Haven’t we seen this movie before? In the mid-1970s we crippled the CIA with the Church and Pike committee investigations. If Attorney General Holder does indeed appoint a special counsel to investigate Cheney it will mean the end of Obama’s legislative program, because the GOP on Capitol Hill will go to war. I suspect this is why the White House is publicly disdaining Holder’s proposed investigation.

I wonder if Cheney isn’t secretly hoping they’ll come after him. Cheney was a member of the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigation in 1987, which abruptly fizzled when Oliver North humiliated the Democrats (and some Republican squishes) on the committee. What the liberals never grasped about that whole episode was that most Americans were more angered by the arms sales to Iran than the diversion of funds to the contras, but single-minded liberals wanted to exploit the contra angle because they hated Reagan’s policy and wanted to kill it. It backfired badly on them; public support for Reagan’s contra policy went up as a result of the hearings, for the first time in his presidency.

So I can imagine Dick Cheney before a congressional hearing, calmly doing what North did in 1987: "Yes, we were considering an assassination program against Al Qaeda personnel. You got a problem with that? [NB: Obama is continuing to kill Al Qaeda personnel with Predator drone strikes in Pakistan today. The CIA was apparently pondering how to do it with human teams for people whom the Predator bombs can’t reach.] Of course we didn’t inform Congress about this while it was being put together; we didn’t want to read about it in the paper tomorrow morning." Go ahead, Democrats, make my day.

Finally, I see the Sarah Palin story continues to chug along with new stories every day. I notice she’s on the cover of Time magazine this week, as "The Renegade." Renegade indeed: she’s wearing bright blue toenail polish. I’m not a fashionista, but someone will need to explain this to me. Is she subtly channeling Ronald Reagan’s slogan that the Republican party should be a party of bold colors, with no pale pastels?

Obama’s Standup Act

So Obama tells the Ghanian Parliament: "No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top." This is brilliant satire. Did no one notice?

News item: U.S. corporate income tax--35 percent (highest in the industrialized world). Now that’s how you skim off the top, my African friends!

Tea Party in Hanoverton, Ohio

Here is a good YouTube on the July 3 Tea Party in Hanoverton, Ohio, one of my favorite places in the state.

Good Questions and the Heart of the Problem for Republican Senators

Ken Thomas promised an op-ed detailing the questions that Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee ought to be asking Judge Sotomayor. He delivered all of that and then some, and included a biting critique of the bumbling Republican "Ahab like quest" of the last several decades to overturn Roe v. Wade. The heart of the problem, Ken argues, is that Republicans refuse to take on the big questions concerning justice and the American understanding of the rule of law within the context of reason, justice, equality and natural rights. In their unwillingness to expose the ignorance of the left, too many Republicans expose their own. A fine article!     

Sotomayor Hearings

I’ve been musing over an op-ed the last few days, and I may get one out later today, if I (unlike Senator Grassley) don’t fall asleep. These hearings should be replaced by a multiple choice exam. For amusement, read the SCOTUS liveblog. NRO and the Federalist Society have other sites worthy of checking out.

One basic question for the future Justice: What is the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?

Unless we have some sense of this, we cannot have clarity on Republican questions about the Ricci case and affirmative action/racial prefences, or about individual natural or civil rights (the Second Amendment) and the legitimate powers of government.

More Sotomayor Fact Checking

In answering a question about bias, Sotomayor said words to the effect of "Most of my cases if not all of them explain why the law requires what it does." Well, "most" cases must be quite selective. Did she really explain why the law requires that a statute restricting weapons possession does not implicate a fundamental right? No, as I explained at length here, she cursorily stated her erroneous conclusion in a scant 11 words, with no explanation, and no analysis. Similarly, in Ricci, she issued a summary opinion affirming the district court’s decision without any explanation. As Judge Cabranes has argued, Sotomayor’s panel’s "perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal" and emphasized that in cases "[w]here significant questions of unsettled law are raised on appeal, however, a failure to address those questions—or even recognize their existence—should not be the approved modus operandi of the U.S. Court of Appeals." But regrettably, it does seem to have been Judge Sotomayor’s modus operandi.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for June

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

Jon Peters

Marlo Daugherty

Zachary Gappa

Brian Newsome

Alyssa Bornhorst

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter July’s drawing.

Professors say the darnedest things

Here’s an article that decribes attempts to claim that questions regarding the meaning of life are supposed to be the preserve of the narrow academic discipline of philosophy. Fortunately, some people in higher education have more sense than that. These are human questions.

And then there’s this effort to make an issue of attempts by our friends at the Jack Miller Center to promote undergraduate courses that involve the close study of our founding principles. I agree that if the courses are simply ideological, they have no place in the curriculum. But the folks associated with the Jack Miller Center know better than that, which is more than can be said for this professor, who takes a kind of perspectivism for granted, even at the highest levels of our judiciary. I assume that he would have no problem with any sort of course informed by one’s personal ideology, just as he has no basis for objecting to any sort of biased adjudication. Everyone has a perspective, and I guess they should all try to find of means of being "represented" on our highest court.

The Art of the Political Comeback

Adam Nagourney of the New York Times writes about this topic in yesterday’s Week in Review section; he quotes Yours Truly, and kindly mentions a certain book that everyone should pre-order. Anyway, here’s the bit from me:

“The Republican brand was damaged after Watergate — but it wasn’t because of issue problems, it was because of corruption,” said Steven F. Hayward, the author of the coming “Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989.” “This is worse. . . I think Obama is going to create the opportunity for them,” he said. “You already see hesitation about the large deficit he’s creating, hesitance about the health care plan. But you can’t wait for lightning to strike or good luck for you and bad luck for the other guys.”

I went on to tell Nagourney (but was not quoted) that Republicans have to make their own luck with new and better ideas, and more determined political leadership. We’ll see.

Hard Core

E. Thomas McClanahan at The Kansas City Star argues President Obama has a dangerous streak of inflexibility that is at odds with his cool public persona. We saw it in his approach to the surge. We saw it with his unblinking conviction in his dream for talks with Iran’s mullahs--even as events and the people of Iran seemed to leave Obama and his dream in the dust. But, as McClanahan sees it, Obama’s rigid streak is most apparent and, possibly, more dangerous in domestic affairs.

Stubbornly, Obama has stuck to a strategy of trotting out a long list of domestic agenda items--a wish list to which one might almost suggest he is "clinging"--and demanding that the Congress take quick or immediate action upon each and every one of them. He does not seem to prioritize according to the nature and immediacy of the "crisis" (if "crisis" it be). Rather, Obama strikes while the iron is hot and, in his case, the iron is his stunning popularity in conjunction with a general sense in the electorate that things need to "change."

But Obama’s rigid streak differs from that of, say, a Jimmy Carter in that it is a rigidity having to do with Obama’s broad agenda rather than the mind-numbing details that fascinated the likes of Carter. Obama is perfectly happy to farm those out--and who can blame him? With so many fish to fry, he can’t be expected to clean them all (or plan their tennis dates). In an ironic turn of the tables, one might almost compare Obama to his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush in this. It would probably be beneath Obama’s speaking and elocution pay-grade to say something like, "I am the decider" . . . but one needn’t stretch the old imagination too far to imagine that he understands and, in his own way, he appreciates the sentiment behind it. In truth, we all do--at least we do when we think that we agree with the principles the guy is standing by. There is something charming about a man who knows his mind. There is something even more beguiling about a man who stands by his ideas when he knows them. And there’s something almost perfectly irresistible about a guy who knows his mind, stands by his thoughts, and can make others seem to understand and agree with them. Often, we label such a man "principled" or "statesmanlike."

But charming, beguiling, and irresistible are qualities that the principled and the statesmanlike share with the charlatans and the self-deceived of this world. And even when a stubborn man means well--even when he’s really, really talented and persuasive--his rigidity can very often cause him to overlook the circumstances and changing realities (to say nothing of better methods or important details) that can undermine his principles. This was certainly the popular (and not entirely undeserved) criticism of George W. Bush. And while Bush may turn out to be vindicated in many of his bigger ideas and his policies, his undoing was certainly tied to this failing and to the criticism (even if much of it was unmeasured) that it engendered. Will something similar happen to Obama because of this fatal flaw?

McClanahan looks to the bellwether state of Ohio for the proof of his assertion that it is already happening. Obama’s nationwide approval numbers have fallen significantly in recent weeks but, in Ohio, Obama’s approval numbers have fallen more dramatically than anywhere else. Obama has lost a striking 32 percentage points in Ohio since May! I’d watch Ohio--and I’d also watch the upcoming gubernatorial race even more than the Senate race that Quinnipiac discusses in the poll I link to above. I’d also watch California--not because California is on the verge of a Republican resurgence--but because if there is any state that might be looked to for a glimpse of the end result of Obama’s principles in action, it’s California. The ideological fog that hangs over the Golden State may be impenetrable in the near-term . . . but the sun may yet shine again as voters figure out that a hard left legislature combined with a half-hearted and nominally Republican governor is not a recipe for prosperity or economic freedom. Do note, too, Dan’s comment in #5 under Steve’s post below. Boxer’s unwillingness to take on Pelosi’s pet in Cap and Trade is interesting for all kinds of reasons--and only some of them have anything to do with a girl-fight.

Sarah, One Week Later

Okay, so more than a week has passed since Gov. Palin’s bombshell announcement, and every day brings still more news stories and thumb-sucking "analysis" articles about her. Today, the legendary Willie Brown calls her a political genius, among others. At this point her story is showing more "legs" than Michael Jackson. For all of the problems with her and her decision, the intensity of the interest in her and the reaction against her suggests she is not a mere shooting star, but a real political phenomenon. Stay tuned; this story has a long ways to go yet.

Robert McNamara and the Limits of Numbers Crunching

Michael Anton writes a thoughtful and measured piece for The Weekly Standard examining the highly imperfect legacy of Robert McNamara, not only with respect to Vietnam but also with regard to our nuclear posture. Much has been written about McNamara’s legacy in Vietnam, but less has been said about the latter. McNamara was largely responsible for the thinking that led to the concept of "MAD"--mutually assured destruction--and all that it implied. One consequence of MAD, Anton argues, has been an inclination to neglect civil and missile defense--a consequence that Reagan and George W. Bush worked to combat, but one that Obama appears to be content to accept.   

Let them Have Pink Houses . . . (but cut off their wi-fi!)

Ben Boychuk writes a biting post over at Infinite Monkeys today talking about John Mellencamp’s recent pontificating on the First Amendment. It seems that the guy--who, as Ben points out, was happy to be somewhat less than subtle in his criticism of Bush & Co.--is now deeply concerned about the threat to liberty coming from "some guy [who] can sit in his bedroom and be mean" on his computer. Mellencamp "reasons" that the First Amendment was never intended to be an individual right but, rather, it is a "collective" right (expressed only by appointed "spokesmen," . . . you know, leading lights like rock stars) who are "able to collectively speak for a sector of people."

In Mellencamp’s America, the "home of the free" with its little pink houses would be for a freedom of speech that is more a kind of General Will voiced by the anointed tongues of a select group of American royalty. Jack and Diane needn’t trouble their little heads with worrying about the big questions. They can busy themselves with Diane’s Bobbie Brooks slacks till it "hurts so good," make a public spectacle of themselves while they’re at it, call THAT freedom of speech, and content themselves with their imagined moral courage. But if they dare to voice vigorous opposition to something like Cap and Trade and, in the course of that expression, utter an ungracious opinion about the anointed--an opinion that according to Mellencamp qualifies Jack and Diane as "a-holes" THAT will be too much because, "[n]ot being courteous is not really freedom of speech" according to the scholars at the Mellencamp School of the First Amendment.

Of course, I don’t mean to defend incivility. People who are uncivil should be called out and shamed for it whenever possible--primarily because incivility is an impediment to thought. But incivility also should be an expected part of the free exchange of ideas, even if it isn’t one of the most savory parts. It’s true that there are times and places where incivility needn’t be tolerated--i.e., when the expression of it interferes with the freedoms of others to carry on with their lives in freedom. But I tend to think that one of the least disruptive ways for a person to be uncivil is to write something. After all, no one has to read it. I do not tremble for my country when I reflect that there are weird dudes sitting around in their basements and pounding away on their keyboards with the intention of being "mean." I do not even tremble when they are mean to me. I am happy to tolerate a healthy dose of this kind of incivility in exchange for the protection of the individual right to freedom of speech.

Maybe it’s just me . . . but I tend to think that the track record for a-holes with laptops is a lot less horrifying than the track record of self-anointed "spokesmen" who sing the praises of collective rights and the General Will. Of course . . . these days, whether they chose the keyboard or the guitar, the two groups may not be mutually exclusive.


Here’s MY view of one aspect of the new encyclical.

It’s Not Just the Jackson Disco Revival that’s Reminding You of the late 70s

Andrew Busch writes a interesting piece in which he argues that the potential for electoral mischief for President Obama may be coming at him in more than one direction. The first and most obvious source of re-election woe is, of course, the still faltering economy. But, as Busch argues, "the economy will likely recover at least a bit by 2012, even if not by the midterm elections in 2010. The picture is less likely to be unambiguously bad than it is to be mixed." And, in any event, the "blame Bush" phenomenon appears to have a long "half-life" while getting voters to understand the complexity of economic cause and effect and vote accordingly is notoriously and frustratingly difficult. There’s no guarantee that the blame for any future difficulties will fall squarely on the shoulders of Obama. I would add that this is particularly true given the current state of GOP "leadership" on the issue.

But looking back to the Carter years, Busch argues we may see parallels in the coming years:

"It should not be forgotten that it was not the economy alone that made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. Rather, it was the deteriorating economy in combination with a series of foreign mishaps and crises that made the president look weak, naïve, and vacillating."
Busch seems to think that it will be much more difficult for Obama to blame Bush if things turn sour for him on the international stage--and the potential for biting into some lip-pursing pickles is all around Obama at the moment. Read the whole thing for a more thorough discussion of where these pickles might sour according to Busch’s thinking.   

Fans Flock To Mourn California, 1849-2009

This post from the genius Iowahawk about my beloved home state is side-splittingly hilarious. I want to party with this dude:

Longtime California fan club president Iowa said that despite being the constant butt of the Golden State’s insults and jokes, it will remember the late superstar fondly. "Let’s not remember California as a bloated, rotting freakshow corpse hanging above a filthy public pension toilet," it said. "Let’s remember the good times. Like my 6-day bender at the ’91 Rose Bowl. California’s pain is finally over, and I like to think that the whole state is going to a better place," Iowa added. "Just look at all those U-Hauls headed to Oklahoma."

Being Leaderless Is Normal

...explains Pitney, for the party out of power. So Republicans shouldn’t despair at the fact of their temporary impotence. Someone might add, though, that it’s precisely when one party is leaderless that the other one gets a whole lot done.

Susan McWilliams on Place and July 4th

Susan says some smart things about hard it is to be rooted in a particular, local place in America. For us, finding a place, like everything else, takes lots of work. Near the end of the article, though, she talks about July 4th in the bourgeois bohemian town of Claremont, CA. There were lots of activities, she and her husband marched in a parade to save some local field, and they came home all happy to feel like being part of a place. But there’s no mention of marching or celebrating America as a free, independent place. The parade I saw in Cave Spring, GA was all about the flag everywhere and anywhere, as well as about supporting our troops. I could go on to explain how the Cave Spring parade was both more local and more national than anything done in Claremont, but no time... I will say the parade began with a police car blaring the Lee Greenwood classic.

Re-Reading Jane Austen in Tehran

The Acknowledgements to Reading Lolita in Tehran--see
my post
below--yield some worthwhile notes: Author Azar Nafisi thanks "Paul" (no last name) for "introducing me to Persecution and the Art of Writing," Hillel Fradkin, and Bernard Lewis, among others. From the context, we know who Paul is. When Nafisi undergoes Islamic tyranny she becomes a more astute literary analyst and acquires more sober political views. On free American campuses she was a child, in tyrannical Tehran she learned to put away childish things.

It’s Not Democracy vs. Merit Sam Goldman explains. Both Obama and Palin stand for the combination of democracy and meritocracy present in the thought that status in America must be earned. But they differ on what genuine status and class are. While you’re over there at POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE, you might do some scrolling.

Palin and (Economic) Viagra

Actually, two different points:

1. First off, let me apologize for putting Palin and Sanford in the same category. I’m all for her "family values" even now, and I’m somewhat amazed that Sanford is going to survive as governor. The one who should have resigned didn’t and... The Ross D. distinction that Julie discusses below between the meritocratic Obama and the democratic Palin makes no sense to me. They’re both are pretty much self-made; they’re both American meritocratic success stories. Now Palin does stand for balancing ruthlessly meritocratic considerations with love. For example: It’s good that Bristol has the baby, although she will get in the way of her education. But the president, truth to tell, seems like a decent family person too. And both the First Dude and the First Lady have solid records as supportive spouses. It’s also true that Palin stands for people who actually work for a living vs. those who think themselves above that sort of thing because of their privileged Ivy education--and so who confuse (as I do in my own case) playing with words with work. She stands against cultural elitism, but not against competition and success. And she’s certainly no low-tech front porch republican (which is why literary conservatives hate her too).

2. The calls for another stimulus package really do present dilemmas for Democrats. They have to say something like: You haven’t given the first one enough time, but we really, really need another. That sounds like the beginnings of addiction to a stimulating drug to me.

Sowell vs. "Disparate Impact"

Thomas reminds us about that principle’s racist legal history. It’s amazing that the Court almost upheld a policy that had no other justification. There are limits to judicial restraint, and the main point of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to root out racism from our law.


His eminence, Herr Schramm, Direktor of the Ashbrook Center, was upbraiding me in public last night for having become a former fat person. (It’s okay, Peter, I told him; I didn’t do it for virtue or health; I did it to make money selling calorie offsets to Al Gore, who obviously needs them.) But he will be pleased with this takedown of the Body Mass Index (BMI), which I’ve always thought was bogus, too.

Douthat, Palin, and American Meritocracy

In the thread below Steve’s link to the WSJ’s excellent column on the Sarah Palin resignation, Kate--quite rightly--links to another fine column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Douthat argues that--in retrospect--Palin, when asked to run with McCain, should have said "no." I think this is certainly right. And his description of the events that followed because she said "yes" is illuminating and ought to be more chastening than they are likely to be to those who jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon.

But this is democratic politics we’re talking about and there has never been any danger of that exercise turning into something one could describe as "fair" to all participants. Still, one can’t help but be a bit disgusted at the reflection of ourselves that the Palin trashing has given us. Douthat does a pretty fair job of detailing all the ugly threads of bias and unthinking dismissal that it has exposed in our collective "discourse." But I think it is probably fair to conclude that in the future, sane potential politicians (especially female ones with young children still at home) will be (and certainly should be) chastened by what happened to Palin and by the choices she made in light of it.

It is too late for Palin to undo the choices she made and it may be too late for her to change the trajectory of her political career (though, maybe not)--but her story does point to some timeless facts about nature, human nature, and problems of earthly realities that no modern ideology can extinguish. None of this is to suggest that we are forever bound like rocks by these realities or that there is no working around them to make life more satisfactory and fulfilling for all parties. A woman’s nature has competing realities, after all. I would never argue (it would be absurd for me to argue) that women and mothers should not enter into politics--especially in today’s world. But pretending that these essential differences don’t exist or, worse, that they don’t exist "for me" is a dangerous game. The limitations they impose on (or, to be more positive, the possibilities that they suggest for) any particular woman will be as varied as the women themselves. But, again, ignoring these things is just silly.

Douthat’s column is excellent. But I detect in him a little more surprise at how it turned out and an injection of more meaning in it than I have given it or would give it. For example, does this really mean "that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president" might not actually be true? And is there necessarily a distinction between what he calls a meritocratic and that democratic ideal? Note this paragraph:

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

Is any of this really true? One of my biggest problems with the whole Palin phenomenon was the apparent distinction that so many wanted to draw between a populist American hero from the backwoods and the intelligent and reflective Ivy-League sophisticate competing for the affections of the American people. For those looking for a ready-made Hollywood script about American politics, Palin and Obama seemed to play out those roles to a tee. Admittedly, Obama had the added benefit of being able to claim he had a toe in both camps. But so much of what goes on in Hollywood--to say nothing of American history and politics--is not what it seems. In a real democratic meritocracy, the questions before voters would not be "What is your background?" or "What schools did you attend?" or "With what partition of the American electorate do you most identify?" The real questions of merit have to do with how one understands the nature and purpose of the American Republic and one’s ability and fortitude in executing that understanding within the Constitutional limits of the Presidency.

Sadly, we didn’t get to that part of the movie with the cast we had in the last election.

WSJ on Palin

The Wall Street Journal editorial about Palin pretty much nails it.

Two Comments

1. On the Palin resignation: The bottom line is that she was elected to serve a fixed term as governor of Alaska. It can’t be so all about her that she can up and quit as part of some broader personal strategy. That might be understandable if she were leaving politics for good, but nobody believes that. Her situation is being compared to Nixon’s in 1962, but Nixon didn’t have to resign from his constitutional responsibilities to get himself gainfully unemployed (for one thing among many). What’s wrong with these Republican governors? The Democrats are getting too much mileage off the Palin-Sanford all-narcissism-all-the-time ticket. Or, as Steve H suggested, the all-Lifetime (channel) ticket...

2. The most troubling thing in the NYT was an account of the president’s decision--contrary to the advice of the judicious Gates-- not to modernize our nuclear weapons. Doesn’t he know that would make the world safer? As long as those weapons are around, we have to be techno-dominant for everyone’s sake. And it seems pretty obtuse to say that we because we have plenty of those weapons, we never need to upgrade and make more reliable what we have. Those weapons will be around, sad to say, as long as the knowledge of how to build them is with us. It would have been better if they had never been invented, of course, even if they are what kept the Cold War pretty cold.

Reading Jane Austen in Tehran

Iranian writer and literature professor Azar Nafisi describes her life under radical Islam in her 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. For much of the book, which I just completed listening to, I felt a lack of empathy for her silly leftist politics, her majoring in anti-American demonstrations when studying in America, her obsession with minor American leftists—the whole predictable sequence. Why shouldn’t any regime want to protect itself from the dangers such foppery of the intellectual class might breed!

But as conditions for Iranians worsen, and as the Islamic regime imposes ever harsher restrictions on women (the veil is just one of many measures), her portrayal of the revolutionary political significance of Jane Austen (among other western authors) has stunning power, awakening not just our perception of the Iranian regime insanity but as well how we should read Jane Austen. Viewing Austen as a subversive, as a promoter of women’s virtues, does more than steer us away from the Charybdis of her as a supporter of British imperialism. Reading Austen as a forbidden (or at least frowned-upon) pleasure makes the civilizing effect of great literature come alive.

Nafisi’s recounting of Iran’s miseries encourages deeper reflection on how the West might act, as her former colleagues and students protest the tyranny. She is now affiliated with two Washington, DC think-tanks. Here is her website. Perhaps Nafisi might stiffen the resolve of her fellow memoirist in the White House.

Honduran Turns

Two letters
to the WaPo make a strong case for supporting the so-called "coup" in Honduruas, a constitutionally justified measure preventing another Hugo Chavez in the western hemisphere. The writers are a former Honduran ambassador to the U.S. and Honduran native Miguel Estrada, a prominent attorney in Washington, DC. Unlike Obama, Bush would likely have recognized the new government, and not stood by Chavez, etc. See also WheatandWeeds for continuing coverage.

More from the National Health Service

Maggots, anyone?

The Meaning of the Fourth?

Here’s one reason why I have scaled back my subscription to our local newspaper.

The column is incoherent on so many levels it’s not funny.

Take this bit:

However, freedom is a lot more complicated than getting to do what you want and say what you want. If that’s all there was to it, freedom would be a lot more rampant around the world.

Freedom is hard because it’s really about letting the other guy do what he wants and say what he wants, even if you don’t much like it and think he’s wrong. That’s the tricky part, the part that other cultures, and even some people here at home, sometimes can’t swallow.

Freedom has been reduced to mutual toleration, hardly an exhaustive account of what’s required to live in freedom. What, for example, about the necessity for sacrifice, risking one’s life for the sake of one’s liberty?

And then there’s this:

Freedom takes a certain amount of trust in your fellow man, which can be hard to come by in places like Iran. It also requires a humility about the limits of your own wisdom and a faith that in an open marketplace of ideas, the truth eventually will reveal itself.

Not surprisingly, those who claim to already know the truth don’t cotton much to freedom. From their point of view, there’s no need for debate and discussion to determine the best path; that path already has been chosen, usually by them. Nor is there any need to allow questions or challenge. Free speech just confuses the issue unnecessarily.

So I wonder how he feels about the "self-evident truths" articulated in the Declaration? Should we doubt those? Or are those truths that "revealed themselves" in the "open marketplace of ideas"? What happens when the "open marketplace" "reveals" truths?

It’s hard to get any guidance here.

But he does tell us this:

The primary insight of the Founding Fathers was to invest that wisdom in the people instead. It was a revolutionary concept 223 years ago, and it remains a threatening concept to many today. The wisdom of the people can at times be a wisdom reached slowly and slowly expressed; it can be a fragile wisdom, a wobbly wisdom that veers at times into foolishness before righting itself.

But over the long run, it is a true and legitimate wisdom, and we can take justified pride that for more than two centuries we have let that wisdom guide us.

"A mob of Socrateses is still a mob." Was he thining of that? Or perhaps he was thinking of the way in which Stephen A. Douglas trusted in the wisdom of the people against those conversation-stopping absolutes to which Abraham Lincoln adhered?

But ait, there’s more:

It all began, of course, with the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it stated.

Americans take justifiable pride in the way those words have echoed around the world and have been cited by freedom movements everywhere. But I worry that sometimes we try to take too much ownership for what is in fact a universal yearning. To the degree we link being pro-freedom to pro-American, we can undercut the cause we champion.

So there are absolutes? And they’re universal?

But of course they only mean letting everyone do what they please. They don’t have consequences for self-government or regimes.

I give up.

Happy Fourth!

Barack Obama’s "Post-American" Presidency

John Bolton offers an overview of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy steps and missteps.

Required reading on Independence Day.

Palin P.S.

An occasionally savvy friend remarked to me a couple weeks ago that Palin’s path to political success (especially with women, who turned against her last fall in the polls) would come through being the Lifetime Channel candidate, with a feisty wronged-woman comeback story. Didn’t think she’d start down that path so soon and in so dramatic a fashion.


I offer my thoughts on Palin’s amazing and inscrutable decision over at the Corner, here, and here.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in Ashland tomorrow.

Sitting Bull, Shotguns, and Roxane

Steven Pressfield now has a blog, only a week old, devoted to Afghanistan. You might read this Marine from the bottom up. And if you haven’t read his Gates of Fire, or his other books, you should.  

Battle of the Lincoln Books

Never a fan of Sean Wilentz, I do concede his lengthy New Republic
review essay
nicely skewers some inflated conventional scholarship (and even mentions the omission of Harry Jaffa ["one of Lincoln’s more provocative conservative admirers"] from Harold Holzer’s anthology). But Wilentz omits the indispensable work of Allen Guelzo and has no use himself for Jaffa. Wilentz’s major charge is that the current crop of Lincoln books are not written by historians but rather from writers who have produced a "literary Lincoln." And in doing so the new Lincoln scholars do not acknowledge Lincoln’s vocation as politician.

Wilentz’s own conventionality is seen in his admiration for David Donald’s biography. It is precisely the genius of Guelzo and Jaffa that they are able to see Lincoln’s greatness and thus understand the world about him and the world he tried to bring about. They truly appreciate his political skill because they are aware of the trans-political ends for which statesmanship exists.

Palin’s Boldness

Derided by the conventional wisdom (just see the front pages of any paper) as "bizarre," Governor Palin’s decision to resign is yet another sign of her determination to make herself the most credible challenger to Obama in 2012. Modifying Machiavelli’s advice, she will likely encircle Washington as a prelude to occupying it; one can imagine her rallying the red portions in both red and blue states. As much as I admire her character and cleverness, I hope it will be accompanied by a deeper prudence--the wisdom of serpents accompanying the innocence of doves.

The Surge in Afghanistan

We note on this day that thousands of Marines have deployed on a special mission in Afghanistan; note the purpose and the method in the story and what it may have to do with Bush’s policy shift in Iraq and its (so far) happy outcome. In all fairness, and along with his so-called bipartisanship, it might be good and prudent for President Obama to acknowledge and give credit to Bush. It might also be good to hear from Sen. Harry Reid how it was exactly that we lost the war in Iraq. I look forward to hearing from both men.

Happy Fourth of July

I hope you enjoy the Fourth. Before reading the Declaration of Independence out loud, you might consider re-reading Jefferson’s Rough Draft And then see a couple of good speeches/messages on this day by: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Calvin Coolidge.

The Aftermath of Ricci

It is worth pausing to discuss the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday in Ricci, the New Haven firefighters’ case.

The case arose after New Haven, Connecticut spent over $100,000 developing a promotion exam for lieutenants and captains. They hired an outside firm to do so, and that firm took extensive steps to assure that the test was job related, and to assure that minority experts were overrepresented in the process at every step to assure that the test was not racially slanted. When the test results came out, however, the city determined, after substantial strong-arming by a former fire commissioner who had to step down after saying that new recruits would not be hired because "they just have too many vowels in their name[s]," that an insufficient number of minority candidates would be promoted, so they opted to throw out the test. Frank Ricci was among those who would have been promoted under the test. Ricci suffered from a learning disability, and therefore had to have the study materials read onto tapes for his review. This made his study process longer, and more costly than it was for other test-takers, but he succeeded.

What made this case somewhat peculiar is that the court of appeals panel that heard the case (on which Judge Sotomayor sat) failed to even address the merits of the case, affirming on the basis of the district court opinion. This is ordinarily reserved only for cases that are frivolous, or where the law is so settled that it is not worth the court addressing. The Supreme Court, which hears less than 80 of the 10,000 cases appealed to it every year, disagreed about the importance of the legal issues, and disagreed with the Second Circuit’s conclusion that overt discrimination could be justified in order to address potential disparate impact.

While the decision just addressed the statutory claims, it was nonetheless solid. The court recognized that there was no question but that New Haven discriminated based on race: "The City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white. The question is not whether that conduct was discriminatory but whether the City had a lawful justification for its race-based action." The Supreme Court that mere fear of disparate impact claims, absent substantial basis in evidence, was not a permissible justification.

What then is to be made of the case, and its impact on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin July 13? Let’s begin with the observation that Judge Sotomayor not only reached the wrong decision in this case, allowing overt racial discrimination in protection of what were essentially soft racial quotas, but she did so in a dismissive one-paragraph opinion which seemed calculated to bury the case from future review. Both her dismissive treatment of important rights in this and a prominent Second Amendment case, and the apparent bias that these cases display will likely be fertile ground for questions in her confirmation hearings.

In response to the Supreme Court’s opinion, defenders of Sotomayor have attempted to paint her opinion as one showing that she is not an activist. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "Some of the very concerns that members of the Senate have expressed about judicial activism seem to be, at the very least, upside down in this case. Her ruling on the Second Circuit denotes that she’s a follower of precedent[.]"

The only problem is that it’s just not true. But you don’t need to take our word for it. Clinton appointee to the Second Circuit, Judge José Cabranes, expressed his deep concerns about the dismissive approach utilized by Sotomayor and her colleagues in this case. Far from following precedent, Cabranes, in stating why he thought the full Second Circuit should have reviewed the Sotomayor panel’s decision, stated that "[t]he questions raised in this appeal ... are indisputably complex and far from well-settled." (emphasis added). He noted that the case raised issues of "first impression"--that is, questions never decided before by the Second Circuit. So much for just following precedent.

Judge Cabranes added that Sotomayor’s panel’s "perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal" and emphasized that in cases "[w]here significant questions of unsettled law are raised on appeal, however, a failure to address those questions--or even recognize their existence--should not be the approved modus operandi of the U.S. Court of Appeals." He concluded with what is perhaps the core of the indictment against Sotomayor’s handling of this case: "this Court has failed to grapple with the questions of exceptional importance raised in this appeal."

Regrettably, Sotomayor has demonstrated a pattern of failing to grapple with questions of exceptional importance. In her opinion in Maloney v. Cuomo, in which she found that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, she tersely declared that a state statute restricting possession of weapons does implicate a fundamental right--the full consideration of which was measured in a handful of words. Like in the firefighters case, she concluded this without even grappling with the arguments–indeed without any explanation whatsoever.

This is all the more troubling because of her statements embracing personal bias. In the very same speech where she issued the well-calculated and well-quoted assertion about the superior judgment of wise Latina women, she questioned whether it is possible for judges to overcome personal sympathies or biases "in all or even in most cases." She even seemed to think that ruling based upon these biases is somehow patriotic: "I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society."

Given these statements embracing bias, and her embarrassingly inadequate judicial treatment of both the firefighters case and the Second Amendment case, Senators taking up her nomination on July 13 will necessarily need to explore whether her short shrift treatment of serious statutory and constitutional issues in these cases is a reflection of her own biases, or whether, on the brighter side, it is simply an indication of incompetent judging.

Pop Culture


The passing of the iconic figure and "heart-throb" of my misspent youth did not affect me in the quite the same way that it seems to have affected American media--so I began to wonder if there was something "off" in me. According to all reports, I'm supposed to feel this tragedy in the depths of my soul. And yet, I don't. Perhaps that's because, to echo Andrew Breitbart who earlier this week filled in for Dennis Miller's radio show, to me Michael Jackson died a long time ago. I think it started with the llama phase, continued because there was nothing "really, really 'bad'(i.e., good)" about Bad, and certainly culminated in the 1993 charges against him. So that's why, until I read this, I did not even really feel any compulsion to think or comment about it and was stupidly surprised by all of the crazed coverage.

But this story about the 13 year-old being forced to trade in his iPod for a Sony Walkman and finding that device somewhere between "quaint" and not "a credible piece of technology" reminded me of Jackson. It seems to me that Jackson is--or rather, he was--something like that that Walkman. He was an innovation that was a real game changer when he emerged, rather like the Walkman, and yet behind the force of his public persona was a kind of feigned or, maybe, a genuine quaintness that made him something beyond a "credible piece of technology." In the end, it is limited and it disappoints. The potential for or the idea of greatness was there, but it could not come from the vessel in which the idea of that greatness dwelt.

The 13 year-old me would have given anything to have had a Walkman with a cassette tape of Thriller. A quarter-century later, I have both a Walkman and an iPod and use them both, primarily, for the even more quaint past-time of reading books. And I'm grateful, too, that if the authors of said books have ever taken up with llamas, pre-pubescent boys, illicit drug activity, or daughters of famous rock stars, I don't have to know anything about it from that source--for, unlike the news media, the iPod won't tell me anything I don't ask it to give me. I suppose there are some vital things missed by our ability to curl up into ourselves and self-program our entertainment and information these days. "Experts" insist that this is so and bemoan our fragmentation for a living. No artist may ever sell as many records (or whatever they call them these days) as Michael Jackson did. This is because we are all so fragmented now and there is a flavor for every taste--nothing drives our collective taste, we're told. The mantra seems to be that the "common experience" we once shared because of our limited choices in media and entertainment is a thing of the past and something not entirely salutary. Perhaps there's something to this.

But then, perhaps there is--or would be--something much more rational about that development if it were a real one. The phenomenon of Michael Jackson was not actually Michael Jackson, after all. And even as we learn the sordid details of his broken life, we look only at shadows . . . and those remain as creepy as shadows usually are. We remain ignorant. And this essential ignorance remains our "common experience" when we go through weeks like this one. How can anyone say that there is no "common experience" looking at weeks like this? There is one. It's just that it's embarrassing. Maybe it always was. Despite our alleged "fragmentation"--very little has actually changed about mass culture. There seems to be no real escape from the MJ mania and no end to the depressing details we are now forced to know about his life. You see . . . you can't even escape it on NLT.

Categories > Pop Culture

The Point of Cap and Trade to ruin the coal industry and cause electricity rates to skyrocket, explains Mr. South Dakota Politics. There needs to be real discussion about whether that pain--very underestimated by the Democratic experts--is worth what is likely a pretty insignificant environmental gain. Mr. SDP also has a couple of excellent posts on the need for similar health care skepticism.

Contra Porchers

It might be that you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately. No, it’s not because i finally got a life. Or even because I refuse to rush to judgment on the true cause of Michael’s death (although it may be prudent not to follow the lead of TV’s Dr. Chopra and remain silent until the toxicology report acutally shows up).

There has been a pro-wrestling kind of war between the postmodern conservatives and the front porch republicans (not Republicans!) on other blogs. I’ve hesitated to call this to your attention, because most NLT readers would surely regard both sides as separately but equally nuts. Still, if you click and do lots of scrolling and some more clicking, you might well be entertained.

TNR’s Tom Goldstein on Justice Thomas

Interesting and perceptive comment from The New Republic’s Tom Goldstein on Justice Thomas:

No other member of the Court is so independent in his thinking. The irony of course is that there remains a public perception, rooted in ignorance, that he is the handmaiden of other conservative Justices, particularly Justice Scalia. I disagree profoundly with Justice Thomas’s views on many questions, but if you believe that Supreme Court decisionmaking should be a contest of ideas rather than power, so that the measure of a Justice’s greatness is his contribution of new and thoughtful perspectives that enlarge the debate, then Justice Thomas is now our greatest Justice.