Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.