Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Pop Culture

SNL: Reagan, Mastermind

I've mentioned a few times that the famous Saturday Night Live skit of Reagan as mastermind is closer to the truth that anyone knew, proving that comedy once again trumps the conventional view.  Turns out the skit is available on Hulu here.  (Thanks to Cliff Bates for sending this along.)
Categories > Pop Culture

Pop Culture

The Nadir of Blogging

Okay, here's a real Robert Conrad moment;  Go ahead.  I dare you.  Just click on this link.  This has to be the goofiest Blog yet.

Categories > Pop Culture


How One Ohio School is Dealing with Obama's Speech on Tuesday

Kudos to the Superintendent of Medina City Schools (just South of Cleveland) for leaving it up to parents to decide whether their kids should listen to Tuesday's address. Also impressive is his emphasis on the Constitution. Good for him.

Dear Parents of Medina City Schools,

In case you haven't heard, President Obama intends to address the children of our great nation on Tuesday, September 8th at noon. As a district we will not be airing President Obama's speech or utilizing the supporting documents for the speech. While we believe his intentions are good, we will leave it to you, the parents, to determine if you wish to have your children view President Obama's speech.

While we sincerely respect the position of President of the United States, as an educational institution we must also respect the rights of a parent to make decisions for their children when it comes to politics. Many parents have called the District both in favor and against the speech being broadcast live to students. In order to minimize any controversy and the potential disruption of the educational process, we decided to leave it to parents to discuss or watch the speech with their children on their own time. Should you make the decision to view the speech with your child you can access it via an archived webcast at or

The Medina City School District will teach your children to think critically and think for themselves. We will also teach children how to sift through all of the information that is available to them (political or not), decide between fact and fiction, and then understand the process for making an educated decision based on quality information. We will also continue to make sure that our students know and understand the branches of government and the Constitution of the United States. We believe that once they truly understand the Constitution they will then be able to make good political decisions on their own.

Thanks for your understanding on this matter and thank you for your ongoing support of the Medina City School District!

Randy Stepp
Medina City Schools
Categories > Education

Health Care

Community Organizer in Chief

President Obama appears to believe that civil society ought not to be truly independent of government.  His latest effort in this direction is his recent phone call lobbying the arts community to use their talents to help the President and his party pass health care legislation.  It is similar to his call to America's Rabbis to use their pulpits to lobby for the same legislation.  (And his reaction agaist civil soceity in action at the town halls might reflect the same beliefs. Community organizing ought not to be done independently, and the middle class ought not to be asserting its own ideas an interests  Only ogranizing on behalf of the Progressive agenda is letitimate). This effort is unprecedented:

As a former National Endowment for the Humanities official told me, "Nowhere, as far as I know, has there been even the suspicion that federal agencies under any administration have been enlisted by the administration to further specific legislation or legislative goals. And that's what happened. [They said,] 'We want to make art that will specifically advance Obama's agenda.' "

Given the importance of the US government in funding the arts, this is a big step (The fear of precisely such leverage is one of the main things that leads conservatives to oppose government funding for arts.  Once the government pays for something, it will, inevitably, attach strings). Of course, as Michael Lewis notes during the Obama campaign, America's artists became more politicized than they had been in quite some time.  As Lewis notes, great art can have a moral agenda, but when it descends to regular partisan politics, it usually turns into kitsch.  Presumably, the President thought he could use his following in the arts community to help push his preferred legislation through Congress. 

The President here continues a trend that David Billet noted in a recent issue of Commentary by examining President Obama's desire to reduce the tax deduction on charitable contributions. Billet disagrees with this post of mine from last year.  I suggested that there is no reason to give wealthy people a tax deduction when they write a large check to Harvard to get their son into the school.  Billet notes that altering the status quo for charitable contributions would risk undermining civil society in general.  The argument gives me pause, suggesting it would be very difficult to alter the law in one way without changing much else.  More to the point, Billet connects this with a larger effort of Lefty groups to use the levers of power to direct civil society. Nothing should simply be free of government control, and free to do whatever it wants in American society, it seems. It must always be pushed to support another agenda:

The most notable campaign against the philanthropic status quo has been waged by the California-based Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit that seeks greater "racial and economic justice" by attempting to force greater minority representation in government, commerce, and higher education, mostly by publicly shaming or suing companies into doing the right thing. (The institute's name is a play on the practice by banks of "redlining" poor neighborhoods as bad credit risks; "most of our money," its director has boasted, comes not from donations but "from lawsuits.")

After a Greenlining study found that a mere 3 percent of private grant money in California went to minority-led causes, the group waged a concerted campaign on behalf of state legislation to require foundations  with assets over $250 million to disclose the race, gender, and ethnicity of board members, staff, business contacts, and individual grantees (at one point sexual orientation was also included), and to report the amount and percentage of grants to organizations in which 50 percent or more of board members and staff were minorities.

I suspect that President Obama is sympatetic with that agenda.  Any pool of money that can be used to further his agenda, which he regards as the national agenda, ought to be co-opted. In short, the President thinks America is a community of 300,000,000, and he wishes to organize it as if we were a republic the size of ancient Sparta.

Categories > Health Care


And What He Did, Undid

It turns out that parents across the country may have no real cause to worry about Barack Obama's upcoming speech directed to America's schoolchildren.  I do not yet know whether my children will be asked to attend to this expected sidewinder.  Though I will be disappointed in the judgment of their school and of their teachers if they are promoting it, I probably will not interfere.  Why?  For one thing, I think kids are pretty smart.  And I remember that one of the things that drove me to dislike Jimmy Carter so much was all the fawning praise he got in the Weekly Reader and from my teachers when I was a kid.  Most Americans, even little ones, don't trust a President who thinks he's all that.  And, when the grown ups responsible for making your life drudgery tell you that you should think he's all that, there's double reason for finding him to be a humbug.  Besides, I think Obama fatigue has already hit a good number of Americans and, if that's so, it's so even among the elementary school set.  I present the following anecdote as evidence:

This morning, when my 8 year-old son came scurrying across my bedroom floor at the ungodly hour of 5:30 to announce "I'm uuuuppp!"-- the radio was already bleating out the day's news.  He happened to catch a television programming announcement about next Wednesday's "big Obama speech" (to be distinguished, of course, from last week's "big Obama speech" because, you know, this one will be before a joint session of Congress).  Apparently the televising of this snore-a-thon means that Wipe Out!, a show near and dear to the hearts and souls of all rambunctious little boys (and their fathers), will be canceled.  I can tell you that I have never expressed sentiments so harsh about Barack Obama (or any other human being) as the sentiments sputtered out by my son (between tears, of course) at that moment.  Whatever Obama says on Tuesday, he is doomed in the mind of my boy because of what he means to do on Wednesday.
Categories > Presidency

Health Care

Possibly the Single Best Tweet of All Time

. . . and it almost makes Twitter worth considering.  Jim Geraghty in response to this story writes:  "Let's stop the partisan BS and agree no matter how much you disagree with someone, it is unacceptable to try to eat them."
Categories > Health Care


FDR the Divider

Occasional friend of the Ashbrook Center (our token liberal, as he likes to put it) and FDR biographer Jean Edward Smith writes in today's New York Times that FDR won by dividing, rather than seeking bipartisan consensus.  Smith is doing this in part to goad Obama and congressional Democrats to man up and roll over minority Republicans and business opposition to their ideas.  He's right--as I argue in my Reagan book, Reagan was a deliberately divisive (at times) and ideological president.  However, Smith misses one thing: divisiveness only works if what you split off for yourself represents majority opinion, and isolates less popular opinion.  The reason so many Democrats are fearful is that they perceive that forcing a division now like FDR or Reagan will likely leave them a rump at the next election, unlike the case with FDR in the 1930s or Reagan in the 1980s.
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

WSJ Review

The Wall Street Journal review of The Age of Reagan is out today. New York Times Book Review is coming this Sunday.  I've had an advance peek.  Anyone want to start a betting pool on how the NYTBR treats it?

Political Philosophy

Kesler Makes YouTube

But it's audio only, with an oddly thin photo.  So he's still not quite in the 21st century yet.

Health Care

What Lies Ahead (and are ahead) in the Healthcare Debate?

Andrew Busch examines the coming debate on health care by positing that there are now three options open to President Obama:  doubling down on his current course of letting things play out in Congress, re-starting the debate by making his own proposal from the White House, or suspending debate and gathering, instead, a "Blue Ribbon" and bi-partisan commission for the purpose of examining the issue in more detail.  In this smart article, Busch details the potential appeals and drawbacks for President Obama in each approach and then asks, quite rightly, what would be best for the country.  I highly recommend that you read it and find out what he says. 

Categories > Health Care


The REALLY Youthful Youth Vote

I first heard about this plan of Barack Obama's to address the nation's youth on September 8 while listening to Michael Medved as I was unpacking and making my way through the mountain of laundry resulting from our three-week camping trip (more about that later).  My first reaction upon hearing it was to think that Medved must have gotten something wrong.  The President of the United States would not call a national assembly of school children, would he?  It's just not done.  And to send out preparatory materials to principals and teachers featuring autobiographical materials about the "Dear Leader" would be too much even for the hubris of our audacious One.  But Medved is usually pretty meticulous so my incredulity subsided and was replaced with horror as I continued to listen.  Medved featured a teacher from "the Midwest" who could not give her name for fear of local retaliation.  She noted that she planned to refrain from subjecting her students to this partisan spectacle.

Of course, "the speech" is being sold as an exhortation to America's youth to stay in school and to strive to achieve.  Thus, no teacher or parent is really free to object without inviting the scorn of secret (and not-so-secret) Obama partisans who now have leave to say that such objections are nothing more than "overreaction."  It's a clever sell.  But I won't buy it.

Hugh Hewitt is also covering this and provides some useful links.  John Hinderacker at Powerline is on it too, and I think he hits upon what is likely to be the strongest reaction to the "big event" by the majority of America's schoolchildren:  "inexpressibly lame."  Bingo!

I do not worry (too much) that Obama will be able to win legions of followers in the Pre-K to 12 grade set because of this speech.  If his past performances of late are any indication of what is more likely to happen, he will talk too long, talk too condescendingly, and bore them to tears.  It is almost as laughable as the serenade offered in the movie Grease 2 (yes, I had a misspent youth) in which a young man drags his main squeeze down into a bomb shelter, misleads her into thinking that the nation is under attack, and suggests that they "do it" for their country.  She didn't buy it either . . . and that was under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

But what is nicely and brazenly on display here is the President's unshakable and (now) almost pathetic belief in the power of his words to accomplish things.  If ever a man bought into the narrative of his legion of sycophants regarding his persuasive abilities, it is Barack Obama.  And there is something else too.  Notice the navel-gazing personalization of the thing.  If kids know HIS story and read about HIM and HE talks to them, well, then they will all be persuaded to do their best and, what is more, "help the president."  Help him do what, exactly?  Turn around the economy?  Secure our borders?  Fight domestic and international terrorism?  Or does he simply want to remake America in his image?   One begins to suspect that it's mostly the latter and, in the suspicion, one finds very little that is persuasive about that plan.

UPDATE:  Remember this servile bit of Hollywood suck-up that I mentioned back in January?  It turns out that an elementary (!) school in Farmington, Utah is using it as part their reeducation preparation for the big Obama speech.  And more word today that Obama will give YET ANOTHER speech, this time in a joint session of Congress and about health care--because one State of the Union just isn't enough for the likes of Obama.  No, he's not desperate at all.
Categories > Presidency


The Obama Slide

David Brooks on Obama's slide. "The number of Americans who trust President Obama to make the right decisions has fallen by roughly 17 percentage points. Obama's job approval is down to about 50 percent. All presidents fall from their honeymoon highs, but in the history of polling, no newly elected American president has fallen this far this fast.

Anxiety is now pervasive. Trust in government rose when Obama took office. It has fallen back to historic lows. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now think the country is headed in the wrong direction."  Although everyone knows this to be true, and has known it to be true for about six weeks, I think now the White also knows.  And that fact is massive because everything they do from here on out will be with this in mind.  Now we will find out how clever these guys are, and/or whether Obama can persuade or his voice is nothing more than background music.  I am slo prepared to be surprised.  I think they are in a tight political bind, and it will get tighter, the squeeze will now come from the right, now from the left, and then again.  See George Will's call to get out of Afghanistan.

Categories > Presidency


Not So Happy Anniversary

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. Here's a bleg for the NLT readership: what is your favorite or nominee for best book about the conflict?  Needn't be comprehensive.  My opening bid is John Lukacs' The Last European War, which only covers the first two years before Pearl Harbor.  He is quirky but always interesting.  Best book about the back end of the war is Chester Wilmot's The Struggle for Europe, which takes up the story starting with D-Day.  Might say Wilmot has an "Anglo-centric" perspective; he's critical of the U.S. in many places in the narrative.  Both are older books (Wilmot dates from the 1950s).  Any more recent titles of special merit that I have missed?  As we cay in class, "discuss."
Categories > History

Political Philosophy

All About Eve

While perusing an old essay about John Adams, I stumbled upon this pearl of wisdom: "After [reading] a long and learned discourse from St. Augustine on the thesis that copulation was not known to Adam and Eve until after their expulsion from Eden, Adams could stand it no longer. 'Had Eve Bubbies?' he exploded. 'Could Adam see them, or feel them, without Concupiscence?  Were they not made to Suckle Infants? For what was the Uterus made?"

Is there a better, short introduction to the idea of nature?


Standard Deviations

How low are the standards in New York City's schools?  Would you believe that one can pass the test, and move up to the next grade, by guessing the answers?

Categories > Education

Shameless Self-Promotion

Morning Joe

MSNBC has posted a link to my segment this morning (7 minutes long).  Mika and Joe are laughing in the middle about an especially saucy quote I include from Pat Buchanan about homosexuals and AIDS.  Joe and Mika were giving him lots of grief during the commercial break.

Pop Culture

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

At least for the tramp-stamp set.  (And no, this is not my wife!  In case you were wondering.)


Categories > Pop Culture


Krugman, Nixon, and Campaign Finance Reform

Paul Krugman waxes nostalgic for the Nixon era, not because he likes Nixon, but because back in those days "moderate" Republicans and Democrats could come together to pass pretty much any piece of legislation that a liberal might want.  The piece would be unremarkable if not for this line: "our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s."

Let's leave aside the blithe assumption that if things aren't developing as Krugman would like, it must be that evil corporations are to blame.  Surely it can't be that le Peuple, repositories of all that is virtuous, are opposed to Nancy Pelosi's health care proposals.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he is correct.  Large corporations are not new to the United States, nor are campaign donations.  Shouldn't the fact that this "corporate-cash-dominated system" has allegedly arisen in the environment created by the Federal Election Campaign Act and, more recently, McCain-Feingold make us a just a tiny bit skeptical about campaign finance reform?  In this context, this 1995 study by Brad Smith seems more relevant than ever.

Categories > Elections


Today's Shout Outs

Finally got on the "Morning Joe" show on MSNBC this morning, but got moved around up to the last minute, so I never posted it here.  Anyway, some funny off camera stuff about Pat Buchanan that I'll pass along later when I have a link to the segment.

Meanwhile, thanks to George Will, who give a generous shout-out to Ken Green and me in his latest Newsweek column about the unreality of the cap and trade greenhouse gas emissions targets.  (It's in the second half of the column.)
Categories > Environment

Health Care

The Unlikely Path to Health Care Reform

For a while now I've wondered whether Obama and Congressional Democrats had the wit to note the possible precedent of the tax reform effort of 1986.  A bill came out of the House that neither Reagan nor House Republicans liked, but Reagan asked the House GOP to support it promising that the Senate would either fix it, or that Reagan would veto the final bill if it still wasn't any good.  The Senate started from scratch, and wrote a bill that, while far from optimal, represented a genuine compromise wherein both Republicans and Democrats got something big that they each wanted.

Today in the New York Times Bill Bradley lays out exactly how the tax reform lesson might be replicated today.  Basically, the Democrats would have to give up the trial lawyers, and Republicans would have to give in to expanded care.  I give it less than one chance in ten of happening. 
Categories > Health Care

Political Philosophy


Lawler, are you and your peeps trying to bait me with the impertinent post immediately below?  Of course Reagan was a conservative, but he didn't fit into any of the usual sub-categories to which most of us on the right pledge our troth.  He was an American conservative, a distinct species that still is hard to make out.  (I commented in my recent review of Patrick Allitt's book that calling the Founders such as Jefferson and Madison "conservative innovators" would be an oxymoron anywhere but America.)

Here's how Reagan explained his affinity for Thomas Paine (which several of the discussants below note with arched eyebrows) way back in 1965:

The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny.  That is now the conservative position.  The liberal used to believe in freedom under law.  He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything.  He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom.  The conservative now quotes Thomas Paine, a long-time refuge of the liberals: "Government is a necessary evil; let us have as little of it as possible." 

There's much more to say here, of course, but then everyone knows where to find it now.