Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Tedium Sea

It seems that every time I check in to the Hyatt Embarcadero to visit my peeps at Pacific Research Institute there is some kind of environmental conference going on. Thursday this past week was no exception: there in the lobby were two young ladies dressed up as "orange roughies," a colorful Pacific ocean species that is, as you might guess, bright orange. I've seen lots of them scuba diving in California waters over the years. Lo and behold, yesterday morning the two orange roughie gals turned up in the San Francisco Chronicle's news story about the release of a new "interim" report from the Obama Administration's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

The news story, and the underlying report, are an excellent case study in the weary, used-up character of contemporary environmentalism, and a good indicator of why the public is increasingly bored with environmental issues according to the polls. The head of NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, said, "Today is a historic day for our oceans." Really? All because the government put out another report? That must be some kind of powerful report.   Maybe it has magic spells?

No; rather it contains the usual administrative-state cliches. "The draft report," says the Chron story, "recommended several broad strategies, including improving coordination among local, state, and federal agencies." [Smacking forehead now] Why hasn't anyone thought of that before? Or this: "Boosting water ocean water quality through more sustainable land practices." Genius! The Obama Task Force will now take the report on the road on a "multi-city tour" around America, after which no doubt there will be released a final report to replace this interim one.

This is typical of modern government groupies, thinking their banal cliches represent original thinking because their sentiments are so pure. Lubchenco added the usual coda of the anointed by saying, "For the first time our nation is saying loudly and clearly that healthy oceans matter." For. The. First. Time. Really??

No one seems to recall that the Bush Administration had its own Commission on Ocean Policy (actually set in motion by Congress in legislation passed in the year 2000) that held extensive hearings around the U.S. and issued its own very detailed 522 page report (not counting the appendices) in 2004 entitled An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, containing hundreds of specific policy recommendations, including, naturally, "better coordination" between government agencies. I wonder how many of these were followed up? I'm sure there have been lots of great interagency meetings in Washington. Wouldn't you think we might build on this first before reinventing the wheel? Why have all those "coordination" meetings all over again?

This new effort also shows what cheap dates environmentalists have become. Even though the new Obama effort is still in the "interim" stage, and none of the miracle "coordination" has happened yet, the Chron reports that "Environmental groups, many of which have long fought for a national ocean policy, were thrilled at the administration's quick progress." Yup, a few more reports and no doubt the planet will be transformed back into Eden. And the orange roughie gals can recycle their costumes for San Francisco's Halloween parade.

Categories > Environment



Unemployment rose to about 9.7% in August(note the interactive map).  In California it is above 12% (the highest rate in 70 years), and in Nevada it's above 13%.  In the meantime Sweden "announced income tax cuts of 10 billion kronor to stimulate the job market."  Senator Harry Reid is in trouble: he is behind in the polls against both GOP would-be challengers, not even above 40% in the polls.

Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

Albright in Siberia

Powerline comments on this report from Pravda on a speech former Secretary of State Madeline Albright gave at a forum in Omsk, Siberia.  Her comments--which prove that foolery can shine anywhere, even in Siberia--are quoted on the second page of the Pravda article.  I am not certain which of her comments alarms me most, but what is certain is that she needs to take a brief seminar on the founding, or, failing that: 1) she needs to read the Declaration of Independence, 2) the Constitution, and, in case these two readings don't make everything clear, also glance at the Great Seal of the U.S.A.  These should shed some light on the purpose of politics, corruption, and exceptionalism.



This Ann Marlowe essay, "The Picture Awaits: The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency," is worth reading.  I am also reading the just published,  A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq, by Mark Moyar, which taken a different view.
Categories > Military


CIA heads urge end of abuse probe

Opposition to the AG's order for the inquiry has grown and now seven former CIA directors urged Obama to end Holder's inquiry (the current D/CIA is also against it), arguing that it would inhibit intelligence operations in the future and demoralize agency employees who believed they had been cleared by previous investigators. Here is the BBC story, and note that the Washington Post story emphasizes the fact that Justice has already narrowed the inquiry.  I am betting that Obama will put an end to it.

Categories > Politics


A note on honor, comity, and apology

Joanne B. Freeman thinks that Representative Joe Wilson should have apologized to the House, and, she writes, "his comment reminds us that Congress has a long and storied culture of apology, to go along with its long and storied culture of insult -- and that the two traditions are inextricably bound together."

Categories > History


Irving Kristol, RIP

Kristol played a crucial role in the development of the modern conservative movement.  More on this later.  Condolences to his family, which includes Ashbrook Board Member William Kristol.  AEI's obituary is here.

UPDATE: NY Times obituary is here.  Some lines:

Yet underlying the invective was an innate skepticism, even a quality of moderation and self-mockery, which was often belied by his single-mindedness. This stalwart defender of free enterprise could manage only two cheers for capitalism. "Extremism in defense of liberty," he declared, taking issue with Barry Goldwater, "is always a vice because extremism is but another name for fanaticism." And the two major intellectual influences on him, he said, were Lionel Trilling, "a skeptical liberal," and Leo Strauss, "a skeptical conservative." 
Categories > Politics


Spartan Literacy

Quick notes like this from Victor Davis Hanson are always amusing and instructive.

Categories > History


Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day, and this morning I had the great pleasure of giving a talk to about 150 juniors and seniors at Hillsdale High School in Hayesville, Ohio (population: 350).  Alas, I don't have a copy of my speech, nor was there a recording made.  In lieu of that, this perfectly good piece from Joe Knippenberg will have to do.
Categories > Politics

Health Care

Busch on the GOP's Next Move

Andy Busch has written a follow-up to his last op-ed explaining what President Obama and the Congressional Dems might do next to press their agenda on health care.  This time he explains the options that the GOP has before it.  These are interesting times.
Categories > Health Care


Constitution Day Pop Quiz

On September 17, 1787 the delegates signed off on the Constitution, sending it to the States to be ratified,  Here's a brief quiz on the text of what they sent.

1.  What provisions of the Constitution may not be amended?

T or F:

2.  The Constitution refers to the national government as "republican."

3.  The Constitution prohibited women and blacks from holding national office.

4.  The Constitution refers to Jesus Christ.

5.  The Constitution sets age and citizenship requirements for the major federal offices--congress, executive, and judiciary.

Answers, with brief commentary, will appear below late tomorrow in the Comments section. 

Categories > History


Cracking Acorn, the Times Don't Care

Michelle Malkin reminds us that last year the NY Times started to investigate Acorn, but Stephanie Strom, the reporter, dropped the story after receiving some rather unpleasant phone calls from the Obama campaign.  (A short version is here).  Perhaps the Times and other representatives of the old establishment media will finally return to the story.

Were I in the Lefty community-organizing community, and if I believed that America was a fundamentally unjust place, where the rich and the powerful tend to have their way and the poor tend to get the short end of the stick rather more here than elsewhere, I would have a rather large chip on my shoulder.  That chip might lead me to feel entitled to bend or break the law, just as I had been taught to think that most rich people do.  In short, I would not be surprised to find a great deal of corruption in Acorn and other like groups.

Categories > Politics


Are you paying less for food?

Wapo claims:  "Supermarket prices are plunging as the global downturn drives down the cost of staples such as wheat, corn and milk and grocers fight for the wallets of penny-pinching consumers"

Works for me.  True for you? 

Categories > Economy

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Courage is a Virtue

Much ink has already been spilled over Yale University Press's descision not to publish the now famous Danish Cartoons.  In the latest commentary on the affiar, James Kirchick notes that Yale's decision grew from fear of violence:

I believe deeply in the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom," said Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and a member of Yale's governing board, in which capacity he advised the Press not to publish the cartoons. "But in this instance Yale Press was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life."

Zakaria's comment raises a question that ought to be addressed head on.  It seems to me that Zakaria gets it backward.  In normal circumstances, a responsible member of Yale's board ought to make safety a central concern.  But protecting the free press is precisly the kind of thing for which it is worth taking risks.

When this controversy started, one commentator at National Review (I cannot recall who it was) pointed out that, as a general rule, in polite society one ought not to mock another's religion, and one should shun those who do.  Similarly, newspapers ought not to publish such cartoons, as a rule. The trouble with this controversy, is that it creates the case that is the exception to the general rule.  When the right to mock someone's belief is the issue, the right thing to do changes.  In this case, in other words, courage meets prudence.

(It might be this piece by Andrew Stuttaford that I am recalling. Stuttaford also gives some background into the origns of the controversy. The cartoons were done deliberately, to prove a point about free speech, and not simply to anger Muslims).


Now they tell us . . .

Now that we again have a Democrat in the White House, Lefty intellectuals are finally admitting that President Bush did not do anything out of the ordinary. Many have noted that President Obama is doing many of the same things as his predecessor.  Today's NY Times, for example, notes that President Obama feels free to disregard laws that he thinks are unconstitutional limitations on the President's power.  In particular:

The Justice Department has declared that President Obama can disregard a law forbidding State Department officials from attending United Nations meetings led by representatives of nations considered to be sponsors of terrorism.

There are powers that clearly are subject to legislation, and there are powers that clearly belong to the executive on his own.  And then there are powers about which there is argument between the two branches.  In this last case, both branches often push their claim until one of them blinks. Old story.

Meanwhile, Garry Wills reminds us that the modern chief executive wields extraordinary powers, which Bush did not invent.

But the momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked, or even slowed. It was not created by the Bush administration. The whole history of America since World War II caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch. . . . Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941-2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order.

Some of the unhappiness we have seen in our politics grows from a frustration with the modern state.  During the Bush Presidency, many found it convenient to blame all that on Bush.  Now that Obama is President perhaps we'll start to see a more reasonable discussion about the nature and purpose of executive power and of the modern American state. (H/t Commentary's Contentions).

Categories > Presidency



Jimmy Carter and others on the left who reduce criticism of Obama to racism are going to exhaust what left of the already diminished public sympathy with the civil rights community and the cause of the genuinely hard work to reduce racial disparities.  You'd think people would draw a deep breath and recall how much people on the right hated Clinton ten years ago.  After all, we haven't impeached Obama yet.  (One thing at a time--Ed.)  But I think the left can't help itself; when you have a bad hand, the race card is the only thing they have to play.  But it doesn't make for a winning hand any more.  It will be to Obama's detriment, and will probably hurt him at the polls three years from now.
Categories > Politics


Jon Stewart on ACORN

Hat tip to Instapundit who is right, when Jon Stewart covers it, the story has legs.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Audacity of Hos
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests

Categories > Politics

Health Care

Chocolate is good for you

The New York Times reports: "In a study that will provide comfort to chocoholics everywhere, researchers in Sweden have found evidence that people who eat chocolate have increased survival rates after a heart attack -- and it may be that the more they eat, the better."  This good news from modern science supports the wisdom of the deep natural thinkers who assert that there are some minutes of our lives that should stretch with some pleasure, and now. Try this with this.

Categories > Health Care


Acorn and the Community Reinvestment Act

Steven Malanga explains how Acorn is the creature of the Community Reinvestment Act (1977) and how all this mischief has come about, and how much more potential for corruption is there, especially with Congress looking to expand the CRA once again.  Rather amazing stuff given the CRA's direct connection to the mortgage meldown.

Categories > Politics


Untrustworthy Women

Categories > Sports


Jump the Shark, Snag a Czar-dine

Conservative ire about White House "czars" covering various policy areas (health, environment, recovery, etc.) misses the big point.  Nixon appointed such "czars"--but clearly with the intention of centralizing power over bureaucracies he regarded as lawless, constitutionally dubious, and opposed to his policies.  That is altogether legitimate.

Obama's czars would also police policy as he understands it.  The issue is not that such appointments are "undemocratic"--that is, not subject to Senate confirmation--but that they represent a further growth of the bureaucracy, not a limitation of it.   For the distinction, see John Marini's classic account of the growth of bureaucratic government.  This is another example of conservative politicos' failure to hit the central issue, the return to self-government.

Categories > Politics


House Rebukes Wilson; Obama next?

As predicted, the House just voted, 240-179,a "resolution of disapproval" of Congressman Joe Wilson, with 12 Dems opposing, 7 Reps supporting.  The Politico provided a copy of the rules he violated; you can call someone a nitwit but not a liar. 

My question remains:  When has a President, addressing Congress, ever accused someone in the chamber of lying, as Obama clearly did?  I have been asking various scholars of the Presidency, who haven't come up with anything. 

Of course FDR compared conservative Republicans to fascists in his 1944 SOU (see the sixth paragraph from the end), which puts him in an entirely different league of malefactors.

On this note consider the wise thoughts of this scholar of the presidency, on Harry Truman:

"One would be hardpressed to find a more egregious example of presidential demagoguery than Truman's remark about Thomas Dewey and the Republican party ("[T]he Republicans have joined up with this Communist-inspired Third Party to beat the Democrats") or his claim that the Republicans were the instruments of "powerful reactionary forces" intent on reducing the Bill of Rights to a "scrap of paper" (247). To make sure that his postwar audience fully grasped the horror of the situation, Truman drew parallels with Hitler's rise to power in Germany. His rhetoric infuriated the Republicans and paved the way for McCarthyism during Truman's second term."
Categories > Congress

Pop Culture

This Week's Lessons in Civility

Summed up in one hilarious bit.  
Categories > Pop Culture

Literature, Poetry, and Books


Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in long as it is Cia-Cia, but written in Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.  Amazing.  This minority population on the island of Buton in Indonesia has adopted the Korean written alphabet as its official writing system, in an attempt to save their language from extinction.  Some Korean linguists have been pushing this mode among small language groups that have not yet devised a script for writing and this is their first success.  Here is the story from the Wall Street Journal.  The article in the New York Times is also worth reading.

Political Philosophy

Is Obama a Socialist?

That's essentially the question the New York Times "room-for-debate" blog editor asked me this afternoon.  Here's my answer.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Teaching Reading in Ohio

So, do they teach reading comprehension still in Ohio?  I ask because someone named "Doctor Tyrone" in Cleveland posts the following review of my book on Amazon:

Hayward claims to be an objective historian. It is pretty clear he is just another Reagan hater. Hayward calls Reagan's ideas loopy. He thinks Reagan's presidency succeeded by luck. The fall of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with Reagan. Reagan was a simpleton and could not distinguish fantasy from reality. On and on it goes. By contrast, Hayward elevates Carter in his book. If Hayward were an historian, he might try to tell the story of Reagan without constantly using demeaning adjectives, slanted perspectives and mischaracterizations of Reagan's supporters. If you hate Reagan and want to feel vindicated, this book is for you. If you liked Reagan at all or just want an unbiased history of the Reagan Presidency, look elsewhere. Save your money and your time and avoid this book.

I'm wondering if he has me confused with this book instead?  You'd think the difference in the author's name might be a tipoff, no?

Ashbrook Center

Podcasts with Parton Award Winners

All graduating Ashbrook Scholars are required to write a thesis as part of their participation in the Ashbrook Scholar Program. Over the past few weeks I have recorded three separate podcasts with the authors of the theses that were given the Charles Parton Award for best thesis this past spring.  These three students graciously agreed to spend some time talking with me about their theses.

I commend each of these students again for their impressive work.    

The links below will take you to a PDF file of each thesis.  To listen to the podcasts, go here

Lauren Arnold's thesis, "Rule in The Tempest: The Political Teachings of Shakespeare's Last Play," was of particular interest to me as my love of Shakespeare's work is no secret.  She does an excellent job in the podcast of explaining the political complexities of the play.

Colleen Carper wrote her thesis on British code-breaking efforts during WWII and her thesis is entitled "Bletchley's Secret War: British Code Breaking in the Battle of the Atlantic."  Ms. Carper clearly made herself an expert on the subject, as you will hear in the podcast.

Michael Sabo worked with an old friend of mine, Ken Masugi, on his thesis, "The Higher Law Background of the Constitution: Justice Clarence Thomas and Constitutional Interpretation."  He did an excellent job of explaining Thomas's method of interpreting the Constitution and I applaud him for his efforts.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Foreign Affairs

Missile and stampede

I couldn't help noting the first two sentences regarding two unrelated facts in this AP dispatch out of Pakistan: "A missile fired from a suspected unmanned U.S. drone slammed into a car in a Pakistani tribal region close to the Afghan border Monday, killing four people, intelligence officials and residents said.  Separately, at least 18 women and girls waiting to get free flour in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi died when the crowd around them swelled and a stampede occurred, officials said."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Tory or not to Tory

Henry Olsen makes a critical point regarding Sam Tanenhaus'The Death of Conservatism and the advice he so willingly gives us conservatives: "Sam's prescription falls short because it adopts a politics fit for English political soil and tries to implant it into America's fertile plains. As such, it is doomed to fail, and indeed it has already failed when adopted by American politicians in the past." Do read the whole, short, thing.  You might also want to contemplate Charles Kesler's latest essay in the CRB, "The Conservative Challenge," now available on line.  The beat of Kesler's mind on this matter is better than any other I have read.  His way both reminds us of the source of our political character, while allowing us to make sense of these brisk and giddy-paced times.

Categories > Politics


McKinley remembered

One hundred eight years after his death, Ohio still remembers native-son governor and President  William McKinley. For some reason (or lack of) I have always remembered the name of his assassin, Leon Czolgosz, as I have Gavrio Prinzip, the assassin of Archduke Francis Ferdinand.  I can't remember my kids' birthdays (save the first), but I can't take these two names from my mind.  Weird.  Just sharing.
Categories > History

Shameless Self-Promotion

More Overexposure

Over at NRO, Peter Robinson is rolling out my latest star turn on his splendid "Uncommon Knowledge" interview program.  I'm not only over-exposed by this point, but in these videos I have my summer suntan turned up to 11.


The Passing of a Genuine Hero

In 1968 Paul Ehrlich predicted that population growth would cause millions to die of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s.  The fact that this dire prediction failed to come true was largely the result of the work done by Norman Borlaug, who died yesterday at the age of 95.  Ronald Bailey eulogizes him here.  It's unfortunate that despite all the good he did--his "Green Revolution" may have saved as many as a billion lives--he remained all his life relatively unknown, at least in his own country.  Rest in Peace.
Categories > Environment


The Big In-Tent

How can people say, on one hand, that we can't to know the intent of the framers or ratifiers of the constitution, but also say we can know a particular crime was motivated by hate?

Categories > Politics


National Affairs

Yuval Levin elegantly introduces a new "nursery for genius", the quarterly magazine National Affairs.  It looks impressive, a kind of successor to the Public Interest, although I'm betting it will spend more time on the philosophical foundations of our public life than PI was able to do.  Good luck to them.

Categories > Journalism

Health Care

Health Care Reform Principles

As we continue to discuss how to reform our health care regulations and hand-outs, it seems to me that we ought to step back and think about what, exactly, we are trying to achieve.  As I understand it, the goal ought to be to encourage responsibility.  For President Obama, and most others on the Left, "responsibility" seems to mean that the better off should be responsible and help pay for the health care of the less fortunate.  Fair enough. The only trouble is the responsibility requires liberty.  The effort to be responsible in this sense cuts against the goal of increasing the responsibility of citizens, which, as I understand it, ought to be the chief concern.  A responsible person pays his own bills, just as responsible parents provide for their own families. 

The goal of reforms, in other words, ought to be to encourage people to pay for as much of their own health care as possible.  Admittedly, the "as possible" line might be fairly low. That does not, however, mean it does not exist.  When someone's tires get old, we don't expect auto insurance to pay for new tires. Similarly, we don't expect insurance to pay for oil changes.  Or, turning to our houses, we don't expect the government or insurance to pay for a new boiler (unless we have special policies for that).  Why should health care be different?  Why should we not expect citizens to pay for regular check-ups?  Why should we not expect people to save money for the almost inevitable health problems that crop up in our lives. To be sure, some people will need help at lower priceline than others--that's what charity is for. But that does not change the underlying idea that the goal ought to be to encourage citizens to be as responsible as possible for their own health care.

If, however, those problems are very serious, and start to require lots and lots of money, that's when insurance ought to kick in.  Health savings accounts, combined with high-deductible policies, were an effort to move in that direction. That's why the Left fought it.  They disagree with the principle involved. The Left believes that health care is a right, and, therefore, that it ought to be provided, virtually from the first dollar.  As we discuss reform, thoseof us who disagree ought to challenge that principle.  I suspect that most Americans, when the question of principle is raised, would not agree with the Left (even if most Americans tend to like the hand-outs they get).

Categories > Health Care