Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Tucker on Terror

This is my fourth conversation with David Tucker on terrorism, and the first we had since the attempted attack over Detroit and the death of our agents in Afghanistan.  I think these talks are very helpful, although, of course, always incomplete.  But we'll stay on it.  I thank David.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Courts

A Citizens United Case Video!

Starring my other half.  I had missed this before somehow.
Categories > Courts

Journalism

For a Laugh

I've not been a big fan of Jon Stewart since he stopped being funny during the Bush-Kerry election, but sometimes he strikes gold - such as his take on Olbermann's meltdown over Brown's victory in Mass.

Categories > Journalism

Environment

They're Calling it Glacier-Gate

And the hits just keep on coming.

So, here's what happened: In 1999, a freelance writer in England was told over the phone by an Indian "glaciologist" that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The Englishman published the prediction in a magazine read by a environmentalist group which used it in a campaign ad. The UN's IPCC cut-and-pasted the campaign ad into its official global warming report (the basis for global warming alarmism for which it won a Nobel prize).

The claim was so ridiculous that it only took the global warming community 10 years to take notice - at which time, of course, the glaciologist (the single source for the unverified prediction) denied making the claim and admitted, if he did, it was mere conversation with no foundation in science or research. The IPCC chief, after mocking those who cast doubt on the glacier data, "was forced into a humiliating apology and admission."  

Climategate, Warmergate, Glaciergate... none of them decisively refute global warming, but each of them sweeps away purported evidence thereof and reveals the corrupt and political nature of the pro-warming community.

Categories > Environment

Politics

The Fierce Urgency of Eventually

The bitter video archive assembled by Talking Points Memo suggests that rapture is yielding to contempt. Two years ago Ezra Klein beheld Barack Obama, and saw that he offered "not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair."  Klein's assessment today?  "That candidate bears little relation to this president," because "Obama ran promising to change Washington. Instead, he's done more than any president in a generation to settle into its norms."  Jonathan Cohn was hopeful, too, yet writes an essay this week titled, "Where's The Obama I Voted For?"  The titles of two of Cohn's subsequent blog posts about health care reform - "Dead or Only Mostly Dead?" and then, "The Abyss" - suggests that he and other Democrats are going to have further reasons to wonder whether the Obama they voted for was a case of seeing what they wanted to see instead of what was there.  What was there was a young, inexperienced politician whose meager record of accomplishments provided no basis for the belief that he was up to the job he sought.
Categories > Politics

Presidency

You Need Yoo

But not as much as the Obama Administration, which announced indefinite detention of as many as 50 Guantanamo prisoners.  The Administration seems fixated on providing lawyers for terrorists while threatening the Bush Administration lawyers such as John Yoo, who tried to deal with terrorists.  In the last segment of his Uncommon Knowledge interview Yoo surprises with his sympathetic account of the Obama Administration's terrorism policies.  John was promoting his new book, Crisis and Command, a history of presidential power.  He recently spoke at AEI, fresh from his drubbing of Jon Stewart, who apologized for his inept performance.

Highly notable in this regard is Ben Kleinerman's Lincoln-focused conception of executive power in time of crisis.  He urges a much more politically astute presidency when it uses its powers for controversial purposes, however justified.  This is much in line with the advice of friendly Yoo critic Jeff Rosen, at the AEI panel above.

Categories > Presidency

History

"Supreme Court Settles Abortion Issue"

So wrote The New York Times on that most controversial of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on this day, 37 years ago. As usual, the Grey Lady was reporting wishfully, rather than prophetically.

Due to the economy, Roe v. Wade is not presently commanding public attention and will not likely play a significant role in November. Abortion presently ranks as the 10th most important issue to Americans, with 41% ranking it as "very important" (I'd wager 5%-10% are single-issue voters). Abortion won't likely emerge again until a Supreme Court seat opens up, and even then will be muted, as Obama will likely swap pro-Roe justices.

However, abortion has established itself as a permanent feature of American politics. The economy will recover and wars will diminish - and abortion will again dominate the headlines. This is unique to the U.S. and provides an insight into a peculiarity of American democracy.

The clamorous and convictional abortion debate which has marked American politics for 40 years owes its persistence to two factors: morality and democracy.

First, Americans have not surrendered morality to the private sector. Europeans consciously eschew hard moral debates in public - having lost the boldness and sense of obligation to battle over profound issues - deferring to the guidance of government agencies. They have abandoned the pursuit of public morality on the grounds that they individually lack the authority, and should reserve the judgement, necessary to enforce personal preferences. Tolerance has triumphed over substantive moral conviction in the hierarchy of virtues. Let others lose their souls, they privately think, who am I to judge?

Secondly, pro-life Americans feel a bitter sense of indignation at the Supreme Court's pre-emption of this moral decision and usurpation of the democratic process. Roe completely altered the nature of the abortion debate in America, introducing a provocational lightning-rod which expanded and came to dominate the debate (protesting Roe v. Wade is now synonymous with opposing abortion).

Like slavery before it, abortion is an issue of moral absolutism marred by legal intrusion which divides the nation along irreconcilable fronts. Its perseverance indicates that Americans are still morally and intellectually alive, full of fight and vigor, devoted to the principles of a just democracy.

Categories > History

Politics

The Man Doesn't Do Anything Small

FT reports that Obama has "proposed the most far-reaching overhaul of Wall Street since the 1930s."

One cannot help but wonder if Obama learned nothing from his disastrous overreach on health-care.

Of course, this over-night policy priority is an attempt to change the subject from the Dems' legislative collapse and to ride the populist wave which washed away his health-care sand-castles. It remains to be seen whether this attack on the banks will parallel and channel voter unrest or be received as a smokescreen sham imposing yet further taxes to be passed on to the public.

The answer will likely emerge after Obama features this new initiative as a centerpiece of his State of the Union speech next week. I predict Obama may be surprised that his credibility has sagged to such an extent that even his lofty rhetoric will fail to heal voter disillusionment. 

Categories > Politics

Politics

Watch Joe Klein Lose Barack Obama's Trust

Joe Klein the journalist:

"Unlike most politicians, Obama doesn't thrive on sycophancy; he mistrusts it."

Joe Klein the interviewer:

Klein:  Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that -- just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to -- the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Best Week Ever

First, Scott Brown trounces Martha Coakley in Massachusetts.

Then the Supreme Court finds for the good guys in the Citizens United case.

And now, AirAmerica has announced that it's filing for bankruptcy.

What could make this week better?  Oh yeah--tomorrow I'm headed for Boca Raton to give my talk on Captain America.

Journalism

Cable News Race

Drudge has the cable news returns for Tuesday's election.

FOXNEWS HANNITY 6,809,000
FOXNEWS GRETA 6,399,000
FOXNEWS O'REILLY 5,228,000
FOXNEWS BECK 3,446,000
FOXNEWS BAIER 3,338,000
FOXNEWS SHEP 3,241,000
CNN KING 1,681,000
CNN COOPER 1,508,000
CNN BROWN 1,308,000
MSNBC OLBERMANN 1,274,000
MSNBC MADDOW 1,236,000
CNN BLITZER 1,135,000
CNNHN BEHAR 845,000
MSNBC HARDBALL 798,000

Let me do the math for you:

Fox: 28,461,000
CNN: 6,477,000
MSNBC: 3,308,000

Seems the public is expressing its opinion on far left agendas both at the polls and on the tube.

Categories > Journalism

Education

Good Writing

William Zinsser thinks that good old short words are best of all.  Winston and Abe agree.  His four principles are : Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.  Note that Zinsser's good speech is meant for those whop speak English as a second language (folks like me), yet it might be of value to some of you natives! Enjoy.
Categories > Education

Education

Another job at Ashland

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we had a job in international relations here at Ashland.  Please note that we have just posted another tenure track job, this time in American politics.  Once again, pass the word, please, to those who may be interested in working with great colleagues and fine students.  I suspect we are going to move quite quickly (can academics do that?, ed.) so encourage those interested to get to it soon.  Thanks.
Categories > Education

Health Care

The Dems Fail

From WaPo: "Speaker of the House says she does not have enough votes to pass the Senate version of the health-care bill." 

The bill is dead.

We now enter an entirely new phase of the health-care debate. Everything now weighs upon how the parties react to the brave new world in which they find themselves. I expect a new debate will begin, and I hope Republicans struggle to take ownership of a more reasonable health-care package.

It's in the Democrats' interest to pass something, even at this late hour when no glory will be taken from the battlefield. The GOP should have the upper-hand now, forcing the Dems to pay a price for the bi-partisan cooperation they once scorned.

Categories > Health Care

Courts

Free Speech Vindicated!

I'm still out getting soaked in the El Nino-fueled monsoon here in California (my trip to Napa Valley today takes on a whole different character in a downpour), but I want to flag today's hugely significant Supreme Court ruling in the long-awaited Citizens United case that strikes down large parts of campaign finance regulation.  They overruled one very bad old key precedent, based chiefly on the amicus brief of someone named Hayward (not me--the better-looking one).  From page 48 of the opinion:

When neither party defends the reasoning of a precedent, the principle of adhering to that precedent through stare decisis is diminished. Austin abandoned First Amendment principles, furthermore, by relying on language in some of our precedents that traces back to the Automobile Workers Court's flawed historical account of campaign finance laws, see Brief for Campaign Finance Scholars as Amici Curiae; Hayward, 45 Harv. J. Legis. 421.  (Emphasis added.)

Guess I should buy an extra nice bottle of wine somewhere up the the valley today.

UPDATE:  On the wine front, Mission Accomplished!, as President Bush might say.  One especially spirited benefactor bestowed a bottle of York Creek Vineyards 1971 petite syrah, which I'm going to pair with a very dry-aged steak some time soon.  

But more to the point, the better half appears today in the New York Post on the Citizens United case.
Categories > Courts

Technology

Puffin

Is it possible that a Puffin would be more fun than my Isabella (or Clarence)?
Categories > Technology

Presidency

The First Year

Andy Busch considers Obama's first year and wonders which Obama is going to show up for work tomorrow.  A year ago we thought it could be either the liberal ideologue or the moderate who wanted to unite the country.  We think we know which decision he made then.  Which way will he go now?  Also, Andy points out that the setbacks he has encountered may well prove to be to his advantage (others, including Steve, have mentioned this possibility), if he proves he is not tin-eared.  Good article.
Categories > Presidency

Congress

The Power of One-Liners

Scott Johnson over at Powerline reminds us of the power of a couple great one-liners. Senator-Elect Brown certainly used this to his benefit, saying again and again that it's not Kennedy's seat, it's the people's seat. That one certainly worked. But President Obama's comment in Massachusetts last week -- "Forget the truck. Anybody can buy a truck." -- was a one-liner that did nothing but help Brown. And last night, Brown was able to use Obama's mistake even more to his benefit: "It all started with me, my truck, and a very few dedicated volunteers. However, it ended with Air Force One making an emergency run to Logan. And I didn't mind when the President came here and criticized me and talked about some of the things he disagreed with me on. But let me tell you, when he started to criticize my truck, that's where I draw the line." And my favorite, "When I spoke to the President, the first thing I said was, 'Would you like me to drive the truck down to Washington so you can see it?'" Not a bad way for a new Senator to begin his relationship with the President of the United States. 

His election is already having an impact on the health care bill. President Obama said today, "Here's one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process." Good. That's a start.

But in a sure sign that the President's tone-deafness does not end with pick-up trucks, he also said, "People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years." Yes, it is George Bush's fault that the Democrats lost their 56 year reign over a Senate seat in the dark blue state of Massachusetts. This is a nice attempt to spin this election, but it is so wrong it is silly. This line by the President probably indicates that he will not be clever enough to take this friendly advice from NRO and distance himself from the liberals currently running things in Congress.
Categories > Congress

Politics

Morningafterwise

Mustn't gloat.  Well, okay, gloat a little.  It was hard last night not gloating watching the long, sad faces on MSNBC, which is my favorite network to watch when Democrats have a bad night.  But as I said before, Republicans had better be careful not to think they're back in the promised land, despite the fact that the noisiest lefties seem determined to see Obama make a suicide march.  Obama seems more ideologically rigid than Bill Clinton, but I guess we'll see.  John Judis and Thomas Byrne Edsall, both serious and thoughtful lefties, offer sober warnings this morning to their ideological soulmates.  Will they pay attention?

Which brings me to my long-wave theory of American politics.  I had noticed a while ago that ever since 1938, every 14 years there had been a GOP landslide at the polls (1952, 1966, 1980, 1994), which meant that the cycle was due to reoccur in 2008.  Of course that didn't happen.  Maybe the Massachusetts result, and the prospects for this November, show that the cycle is just slightly out of phase.  Thought experiment: What might the result have been in 2008 if a Democratic president (Gore?  Kerry?) had presided over the collapse of the housing bubble?  Who knows.  If there is anything to this theory, it is probably that since the New Deal a majority favors Democratic expansions of government, but looks to Republicans to temper excesses.  (This is not my own original theory: Jonathan Rauch has been arguing something like this for a while.)  

Separately, I got to see Gov. Schwarzenegger last night at the Hoover Institution.  He was in good form, saying that all day long he had been asking Maria, "So--how are you feeling about Massachusetts today?"   I asked him if he might go back to making movies after he left office, reminding him that Gov. Reagan had answered the same question from Johnny Carson in 1973 with: "Oh, no, Johnny, I'm much too old to take off all my clothes."  The Governator laughed, noted that he still worked out every day, and therefore that "I'm not too old to take off all my clothes."  Despite all his mistakes (I was careful not to introduce myself as the author of the NR cover story "Governor Girly Man"), we'll miss his personality in the statehouse.

Categories > Politics

Presidency

Happy Anniversary, Mr. President

On the eve of his first anniversary as President of the United States, Obama was given a spoonful of bitter medicine. The election of Scott Brown as Republican Senator #41 was a clear rejection of a President and political policy agenda which were embraced with hopeful optimism a mere one year ago. This assertion is supported by the earlier gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the wide-spread disenchantment with health-care reform and leading polls which have Obama at the lowest approval rating of any president at this stage of his first term

Furthermore, the President will likely be stopped in his tracks for the foreseeable future. Yesterday's shocking election does not simply deprive the democrats of their essential super-majority in the Senate, but Democrats are surely losing confidence in their own security as they reflect on recent election results. The path to survival may require a show of independence, which would paralyze the hyper-partisan legislative course upon which Obama staked his success.

So, with his first year a demonstrable disappointment (a conclusion which will be mercilessly repeated during the looming State-of-the-Union Address) and nothing hopeful upon the horizon (particularly given the Democrats' prospects in the November mid-term elections), Obama might need a second glass of Champaign to wash down his year-end celebrations. 

Categories > Presidency

Men and Women

Be a Man

Dennis Prager wonders if anyone ever says that to a kid today . . . well, anyone besides the twelve people he probably knows who do.  But, he further wonders, if anyone does say that, does the kid have any frame of reference worthy of note from which to gauge what a man is?  Increasingly, the answer appears to be "no" or "not much of one."

Prager outlines a series of potential causes for what he views as a sad decline in American manhood.  Many of the themes are familiar and things about which we have had some good discussions here.  But one that strikes me, perhaps because I had never really questioned it, is the mindless practice of men in authority (think coaches, teachers, etc.) "high-fiving" a boy instead of shaking his hand when he's done well.  I'm not sure that a kid can't respect a man who gives him a high five instead of offering a handshake.  And I am pretty sure that, in many contexts, a hand extended for a shaking might get a slap in any event.  Indeed, I'm pretty sure that a handshake suggested might cause, at least at first, a snicker or a mocking in some places.  But I wonder, too, if there isn't something to this.  Maybe a real man would insist on a handshake.  Maybe a handshake is more serious,  more dignified, more manly.  And maybe, just maybe, a kid might sense this and, in turn, comport himself more like a man and less like a boy. 

It's a small thing, I know.  But it strikes me as a good one. 
Categories > Men and Women

Elections

Bayh Says It's Time to Make "Common Cause"

. . . with moderates and independents.  The Democrats have gone too far left.  This is interesting stuff.  The dangers of populism are, of course, worth noting.  But there is also something very heartening about being able to agree with Evan Bayh when he notes that Americans just don't like it when those they elect try to tell them how to think and what is best for them and then try to force it on them.  We still will not be ruled.  And it's very fitting, it seems to me, that this sentiment is emerging most dramatically in Massachusetts--the cradle of the Revolution and home of the Adams'.  Let us hope that we imitate John more than Sam in the end . . . though tonight may be a good night to toast the old brewer.

H/T:  Hugh Hewitt
Categories > Elections

Elections

Some Very Basic Electoral Math

In November 2008 Barack Obama won 53% of the popular vote in the state of Virginia. Twelve months later, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate there won 41% of the popular vote, 12 percentage points less. Obama won 57% of the vote in New Jersey, one year before incumbent Democratic governor Jon Corzine won 45%, also a 12-point difference. In Massachusetts Obama won 62% of the vote. Martha Coakely appears likely to wind up with 47% of the vote in today's special senatorial election, a drop of 15 percentage points.

One way of connecting those three dots is to say that any Democrat running for senator this year in a state that Obama carried with less than, say, 56% of the vote is likely to have an interesting election. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, which gave Obama 45% of the vote in 2008, has already decided to spend more time with his family. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, which gave Obama 39% of its vote, has one of the most difficult challenges facing any incumbent in 2010.

Among the states Obama did carry, but not overwhelmingly, are these:

  • Indiana, where Obama received 50% of the vote, and where Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh is seeking election to a third term.
  • North Carolina, where Obama got 50%, and where Republican Sen. Richard Burr is seeking reelection to a second term.
  • Florida, where Obama got 51%, and an open Senate seat held by an appointed Republican will be contested. 
  • Ohio, where Obama got 52%, has an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich.
  • Colorado, where Obama got 54%, and where Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet will run for election to a full term after being appointed to fulfill the term to which Ken Salazar was elected in 2004.  (Salazar became Secretary of the Interior in 2009.)
  • Iowa, where Obama got 54%, and where Republican Sen. Charles Grassley will seek reelection to a sixth term.
  • New Hampshire where Obama got 54%, has an open Senate seat due to the retirement of Republican Senator Judd Gregg.
  • Nevada, where Obama got 55%, and where Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, will seek reelection to a fifth term.
  • Pennsylvania, where Obama got 55%, and where Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is seeking a sixth term.

If the pattern in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts holds that would be five Republican holds and four Republican gains.

Categories > Elections

Elections

If Brown Had Lost....

Could we have blamed the relentless phone bank callers, as Pete (Comment 1, #4) suggested?  That is, could potential Brown voters have been turned off from voting by the blitz of calls, live and robo?  As a sometime phone banker myself, I could see this happening.  When I brought my concerns to the phone bank boss, she maintained there were political science studies supporting the over-the-top calling strategy.  I've found some support for that viewpoint, but I have also come up with some research suggesting that Pete may be right.

Here is one study by a Princeton prof, arguing that phoning increases turnout.  He goes after these profs, below, who claim it decreases turnout (sorry, no links):

Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2000. "The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment." American Political Science Review

Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2001. "Do Phone Calls Increase Voter Turnout? A Field Experiment." Public Opinion Quarterly

Here is another scholar who says the calls don't make much difference.  But this scholar says the calls can provided they are of good quality.

Had enough? The quality argument appeals to me. I've gotten fewer nasty responses than my colleagues by beginning my call with "Thank you for voting today..." I guess all I need to do now is to reproduce this result, so I'll have data instead of an anecdote and publish it in a big-time poly sci journal. I prefer door-to-door campaigning, meeting real voters and chatting with them.  Ultimately, though, it comes down to the quality of the candidate or issue.  That is the element these putatively scientific studies need to control for, and I don't think the rules of science allow them to factor that in.

Political campaigns waste a lot of their budgets. Like the welfare state, these hired guns throw money at a problem to solve it. Yet they also send ill-informed doorbellers out with inaccurate street maps and bad voting records.

UPDATE: Classy Brown remarks.

Categories > Elections

Health Care

Time for a Populist Pivot?

Some commentators are saying that President Obama will "double-down."  He'll now follow the FDR strategy of bashing economic royalists, and use that to push even harder for the further nationalization of health care. Banks are not popular now, and neither are insurance companies.  Hence he has room to run, focusing on what needs changing, instead of what's in the bill.

That being the case, the opposition probably should follow suit. To block the "the other side wants the status quo" argument, it's time to push for a very simple bill: tort reform, opening the interstate market, a pre-existing conditions fix, and a portability law.  Perhaps those aren't exactly the ideas to push, but you get the general idea.  It's time to start talking about a genuine bipartisan reform, rather than a transformation and takeover.

Categories > Health Care

Education

Education, Credentials, and Spending

A short distraction from today's election.  Of late, I have been reading an increasing number of people saying that America is sending too many people to college.  They neither want nor need to spend the years after age 18 in college, but do so because it's what the system tells them they have to do.  Meanwhile, an increasing number of students in college need remedial education because they're not learning what they ought to learn in high school.  Plus our schools of education are not producing quality teachers.  On top of that, education funding at all levels is being squeezed.  In particular, campuses are feeling the pinch.

Obvious solution: close some of the campuses in America and reduce the size of others.  Plus, change the law so that an advanced degree in a subject is sufficient qualification to teach that subject in high school.  And let the teachers who no longer have a place in higher education go to the high schools.  I see synergy.

Categories > Education

Presidency

David Brooks' Whale of a Tale

Obama drives David Brooks crazy.  He praises Obama for his "pragmatism," commitment to open debate (Fox news?), and "moderate temper"--while condemning him for seeming to become "like the sovereign on the cover of [Thomas Hobbes'] 'Leviathan'-- the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer."

Alas:

President Obama has shown himself to be a fine administrator, but he erred in trying to make himself the irreplaceable man in nearly ever sphere of public life. He erred in not sensing that even a pragmatic government could seem imperious and alarming.

This is the error of a pragmatic man?  Sounds more like the ideological fanatic that Hobbes strove to contain but instead spawned.

UPDATE:  A sidebar on the Brooks article contains a brief symposium on the first complete Hebrew translation of the Leviathan.  It also has the striking Leviathan frontispiece Brooks mentions.  One contributor mentions that only recently "complete Hebrew editions of Locke, Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill have appeared for the first time -- each restoring material about the Bible and religion that earlier Israeli translators had elided."  What these commentators miss is that Hobbes founded two traditions--the liberal one that the state exists to protect individual rights and the totalitarian one that the sovereign defines all legitimate activity. 

Categories > Presidency

Elections

Implications for 2012

As the next storm front rolls onshore out here on the Left Coast (truly epic surf outside my front window right now), no doubt knocking out my power again at any moment, I'm contemplating a factor in the Brown campaign that has attracted very little notice and comment.  

Who was the last Republican to do well in Massachusetts?  That Mitt Romney fella.  It has been reported that he has taken a significant role in the Brown campaign, or that the Brown campaign staff is largely drawn from Romney's politicos.  If Brown wins handily (keep your fingers crossed, but the polls are simply incredible), I would think this would help burnish Romney's status as the front runner for 2012.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

One Can Always Depend Upon the French

Aside from sending millions of dollars in aid to Haiti, the U.S. has deployed thousands of troops to restore safety, accepted thousands of refugees into its own borders and, critically, established the rapid and competent leadership which keeps airports open, facilitates international logistics and allows massive relief efforts to execute.

In another world, this would be recognized as the behavior of a great and noble nation exhibiting compassion and courage in the face of tragedy. U.S. troops have already died while attempting to quell mob violence and national appeals for ever-greater aid increase by the day. America has shown the sort of leadership and selfless-sacrifice befitting the kingdom of heaven.

France, of course, will have none of it. Though international aid groups devoted to humanitarian assistance have expressed complete satisfaction with America's administration of relief efforts, the French, in full temper-tantrum mode because one of their flights carrying aid was prioritized below a U.S. flight carrying peace-keeping forces, has accused the U.S. of "occupying" Haiti.

Note that such language is not arbitrary. Haiti has been occupied by both the French and U.S. during the last century, so the accusation is intended to aggravate old wounds and incite resentment and suspicion among the Haitians (potentially exposing U.S. soldiers and aid workers to greater risk of violence).

Further, this is the sort of slander which European news outlets find irresistible. Rather than commending the U.S. and offering our example as a model of international charity and partnership, European news media is fostering resentment toward the U.S. by portraying America as an arrogant, bully nation hampering European aid efforts simply because we can.

When one ponders European prejudices against America, it would be prudent to remember the efforts of nations like France and episodes such as this. Nations, like people, possess a sort of character - America's character has been exhibited by our response to Haiti, and France's character has been exhibited by its response to America. 

UPDATE: "EU plays down talk of Haiti rift with US."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Parties

Can Republicans Steal the Show on Health-Care?

In the wake of Massachusetts' stunning special-election results - filling Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, safely in Democratic hands since 1953, with Republican Scott Brown - all attention is fixed upon the Democrats' national health care proposal. Indeed, the Massachusetts election was almost certainly a referendum on that albatross legislation. And "Republican Senator #41," as Scott Brown should be titled, has shattered the Democrats' all-important, filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority and will likely derail the entire health-care bill.

President Obama and the Democrats thus find themselves in a no-win situation: they can attempt various procedural tricks to force the bill through Congress (shady, desperate tactics which would show an utter contempt for prevailing public opinion), they can scale back the bill to lure a Republican defection (infuriating a liberal base which would consider this tantamount to failure) or they can simply accept defeat (conceding an incapacity to govern on behalf of the people). Though the ball is still in their court, Democrats are on the defensive and damage-control is likely vying with legislative success as the highest priority on their agenda.

On the other hand, Republicans are in a position of flux. Voter rejection of the Democrats might promise an incidental boon to the only other viable alternative - but it does not yet translate into approval for the GOP. Americans are starving for leadership attentive to their will. They thought they had found it in Obama, and their retribution for having been fleeced was apparent in Massachusetts. They'll give Republicans a chance to show them a worthy alternative, but they aren't going to hold their breath.

So, Republicans can either be satisfied with the detritus of the Democrats' disintegration, or they can seize the unmanned reigns of leadership and try their hand at governing.

First, they must present a unified, principled and populist resistance to the current health-care bill. The American people want health-care reform, but reject the Democrats' solution. Republicans must reflect the peoples' opposition to the latter while assuring their commitment to the former. While embracing the Democrats' spur as "the party of 'no,'" as applied to their stance on the current bill, Republicans must emerge as a party of idea, cleaning up the mess of a failed Democratic end-run.

Should the health-care bill founder or Democrats begin to show signs of retreat, the GOP must immediately - in full view of the public - seek bipartisan support for a handful of broadly-popular, practical and achievable health-care measures. Options on the table include: tax credits for low income families purchasing insurance; resource pooling by states and businesses to lower premiums; dependents under 25 remaining on a parent's insurance; tort reform; facilitating the purchase of out-of-state insurance; expanded health savings accounts; mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions; policy security in the event of serious illness; closing the Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole;" and an appeals process for grievances against abusive insurers.

Again, these measures should be limited to select, popular reforms. The GOP mustn't overreach - that was the Democrats' doom - but rather they should target specific reform measures appealing to a broad majority of Americans. A certain amount of debate and controversy will accompany even the most popular of proposals (the Devil's in the details, after all), but such bi-partisan negotiations and compromises are expected by the public and construed as the product of a healthy democracy. Proposals might even be submitted as individual bills, so that poison pills cannot be shoved into a bundle of proposals to complicate matters.

The GOP would potentially claim victory regardless of the ultimate outcome. If the measures pass, Republicans have (at least partially) usurped a centerpiece of the Democrats' policy platform, boasting a success (as a minority party) in providing at least a few common-sense reforms to the system (with the promise of more to come if vindicated at the polls in November). If they fail, the GOP have further evidence that an ideologically-paralyzed Democratic party is simply unwilling to compromise and have prioritized the government's control of medicine above the health-care needs of the country.

The essential element of this strategy is a Republican party offering sensible, practical ideas emanating from the public. Resistance posturing must swiftly evolve into proactive and energetic leadership. The GOP must listen to public sentiment - as they have in opposing the Democrats' plan - remaining flexible and responsive to shifting public concerns and opinions. Then they must demonstrate the practical competence to translate what they hear into achievable goals. A bit of competent leadership over the coming months would go a long way in November, and Republicans may not see a better opportunity to define themselves - to the country, and themselves.

Categories > Political Parties

Politics

Should They Lose the 60th Vote...

The NYTimes considers the Plan B options for Dems if they lose in Mass. today.

1) "[P]ersuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote.... Democrats could move forward with the Senate-passed bill and then push through a raft of changes during the upcoming federal budget process." This is the best option for the Dems, but a Democratic House aide relates that, as of now, "the House view of the Senate bill had not changed."

2) "[T]ry to pass a revised health care bill in the Senate before the new Massachusetts senator is sworn in." But, this tactic "would prompt howls from Republicans and accusations of foul play." A legislative victory (of any sort) might be worth the reprisals likely to follow such an obvious smack at the prevailing public opinion (as will be indicated by today's Mass. vote), but this definitely puts the Dems between a rock and a hard place. 

3) "[T]ry to use a procedural tactic known as budget reconciliation that would require only 51 votes." But, "budget reconciliation would most likely require scaling back the scope of the health care changes." And it would, again, seem to the public that the Dems had done something underhanded.

It is probably noteworthy that the Times does not even bother to offer up persuading any of the GOP as an option.

If they realize that they are going to fall short of 60 votes, I expect that other Dems will jump ship in an attempt to save their political careers back home. Even Harry Reid would likely see the benefit of shifting gears in order to preserve a few more Democratic seats in November, rather than having vulnerable members go down with the ship by voting lock-step for a lost cause. But, perhaps I am being too generous....

Categories > Politics

Bioethics

What Makes a Parent?

The courts have asked this question in a recent case in New Jersey.  Here's what happened:

A New Jersey judge has ruled that a gestational surrogate who gave birth to twin girls is their legal mother, even though she is not genetically related to them.

The ruling gives the woman, who carried the babies in an arrangement with her brother and his male spouse, the right to seek primary custody of the children at a trial in the spring.

This reminds me of another case from 2007:

A New York man who said he donated sperm to a female co-worker as a friendly gesture and sent presents and cards to the child over the years likely will owe child support for the college-bound teenager, according to a judge's ruling.

This is a trend. (here is another case, and here is the first one I recall seeing, a case from Sweeden in 2005).  Our friends on the Left like to say that marriage is a social construct. Yet our Courts keep putting biology (sometimes as raw genetics, and sometimes as the fact of carrying a baby to term) back in.

A further, and related point.  I have wondered before whether, given the rise of out-of-wedlock births, our courts will re-create something like common law marriage.  If they may impose obligations on, and discover rights for, people who agreed not to be considered parents, so much more would it follow logically for the law to impose obligations on parents who were a couple when the baby was conceived.

Categories > Bioethics

Politics

If you'd have told me a year ago . . .

. . . that Massachusetts, the only state in the union which already has social health care, would elect a Republican to replace Ted Kennedy, and he would cast the deciding vote to derail the Democrats' national healthcare legislation, leaving Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate, touting a "surge" of troops in Afghanistan as his only achievement during his first year in office . . .

Well, I'd have laughed, but admitted, "Anything can happen in politics."

Categories > Politics

Religion

Jewish-Catholic Relations

Pope Benedict XVI visited the Synagogue of Rome yesterday, continuing along the path of reconciliation and dialogue spearheaded by his predecessor, John Paul II. Aside from the usual chatter which accompanies such high-profile agendas (the improvement of Judeo-Christian relations amounts to a "theological obligation," in the Pope's words), the meeting provided a forum for discussing the controversial role of Pope Pius XII's Vatican during the Holocaust.

Pius XII seems to me to be one of the most maligned figures of modern history. Whereas Allied powers did nothing to directly prevent the Holocaust (except, of course, by winning the war against Germany), Pius was consistently and unreservedly critical of NAZI Germany and is credited with saving nearly a million Jews by siphoning them through local parishes into foreign nations. Jewish and world leaders fully recognized Pius' "heroic virtue" until his name was defiled by a seemingly KGB-sponsored German play which portrayed the Pope as a devotee of Hitler. The German government and Jewish leaders condemned the historical revision, but the myth (welcome among those who always welcome such derisive slurs) endures today.

I should hope that historians of good will might take the opportunity to repair the historical record and ensure that propaganda and soft bigotry do not prevail. Historical veracity has not defined the academic profession as regards Church history.

UPDATE: A commenter provided the following link to "a nearly-exhaustive list of articles and texts on this topic." The resource deserves front page coverage: http://popepiusxiiandthejews.blogspot.com/.

Categories > Religion

Elections

Thoughts on the Brownout

It's a good time for me to think about the potential "Brownout" in Massachusetts tomorrow, since my electricity keeps going out under the brunt of the storm blowing in this morning out here on the Left Coast.  If the polls are right, Scott Brown is headed for an upset of historic proportions tomorrow in Massachusetts.  Someone has rightly said that a Brown victory--especially if by a large margin--would deal a psychological blow to Democrats as large as the Gingrich victory of 1994.  But I fear it may also have some unwelcome effects on Republicans.

I have marveled for months now about the political ineptitude of Obama and the Democrats, allowing Republicans up off the mat much faster that anyone might have expected, and faster than the GOP deserved.  Reagan essentially threw Democrats off balance for a decade; they really didn't get their mojo back until Clinton in 1992, though they did regain the Senate (very narrowly) in 1986.  Obama could have replicated Reagan's performance had he and his party's leadership been more clever about it.  Instead their lurch to the left has simply shocked and outraged many independent voters.  (Lefty Robert Kuttner takes Obama and his team to the woodshed for their ineptitude in the Huffington Post today.)

The hazard for Republicans, though, is that a Brown triumph and the backlash it heralds will make them intellectually lazy, and lead to breaking off the hard work of revitalizing the party's leadership and ideas.  If Republicans think they can just coast back into power by sitting back and exploiting Democratic mistakes, they will do themselves, and the country, no favors.

Now, where did I put my candles?
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Martin Luther King and the Great Tradition

Unappreciated is King's emphasis on natural law and the western tradition.  That emphasis gave legitimacy and moral transcendence to what could have been a merely lawless movement.  One sees this attention, for example, in his Lincoln Memorial speech, Letter from Birmingham Jail (about a third of the way down), and his final speech (see third paragraph).  Doubtless much of this derived from documents in the black American political tradition such as this extraordinary 1774 slave petition for freedom (it's a short document, RTWT and look at the last sentence): 

That legacy is what makes this American our greatest political spokesman for natural right and therefore our most sigfnificant conservative.

This book supports the argument here. 

Politics

Two Massachusetts Rallies

Republican senate hopeful Scott Brown's Sunday rally featured Curt Schilling, Doug Flutie, and Cheers star John Ratzenberger (Cliff).  Coakley's featured the entire Democratic establishment and the President (whose remarks seemed pretty tone-deaf).  Whom would you rather show up for you?  The key stat to remember is that Hillary beat Obama 56-41% two years ago in the Massachusetts primary (h/t Patterico).  Moreover--and please correct me you descendants of the original Tea Partiers--Massachusetts politics remains white ethnic politics; they elect black politicians (Brooke, Patrick), but the racial edge remains. 

Just consider the Boston Celtics, long regarded as a white team (just as the Cubs are in Chicago; Obama of course is a White Sox fan, as he said at the Coakley rally).  I recall Clarence Thomas saying to a group many years ago that he experienced more racial animosity in Massachusetts than he had in Georgia. 

To recognize such realities is of course not to endorse them.  In this context, Obama's appearance may aid Coakley, but it could help sink her. 

UPDATE:  See Pete's comment below.  

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Czech's Apple of Gold

On the flight from Rome to Prague, I caught up on my Czech politics with the blessed, English-language Prague Post. The lead story covers a lawsuit by the government to formally ban a tiny, fascist political party with neo-NAZI sympathies. Intriguing as this scenario may be, it is largely recognized as a test case for an anticipated assult upon a far more formidable opponent: the Communists. The latter represent the third largest party in Czech, though its critics claim that it is incompatible with, and seeks to destroy, democracy.

The argument reminds me of Lincoln's belief that man did not have the right to vote himself into a state of slavery. The Czechs are claiming that the democratic process cannot be used to elect totalitarianism. It is a largely historic allegation to which I, as a Western foreigner who became acquianted with Communism in a classroom, feel somewhat unqualified to speak. But it raises compelling questions as to the limits of democracy imposed by human nature, natural law and a just God.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Elections

Political Earthquake in Massachusetts

Because suspicion always haunts the guilty mind, I took a walk this cold and sloppy and ugly morning. I have to see my doctor soon (just a regular checkup) and because I like the guy (a Navy man) I'm trying to shape up so he will be less disappointed in me.  He's a straight-talker, knows we all owe a debt to God, so he's never panics, just asks me if I prefer living more days or fewer.  I say more.  Well, then drink more V8, walk more, and drag another fat man out for racquetball from time to time, says he, or can't you do that? Am I asking for too much?  So I had a nice quiet walk, showered, made strong coffee, lit up a Fonseca 10-10, and pondered the world.  Tiring of the bad press reports coming out of Haiti, I read the papers (on Kindle) and sun light entered the cave.  Even the L.A. Times reports that the Dems are on the edge of the abyss in the Bay State.  (Also see Boston Globe, WaPo, NY Times).  That this is going to happen the day before Obama celebrates (?!) his first year in office might be attributed to bad fortune, or to good.  And it will happen in the most Democratic of states, the one with the late Senator wedded to nationalizing health care?  But what is certain in all these news stories in which ordinary folk's opinion are featured is that they know what to do when their opinion is being ignored and justice is no longer abstract and it looks like the great ax will fall.  Can Obama turn it around with a day trip?  I doubt it.
Categories > Elections