Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Global Warming Note

Margaret Wente has a good summary of the downward spiral of the climate change movement, even as the Netherlands rebukes the UN IPCC for factual inaccuracies related to the country's susceptibility to global warming, India forms its own climate change body after concluding that it "can't rely" upon the UN IPCC and a BBC poll shows that Brits are becoming increasingly skeptical of man-made global warming (74%) and global warming in general (25%).

Oh yeah - and DC is presently suffering the heaviest snowfall since 1922. Just mentioning.

Categories > Environment

Foreign Affairs

Ominous Thoughts from Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa, the iconic leader of Poland and the Solidarity movement which played such a pivotal role in the collapse of Communism, recently spoke on the state of America's global leadership.

The United States is only one superpower. Today they lead the world. Nobody has doubts about it. Militarily.  They also lead economically but they're getting weak. But they don't lead morally and politically anymore.  The world has no leadership.  The United States was always the last resort and hope for all other nations.  There was the hope, whenever something was going wrong, one could count on the United States.  Today, we lost that hope.

Alongside the likes of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II (who was particularly vital to Walesa) in the free West, Lech Walesa and others such as the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel in the communist East comprise the handful of heroes who delivered the world from communism. Walesa saw moral bankruptcy face-to-face in Soviet-controlled Poland - let us hope his vision of America, if correct, is a fleeting decline which Americans will be sufficiently diligent to correct.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Reagan Tribute

Today is the 99th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. I'm inadequate to the task of offering a proper tribute to the Gipper, so I merely direct attention to Paul Kengor's post at NRO's Corner and invite readers to offer their own links or thought on the legendary leader. 
Categories > Conservatism


Brothers-in-Arms and Prodigal Sons

One year after his election as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has commented that while Orthodox and Catholic Churches "have similar positions on many problems facing Christians in the modern world," he noticed "growing differences with Protestant denominations."

"Pope Benedict XVI has taken a stance close to the Orthodox one," the Patriarch noted, whereas "the Russian Church has seen less Protestant communities cooperating in the cause of preserving the Christian legacy" due to "the relentless liberalization of the Protestant world.

"Alas, not only have [Protestants] failed to conduct a real propagation of the Christian values among the secular society, many Protestant communities prefer to adjust to its standards."

Since the Great Schism in 1054 AD, Catholics and Orthodox have been a single church in imperfect communion - it's sort of like brothers in a thousand year family feud. Protestantism, on the other hand, broke communion with the ancient churches in the 16th century and now exists as a separate religion. As Catholics and Orthodox have recently made gestures toward reconciliation, the gulf between these faiths and Protestantism has continuously widened.

Comprising one-third of the world's population, these faiths constitute the dominant intellectual and moral force of Western history. The great question remains whether they are presently striving to guide Westerndom in the same direction.

Categories > Religion


Compromising with Socialists?

According to a Gallup poll, "a majority of Democrats and liberals say ... they have a positive view of socialism, compared to a minority of Republicans and conservatives."  Thankfully, members of both parties respond positively to "small business, free enterprise, and entrepreneurs."  The terms polled are noteworthy--Walter Lippmann invented the term "big business" as derisive, just as Marx (or his contemporaries) did for "capitalism."

Democrats today appear to be very much in the spirit of the man FDR called "their commander-in-chief," the future president who declared that socialism and democracy are in principle the same.

While Dems (apart from the outbursts of a silly staffer, of which the Hill is full) will likely not begin appealing explicitly to socialism, its functional equivalents of community, civil society (of a certain sort), and solidarity may appear more often in their rhetoric.  They would be better off heeding Bill Galston, who tries to dispute Harvey Mansfield's assault on Obamacare. 

Over 20 years ago the late John Wettergreen loved to call out liberals who labelled themselves "civic republicans" or such, in the spirit of the founders.  He once got a prominent American historian to admit that her talk of "republicanism" was simply a "chicken word for socialism."  Gallup seems to confirm that more on the left have gotten the courage of their convictions, or at least of their feelings.

Categories > Conservatism


Liberalism and Its Discontents

UVA political scientist Gerard Alexander exposes the liberal mindset by analyzing case after case of attributing conservative success to a failure of reason, on either the left or the right.  To an almost pathological extent, liberals can't seem to admit that it's the conservatives who might have reason on their side.  After they dig out of the snow, DC-area denizens can hear Gerard expound further at AEI this Monday evening.
Categories > Conservatism


We the People ... Continued

A young researcher in Philadelphia's "Historical Society of Pennsylvania" has reassembled an early draft of the U.S. Constitution penned by James Wilson in 1787.

I fully concur with the assessment of the find as the discovery of a national treasure, but more endearing still is the wonderful nerdiness of the researchers at the unfolding of the discovery: "This was national scripture, a piece of our Constitution's history. It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling." As other researchers "realized what was happening, there was a sort of hushed awe that settled over the reading room. One of them said the hair on her arms stood on end." Bless their little patriotic socks.

Categories > History


Owens on Obama's Pandering to Homosexual Interest Groups

"There are many foolish reasons to exclude homosexuals from serving in the armed services," writes Mackubin Thomas Owens in today's Wall Street Journal, but ". . . this does not mean that we should ignore the good ones."  The trouble with too much of the debate over the proposed revoking of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, is that it does precisely that.  Those in favor of permitting the service of openly gay individuals in the military are guilty of conflating opposition to the change with simple-minded anti-gay prejudice and they have never confronted (let alone answered) the serious arguments against them.  As Owens explains, the central and most imperative function of a military in a liberal society is to win the nation's wars.  All questions having to do the organization and regulation of that military must, of necessity, be subordinate to that over-arching aim.  There is no other (good) reason for us to maintain a military if it is not for this purpose.

Serious people--who otherwise have demonstrated no particular animosity to homosexuals and who have unquestionable experience in understanding what it takes to build a military capable of performing this function-- have argued, persuasively, that the presence of open homosexuals in the military is a problem for unit cohesion and, therefore, is a distraction from that all important function.  Their objections deserve a fair and open hearing, free from cheap cries of "homophobia" and simple-minded comparisons with racial bigotry from the peanut gallery.  The problem for cohesion, in this instance, has nothing to do with personal dislike on the part of soldiers or their commanders; it has to do with inherent and unchanging understandings of the nature of warfare and friendship.  We cannot insist that these things change just because we would like them to comport with some more "progressive" understanding of "fairness."  Well, I suppose we can petulantly "insist" upon it . . . but we do so at our peril; for nature is an even more stubborn thing than a liberal interest group. 
Categories > Military

Pop Culture


I'm reading into Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokesand I have been amused for at least ten minutes.  I was reminded of Ronald Reagan's definition of liberalism:"If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it."  Or this, about West Virginia: "What do a hurricane and a divorce in West Virginia have in common? Somebody's gonna lose a trailer."  There are more, but I practice self control.  OK, maybe not; just one more: "A woman gets into a cab and says, where can I get scrod?  The cabbie says, Gee, I've never heard it put in the pluperfect subjunctive before!"
Categories > Pop Culture


Abortion in Prime-Time

Tim Tebow and his mom are causing a circus of flurry among liberals with an anticipated 30 second pro-life ad during the Superbowl. Pam Tebow contracted dysentery while a missionary and was advised to abort her son rather than risk fetal defects. She refused, and Tim turned out to be not only one of the greatest athletes in sporting history, but likely one of its most worthy role-models.

Abortion groups immediately condemned the ad, which hasn't been released and apparently never actually mentions abortion, favoring the theme: "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life." NOW described such a message as "extraordinarily offensive and demeaning." Even some pro-choice advocates have been stunned by the hypocrisy and venom of their movement, leading a pro-choice WaPo column to scold that these fraudulent feminist groups "aren't actually 'pro-choice' so much as they are pro-abortion." Even the presidents of Planned Parenthood and the serpentine Catholics for Choice are alarmed by the vitriol (the pro-choice article contains useful statistics).

In case you were doubtful as to the need for moral advertisement, the WaPo also reports on the newest twist in broadcasting innovation: a "faux-reality Web-based docudrama featuring actors trying to decide whether to have an abortion." Viewers will be asked to cast votes - American Idol style - to decide whether the mothers abort. Tim Tebow, how we need thee now!

Categories > Bioethics

Health Care

Is Mandatory Health Insurance Constitutional?

Akhil Amar v. Rob Natelson

Categories > Health Care


Hayward Celebrates Earth Day

Just in time for the upcoming celebration of Earth Day and the pending release of a new edition of the perennial favorite, Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, our friends over at Infinite Monkeys, again feature our own Steve Hayward in their always entertaining "Ben and Joel Podcast."  In this edition, Steve discusses the impact of recent media events and discoveries on the public discussion of environmental issues.  How has the debate changed?  In what direction is it likely to move?  In what ways do both the right and the left need to be moderated in their understanding and approach to questions concerning the environment?  Is there any real potential for moderation and reason in the near future?  What is the most significant environmental challenge facing our planet today and why haven't you heard about it?  And, as a bonus, how will the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United affect the ongoing debate?
Categories > Environment


DOJ's Injustice Moderated

Concluding a threat which was somewhat close to my heart, the Dept. of Justice has cleared Bush administration attorneys targeted for memos they authored on interrogation techniques. In an act of unprecedented malice and intimidation, Obama initiated a witch-hunt on Bush officials who enforced policies with which he disagreed. Specifically, he directed the DOJ to investigate attorneys who had provided legal opinions confirming water-boarding and other enhanced interrogation measures were consistent with Geneva Convention requirements.

The President brought the power of the Department of Justice against attorneys of the former administration for providing a legal opinion with which he happened to disagree. I can imagine few examples of a more tyrannous and unprincipled assault on free-speech and democracy. Obama, through Attorney-General Holder, sought to punish civil servants for thinking differently than him (and the thinking was very plausibly correct on the substance).

DOJ originally concluded that the lawyers violated professional rules of conduct and sought disbarment (though the left demanded imprisonment). However, a final reviewer seems to have softened the conclusion to a mere reprimand. DOJ didn't explain the reversal, but noted the reviewer was "a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder." I'm certain the latter statement was meant to protect Holder from the reckless wrath of the bloodthirsty left, though it only serves to prove his truancy from the actual administration of justice.

Categories > Courts

Health Care

Now Why Would He Go and Do That?

Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland, has arranged to travel to the United States for heart surgery.  His decision "has raised eyebrows over his apparent shunning of Canada's health-care system."  I imagine it has.
Categories > Health Care


Obama's Budget Boost for Unions

It's not just in the modest 5% increase from 2009 in the Department of Labor 2011 budget--it's also where there's no increase at all for the Department's agencies--as in the Office of Labor Management Standards, which is responsible for making sure that unions are transparent in their expenses and don't violate workers' rights.  (In 2010--a bonanza year for the Department and for most DOL agencies--it got a cut of about 10%.)  See the last page of the linked document, top line.
Categories > Presidency


The Esoteric President

Esoteric writing, I hardly need remind many NLT readers, is a form of writing in which the writer appears to be saying one thing, but in fact, is saying another.  This technique often involves writing in such a way that the words, on the surface, suggest one conclusion, even as the underlying logic, if we follow it, suggests another.  Most people, experience shows, don't bother following the logic closely. It's too much work.

This post by Roy Cordato on Obama's energy policy reminded me of that idea. The President proposes to elimate "'subsidies' for fossil fuels."  Cordoto notes that that's open to question. The "subsidies" are not exactly what they seem. "In reality, to allow expensing of these payments is not a subsidy. It avoids the imposition of a tax penalty on oil drilling and is an example of how all production costs should be treated by the tax code."

"The immediate expensing of costs," Cordato argues, "puts all investment spending on an equal footing and ensures that the tax treatment of investments is consistent with sound economic principles of taxation."  And he summarizes. "So Obama, in proposing to eliminate expensing of these drilling costs, is not abolishing a tax subsidy, but is imposing a tax penalty. And, given his often-articulated disdain for fossil fuels, he is probably quite aware of this fact."

I am reminded of Obama's comment, when he was a candidate about his policy with regard to coal power.  There, his pride seems to have gotten the better of him, and he let the mask slip: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

In light of his clear preference for a single-payer health system, it is not unreasonable to speculate that he favors health reforms of the same sort.

Categories > Politics


The Pussilanimous GOP

Here is Ken Thomas' take on Obama's meeting with the GOP a few days ago.  He thinks Obama came out on top; the Republican Congressmen gave him legitimacy.  I like this paragraph: "The Republicans don't seem to realize that Obama's fall was the exposure of a student body president as a schoolyard bully. Republican deference to him enables him to play his former stellar role (albeit minus the Greek columns). This is seen most clearly in the whining of two members that the Democrats don't take their ideas seriously and that they are dissed as the party of No. Why treat Obama as though he has moral authority to grant legitimacy? Is he going to denounce Gramma Pelosi in front of them? (He didn't.)"
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Only Tocqueville Can Go To China?

A global prophesy upon which a growing consensus across the political, social and economic spectrum agree is that an emergent, dynamic China will vie for super-power status in the not-too-distant future. Roger Cohen finds his "mind wandering, fast-forwarding to 2040," and contemplating China's potential usurpation of America as the world's dominant nation. The contention is neither radical nor dependant upon radicalism - all things being equal, it is a potential (some argue, probable) consequence of present events. The physics of history dictate that forces in motion continue upon their trajectory absent a counter-force. As China is unlikely to encounter external opposition, the only question regards its risk of implosion.

In an attempt to analyze the nature of democracy in China, the American Enterprise Institute has used China as a test-case for the application of Tocqueville's political science in the modern world. The folks at AEI regard China as having entered a democratic social state governed through authoritarianism (as opposed to its opposite, liberal democracy). Tocqueville foresaw the advent of absolutism as the consequence of preferring equality above freedom. Liberal democracy requires a particular set of laws and mores (which Tocqueville recognized in America and found lacking in the French Revolution). I believe it would require a very discerning eye to detect them in China today.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

How Did Hugo Find Out...?

That America has a secret "earthquake weapon!"  Chevez, speaking truth to power, has blown the lid on the secret that "the 7.0 magnitude Haiti quake was caused by a U.S. test of an experimental shockwave system that can also create 'weather anomalies to cause floods, droughts and hurricanes.'" 

You can't make this stuff up.

I remember this technology from my childhood, and ironically, it seems Hugo was also a closet G.I. Joe fan, because it was called the Weather Dominator - and it was awesome. But, assuming we didn't use the weapon to target Haiti, wouldn't it be great if a group of American scientists locked away in an underground weapons lab were really nervous for a few moments as they waited to see if the world took Hugo's accusation seriously...? Al Gore, eat your hat.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Beyond Political Dispute

Harvey Mansfield thinks that we ought to take Obama's claims to "post-partisanship" more seriously.  Obama's critics have been quick to point out the many ways in which Obama's method of being beyond partisan politics seems only to be a cover for advancing the opinions an interests of his own party.  Fair as that critique may be on its surface, it seems that Mansfield does not think that it goes far enough.  Perhaps Obama's critics would be well-advised to stop pointing to what they take to be the President's cynicism and hypocrisy and, instead, focus their attention on the thing that Obama appears to take as an unquestioned "good."  What is post-partisanship and is it a thing worthy of citizens in a democratic-republic?  Perhaps Obama's critics give too much credit to the apple of his desire?

In keeping with the view that one always learns more about a person if he understands the man first as he understands himself, Mansfield eschews the easy course of looking for ulterior motives beneath the President's stated self-understanding.  Obama's claims to be "post-partisan" and to desire a kind of "post-partisanship" are serious ones that deserve more investigation and analysis.  But are they ends that are worthy of the dignity of America?  

In the first place, one can only think that "post-partisan" is a term of approbation if one is already, in fact, beyond politics.  In other words, one only admires those who are beyond politics if one exists in the realm where perfect reason (or, what's more likely, what one takes to be perfect reason) rules. One can only admire the attempt to takes things off the table if one is closed off to argument and political dispute or, quite literally, beyond it.  In this realm, one need not discuss such arcane questions as the goodness or the badness of more government involvement in the administration of health care.  The only questions for such people are when and how we are going to get government involved and how effective it can/must be when it does get involved.  It's a kind of "how to" rather than a "why" politics.  

But this is unworthy of Americans.  In a regime where the people (rather than a monarch and his minions) is sovereign,  trying to occupy heights where the big questions of justice are beyond politics or political dispute is no special or particular kind of virtue.  As Mansfield shows, this kind of "politics" in Obama (if one may call it that) is responsible both for his successes and his failures.  There is something in his certainty that both appeals and repulses and there is much in our constitutional order that does not permit his ultimate success without a serious fight.  Those who reject Obama's "politics" would do well do work harder at understanding this apparent contradiction in the souls of Americans, to say nothing of the constitutional order that has--up till now, anyway--kept us free from the worst of this electoral schizophrenia.

Mansfield notes another seeming contradiction in discussing Obama and what makes him tick:

He lets us know that he admires Abraham Lincoln, yet his speeches could not be more different from Lincoln's in respect to argument. Lincoln used argument to transcend momentary feelings. Obama avoids it by recourse to vacuous words like "change" and"hope," never saying toward what or for what.

This strikes me as an especially keen insight into the political soul of Obama.  There can be no doubt that he is an admirer of Lincoln's . . . but why?  What is it about Lincoln that he purports to admire?  During the campaign he suggested that it had something to do with Lincoln's ability to unite discordant political elements in the pursuit of a common and higher purpose--a la Doris Kearns Goodwin's fine work, Team of Rivals.  But how well did Obama understand Lincoln in this?  Lincoln certainly did unite some discordant elements to achieve that higher purpose--and he did it with a seeming kind of Solomonic wisdom impossible not to admire (I suspect, even, if one was only his "worthy" opponent).  But he also--as many of our Confederate sympathizing friends will be quick to point out--was not afraid of an argument that might divide.  I suspect that Obama views himself in something of a similar position to Lincoln's--which is revealing in itself--and that the idea of Progress takes the place of Union in this metaphor.  Obama is also not afraid of potential division, but he appears to be afraid of a genuine argument.  But if Obama wants only to compare himself by way of method and forms to Lincoln, he ought to examine Lincoln's a little more carefully.  How did Lincoln manage these political movements that Kearns Goodwin and so many other have rightly admired?  What was his appeal or method of persuasion?  (Oops, I already said too much in saying "persuasion.")  Surely, Lincoln was a shrewd political actor.  But he was more than that and, if we are to keep to our admonition that we learn more about men by understanding them as they understand themselves, then we ought to consult Lincoln more than Barack Obama in order to discover that thing that Lincoln considered the real demarcation of human improvement and progress--and therefore, the thing above all other things that an American statesman ought to strive toward when speaking to his fellow citizens.  Lincoln appealed to the minds as well as to the hearts of his fellow citizens.  He didn't consider anything--except the truth of human equality in rights--to be "off the table."  And his understanding and respect for this ultimate principle made it imperative, for him, to be willing at all times and everywhere to give account of it. 

Lincoln did not consider that progress was simply a collective movement of souls dragged along in history's path by their betters--whether willing or unwilling to follow. True progress--if it is to come to a people--must come by the slow process of individual growth toward natural and higher ends--which suggest limits even as they proclaim possibilities.  Progress is a thing that must be achieved again and again--by individuals and communities--as human generations come into and go out of being.  Progress is not, necessarily, a cumulative thing--though it appears from the context of the lecture here delivered by Lincoln that he suspects that it could be imperiled equally by a false "over estimate" of human reason as it once was by a "false underestimate" of it.  In Barack Obama's case, it is hard to tell whether it is an over estimate or an under estimate of human reason--or some combination of the two--that is more responsible for his failure in the first year of his Presidency.  I suspect that it is some combination of the two things.  For he under estimate's the capacity of the American people (perhaps, deliberately so) to handle debate about the ends and purposes of government and, sensing that, they call him condescending and arrogant.  At the same time, he over estimates the capacities of those he considers the enlightened (or "progressive") few to govern with necessary wisdom and he has relied--perhaps fatally--upon his own political shrewdness to gloss over their inadequacies.  One can call this approach to American government many things . . . but Lincolnian is not one of them.

Categories > Presidency


A Threat from Tehran

Could this be what Joe Biden was talking about when he said that Obama would be tested by America's enemies?
Categories > Politics


The Trouble with Unions

This story reminds us why Unions, however necessary sometimes, can also cause a great deal of trouble.

A Queens teacher who collects a $100,000 salary for doing nothing spends time in a Department of Education "rubber room" working on his law practice and managing 12 real-estate properties worth an estimated $7.8 million, The Post found.

Alan Rosenfeld hasn't set foot in a classroom for nearly a decade since he was accused in 2001 of making lewd comments to junior-high girls and "staring at their butts," yet the department still pays him handsomely for sitting on his own butt seven hours a day. . . .

The DOE can't fire him.

"We have to abide by the union contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

Categories > Economy