Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Cold Water

Ron Paul may have won the CPAC straw poll, but from what I saw, Marco Rubio got the best reaction.  The crowd didn't just love him, they wanted to love him really badly.  But there were parts where his message and his thinking could have been sharper.  Here are some thoughtful criticisms by David Frum that bear some thinking about and some hyperbolic criticisms by Daniel Larison that are worth answering, if only as a prelude to coming up with a governing conservatism.  I generally share Rubio's perspective and I sure favor him over a glad hander like Charlie Crist, but the George W. Bush years taught us something about the potential pitfalls of careless rhetoric and thinking.   
Categories > Politics


The Continuing Climate Follies

I sounded off again in the New York Post yesterday about the continuing collapse of the climate campaign. Among other observations, it is increasingly apparent that the climategate e-mails have done for the climate change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War debate 40 years ago--changed the narrative decisively.  All of Al Gore's horses and all of of Al Gore's men can't put this Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Meanwhile, I have fled to Montana to escape the snow and ice and cold in Washington DC (so how freaky is that?), and the Bozeman Chronicle gave a nice write up to the lunch talk I gave to a property rights group in Bozeman on Thursday about the climate collapse.  Though this was a property rights group, a lot of them seemed equally concerned with the Second Amendment, judging from some of the hardware a few of them were packing.  The story leaves out my suggestion that the US should make any climate assistance to the developing world agreed to at Copenhagen contingent on the recipient nation establishing secure property rights for individuals (Bangladesh rates a measly 20 points on a 0 - 100 scale for property rights protection on one transnational index, for example).  I'm sure if we make this our position at future climate negotiations, heads will explode at the UN.

On tap today: Skiing in Big Sky.  No shortage of global warming snow here.

UPDATE (already):  Absolutely do not miss Walter Russell Mead's latest beatdown of the climate campaign over at The American Interest.  Mead has been writing some great stuff on this, but today he is on fire, and makes me look like a squish.  He says the climate campaign is "doorknob dead."  Small sample:

Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway-an unforgiving place for people who seek to change the behavior of the world through comprehensive treaties, like the nuclear freeze proponents before them and like the advocates of the Grand Global Treaty Against War in the 1920s. . .   This phase of the climate change movement was immature, unrealistic and naive.  It was poorly organized and foolishly led.  It adopted an unrealistic and unreachable political goal, and sought to stampede world opinion through misleading and exaggerated statements.

Mead harshest words are reserved for that distinguished Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore.
Categories > Environment


Meritocracy without Merit

David Brooks has no regard for the old Establishment and admires the new meritocracy based on equality of opportunity. 

Yet here's the funny thing. As we've made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We've increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It's not even clear that society is better led.

The elites of finance, government, and journalism, for example, have not produced better policy than before.  Brooks proposes some interesting possibilities for these lousy results:  there is too much transparency (and therefore less trust) in government, there is less mutual trust within each elite, merit has been ill-defined, and quick results count more than steady growth. 

But Brooks is describing what Progressives have wanted from their new vision of government.  See Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a century ago.  The character of elites in fact reflects the perversity of meritocratic education.  (See Plato's Gorgias or recall the foul-mouthed Ivy League-educated traders at the beginning of Bonfire of the Vanities.)  Moreover, Brooks avoids discussing the effects of feminism and its peculiar place in the pathology of elites and meritocracy.  Racial preferences would seem to play little role, but the power of sex does.  One observation:  Consider women who started their careers as public school teachers and wound up in powerful Washington positions.  Were their former teaching positions occupied by people as talented?  The women who rose doubtless went to more satisfying positions but at a social cost.

Consider as well the abolition of the draft.  It is hard to imagine Professors Seth Benardete, Harvey Mansfield, or James V. Schall as army privates, but there they were.  The professionalization of the military made it more effective but again at a social cost. 

We observe one of the problems of a free society:  the individual good frequently clashes with the social good.  Statesmanship seeks to harmonize the two, but no one is rushing to fulfil this obligation.  

Categories > Education


Tax Reform, Human Nature, and Big Government

If I recall the thesis of Cass Sunstein's book Nudge correctly, it argues that people are irrational in predictable ways. It notes that if the default option is to buy into a pension system with one's employer most people will do so, but if they default goes the other way, most will not, and other such quirks of human behavior.

Would this apply to taxes?  When there is automatic witholding, people don't notice how much money our government is taking from our paychecks. That's probably too strong.  People certainly notice, but I suspect that it doesn't have the same impact as it would if the money were in hand first.  The current system, I suspect, makes it easier to allow taxes to rise and government to grow.  It thus lowers the threshold for deciding when a government progam is called for to solve a particular problem.  If, however, we changed the system, and ended witholding, would that change things?  Having to pay up every April 15th, rather than waiting for a refund every spring (as so many do, since they withold too much), might change the bias in our system?

Perhaps it would make no difference, but I suspect not. At the very least, it would make our system more transparent.

Categories > Economy


Worth the Nonsense

So I'm reading John Kenneth White's Barack Obama's America and it is worth the time.  I've rarely read a book whose virtues and vices are so well illustrated by its back cover blurbs.  The praise of pollsters Stan Greenberg and Richard Wirthlin gives some idea of the book's power in explaining demographic trends.  White demonstrates how quickly many communities have changed and the consequences of so many new voters who have little or no personal experience of the 1970s and 1980s.  This puts some perspective to Mike Pence's question to Obama in which he compared Obama's job creation tax credits to failed Carter-era policies.  How many Americans, because of recent arrival or youth (or both) had no clue what Pence was talking about?

White does a good job explaining  the consequences of the Republican party's failure to win over new constituencies and how California is a preview.  The Orange County based California -47 district didn't just send a conservative Republican to Congress.  It sent the cartoonish Robert Dornan.  Now it is a reliably Democratic district represented by the liberal Loretta Sanchez.  He also highlights the expansion of Latino populations in places like Geogia and Virginia.  White is correctly relentless in explaining the consequences of a Republican party that loses nonwhites by huge margins.  One of my worries is that the rhetoric and institutions of the American Right (conservative talk radio, Fox News, the tea parties, even the Scott Brown campaign) are having trouble connecting or even talking to  large segments of the American public and missing out on making many converts and allies.  White lays out gives some sense of the scale of the challenge.

The endorsement of the foolish and shallow Kathleen Kennedy Townsend  gives an idea of the distorted liberal mythologizing that mars the book.  White just can't bring himself to describe why people ever voted for conservative candidates without smugly writing off their concerns and principles and substituting 1980s vintage liberal rationalizations.  The reader will be enriched to learn that Americans voted for conservatives because the New Deal made them wealthy, selfish, anti-tax skinflints, and that Reagan "spellbound" them with nostalgic appeals to an idealized past.  This was the same whiny nonsense you could have gotten from a bitter and not-too-bright Mondale staffer after three drinks.  Its good to know that people had no valid concerns about staglation, unemployment, bracket creep, crime, or the structure of the welfare system.  Otherwise, White might have had to rethink his prejudices.  White isn't as bad as Paul Krugman when it comes to mythologizing away liberal defeats, but it gets bad enough that he can't produce a clear picture of Reagan (and late 1900s conservatism's) appeal.  It is just a fairytale for liberal interested in self-congratulation.

White's judgement is off in other ways.  While he mentions the Iraq War,White attributes Rick Santorum's defeat to chaning opinions about gender roles and cultural liberalism generally.  You won't learn the Democrats knocked Santorum off when they nominated a pro-lifer. He attributes Arlen Specter switching parties due to evidence that a Republican could not win satewide in Pennsylvania. I seem to remember it had more to do with polls showing that Pat Toomey was crushing him in the race for the Republican nomination.  Its not like Specter was reticent  about why he switched parties. 

I came away from White's book wondering how much the challenges for conservatives in post-Reagan era America resembled the challenges of pre-Reagan era America.  In 1964, we had just been taught that if the parties were ever ideologically polarized, liberal Democrats would always win and conservative Republicans would always lose.  Conservatives faced the difficult task of making inroads among constituencies that revered liberal icons and were suspicious-to-hosile to conservatives.  We did it before and we can do it again.        

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Ashbrook Award at CPAC

C-SPAN ran George Will's talk at CPAC last night (begins at about 14th minute) as well as the annual Ashbrook Award (begins at about 46th minute) to Roy Innis.

Why global warming is bad

It apparently causes acne, melanoma, kidney stones, and asthma; it confuses birds, threatens Buddhist temples, robs Italy of pasta, causes giant squid to migrate, affects the sex life of crocodiles, pushes poor women into prostitution; brings infestations of spiders, toads, vampire moths (but apparently no locusts--yet); extinctions of bats, turtles, pandas, koalas, orangutans; UFO sightings, and much, much more!

NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?  Don't answer yet....


Outreach and Diversity

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of my favorite liberal bloggers.  I think he often gets it wrong (but then again I would), but I also thinks he makes an honest effort to be fair, and that is all I can really ask of anybody.  We also seem to have alot of nerd interests in common.  Here is Coates writing about Michael Steele's election as RNC chairman.  It is worth a read.  I'll still be here when you come back.

One thing that strikes me is Coates writing that making Steele RNC chairman is the begining of something.  I disagree, and I still would even if Steele had turned out to be less gaffe-prone.  The GOP's problem with African-Americans (in its modern form) has never been that it has been too slow to promote African-Americans into its party elites or appoint African-Americans to high office.  It has been an inability to win over African-American voters beyond that 10% of African-Americans who seem to have bought into some version of the conservative narrative of the recent past.  Since the problem is not the lack of inclusion of African-Americans into highly visible party elites, it can't be the answer - or at least not the crucial first part of the answer.  In fact, to the extent that pursuing outreach primarily by expanding the role of African-American Republicans in visible positions might actually give the false impression of progress when none is really happening, one could just be wasting time.  The sad truth is that Republicans would not do much better among African-Americans if they nominated an all African-American presidential ticket.  This doesn't mean that Republicans should not try to recruit African-American candidates and office holders, it just means that hopes for political returns in the form of higher vote totals among African Americans should be kept modest.

So what to do?  The first thing is to figure out what you need in order to win over a constituency the majority of whom are deeply suspicious of your party.  It starts with an understanding of the dominant narrative of the past within the constituency. That means understanding how the dominant narrative of the role of the federal government, the history of freedom, and American exceptionalism (among other issues) might, if one is not careful, alienate conservatives even from those African-Americans who might share their policy preferences on taxes, abortion, cap and trade, health care or whatever.  This is a huge rhetorical problem because it means examining virtually every word from a perspective of the past that most conservative have not internalized.  The second is crafting a policy agenda that is compelling enough to win people over even when, by history and sentiment, they would be inclined to vote for the other party.  This is a huge problem too, and there are no easy answers.  My first tentative suggestion is that it is unwise to focus too much on any one issue.  The third is the commitment to investing the time and other resources needed to get your message out and convince people that you are serious about representing thier interests and principles and getting their votes.  Coates was right when he wrote, "your persistence is more important than your [expletive]."  If you don't get those three things right, it doesn't matter what else you do or don't have. 

One thing Coates wrote did rankle.  It was when he wrote about the modern Republican party "celebrating its own homogeneity".  I think the idea of the modern Republican party being homogenous (or having an identity as homogenous) is literally an optical illusion.  The Republican party that emerged from the 1970s had more religious, ethnic, and regional diversity than the its earlier incarnation.  Its just that we aren't used to thinking of adding white Southerners, evangelical Christians, Boston Irish-Catholics, and Wisconsin Polish-Americans to a group as adding diversity.  But it is.  This history of the Republican party both moving to the right and expanding its demographic base, should provide some hope that the Republican party (which is of course the country's more conservative party) will have a chance to prosper within the country's changing demographics - even if it will take alot more wisdom and skill than its leaders have shown lately.    


Categories > Race

Political Parties

Resentment and Populism

George Will is at his best with this column on Sarah Palin.  Good paragraph:
"America, its luck exhausted, at last has a president from the academic culture, that grating blend of knowingness and unrealism. But the reaction against this must somewhat please him. That reaction is populism, a celebration of intellectual ordinariness. This is not a stance that will strengthen the Republican Party, which recently has become ruinously weak among highly educated whites. Besides, full-throated populism has not won a national election in 178 years, since Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832."

Categories > Political Parties

Pop Culture

Has the Final Countdown begun on Countdown?

Nick Gillespie of Reason wonders how long Keith Olbermann's show can remain on the air, and notes the similarities between the hysterical talk-show host and first, a certain dramatic chipmunk (actually a prairie dog), and second, Captain Queeg.

And, in case you're questioning the value of an armed populace, consider this.

Categories > Pop Culture

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Django Reinhardt

Will Friedwald reminds us of a great jazz guitarist some of us still listen to.  Here is J'attendrai Swing from 1939; you can not only hear him (and his band), but also see him playing.


Obama's Nuclear Option

Rarely have I enjoyed the opportunity to praise the Obama administration, and I would hardly have thought the chance would present itself in the context of environmentalism and energy policy. However, Obama "seized a key Republican energy initiative as his own Tuesday, promising $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees for a pair of Georgia [nuclear] reactors."

The nuclear initiative serves the president's agenda on a number of fronts, from climate-change and clean-energy to job-creation and lessening U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Further, it is a practical compromise on Obama's part. Having achieved little to nothing of his presidential agenda by way of unilateral force, Obama realizes that he needs to pass something - anything - before the November elections. A bipartisan compromise offering talking points on jobs, national security and energy is a blessing.

Of course, the devil's in the details. Obama can still wreck the proposal by refusing to loosen burdensome regulations which have stalled the nuclear industry for 30 years. Government loans are only necessary because government regulations make nuclear energy unprofitable - Obama's gesture will prove just another fiscal black hole unless the industry is untethered from environmental oppression. This will infuriate the left - but that might serve Obama's interests among moderates.

Republicans would be wise to seize on this gesture and ensure voters that they are happy to compromise on reasonable, bipartisan legislation. But they must restrain Obama's inevitable impulse toward liberal excesses, which will appear in the form of cap-and-trade proposals to accompany the nuclear initiative. Supporting nuclear energy while opposing cap-and-trade as an environmental tax hike, Republicans can emerge as both bipartisan and fiscally responsible.

But that's a price Obama should be willing to pay for a demonstrable accomplishment at this point. If he'd taken this approach with health-care, he would likely be touting a Clintonesque, bipartisan victory (however partial, from his perspective) rather than the humiliating and self-destructive defeat which he orchestrated. 

Categories > Technology


Apolitical Journalism as Spin and Ideological Journalism as... Journalism

Are the New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee-Brenan on some kind of Democratic spin mission (h/t to liberal blogger Jamelle Bouie)?  Do they actually think it is more relevant that Obama polls better than congressional Republicans and George W. Bush than Obama's sinking job approval and his even lower approval on the issues?  It is amazing that Nagourney and Thee-Brenan build three anti-Republican, anti-filibuster, pro-Obama paragraphs around cherry picked poll respondent quotes, but couldn't find room to mention Obama's horrible 35/55 approve/disapprove split on the issue of health care.  It reminds me of when Sean Hannity used to argue that Palin was a viable general election presidential candidate because she polled better than Nancy Pelosi.  Well part of Hannity's business is spinning things for his side and comforting his audience.  Nagourney and Thee-Brenan too I guess. 

Then there is Rich Lowry on how the polls might understate the problems of swing-district or swing-state Democrats.  Lowry notes that Obama's job approval numbers are worse among white voters than among the population in general and that Obama's approval numbers on policy are even worse than his job approval numbers.  Lowry correctly notes that this kind of data should give Democrats that represent constituencies with few nonwhite voters plenty of reason to worry.  Yea, Lowry is a political guy, but it is solid analysis and not spin.

I also note that the circumstances of Obama's fairly low job approval are also subject to change, and not in ways conservatives should like.  Lowry later publishes an email from a friend who argues that the economy will probably recover faster than most conservatives assume and that conservatives had better be ready for the changed circumstances.  I'm not optimistic.  I also think that Republicans should get back to reminding the voters in every speech about what was wrong with Obamacare (the tax increases, the premium increases, the mandates, the Medicare cuts) rather than process stuff.  If Obama's job approval were a stock, I would say that it might not have quite hit bottom, but it is a buy and hold. 

Then again, I'm one of the last people you should go to for stock advice on actual stocks. 

Categories > Journalism

Health Care

The American Prospect's Evolving Thoughts on Political Compromise

Pete Spiliakos calls our attention to Paul Waldman's uncompromising ideas about a health care compromise.  Writing for The American Prospect's blog, Waldman rejected the idea that Democrats should even consider anything beyond token concessions to get some Republican votes for a health care reform bill. 

"Democrats are the ones in charge," writes Waldman. "They won the last election. The starting presumption ought to be that they have a right to implement their agenda. If there's compromising to be done, Republicans ought to be doing most of it. After all, they're the minority, not the majority. They're the ones who lost the last election. Why is that so hard to understand?"

Well, there are at least two reasons for the world's stubborn refusal to see what's screamingly obvious to Waldman.  One of them is noted by Ross Douthat of the New York Times.  Waldman, he says, is writing as though the political situation in February 2010 is indistinguishable from the one in February 2009.  It isn't.  Barack Obama's approval ratings have dropped below 50%, Republicans have won big victories in the blue states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and public opinion polls show the Democrats' health care proposal has more opponents than supporters.  All of these signs argue the mid-term elections are going to be unpleasant for the Democrats.  It's easy for writers to tell politicians to ignore the next election and think only about the mandate conferred by the last one.  The problem is that the sort of politicians who take that advice either don't get elected to Congress, or don't stay very long once they arrive.

The second problem is Waldman's magazine had a less sweeping view on the prerogatives of the majority in the ancient days of 2005.  In 2004 a Republican president won a second term; Republicans gained three seats in the House of Representatives, securing a 232-202 majority; and four seats in the Senate, where the GOP held a 55-45 majority.  I don't recall lots of liberal journalists looking at those numbers five years ago and saying that if there are any compromises to be made, Democrats ought to be the ones making them.

Instead, the American Prospect was applauding the evidence that Senate Democrats have "already been very impressive in using their leverage to make points and cause a little mischief when the opportunity arises," and that they discovered this capacity because they "resisted the myth that 'obstructionism' is politically deadly and to be avoided."  When some Capitol Hill Democrats did indicate they might look for a compromise on Pres. Bush's Social Security reforms, the Prospect was contemptuous: "Democrats are winning this fight, and should accept nothing less than surrender."

In February 2010 Republicans believe that the Democratic approach to health care reform is fundamentally flawed as a matter of policy, and unalterably disliked by a majority of the people as a fact of politics.  They believe, in other words, that they are winning this fight and should accept nothing less than surrender.  Why is that so hard to understand?

Categories > Health Care


The Tea-Party and Imperial Traditions

Richard Samuelson, an American historian at Princeton's Madison Program this year, relates today's tea parties to the protests of the 1770s and also today's Progressive administrative state to the Imperial government suffered by the colonists.  Samuelson's conclusion:

Now we can see how today's tea parties resemble those of yesteryear. As more and more government operations are taken off the books, popular frustration rises. Similarly, and ironically, bureaucracies often serve the industries they regulate rather than the public good. When the government is unresponsive to the views of the people, and, beyond that, when our administrative and judicial branches restrict the scope of the people's legislative rights, protest rises. President Obama, an heir to the Progressive tradition, wants to strengthen this unaccountable, administrative state. The response has been altogether fitting.

A further comparison of some major Obama policies (such as its handling of terrorists) with the first grievances in the Declaration is also appropriate.

Categories > History

Political Parties

Good Politics

The news of the day and the week and the month is a dysfunctional Congress, a hyper-partisan Congress, a broken system without leadership, even brain-dead politics.  John Podesta, a Democrat and an Obama man, said to a British paper that the health of US politics "sucks".  Evan Bayh agrees.  This, of course, is wrong.  This WSJ Editorial is closer to the truth: We are in the middle of the fourth Liberal crackup and the so-called mess is not unprecedented in American politics. 

Equally pregnant with meaning, a student said something interesting to me yesterday.  He said he now understood why the first book we read as Freshmen is Xenophon's "Education of Cyrus"; the class is Understanding Politics.  Other things aside, men are hard to govern, X begins.  Then the student said that American men may be especially hard to govern.  I said, yup, not bad, that's why you to try to understand the American mind and read the Constitution the second semester; the class is clalled Democracy in America. Our current politics isn't brain dead politics at all and the system isn't broken.  It's working exactly as it should.  It is supposed to be messy and inefficient; it's supposed to be difficult to form a majority and even once formed, it should be difficult to govern. That majority had better be a constitutional one, or the people will not be amused. The people prefer self-government to being pushed around by haughty lefties.  Yet they are open to being persuaded, they are willing to have conversations about things; but they are unwilling to be called names, or to have "the system" decried. 

Now--over the next year or two--we will find out if the Republicans can explain to folks why this is a good thing, and why politics is much more than "public policy" and "problem solving" as the progressives would have us think. If Republicans can do this--use these interesting times to make a powerful argument for limited constitutional government and why it is a fine thing--they will prosper, as will the American way of self-government.  In the meantime, those Democrats who claim to be in the majority (and claim to be representing the interest of the people) but continue to whine about how they cannot get anything done will continue to suck pond water.  

Categories > Political Parties


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Shrove (or, colloquially, Fat) Tuesday has sadly concluded the spectacle of Venice's carnival (Latin: farewell to meat), and today, Ash Wednesday (the Dies Cinerum: Day of Ashes), marks the commencement of the 40-day Lenten season of fasting and penance preceding Easter. Before the altar, faithful around the world will be marked by the ashes of last year's Palm Crosses as priests exhort: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and hear the Gospel."

It is traditional to "give up" something for Lent - usually smoking, chocolate or some other annoying habit. I overheard someone comment that Barrack Obama would be giving up free-market capitalism. Whereas my usual custom is to give up whale meat, arctic swimming and big game hunting in Africa during Lent, I'm thinking of something more spiritually fulfilling this year - perhaps a cover-to-cover Bible reading (it's about two books / day). I'd welcome any suggestions from our fair readers.... 

Categories > Religion

Health Care

Health Care, Costs, and Progress

This article caught my eye:

"Patients interview you," said Dr. Cadeddu, a urologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "They say: 'Do you use the robot? O.K., well, thank you.' " And they leave.

On one level, robot-assisted surgery makes sense. A robot's slender arms can reach places human hands cannot, and robot-assisted surgery is spreading to other areas of medicine.

But robot-assisted prostate surgery costs more -- about $1,500 to $2,000 more per patient. And it is not clear whether its outcomes are better, worse or the same. . . .

It is also not known whether robot-assisted prostate surgery gives better, worse or equivalent long-term cancer control than the traditional methods, either with a four-inch incision or with smaller incisions and a laparoscope. And researchers know of no large studies planned or under way.

The reason why I found this story interesting is because of the problem it presents for nationalizing health care.  Given such studies, it seems likely that a government panel would refuse to fund the robotic surgery.  The trouble is that, it is entirely possible that in five years, given continued funding, practice, experimentation, and technical development, that could change.  And it's probably that the cost of robotic surgery has come down over time. Would a technocrat, looking at this study conclude that it's best to save money by not funding such (potential) innovation?  After all, it is possible that, in this case, there will be no further progress or cost savings.  When there's one big, unified system, there's much less room for innovation.  Sometimes, the civil servants guess which technology is the way of the future, and then we're stuck with it, whether it works or not.  The less unified the system, the more room there is for trial and error, argument, innovation, and competition, for both trying new things, and for deserting failed experiments.  This is the sense in which it's proper to say that the market is more efficient than the alternatives.  It is terribly inefficient in the narrow sense, since so many experiments fail.  But the pace of innovation is usually much more rapid. 

Categories > Health Care


Apropos of nothing, of course, it would appear that Lake Erie has frozen over for the first time in fourteen years.

In the world of fashion design, heavier fabrics--even fur--have been making a comeback.  The fabulous Olympic skater Johnny Weir has, however, decided to switch to fake fur after receiving death threats from animal rights activists.

We continue to learn more interesting tidbits about the personality of Amy Bishop.

Finally, today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that we got our little girl


Stop Crying

Paul Waldman is upset that "compromise" between Democrats and Republican would involve liberal activists losing large chunks of their dream for state-run health care.  I mean if winning two straight elections based on a mismanaged war and a banking collapse doesn't entitle you transform health care, then what does?  I mean after all, elections have consequences right?

The problem is that the Republicans have, for the moment, won the public argument over whether the versions of Obamacare passed in 2009 were good policy.  That meant that Republicans had little to lose in opposing those plans and swing-district House Democrats and swing-state (which I guess now includes Massachusetts) Senate Democrats risked everything to support them. 

The unpopularity of Obamacare is really the story of the Senate Republicans' party discipline on the issue.  It ain't majic.  The Republican Senate moderates like Snowe and Collins are unprincipled and publicity-hungry, just like Ben Nelson, but have a keener sense of their political interests.  They would sell out Mitch McConnell for pez if they thought it would increase their approval ratings at home and get them the first segment on the 6:30 network news shows.  If Obamacare were polling in the mid-50s, at least one of the Maine Senators would have found that Obamacare + a big federal check for Maine (Moose moolah) = The Bipartisan Change America Needs.

That means that winning Republican support for a health care reform plan will involve substantive concessions.  All the whining about how the Democrats having won the last two elections obligates the Republicans to support Obamacare in return for some policy crumbs won't change the political incentives at work.  The Democrats have come up with two plans that alienate the vast majority of Republicans on substantive grounds.  The bills are unpopular, so the opportunistic "moderate" Republicans can't be bought off with some home-state bucks - heck they were so unpopular that the Democratic congressional leadership could barely buy off its own members.    

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Africa and the West

The New York Times reports that colonialism is alive and well:

In neighboring Uganda, the homosexuality issue has become front-page news after a lawmaker with the governing party proposed executing gay people. Most people in Uganda support criminalizing homosexuality, and an anti-gay bill is being debated by the cabinet. But in recent interviews, many people said they thought imposing the death penalty was going too far.

The anti-gay bill has catalyzed a firestorm of criticism, with many of Uganda's foreign aid donors voicing concern and some even threatening to cut off much needed help. In recent weeks, the Ugandan government has indicated that it may water down the bill or scrap it all together. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's powerful president, who has been in office for 24 years, recently expressed apprehensions about the bill because it was becoming a "foreign policy issue."

"The prime minister of Canada came to see me, and what was he talking about? Gays," Mr. Museveni said. "Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me, and what was he talking about? Gays. Mrs. Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays."

Andrew Wasswa, a gay activist in Uganda, said he attended a meeting on Wednesday between several gay rights activists and high-ranking government officials, but it still was not clear what the government was going to do.

"They kept asking us, 'Why all this criticism, why all this pressure?' " he said. "They seemed more concerned about the foreign pressure than anything."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


PC Soldiers

Drawing on his military experience, the Sage of Mt. Airy points out the dangers of the political correct (on environment, religion, sexuality) military to mission effectiveness.  Peer pressure

works by forcing those soldiers whose principal concern is military effectiveness (and thank God there's still plenty of them) to simply accept the PC codes as part of the "given" in any problem they face. Political correctness is, with a "can do" shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, simply accepted as one more obstacle to be overcome. The effective officer figures out a way to work around it.

But the way around it is always inefficient, sometimes dangerous and far too often dispiriting. My son is a U.S. Army First Lieutenant currently serving in Iraq. When I asked him about his training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi immediately prior to his deployment he answered with this: "Dad, I'm not sure how we'll perform in combat, if and when we engage the enemy, but one thing I do know, we'll sure as hell not sexually harass them."

Now I suspect some of you may think I'm overstating the case. If so, ask yourself this question, or better yet, ask it of anyone you know (male or female, straight or gay, white or not) who holds a position of command in the military, at any level of responsibility: Is their duty of disciplining a poor performing soldier complicated or simplified if the individual in question is a straight white male? We all know the answer to this.

Categories > Military


Evan Bayh Quits

ABC News is reporting that Sen. Evan Bayh (D) will not run for re-election.    Dan Coats has announced that he will run for the seat.
Categories > Elections


Stop Calling It "President's Day"!

Unless you want a day to honor William Henry Harrison.  It remains Washington's Birthday, George Washington scholar Matthew Spalding insists.  (See his book, co-authored with Patrick Garrity, which remains the best book on Washington's ideas.)

The Monday Holiday Law in 1968--applied to executive branch departments and agencies by Richard Nixon's Executive Order 11582 in 1971--moved the holiday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Section 6103 of Title 5, United States Code, currently designates that legal federal holiday as "Washington's Birthday." Contrary to popular opinion, no action by Congress or order by any President has changed "Washington's Birthday" to "President's Day."
Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

My Stinky Valentine

Nothing says "I love you" like poop!
Categories > Pop Culture


I mean, seriously, could it?

Et tu, Phil Jones?

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with my parents, who live in southern Florida, near Naples.  The high there today is in the low sixties.  I am now more firmly convinced than ever by the reality of global warming, because 1) when we went to visit them in January, the highs were in the fifties, and 2) it wasn't snowing, either then or now.

Or wait--is it lack of snow that means there's global warming, or excessive snow?  I'm having trouble keeping that part straight.

Categories > Environment

The Founding

Was the Founding Christian?

This NY Times Sunday Magazine article strains to get it right but doesn't quite get there.  Using the Texas textbook adoption controversy as a hook, author Russell Shorto reports on the Christian Right's attempt to link the Declaration of Indendence (with its multiple references to God, in various forms) and the Constitution.  Shorto (and probably many of the activists he interviewed) could have noted the pairing of American time and Christian time at the end of the original Constitution.  It is retained even today in presidential proclamations, as in this latest one, for American Heart Month:  "done in the year of our Lord 2010."  If one protests that this expression was merely a convention of the time, that actually strengthens rather than weakens the Founding as Christian argument:  Conventions such as that have weight in our original understanding of the text.

One should consider the constitutional commands ("shall") that public officials shall take oaths to support the Constitution but that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."   This summarizes the issue well:  There was a public expectation of reverence or piety (the oath requirement) but without demanding a sectarian commitment.  

Contemporary secularists have grotesquely expanded the private sphere to shove religion out of the public sphere.  As religion fights its way back, its adherents need to consider all of the language and argument of the Declaration of Independence and thus unite spirit and reason. 

Categories > The Founding

Men and Women

Valentine's Day Advice: Marry Young?

Regular readers of NLT know that one of my favorite questions to explore is the extent to which that which we call "common knowledge" is really just received opinion.   While I often argue that people would do better to listen to the dictates of "common sense"--too often, what happens instead, is that people mistake "common knowledge" for "common sense."  This slavish habit of mind is the result of societal intimidation and the fear we then develop to question widely held positions.  It is a habit of mind in which this young gentleman, to his credit (and probably to his lasting felicity) will take no part.

Is there is any more "common knowledge" or any opinion more universally subscribed to than the notion that it is best to delay marriage until later on in the 20s or, even, until the 30s?  If there is, I don't know what it might be.  It seems to be a point upon which there is broad bi-partisan and ideological agreement--though if there are dissenters, I suppose they are more likely to come from the conservative camp.  Most every casual conversation upon the subject of love and marriage is sure to include the admonition from some would-be sage on the dangers of marrying too young. 

I think the reason this argument has so prevailed has, in part, to do with what seems on the surface to be an appeal to common sense.  There are many things that it is dangerous to do when when one is "too young."  Clearly, no one should do anything that he is "too young" to do!  But what does it mean to be "too young" to marry?  "Too young" to love?  Our culture and our habits--both of mind and of heart--have a lot to do with our thinking about these questions.  And perhaps we've developed some pretty lousy habits, as a culture, in that line.  But it is useful to recall that there was a time when marriage out of high school and during college was regarded as a pretty sound way to go.  It was considered "common knowledge" then, that people should marry young and begin their lives together before they got too self-absorbed, too selfish, and too accustomed to thinking only of what would make themselves happy.  Love, people used to understand, is as much a habit as it is a feeling.  And young people tend to do better than older people at adopting new habits.

Today is Valentine's Day and Valentine's Day always reminds me of my parents who share their own wedding anniversary with the holiday.  They were ages 19 and 20 when they were married . . . 40 years ago.  I'm not saying--and would never say--that getting married young is a good idea for all people.  No one should get married when he is "too young" to do it . . . but I will say that for some people, "too young" has nothing to do with the number of years that they have lived.
Categories > Men and Women