Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Two Questions for Obama's SCOTUS Pick

What are the unamendable portions of the Constitution? Why did the Framers make them unamendable?  Answer to the first--see Article V, last two clauses. 

Hint:  In other words, why is federalism a central American political principle (and what is its relationship to majoritarianism) and was the founding racist?  I doubt that any senator of either party has any interest in posing the questions, but I have to have hope.

For the other questions I would have had them ask of nominee Sotomayor, see here.

Categories > Courts

Throwing out the Ruling Class

     At the end of a provocative essay entitled "Why We Don't Win" featured in the current Claremont Review, Angelo Codevilla raises the hollowness of strategic thinking about projecting power that has been displayed by the denizens of the ruling class ensconced for several decades in Washington in positions of military and diplomatic power. Codevilla is specifically referring to America's political class whose many failures over the past 10 years have occurred because of a basic inability to understand the necessity of projecting force in prudential and effective ways. This means, observes Codevilla, divorcing the use of power from grand political narratives like nation-building or constructing central political institutions. This might have meant doing relatively unsavory things like buying off tribes or clans or villages to hedge against the re-emergence of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban in the provinces. He notes with a dry sadness, it seems, the case of Major Nidal Hassan as another glaring instance of a basic refusal to think about barbarism and the need to locate it and destroy or diminish it irrespective of larger concerns.

   Codevilla's piece, however, raises the not insignificant larger question of why these failures are made over and over again. The logical culprit is a shared deficiency amongst policy elites, who lurk strangely in both Republican and Democratic circles, about the nature and uses of power.  Of course, Obama has raised these failures even more so with a host of foreign and military policy decisions. Codevilla notes that tossing out a ruling class is difficult. With Obama we may have finally reached the tipping point that ejects them from power. Who better has been formed under the power of their Humanitarianism, intellectual privileges and prejudices, and courted their favor and ideas throughout his adult life and political odyssey to power. The difference is that with Obama, the protective coating is off, he is too pure for disguises as he repeatedly told us in his autobiographies. We now see the sheer refusal to think about the arts of statecraft concretely embodied in the mind and will of one ruler. The larger question is assuming the return of something like conservatism to power in Washington, do we now move beyond the cadre of elite policy makers in the State Department, the Pentagon, and even within the military, and begin to apply the pressure that leaves our enemies "stupified," as the Prince counselled, before their destroyed dreams.


Air Force One and a Free People

Yesterday, our family took advantage of the waning days of the kids' Easter break and made our maiden journey to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  Of course, the highlight of the trip (for kids and honest adults) is the opportunity to tour a decommissioned jet that served as Air Force One for Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and (very briefly and as backup) W. Bush. 

I say that it was the highlight, but it was not so for the reasons you might expect.  To see the plane from the outside and sitting in that massive hangar--surrounded, as it is, by exhibits paying tribute to Reagan's impressive achievements in diplomacy all of which helped to bring about an end to the Cold War--all of that, of course, inspires exactly the sort of awe that it should.  But when we got to what we expected would be the climax of the experience--the point at which we actually got to board the plane--an initial wave of disappointment washed over me.  The plane projected greatness, but inside it was rather ordinary.  The exterior sparkle and flash of it are not matched in the interior which could be described more as serviceable than grand. I have seen RVs that were more plush and, no doubt, a rock band might have a plane that is embellished with more luxury.  This impressive and powerful machine is designed, mainly, to do a job and it is intended to facilitate a man who is doing the job of a nation of free men who are not beholden to some grandee. 

By the time we made our way to the galley and the White House Press Corps section of the plane, a deep sense of satisfaction washed over me, replacing my initial disappointment.  I realized that this plane is entirely American.  It did its job in simplicity and efficiency--projecting both power and humility.  We were touring the movable office of the President of the United States . . . not a gilded palace of Europe or, even, a grand and cushy carriage of a monarch.  And the funny thing was that everybody on board with our group (children excluded, of course) was remarking about it and they all had pretty much the same reaction.  There was a kind of modest pride--if such a paradoxical term can make any sense--or maybe it was a pride in our modesty.  The other thing that I though remarkable was the kind of spontaneous cheer that erupted from the crowd as the docent explained that the press corps traveling with the President is chosen by a lottery and, while they are accommodated with exactly the sort of meals that the President, First Lady and staff receive, they (or, rather, their news organizations) have to purchase their fare at the going rate.  They don't eat or fly on our dime.  Someone behind us made the remark that this much expectation for people to pay their own way stood in contrast to recent trends . . . and the docent smiled broadly as she made a fair point about what true freedom of the press means. 

Would that we all understood our own freedom in that way and guarded it as jealously. 

Still, moving away from the highlight of the plane, the broad and general sentiment of the day gathered from being in that place and among so many who lost no opportunity to mutter remarks under their breath by way of comparison and contrast with today's politics (and gradually took to making loud pronouncements upon the times) reminded me that bad as things may seem, there is plenty of reason to remain optimistic and cheerful.  Things have always been thus.  All of our politics is a story of imperfection and a striving to make us a more perfect Union.  It will NEVER be perfect, but we cannot despair in the realization.  We continue to have the freedom to reflect, to learn from our amazing past, and act upon what can be our amazing future.  Perfection may not be possible, but as for the continual effort at approximation:  It Can Be Done.

Oh, and by the way, Steve . . . you owe me.  I sold at least a few of your books with my proselytizing in the bookstore.  
Categories > Presidency


Great Quote, But Dubious Sourcing

Okay, so the following quotation from two months ago is zipping around the blogosphere, attributed to a columnist named Burt Prelutsky in the Los Angeles Times.  Except no one has been able to find it at the Times website or anywhere else.  But it is too good not to pass along (as an exiled Californian):

Frankly, I don't know what it is about California, but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I'm not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we're number one. There's no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on 'Macbeth'. The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don't know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Great Movie Lines

A classic, from Bob Hope.
Categories > Pop Culture


Why I Like the Tea Partiers

I hate meetings and town halls, especially in the evening when I want to be grilling or baking and quaffing a good bottle of (still lightly taxed) California central coast wine and rough-housing with the kids, but God bless the Tea Partiers and others who show up to speak their mind as citizens to Congresscritters.  And I'd like to buy an expensive steak dinner for the do-ragged dude in this YouTube clip who totally schools an idiot Republican congressman (I'm in danger of repeating myself here) about the Constitution.  Notice this fellow's complete command of the text of Article I, Section I, and of the First Amendment, and the embarrassing ignorance of the Congressman, and the necessity to shut down the speaker at the end before the embarrassment turns into a complete rout.

Dude--whoever you are, I salute you.  I think we've just found the next Joe the Plumber.

UPDATE:  Michelle Malkin passes along the strong possibility that the dude I've offered dinner to is a nutty 9/11 Truther.  Oh dear; I hope not.  Could make for an awkward dinner.  On the other hand, it makes LoBiondo out to be even more pathetic and useless.

UPDATE 2:  I mean, maybe I should have known better.  If you really want to make a congresscritter squirm, ask them to discuss the meaning and boundaries of Article I, Section 8.  Right?
Categories > Politics


Stop looking for a Golden Age

As a libertarian--or at least a fellow-traveler--I was pleased to see this piece by the Cato Institute's David Boaz.  The tendency to focus on all of the liberties we've lost in the past hundred years or so really can cause us to forget about the ways in which we are more free today than at any point in U.S. history.

There's been some negative reactions to the piece coming from, shall we say, predictable quarters.

UPDATE: Boaz responds to his critics, both friendly and unfriendly.  I particularly like this part:

I am a great admirer of the Founders, as I write on many occasions. When I talk about the progress we've made in expanding freedom for blacks, women, gays, and other once-excluded groups of people, I often say that we have "extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- to more and more people." I love and respect those promises, I appreciate the extent to which the Founders made good on them immediately, and I am glad that they have indeed been extended.

Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think he was a West Coast Straussian.  Or is that East Coast?  I can never keep them straight.

Categories > History


Some Free Advice For Chairman Steele

So the RNC and chairman Steele are getting some heat over this.  But as relationship gurus will tell you, its never just about the expenses at bondage clubs.  I don't know much about the internals of the job of national committee chairman.  I don't know how good Steele is at the care and feeding of donors, recruiting candidates or dealing with state and Washington party leaders in private meetings, but I do get the feeling that Steele would be in a better position if he improved his public presentation and especially how he presents his party.

Much has been made of Steele's gaffes, but alot of them have one thing in common: Steele ends up selling himself by selling out his party, its candidates or institutions.  There was the time he agreed with a radio host when the host called Republican House leader John Boehner "an absolute freaking joke,"  There was the time he said Republicans were afraid of him on account of his race.  There was a time when Steele said he faced internal Republican opposition because "I'm a tea partier, I'm a town haller, I'm a grass-roots-er"  And now he whines that he has a "slimmer margin for error" because he is African American.  In every one of those ill considered statements, Steele was playing up to some audience (usually his interviewer, but sometimes populist conservatives) and trying to make himself look good, even if it made his party look worse.  When combined with reports of making paid speeches while RNC chairman, these gaffes can create the impression that Michael Steele is only out for Michael Steele.

To these I would add my personal impression that Steele is sometimes underprepared in his public remarks and therefore wastes his talents as a speaker.  I remember seeing him on CNN talking about health care and feeling he was terrified that any follow up question would reveal his shallow understanding of the issue.  Bobbly Jindal was on a few segments later and you could see the difference it makes to have really studied the issues.

I don't want Steele to quit or be fired.  I'm not sure the next RNC shair would be any better or that the process of removing and replacing Steele wouldn't leave the party bloodied and dealing with a public relations disaster.  But I do have some suggestions about how Steele could improve his public presentation, and perhaps his position in the party.

1.  Sell the party, not yourself.  That doesn't mean not admitting to past mistakes, but it includes taking ownership of those mistakes.  The Republicans have a problem with winning over African Americans.  Steele didn't create the problem, but asserting that he inspires fear from Republicans due to his color hasn't helped.  You represent the party.  So when admiting mistakes it is "we" who spent too much or whatever.  Then pivot really hard toward your positive message and what is right with GOP principles.  If you do a good job selling your party, people will notice that you are doing a good job.  Thats not a bad way to sell Michael Steele.

2.  Better to be overprepared than underprepared.  If you are ging on CNN to talk about Obamacare for ten minutes, first talk to Yuval Levin for an hour or more.  It is good to know more than you will be able to get across.  The audience will pick up on your confidence and be more likely to listen to what you actually do get to say.  This sense of confidence and mastery is one of Obama's greatest assets as a speaker.  You have charisma and are likeable, but you can't fake knowing more than you really know.  Thats okay.  You could still be one heck of a great speaker.

3.  A party out of power will naturally be more united on what it is against than on what specific policies to enact.  Be clear on the negatives, and when presed to offer a positive alternative, offer two or three strategies being used by various Republican governors.  This gives the impression that there are Republicans out there doing good things, while avoiding seeming to establish an official, unified Republican postion on how to reform health care (or cut taxes, or reform entitlements, or whatever.) 



Categories > Politics


Great Classroom Prank

If Schramm used Powerpoint in class (Yeah, right--maybe by the middle of the 22nd century-ed.), someone should set him up like this video.
Categories > Education

Foreign Affairs

It's Good to be Home (metaphorically speaking)

Business and travels over the past month have focused my attention upon two rather diverse destinations: Africa and the Czech Republic. 

Africa, for all of its beauty and charm, is a rather bleak tapestry of failed states dominated by corruption, impoverishment and hopelessness. A sampling of headlines from the past 24 hour news cycle includes: "Terre'blanche killing exposes South Africa's old racist divide," "Lord's Resistance Army Continues Killing Spree," and "Africa at 50: Tiring of Democracy Experiment?" Uninspiring.

Artificial national boundaries, inharmonious ethnic and religious diversity and powerless states unable to govern beyond the periphery of urban centers give rise to easily transferable loyalties and desperate social movements. All of this lends to a unique African conception of nationalism. In pre-colonial Africa, rulers governed over people, not territories. Popular dissent was expressed through migration and adoption of / submission to a new ruler. Such sentiments have survived into the post-colonial age, which partially explains the potency of charismatic demagogues. Europeans love to hate their national identities, but very few actually doubt their nationalities (eco-hippy "citizens of the world" notwithstanding). Among Africans, nationality may rank #2, #3, #4 or lower in the priority of identifiers and allegiances.

On the other hand, while in the Czech Republic I convinced my lovely Czech lady to escort me through Prague's Communist Museum - a truly unique experience. It made me wonder. It made her sick. And owning that her country yet has a robust communist party in the legislature, she increasingly laments that her countrymen seem willing to countenance a certain degree of corruption among politicians as simply par-for-the-course. Indeed, Europeans seem to expect such behaviour and respond with a somewhat resigned "boys will be boys" dismissal. I live in the playground of Berlusconi, after all.

All of this simply reminds me that Americans, whatever their faults, are a fortunate people, still proud and righteous, jealous of their patriotic honor and swift in their justice. We acknowledge our identities within the context of states (at both levels of federalism) and have not succumbed to the enervating despair of political apathy.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Petraeus And Biden

This is a lengthy but worthwhile profile of General Petraeus and as a bonus, we get a devastating takedown of the vain, partisan, dishonest, and ingratiating Joe Biden.


The Next Hundred Million

Joel Kotkin's book The Next Hundred Million could prove to American conservatism what Kevin Phillips' book The Emerging Republican Majority offered nearly 40 years ago. Kotkin's book however is not a political prediction book. Early reviews reflect the book's argument that blue-style politics are dominant in Obama's age but are being undercut by the actual choices that American families are making. On offer is that Texas and its major cities are now leading economic and governance indicators of what citizens actually prefer in their lives. The South as a whole comes in as a region of growth, but Kotkin notes with particularity the rise of the Texas' economy. Texas is something like our leading state now. The book also indicates a reluctance in many young families to divorce family life from the pursuit of a vocation. This is leading and contributing to the rise of the telecommuting phenomenon and the homeschooling and charter movement, which Kotkin notes is just another a way of naming what is in fact the village school. Millenials are reporting much higher levels of intent to marry and raise children as a fundamental aspect of their lives. This is to say that marriage and children aren't just an option that one picks up along the way to what is more central in one's life, namely career success.

Other "red" demographic and lifestyle choices abound in the facts of the book. We might see a generation of millenials who are strangely conservative and family-oriented but who are reluctant to actually be publicly conservative given the relativist spirit that has pervaded much of their educations. One senses that this will change under the crush of circumstances. The future could be far more conservative than we have thought. In a quiet Hayekian fashion people could be making decisions on a local level whose full impact will emerge in time but in the manner of a tidal wave. Also interesting in the book are the demographics of Utah, i.e., it resembles the 1950s in many ways.

Categories > Conservatism


Nostalgia For the Golden Days When Responsible Liberals Demanded Rhetorical Restraint

Newsweek's Ellis Cose not only accuses Tea Party movement conservatives of venomous rhetoric, but says the conservative establishment is complicit in their excesses.  By contrast, he says, when the wild rhetoric 40 years ago came from groups like Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers, "respectable liberals denounced the radical fringe. Now the Republican establishment quietly acquiesces. And the right-wing media egg it on."

I'm eager to learn more about those respectable liberals and their denunciations of the radical fringe. I graduated from high school in 1972, and was nerdy enough to read a lot of political journalism in those days, but young enough to have been capable of misunderstanding much of it.  So maybe it's just me.  But the thing is, I don't recall any clear examples of respectable liberals in politics, journalism or academia standing up to the various left-wing extremists of that era and saying, forcefully and unequivocally, "What you people are doing and saying is ugly, and stupid, and wrong.  You should be ashamed of yourselves."

The fact that I don't know any clear examples of the brave stands taken by the liberal establishment in those days doesn't mean there aren't any.  NLT readers with better memories or research skills than mine are invited to submit entries in the Stalwart Liberal Rhetoric Competition. I would be glad to read and know of them.

I would be especially glad because my memory and research skills are up to the task of finding strong entrants in the Feckless and Craven Liberal Rhetoric Competition. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, to take a leading example, spent a long career as a public intellectual, one whose pronouncements on any controversy or politician were widely regarded as the best indicator of the liberal consensus. His denunciations were not the type to keep the radical fringe up at night, wondering if they had gotten it all terribly wrong.  Schlesinger's take on the student protests that shut down some of the nation's most famous universities in the 1960s was even-tempered: "Both Berkeley and Columbia will be wiser and better universities as a result of the student revolts."

This is the tone of the liberal establishment I remember - not rebuking the crazies for their excesses, but sympathizing with their aims, grievances and "idealism."  Rather than play the part of the grown-ups, admonishing young activists for indefensible words and deeds, liberals in that era could be counted on to cozy up to the angriest factions of the New Left.  The rebukes, in fact, were often delivered to young people who weren't radical enough.  In his biography of Robert Kennedy, Schlesinger recorded approvingly that Robert Kennedy lashed out in 1967 at some college students who wanted the U.S. military to try harder to win the Vietnam war his brother had escalated: "Don't you understand that what we are doing to the Vietnamese is not very different than what Hitler did to the Jews?"

Similarly, a 1970 review of a book on the Black Panthers in The Nation would have embarrassed your run-of-the-mill sycophant:

The Black Panther Party is, by any definition, a revolutionary group, one which is attempting to find - and to a surprising extent has succeeded in finding - revolutionary political theories which are applicable to the condition of black people in America today, particularly in urban America.  Its synthesis of Mao and Malcolm, Fanon and Lenin (with the important addition of [Eldridge] Cleaver's and [Huey] Newton's own contributions) is no street hoodlum's hodgepodge but a careful winnowing of political thought. Their analysis of the role of the police in white repression is accurate and brilliant.

It was a privilege, apparently, to be terrorized by such erudite thugs.

Conservatives should indeed denounce fellow conservatives who say ugly, inexcusable things.  Our guide for doing so will not be, as Ellis Cose imagines, the brave and admirable actions of liberals 40 years ago.  Instead, it should be the brave and admirable actions liberals never took when it counted, but are proud to fantasize about having taken decades after the fact.
Categories > Progressivism

Health Care

The President's Numbers Racket

In his long, rambling answer to a question the other day, President Obama said, "Number one is that we are the only -- we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 50 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance."

"50 milion of its citizens"?  Is that accurate? I thought part of the reason why Obama started speaking about 30 million uninsured, (rather than 47 million) last summer, is that he cut illegal immigrants from his head-count.  A Freudian slip perhaps.

P.S. Should we call hand-outs to non-citizens "immi-grants"?

Categories > Health Care