Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


"Mockingbird" Conservatives

It is the 50th anniversary of the Harper Lee modern classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.  A question recently raised is whether the Tea Party movement should make racial preferences/affirmative action an issue.  Whatever they choose to say, they should embrace this book, on school reading lists for almost 50 years. Hero Atticus Finch is devoted to the rule of law in a way foreign to our current oppressors and Supreme Court nominees.  Conservatism, whether of the more traditional sort or the more activist Tea Party variety, is focused on restoring the rule of law--saving it from bureaucracy, command-and-control economics, hijacked Congresses, runamok judges, and idolators of foreign gods.

So, at Tea Party rallies, everyone come with your copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Singing "We Shall Overcome" would not be a bad idea either.

A related item is lefty Jacob Weisberg's distinction between western (property rights-Tea Party) conservatives and southern conservatives--the first he characterizes by Goldwater and Palin, the latter by George Wallace.  The westerners (here he mentions Harry Jaffa) used to have intellectual credentials, but now they are "anti-intellectual."  Of course Weisberg wants moderation on the right.   

Categories > Conservatism


Art for Soul's Sake

DC denizens have just through Monday to take in The Sacred Made Real, an exhibit of paintings and sculpture from the Spanish Counter Reformation.  Wheat&Weeds excerpts Mary Eberstadt's review of the reaction to it.  I've been to the small exhibit twice--and here I thought of Zubaran as a skillful painter of lemons.

Can't make it there?  Then try this W&W-recommended virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel instead.  (Be sure to play with the controls in the lower left hand corner.)  I still like to brag about my Charlton Heston-autographed print of the ceiling.

Categories > Religion


Understanding Radical Islam

Andrew McCarthy introduces his new book on radical Islam at the Heritage Foundation.  Of particular interest is his argument that its efforts flatter left-liberal weaknesses and misunderstandings of religious liberty. 

But Robert Reilly makes an argument of a different order--a serious theological examination of radical Islam that notes its similarities to western philosophic tendencies that have been around for centuries.  Yet the solipsism of even mainstream Islam is difficult for Westerners to fathom, though it has extraordinary political consequences.  In the video of Bob's presentation note in particular the extensive comments from the audience of an Egyptian scholar of Islam who supports this analysis.  His name is Bassam Tibi, of Cornell University, and some of his books can be found here.  Order Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind  here.

One story Bob recounts from his time in Iraq relates a chaplain's insistence on wearing his cross--contrary to the official policy that proscribes religious insignia.  The chaplain (regarded as a kind of imam) got the trust of Iraqis, who respected people of faith.

Categories > Religion


Vote for William M. McCulloch!

OK, this is a different kind of vote than we are used to.  I'm asking that you vote for a dead white Congressman!  He died in 1980, but some of his opponents died even earlier.  It is not that his opponents are unworthy of fame (Grant, Stowe, Owens, Edison, et al), but it's that I support the one real politician (U.S. Grant's deserved fame is due to his mastery of war, not politics) in the group of ten vying to be in Statuary Hall.  Good politicians, that is, those with insight and judgment, are very hard to find, as we all know.  And when we find them, we ought to support them.  So I encourage you to vote and you can vote until June 12.  You may do so by voting here

In Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, each state send two statutes to honor notable people in their state's history.  The Ohio Legislature is replacing the statute of former Ohio Governor William Allen because of his pro-slavery views.  Because Congressman McCulloch (R) was so deeply involved in getting the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 passed, in fact he made its passage possible, I testified on his behalf.  This may be of special interest for today's politics because of the recent kerfuffle over the GOP's standard bearer in the Kentucky Senate race (also see Rich Lowry's significant comment on the issue).  Some decisions live on, don't they?  I repeat, vote here.  A statue of him in the National Statuary Hall will be a permanent reminder to all who visit there of his great act of statesmanship on behalf of true recognition of human equality, and its relation to the Constitution, the highest of all American causes.
Categories > History


Noonan's Direct Hit

Peggy Noonan's current piece engages Obama's ideological certainty not only for its political threat to his presidency but also because it now tears at his basic ability to govern.
Categories > Politics

Frederick Douglass on Glenn Beck Show

Courtesy of yours truly.  Shameless self-promotion, here.  Today, Friday (May 28), at 5 pm EST I sing the praises of Frederick Douglass on Glenn Beck's "Founding Fridays" segment.  The other guest is David Barton of WallBuilders, who has a new book about important blacks in American history.  Have a look-see if you're around a TV at that hour.  Sample quotation:  "I know of no rights of color superior to the rights of humanity."  Douglass, "Our Composite Nationality" (1869)


Obama's "Empathy" Standard

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to confirm Judge Robert Chatigny to the Second Circuit of Appeals.  As I explain here, Chatigny provides the perfect example of why Obama's "empathy" standard for judges is extremely dangerous and improper.  In an infamous 2005 case, Chatigny, a federal district court judge in Connecticut, fully displayed the "depth and breadth" of his empathy.  Ignoring his judicial duty to be impartial, he attempted, by asserting bizarre, unprecedented legal arguments and even bullying attorneys, to remove a serial rapist and murderer, Michael Ross, from death row.  Why?  Because Chatigny thought that Ross's "sexual sadism" was "clearly a mitigating factor."  In fact, Chatigny railed, Ross was the "least culpable of anyone on death row" because of his sadistic tendencies.

Obama stated that he would seek judges who empathize with certain groups: the poor and the disabled, for example.  He did not mention sadists. 

Yet there is nothing in his theory that prevents judicial favoritism for this particular group.  In fact, if we take seriously the words of Obama's SCOTUS nominee, Elena Kagan, who stated that judges should have empathy for the "despised and disadvantaged," it would seem that empathy for "despised" murderers would fit neatly within Obama's theory and Kagan's as well.

Bottom line: once we declare that a judge should be guided by the whims of his empathy, we cannot demand that he direct his empathy to the party that we happen to think most deserving of it.  Chatigny's empathy for the "Roadside Strangler" should serve as a resounding reminder of the need for judges to look not into their "hearts" for guidance in a case, but to the law. 

Categories > Courts


Avik Roy informs us that the gold standard isn't just for nutjobs.  I'm not in favor of a return to the gold standard, but I was glad to see an articulate defense of that position on NRO.  In fact, NRO's The Agenda domestic policy blog is terrific.

Jeffrey Goldberg is very fair-minded critic of Israel's less than fair-minded critics.  This selection of his interview with Peter Beinart does a good job of demonstrating Beinart's loss of perspective.  Beinart mischaracterizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position on Palestinian statehood (which Beinart also distorted in his NYRB essay), but Beinart goes way out on a limb and manages to call Hamas a "nasty movement".  Pitiful.  If you want a go-for-the-throat attack on Beinart there is Noah Pollack over at Commentary.

And speaking of Jeffery Goldberg, he interviews Marcy Winograd, who is running against liberal, but pro-Israel Jane Harman in the Democratic primaries.  Wow.  Here is Goldberg asking her about military options for fighting terrorism:

Goldberg:  Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?

Winograd:  I would join the International Criminal Court.  I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law.  When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia.

Winograd favors an immediate American withdrawal from Afghanistan and increasing aid to women-led NGOs in Afghanistan.  Goldberg asks about the uh... practical problems inherent in this strategy:

Goldberg:  But if we left Afghanistan, wouldn't the Taliban shut down these women-led NGO's?

Winograd:  Well, that would be the point of investing in women-led NGO's, to make them stronger and help women emerge in leadership positions politically.

So we will try terrorists in absentia (or rather hope that the world court does so for us) and hope that women will rise to positions of political leadership in a Taliban-led Afghanistan.  Oh, and she wants to get rid of Israel - though through binationalism (one state for all of present-day Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in which Jews will soon be a minority) rather than extermination.  And she implies Henry Waxman might not be a loyal American.  She now has the support of Howard Dean and got 37.5% of the vote when she ran against Harman in 2006. Maybe Beinart can write an essay blaming AIPAC for Winograd's alienation from Zionism and lack of basic common sense.    

Foreign Affairs

Which Countries Are the Most Pro-American?

Real Clear World asks the question, and finds the nations which most approve of U.S. leadership all located in one spot: Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, why do these poorest of nations exceedingly admire the leadership of the richest of nations? Surely, the election of Obama - an African-American whose father was a Kenyan - has not hindered perceptions of the U.S. But the lion's share of our good graces on the African continent is the legacy of the Bush years.

PEPFAR (AIDS reduction), debt forgiveness, food and health aid packages, recognizing genocide in Darfur and establishing an Africa-oriented military command have been the most significant pro-African policies of any nation in history.

It's refreshing to see foreign appreciation for America's good-will. It is by no means universal.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Capital of the Free World

This from Joe Biden is too clear for me to comment on. It is jarring.  It is beyond humor, it is too revealing of a deep lack of understanding of freedom, the things for which Brussels stands, and the things for which we stand.  I am disposed to swear a good mouth filling oath...I will ride Isabella today, hoping for contentment in the heat.
Categories > Politics


Courtship and Character

President Obama met with Senate GOP in a closed-door meeting yesterday which, by all accounts, turned somewhat testy.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused Obama of acting "duplicitous" in calls for bipartisanship. "I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what had happened with financial regulation." Corker met daily with Democrats on financial reform, relying on promises of bi-partisan compromise, only to be excluded from the final negotiations.

As seems customary to his character, Obama bristled at GOP policy objections. According to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.):

The more he talked, the more he got upset. He needs to take a valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans and just calm down, and don't take anything so seriously. If you disagree with someone, it doesn't mean you're attacking their motives -- and he takes it that way and tends then to lecture and then gets upset.

Obama seems to be the thinnest-skinned president in recent history. Ironically, for a lawyer and politician, he is deeply uncomfortable (even angered) by the slightest disagreement or prospect of debate. 

Categories > Presidency

The Founding

Who's Our Daddy? David Brooks' America

Brooks concludes from Yuval Levin's fine work:

We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment. Was our founding a radical departure or an act of preservation? This was a bone of contention between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it's a bone of contention today, both between parties and within each one.

Both Jefferson and Hamilton, whatever their great differences, were in heated agreement on the radicalism of the American Revolution.  We're not Descartes' children, nor are we Hume's.  Brooks is right that European standards have infected our political discourse (e.g., "realism" vs. "idealism" in the study of international relations).  But, as critics of the State Department have long asked, is there an American interests section here?

Categories > The Founding


Many Faiths, Some Truths

The Dalai Lama laments religious intolerance in today's New York Times, seeking a "mutual understanding" among faiths. The theme is neither novel nor controversial, though perhaps always in need of retelling.

But the devil's in the details. The Dalai Lama notes "vigorous signs of [intolerance's] virulence":

In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

He then indentifies "compassion" as a "common ground" among faiths which can bring "harmony" to humanity.

Again, the broad theme is obvious to Western audiences. But are faiths truly equivalent in their offenses of intolerance and prioritization of compassion? Invoking 9/11, the Dalai Lama chastises "those who paint Islam as a militant faith" and "blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion."

While laboring upon the deficiencies of other faiths (to the exclusion of seeking similarities) would prove counter-productive, a simple-minded aversion to reality is equally inadvisable. Muhammad was a military general of many battles. His relics in Istanbul include his sword, shield, armor, horse barding, throne and a letter informing an infidel king that the impending slaughter of his tribe was owed to his refusal to convert.

Surely there is compassion in Islam, but the Dalai Lama reinvents history and insults the intellect by scolding those who recognize militant aspects at the core of Islam which differentiate the faith from other world religions. 

Categories > Religion


Predictably Consequences (Cont.)

Tax incentives have an impact on hiring decisions.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

UPDATE 2: U.S. Chooses Sides

South Korea has halted all trade with North Korea and announced it will seek U.N. sanctions (which N. Korea has previously threatened to interpret as an act of war). The White House responded decisively, promising "unequivocal" support to S. Korea. The U.S. has vowed to back all measures requested of the U.N., bolster S. Korean defenses and initiate joint military exercises.

This is undoubtedly the most resolved and militant posture yet adopted by President Obama. The White House has thrown its weight behind a S. Korean decision which N. Korea promised would lead to war.

The U.S. has thus called N. Korea's bluff. The next play goes to China, which must consider how to vote on a potential Security Council resolution to punish N. Korea. Thus far, every player at the table has upped the ante during his respective turn - and no one has flinched yet.

UPDATE: North Korea has threatened military action in response to the alleged trespasses of South Korean ships into Northern waters during the past week. N. Korea's military is now "on combat alert."

Seems the North doesn't want to wait its turn. I assume calmer minds will simply ignore this fist-pounding, but such likely-baseless claims and temper-tantrum posturing is revealing of the school-yard-bully-mentality governing North Korea.

UPDATE 2: North Korea has severed all ties with South Korea, closing off the country's air and water ways, expelling South Koreans from "a joint industrial complex just inside the North where about 120 South Korean companies employ about 40,000 North Koreans," and "totally abrogat[ing] the agreement on nonaggression between the north and the south and completely halt[ing] the inter-Korean cooperation."

Abrogating the agreement on nonaggression. I believe that makes the third time this week North Korea has declared war on South Korea. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Maybe Sandy Berger Can Help...

Ed Whelan reports that the director of the Clinton Presidential Library says it will be "very difficult" to review and release White House records relevant to Kagan's nomination in time for Leahy's hearing start date of June 28th.  There are 160,000 pages of letters, memos, emails, and other documents.

Terry Garner, the library's director, stated:

"There are just too many things here...These are legal documents and they are presidential records, and they have to be read by an archivist and vetted for any legal restrictions. And they have to be read line by line."

Oh, but this shouldn't be too big of a stumbling block for some senators.  Let us not forget that the current majority leader, Harry Reid, boasted that he had not read a "single one" of Sotomayor's judicial opinions before her hearing, and that he hoped to get through the hearing without having to read any.

But for those Senators who take their role of advice and consent seriously, who know precious little about Elena Kagan given her complete lack of judicial experience, her lack of litigation experience before her brief stint as Solicitor General, and her paltry publications record, this should be a deal breaker for any kind of a rushed hearing and vote.  Senators simply will not have the information about how she has approached legal questions and what this may say about her judicial philosophy without gaining access to these documents with adequate time to review them.  On that count, the statement of the Clinton Library is instructive: even five weeks is not enough time to go through all the documents in an adequate fashion.  Senators should demand the documents, and adequate time to actually review them, before they go forward with a hearing or votes.  To do otherwise would likely assure that the hearing is just the kind of farce that Kagan herself has previously derided.

Categories > Courts

Health Care

Big Drop in Infant Mortality

In one of the best pieces of news I've heard in a long time, a recent study suggests that infant mortality has plummeted around the world in recent years.  In 1990 11.9 million children died before reaching the age of five; today that figure is only 7.7 million.  Even Ethiopia, which had an infant mortality rate of over 2 percent (not .2 percent, but 2 percent) in 1990, has seen that rate cut in half in the past twenty years.

Some have already seized on the fact that the United States now comes in 49th among the world's countries (it was 29th in 1990) when it comes to infant mortality, claiming that this reflects negatively on the U.S. health care systemAu contraire, says economist Steven Horwitz, who reminds us that far more babies are delivered pre-term in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and babies born prematurely have a much higher than normal mortality rate.  "So the next time someone tells you," Horwitz concludes,

...that Cuba's healthcare system is better than that in the US because it has a lower infant mortality rate, the proper response is "yes, that's what happens when your system is so awful that you can't do much of anything for children born prematurely and your only choice is to deliver them stillborn.  If you think a system with more dead babies is better, you can have it."  A lower infant mortality rate doesn't mean you have fewer dead babies.  You just have fewer babies born alive.


Categories > Health Care


Happy Birthday to the Church!

Today is Pentecost, or Whitsunday, commemorating the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ. The event is held to be the commencement of the temporal Church, as the Apostles were thereby commissioned to their pastoral duties.

The ancient Jewish Pentecost - the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot - took place 50 days after Passover and was considered second in importance among Jewish feasts. Passover celebrated the redemption of a nation in slavery, whereas Pentecost focused upon God's revelation of purpose (as through the delivery of the law to Moses).

Here in Italy, it's customary to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues which appeared over the Apostles as they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI's Pentecost Sunday homily is here and his address surrounding the midday Regina Caeli in St. Peter's Square is here.

Categories > Religion


Do We Miss Jim Bunning Yet?

What will would-be Senator Rand Paul say when they ask how he feels about being named after an avowed atheist?  Not that I trust the NY Times account of Republican reticence on what to argue for, but, as one Republican pollster put it, "we have to answer the question, Why us?"  Well, what is really wrong with Obamacare and the means used and contemplated to pass it, Democrat legislators cheering a foreign dictator leader of a chaotic state who denounces an American State, Washington DC owning auto companies...?

American instincts are sound, but passions and opinions need to be refined.   (Palin graps these instincts remarkably well, but she needs to cultivate them, not just cheer them on.) To feel gloom and betray confusion because the Republican didn't prevail in an overwhelmingly Democratic district shows an utter lack of judgment.  (As much as the media now implies Paul is a racist, why aren't they saying the same about Pennsylvania-12--why it didn't vote for Obama and was thus considered by some to be a "swing" district?)

Between the nihilism of the left and the nihilism of the right lies the constitutionalism, rule of law, and natural rights of the American political tradition.  Applying these truths to the current crisis is the challenge. 

Categories > Elections


Czech Gold

The Czech Republic has won the Hockey World Championship. And, to make it all the sweeter, the underdog Czechs defeated defending champion Russia to take the gold. One can only imagine the beer that will flow tonight in sweet Bohemia!

Categories > Sports


Quote of the Day

Montesquieu, in Paul Rahe's excellent book on Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: "The French hardly ever speak of their wives . . . because they fear speaking of them in front of people who may know them better than they do."
Categories > Sports

Hawaii: Insult to Injury

Republican Charles Djou has won the special election for Hawaii's House seat that should have been "a cakewalk" for the Democrats. And, to add insult to injury, "[t]he seat had been held by a Democrat for nearly 20 years and is located in the district where Obama was born and spent most of his childhood."


The Fat (Grey) Lady Has Sung

When you lose the New York Times on social liberalism, there's no more denying it: "Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits."

Across Western Europe, the "lifestyle superpower," the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Nevermind that capitalists and conservatives have foretold this bit of bad news for half a century now, nor that the Times is far too generous in cushioning the news within the aura of mere "fear." European-style "social democracy" is failing (regardless of whether Europe fears it or not), and U.S. Democrats are on the verge of transforming America into the same unsustainable system.

This isn't a matter of learning from history - it's just a matter of looking out the window and being aware of the world around you. The sky really is falling, the wolves really are among the flock and the writing really is on the wall.

Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy

Obama's Once and Future Diplomacy

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post cover the President's remarks at West Point in an aspirational, rather than factual, manner. Both begin by (proudly) declaring Obama's "new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances" which "repudiated his predecessor's emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage pre-emptive war."

Except, of course, Obama's obstinate and futile reliance upon "diplomatic engagement" (read: talking even when no one is listening) to the exclusion of practical alternatives is nothing new. It has been tried and found wanting for the past year in China, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Syria, Palestine, etc., etc.

And, of course, George Bush went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the company of UN resolutions and a broad coalition. Media approval is not the measure of multi-lateralism. Support for the wars declined over the years, but this reflects a nation's endurance (which Obama praised) rather than an "emphasis on unilateral American power."

Further, Obama actually seemed to stress the opposite of the media's "repudiation" interpretation. He focused on strengthening the enduring policy and historical legacy of American partnerships with coalition allies.

In truth, the speech could have been delivered by George Bush - though the media would have interpreted it in a wildly different (i.e., more derogatory and critical) light. Obama did not articulate a new strategy, he articulated an old strategy he has failed to live up to. Everyone, especially George Bush, recognized the utility and profit of diplomacy. The difference between the two presidents is their responses when diplomacy has failed.

It's a shame that in those few instances in which I find Obama's vision to be praiseworthy (even if I find his actions pursuant to that vision to be lacking), it is concealed beneath the biased distortions of a media desperately trying to make Obama into the "hope and change" for which they yet despair.


The Politics of Overpromise

Regarding the public pension crisis, Megan McArdle writes, "People have worked for twenty years or more under the expectation of pensions that were calculated this way; you can't just wait until they're 58 and say "Ha, ha, just foolin'." 

I am reminded from some wisdom from Franklin's Autobiography.  Keith, the Governor of Pennsylvania, tells young Franklin:

"Give me an inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will send for them. You shall repay me when you are able; I am resolv'd to have a good printer here, and I am sure you must succeed." This was spoken with such an appearance of cordiality, that I had not the least doubt of his meaning what he said. I had hitherto kept the proposition of my setting up, a secret in Philadelphia, and I still kept it. Had lt been known that I depended on the governor, probably some friend, that knew him better, would have advis'd me not to rely on him, as I afterwards heard it as his known character to be liberal of promises which he never meant to keep. Yet, unsolicited as he was by me, how could I think his generous offers insincere? I believ'd him one of the best men in the world.

Franklin travels to England to get the materials needed to return to America and set up shop as a printer. Franklin learns the lesson:

I found my friend Denham, and opened the whole affair to him.   He let me into Keith's character; told me there was not the least probability that he had written any letters for me; that no one, who knew him, had the smallest dependence on him; and he laught at the notion of the governor's giving me a letter of credit, having, as he said, no credit to give. On my expressing some concern about what I should do, he advised me to endeavor getting some employment in the way of my business. "Among the printers here," said he, "you will improve yourself, and when you return to America, you will set up to greater advantage."

The lesson:

But what shall we think of a governor's playing such pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly on a poor ignorant boy! It was a habit he had acquired. He wish'd to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man.

Categories > Politics