Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Kagan, Obama, and the Second Amendment

I haven't been paying as much attention to the Kagan confirmation hearings as I should, but I did see her answering questions about the Second Amendment and Heller (don't ask me which Republican was asking her questions cause I don't remember.)  I was struck that Kagan's comments on Heller were almost exactly like John Roberts' comments on Roe.  She (like he) was all "the Supreme Court said", "it is settled law" and "it is a precedent to be respected like any other precedent."  If you were listening like a normal person, you would think she was, if not in favor, then certainly not opposed to the Heller decision.  If you were using your Supreme Court Nominee BS Filter, you heard, "I can't say that I know the decision is wrong but I do, and if I get on the Court and four other Justices agree with me, this precedent is history."

Aside from the obvious constitutional consequences, there are, or should be, political consequences.  During the campaign, Obama managed to talk out of both sides of his mouth on the Second Amendment.  Now he has picked one Supreme Court Justice (Sotomayor) who voted to deny that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms and has almost certainly picked a second Justice who will vote against the individual right to own firearms.  This is a place where litigation and political strategy should work together.  It is important that, once Kagan is confirmed by the Senate, conservative litigators push for a case to come before the Court on the individual right to own guns and put Kagan on the record - and do so within the next year.  If she upholds the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, fine.  I won't mind being proven wrong.  If she votes against that interpretation, Obama will then be more easily painted as not only an enemy of the rights of gun owners and constitutionalists, he can be mocked as a liar who says he wants to protects your rights but works to produce a Supreme Court who will take them away - and you don't have to spend alot of time thinking about the Second Amendment to not like the kind of person who would do such a thing.

All this political strategery aside, the position of the Second Amendment is much more precarious than it would seem in the aftermath of McDonald vs. Chicago.  If one of the five pro-Second Amendment Justices gets run over by an ice cream truck, we get a whole new Second Amendment courtesy of Obama's appointment power.  If Obama gets reelected, we have to hope that five men whose ages vary from 55 to 74 make it to January 2017 (at the earliest.)  People who believe that Obama supports an individual right to own firearms need to know what he is doing to undermine their rights, and the possible (likely?) consequences of his reelection.

Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss was Right

About Plato.


Responsibility and Community

One theme of President Obama's speeches has been "responsibility."  For Obama, responsibility seems to mean that people who have money, talent, and power ought to take care of those who are weaker, poorer, and less capable.  This idea comes through in the financial regulations that his party is currently trying to push through Congress.

The trouble with that approach (an approach which, to be fair, is similar in some ways to the big government, compassionat conservatism of President Bush), the middle men in communities across the land are getting squeezed.  The financial reform bill will be good for big banks, but make life more difficult for smaller banks.  As Sarah Wallace, a banker in Ohio, notes in todays' Wall Street Journal the little guy will not be well served by the new regulation.

Here is the problem as I see it. First Federal lends to creditworthy folks who for decades have been well-served by bankers who understand their market and can think creatively to structure credit appropriately. It is what community bankers do. Going forward, we will no longer be able to evaluate loan applications based solely on the creditworthiness of the borrower. We will be making regulation compliance decisions instead of credit decisions. This is not in the best interest of the consumer.

I have said to our employees many times, "We are in the business of helping people!" Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, people we see in the grocery store and at Little League baseball games. We used to believe that if someone hit a bump in the road of life and came to us for financing, we could often figure out a way to help them. I fear this kind of community-oriented banking will end. There will be creditworthy borrowers who will no longer be able to get loans.

Perhaps the tea parties will help the Republicans start to peel back regulations that strengthen the big business, K-street, Washington axis.  As we can see now, the Democrats' approach is simply to accept centralization, and to try to reguate it more.  The trouble is that the U.S. is too big to have one-size fits all regulation.  A nation of diverse communities needs diverse laws and regulations.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Grim Afghanistan

The Economist lays out in about three pages (in the hard copy) what is going on and why "the situation is grim."  This seems relatively--and unfortunately--solid reporting.  It is a mess.  The government is corrupt, more and more warlords (and "private" security companies), now more soldiers, and the "near impossible task now falls to the impressive, persistent, but human General Petraeus."  Despite all, I think he would not wish himself any where but where he is.  Godspeed.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Wendy Cope

Here Wendy Cope explains why those who try to write poetry should also read poetry.  Here she reads her poem Flowers (click on the red arrow for the audio).  And here she suggests that if you like her poems you should buy them (and not read them on the internet!).  Although I have bought them, here is a one I like:

A Reading

Everybody in this room is bored.
The poems drag, the voice and gestures irk.
He can't be interrupted or ignored.

Poor fools, we came here of our own accord
And some of us have paid to hear this jerk.
Everybody in the room is bored.

The silent cry goes up, 'How long, O Lord?'
But nobody will scream or go berserk
He won't be interrupted or ignored

Or hit by eggs, or savaged by a horde
Of desperate people maddened by his work.
Everybody in the room is bored,

Except the poet.  We are his reward,
Pretending to indulge his every quirk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

At last it's over.  How we all applaud!
The poet thanks us with a modest smirk.
Everybody in the room was bored.
He wasn't interrupted or ignored.


Publius and Pork

In honor of Senator Byrd's passing, it's worth considering a recent article, about studies which suggest that porkbarrel spending retards economic growth:

A trio of academics at the Harvard Business School, Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloys, based a recent research project on exactly that assumption. They looked at the impact of powerful politicians (heads of spending committees, etc) on local economies, fully expecting that impact to be positive. But the result of their efforts astonished the researchers, as it astonishes me.

The academics discovered, in effect, that federal spending causes local businesses to shrink. The more access a state has to the federal pump in Washington, DC, the more private companies wither on the vine.

Was his career a net plus for West Virginia?

Categories > Congress


Crying over spilled milk

The latest from our friends at the EPA:

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations treat spilled milk like oil, requiring farmers to build extra storage tanks and form emergency spill plans....

The EPA regulations state that "milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Thus, containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria."

Categories > Environment

Health Care

Health Care And The Customers

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post about the slow rate of organizational innovation in health care.  He is right that the slow rate of organizational innovation is helping fuel cost inflation in health care, but I think his example tends to tell against the kinds of policies Yglesias favors.  Yglesias uses the example of IKEA and earlier Nordic furniture producers.  IKEA isn't as good, but it is lots cheaper so it attracted lots of customers.  Yglesias list psychology as one of the reasons people don't want that kind of organizational innovation in health care.  Who wants not-quite-as-good cancer drugs?  That is partly true, but not every form of medical care is that high stakes.  You might go for your routine care to a doctor who is ninety percent as good as the best doctor in the world if the fee was one-tenth as much.  Or would you?

Part of the problem is that health care lacks customers in any recognizable form.  To borrow an example from David Goldhill, imagine if we paid for "furniture insurance" which was really just a form of comprehensive prepayment for furniture.  Imagine you sent your furniture bill to an insurance clerk to review your purchases and have the insurance company reimburse the furniture store.  Now imagine the government forces you to buy furniture insurance and forces the insurance companies to provide comprehensive coverage ("no longer will Big Furniture deny people access to needed end tables").  You might as well buy the good Nordic furniture.  It doesn't cost you that much more.  But it is a shame about how those furniture insurance premiums keep going up.  Perhaps we need a law that extends furniture insurance coverage through government subsidies, and makes it even more comprehensive.  Then when costs really spiral out of control and the "insurance" system collapses, government can then directly tell what furniture to buy and put us on waiting lists for purchase.

And no I'm not against health insurance, but I am in favor of health insurance reform that allows health care consumers to act more like health care customers.  Then we might get some of that innovation that saves people money, time, and maybe even gives them more security than the current system.

Categories > Health Care

Pop Culture

All superego, no id

writes Camile Paglia, as she ruminates on the search for the holy grail of a female viagara; always interesting thoughts, not necessarily true.
Categories > Pop Culture


The World Gone Mad, Part 12,896

Seen in California, natch.

Categories > Environment


The World Cup Runneth Over (or, going, going, Ghana)

I am never happy to see the U.S. lose, but on the bright side the early exit of the U.S. from the final round will put soccer back into its place in American culture.  If the world truly is diverse, there's no reason why soccer should be the most popular sport everywhere, or, even that it be played everywhere. Isn't that what multiculturalism is about?
Categories > Sports


Tragedy and Politics

Instapundit links to a story detailing how regularory excess, among other things, has slowed U.S. reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf.

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

To protect against the possibility that its equipment wouldn't capture all the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana's marshlands with sand barriers. One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks. . . .

The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

This is not a new problem:

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, a Dutch team with clean-up equipment flew in to Anchorage airport to offer their help. To their amazement, they were rebuffed and told to go home with their equipment.

The U.S. government seems to be trying to follow a few imperatives at once: take care of the spill, and maintain enviornmental and worker regulations.  The result has been unfortunate, but not surprising.  The quest for a policy with no down-side, like the desire to create a world where there is no need for prerogative power in the executive, however much to be wished for, is, in fact, a sign of extremism.  The world ain't like that.  There will always be competing goods, and there will always be times when action beyond the letter of the law is necessary.

Categories > Politics



The witnesses for the Kagan SCOTUS hearings feature NLT contributor Robert Alt and a few other friends, including Ed Whelan of NRO's Bench Memos, an indispensable source on next week's follies.

The left has Jon Stewart, but the right has Jeremy Rabkin.  Watch him entertain (and inform) on Kagan and international law (aka the practices and laws of barbarians) at Heritage, where he is introduced by Robert Alt.  Commenting is former Clarence Thomas clerk Carrie Severino of Judicial Crisis Network.

Categories > Courts


One Good Decision, but Questions Remain

It is hard to be critical of Obama's handling of McChrystal. He did what had to be done, and he explained it in the way a President should. (Never mind that his friends at had to do a little re-writing of history to make it look like they have been supporting Petraeus all along.) His approval rating even went up a couple points, but it is on its way back down already.  Even though Obama got this decision right, my favorite political commentator, Michael Ramirez, reminds us that the larger questions about him remain:

Categories > Presidency


Blowout of a Different Kind

Bad windmill, bad bad windmill.  I think this scene can use caption contest.  Extra credit for working "Al Gore" into the cutline.

Categories > Environment


Dodd and Man

Senator Dodd's comments about the latest legislative behemoth, largely about banking and finance, going through Congress are quite revealing: "This is about as important as it gets, because it deals with every single aspect of our lives."   That's the problem.   No doubt is makes Seantor Dodd and the rest of the governing class feel important that they can do such things, and I'm sure they think that they're helping.  From another perspective, however, they're often self-important busibodies.

P.S. The article also notes that "government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain a multibillion dollar drain on the U.S. Treasury, and largely untouched by this proposal."

Categories > Congress


The Party of Big Business

RealClearPolitics links to a video of a speech by Democratic Congressman, Hank Johnson saying that if the government does not limit campaign contributions, more Republicans will be elected.  Why, because "Republicans favor big busines and big business favors Republicans."  It amusing that his two examples, BP and Goldman Sachs, were both big Obama donors.

One good thing about the web, particularly now that video links are so easy, is that it makes it easier for us to see just how unimpressive so many of our elected officials, of both parties, are.  An argument for having them responsible for fewer things, if you ask me.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

What Would Lincoln Do?

About McChrystal?  Someone who wrote a great book about leaders and generals, Eliot Cohen, says he has to be fired.  Doris Kearns Goodwin implies that you can't win a war without the right person in charge.  Prudence over principle (as is always the case).  "Anybody will do for you," Lincoln said, "but not for me. I must have somebody."
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Ideas In Tension

Here are some thoughts,

1.  The GOP's big domestic policy weakness lies in crafting a specific economic agenda that can plausibly offer higher living standards and at least somewhat greater security (especially in health care.)  It does not follow that to make progress on economics, Republicans need to move left or default on the social issues.  Alienating social conservatives makes the job of crafting a winning coalition that is geared to economic reform harder rather than easier.  It is possible to stick to social conservative principles while running an economy-focused campaign.  Which is to say that while Virginia is not America writ small, Mitch Daniels might have something to learn from Bob McDonnell.  One of the lessons of the McDonnell campaign: if you have an appealing economic message and a principled but nonabrasive stand on the social issues, it is to the conservative Republican's advantage to have the Democrat run a "divisive" culture war campaign.

2.  Except in the very short term (as in 2010) the GOP cannot win consistently without expanding its demographic base.  There is also no chance of a winning and decent conservative politics absent those self-identified conservatives who make up the Republican base.  There are two temptations to avoid.  The first is the assumption that conservatives can win by bringing the Reagan-era coalition back together and assuming that inroads with demographic groups outside that coalition will happen without special effort.  The second is to triangulate against conservatives by moving left in order to win over persuadables who consume mostly left-leaning media and hoping that conservatives will stick with you because they have nowhere else to go.  Both roads lead to California.  The worst thing is that a lousy center-right politics will tend to alternate between these two approaches as each one, in turn, fails to combine electoral success with good policy outcomes.  There is no practical alternative to crafting a policy agenda and message that appeals to conservatives and those who do not think of themselves as conservatives, have not bought into the conservative narrative of the recent past, and who do not consume much if any right-leaning media.  That is an enormous challenge because it involve simultaneously threading multiple policy, cultural and media needles.

Categories > Politics


Is "Enough!" Enough?

Although I am very much enjoying Bill Voegeli's Never Enough, I'm not talking about that fine book just now. 

Rather, I point to today's National Examiner, wherein Hugh Hewitt writes that given the many and varied ways the Obama administration has demonstrated itself to be in over its head, "Enough!" will probably be enough of a slogan for the GOP this fall.  This is true, argues Hewitt, despite the best efforts of Dems to conceal the depths of their hole digging.  The deficit hole--forget all their other holes--begins to make the Deepwater Horizon drilling project look like a day at the beach with a pail and shovel.  Voters are on to this, however, and it seems unlikely that in an age of flip phones and new media, old-style smoke and mirrors will provide enough cover to the disingenuous. 

But will "Enough!" provide enough cover to a GOP inclined to pursue an easy return to power?  It might be "enough" for that limited purpose.  But it seems unlikely to be enough to make the country switch gears and begin an effective turn around.  And it gives little comfort to the heart to read Hewitt's closing line and final justification for the slogan, "'Enough!'  is enough of a slogan. Not even the Republicans can screw that up." [Emphasis mine.]  Great.  Can't wait to watch what a one note band does when they get to run the production.

Republicans would do well to recall that we remain a divided country.  (This Ohio race--in a dead heat--is a good barometer for measuring the nature of the problem.)  The part of the electorate that the GOP is after are not simply fooled and disillusioned Democrats grasping for the only available alternative to disaster.  A good number of them are irritated and frustrated Republicans (or otherwise center-right folks) hoping and expecting something more from the GOP than "Enough!" and "I'm not a Democrat."  But there is also a vast population of voters now awakened to politics--perhaps for the first time--because of this demonstration of political incompetence on the part of Democrats.  They know now what they DON'T believe about American politics.  Will Republicans offer them something they can believe?  Will they take advantage of a once in a political lifetime opportunity to persuade and build their party? 

I agree with those commentators here (Pete and others) who have argued that Republicans really need to get their political act together on policy and offer principled, constructive alternatives to government take-overs, bail-outs, and massive spending programs.  But I remain skeptical of even THAT as a strategy.  It's good as far as it goes.  But its weakness is that it tends to assume a fundamentally sound understanding of the nature and purpose of American politics . . . and I just think that's an assumption we can't afford to make.

Republicans have this ONE chance to get THAT right.  It is safer to assume that policy will follow principle than it is to assume that principle will follow policy.  Republicans need to be out there making strong and principled arguments about American civics that can appeal to voters who have demonstrated a hunger for it.  And this can play into the "Enough!" meme because it is easy to demonstrate the ways in which the work of the Dems is NOT in compliance with basic American civics.  But Republicans have to also remember that at the same time Americans have demonstrated a hunger for American civics, they remain--because of a wildly ineffective and twisted education system--terribly confused about it.   GOP candidates for office would do well to bone up on their own understanding of American history, civics and politics as it is fair to expect that much of the questioning they're going to get on the campaign trail is going to hearken back to it. 

While it's too much to expect that Republicans can correct decades of misinformation in one election cycle (indeed, it's probably too much to imagine that any significant number of the candidates themselves possess any coherent understanding of it) the country as a whole needs to begin this re-awakening. For it will never be "enough" to shout "Enough!"

Categories > Elections


The World-historical Cup

The World Cup reminds us of the greatest game ever played, featuring the Greek versus the German philosophers, Nature versus History.
Categories > Sports

Political Parties

How Soon They Forget

Democrats complain about their lack of party unity in Congress.  In particular, they are blaming Rahm Emannuel "Democrats have not stood behind the president in the way Republicans did for George W Bush, and that was meant to be Rahm's job."

It's always amusing to see people who believe their own spin.  Consider the major items of President Bush's domestic agenda, excepting tax cuts (an issue on which the GOP was unified).  No Child Left Behind passed the House with 198-6 among Democrats and 188-33 Republicans on board.  The Senate vote was similar.  (No surprise, given that Ted Kennedy's staff drafted the bill, if memory serves).  The vote on the prescription drug benefit was more partisan, but by no means was it a party line vote. (9 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for it, and 195 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against).

And let's not forget just how hard a time Bush had with his party on immigration reform, among other things.  In that case, Bush pushed something that divided his party, and the result was division.  Similarly, the TARP vote was fairly bipartisan (although it had more Democratic than Republican support in the House).

Why, despite having larger majorities than any Republican President has had since before World War II, are Democrats having a hard time getting their agenda through?  Perhaps it has something to do with the contents of the bills? 

(On the other hand, Democrats have passed several of their major priorities--a giant stimulus/ save unionized government jobs bill and an expansion of government's role in medical care, among other things.)


Categories > Political Parties


They Bravely Ran Away . . .

Democrats are starting to cancel town hall meetings.  Brave, Brave, Brave, brave Congressmen. When danger reared its ugly head, they bravely turned their tails and fled . . .
Categories > Congress

Political Philosophy

Justice, Justice Shall you Pursue . . .

Antonin Scalia's advice to graduates:

"[A] platitude I want discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, 'Follow your star,' or 'Never compromise your principles.' Or, quoting Polonius in 'Hamlet' -- who people forget was supposed to be an idiot -- 'To thine ownself be true.' Now this can be very good or very bad advice. . . .

More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, 'Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society.' Hitler said, 'Let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order.' And Lenin said, 'Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world.'

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Bill Bennett Show Available on Podcast

By the miracle of the Interwebs, my appearance on the Bill Bennett show last Wednesday morning is available as a podcast!    And if you need any more incentive than that, how about this fan letter:

"Mr. Hayward, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your time on the Bill Bennett show this morning. I commute from Fort Worth to Dallas most mornings, as unenviable as that may sound, and I found your time slot absolutely fascinating this morning.  Thanks so much for your work and commitment to the study of energy and environment. It is not often that I find myself absolutely riveted via radio programming, but your information this morning was just mind boggling."


Hey Liberals! You Don't Know How Good You Have It!

Jonathan Chait writes about the liberal freakout against Obama over at MSNBC. John Podhoretz links this disaffection to the expectations that Obama aroused during the campaign.  I think I agree more with Chait that the liberals who are currently so upset are having their judgments distorted by a too romantic a view of the policymaking process and a distorted view of the New Deal.  I also agree with Jonah Goldberg that expectations of New Deal-type change and liberal political dominance were always a delusion.  The Republican Party is much more unified and confident than during FDR's first term.  I think just as important, the economy improved through FDR's first term.. It was from a low base, but FDR's policies coincided with rising growth and lower unemployment.  Regardless of the real cause of economic improvement, FDR's policies seemed to be working.  The unemployment rate is now over two percentage points higher than when Obama took over.

This liberal disaffection with Obama is not deserved.  He managed to get a stimulus bill through Congress that was many times bigger than the one Clinton failed to get in 1993.  Obama's health care plan puts us on the road to a single-payer system, and getting off that road will be really tough.  The votes for card check and cap and trade were never there and nothing Obama said or did were going to change that.  He played his hand (from a liberal perspective) about as well as could be expected.

I think the biggest cause of the liberal disaffection with Obama comes from looking at the poll numbers and knowing that the Republicans will make big gains in November and also knowing that the window for passing transformational liberal legislation is closing.  Obama looks weak and confused.  Why doesn't he go out there and kick the butts of the oil spill and Congress and get things done?  

But there will be a reconciliation.  If and when the labor market begins to recover and Obama's job approval goes above 50, those same liberals who are now so critical of Obama will notice that Obama will be able to plausibly point to the stimulus as the cause of the recovery (not because thats the truth of course) and use that "success" as an argument for an even more government-run economy.  Perhaps the economy would do even better with a "green stimulus."  The health care system will have been restructured so as to become ever more statist as time goes on.  An Obama reelection would likely consolidate these liberal gains and maybe produce a solidly liberal and confidently activist majority on the Supreme Court.  Then these same liberals will look at Obama like some combination of a saint, action hero and Einstein.  The reality will be that Obama will always have been the same guy: an articulate, shrewd, flawed, ambitious, social democratic-leaning liberal with a knack for moving the country as leftwards as possible without destroying his administration. 

Categories > Politics


Mitch Daniels Violates Truce, Social Issues Peace Process Endangered

Mitch Daniels is in favor of reinstating the Mexico City policy. Michael Gerson quotes Daniels as calling government funding for organizations that fund or promote abortions overseas one of "a thousand things we shouldn't be spending money on."  Fair enough, but a social liberal might look at the same policy and see it as an attempt to block the ability of poor foreign women to exercise their reproductive rights.  That doesn't sound very trucey.

The reality is that there can no comprehensive truce on the social issues (which is not to say that they must dominate the debate all or even most of the time.)  What would a President Daniels do to maintain a truce if Anthony Kennedy were to die during Daniels' first term.  Abortion, campaign finance restrictions, church and state issues, the Second Amendment, and who knows what else would hang in the balance.  Would the Supreme Court Justice be appointed by lottery?  Would the appointee have to swear a blood oath not to overturn any controversial precedents?

Having said all that, Daniels seems to be moving in the right directions and I'm going to follow National Review's advice and declare my own unilateral truce on this truce stuff - at least until Daniels says something I really disagree with.

One last point.  Hasn't Daniels' approach ensured that his (seemingly orthodox conservative)opinions on the social issues receive more scrutiny than they otherwise would have?

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Multiculturalism and the Rule of Law

In Canada, Mark Steyn reports, the Dons of popular culture are starting to entertain "the question of whether Canadian judges should give those who commit 'honour' killings a break because they have different 'cultural practices' and may not be aware of our norms and laws."

The logic is inescapable.  Culture, law, and politics are not, ultimately, separable.  In America, we are so used to making a conventional separation between civil society and government that we sometimes forget that that very separation is built upon the ideas of 1776. 

P.S. I often wonder whether, if we take multiculturalism seriously, we'll find that some cultures value life more than others, whether some value honesty more than others. Etc.  Or does multiculturalism built on the premise that culture does not cut that deep?

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Poet, versifier, traslator

Is A.M. Juster, and more (also known as Michael J. Astrue, head of the Social Security Administration).  I finally got my hands on his volume, The Secret Language of Women, and I like it very much.  A sample:

She wakes to off key harmonies of drunks
Who fight a losing war with battle hymns
And thinks about the functionary's wit
The jokes he had for moments such as these.


On the Death of B.F. Skinner
The headlines were unanimous
from Newsweek to Le Monde
no matter what the stimulus,
B.F. did not respond

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Vicissitudes of Show Business

My interview on the Dennis Prager Show has been postponed until two weeks from today, Thursday, July 8.

P.S. Aware, as we all are, that Al Gore is currently going through a difficult passage in his life, I'm hoping the news that I've turned his invention to my own purposes will bring him a little cheer.


Environmentalists as Battered Spouses of the Left

I explain Obama's palpable insincerity about the environment in this article over at
Categories > Environment


Jon Stewart on "Energy Independence"

I've written several things about the superficiality of "energy independence" and "getting off oil," but why bother when The Daily Show does it so much better.
Categories > Environment


Why Obama Looks Bad This Morning

It was a rough night for the President. 

Steve has good thoughts on Obama's speech from last night, but let me offer some others from Michael Goodwin at The New York Post:

"His idea to tax all forms of carbon already failed once as the public gagged on his splurge in deficit spending.

Even Democratic senators and governors fear the impact it would have on energy prices and manufacturing jobs in coal and oil states.

But the idea is in play, repackaged as Obama's answer to the Gulf spill. It would be one thing if he came up with these industry takeovers as answers to the emergencies.

It's quite another when he uses the emergencies as a transparent excuse to sell a plan he had before the crisis hit." [Emphasis mine]

The headline on Goodwin's piece calls Obama's speech a "Crude Grab for Power."  And that's just it.  Unfortunately, regarding power grabs we've come to the point where we all rather know to expect that--what's shocking (and perhaps even disconcerting) is just how crude these power grabs are getting.

It is one thing for a liberal Democrat to ogle your posterior for the wallet it sports and whisper sweet-nothings in your ear so as to get you to hand it over.  And as he's fishing in there, we naturally expect that he's going to take with him a little bit more than just our money . . . he's also giving himself a bit of power over us--power that he maybe didn't have before this exchange.  But this kind of activity--however disingenuous--is perfectly in line with the democratic tradition and gives a nod--however scoffing--to the concept of consent.  Of course, political Casanova's deserve some scorn . . . though probably not as much as the gullible recipients of their barely concealed flattery. 

But it is another thing altogether for a liberal Democrat to brazenly announce his intentions to take what you're not inclined to give--and whether you're into it or not . . . and then, moreover, to suggest that there is something wrong and bad about you for not wanting it.  Don't you know what's good for you?  No other President is going to love you like I do . . .  Obama, of course, is not the first to address us in this way (and from this room!) but he seems amazingly oblivious to the likely outcome, given the precedent.

Now, when confronted with this kind of "logic" in other areas of life, we are inclined either to call it attempted rape or, alternatively, pathetic and desperate begging.  Teasing out the difference, I guess, depends upon the level of threat and a reasonable assessment of the danger. 

My inclination is to say that this thing of Obama's was so darn desperate and obvious . . . pathetic, really, that the temptation is to laugh him off as a political has-been before he's ever been much of anything.  Yet, there he sits . . . only 17 months into his Presidency.  We've got a long time ahead of us with him as President and he has demonstrated that he is not going to change his mind about what he wants from us and, moreover, that he is unlikely to stop making these desperate appeals that turn, subsequently, into pushes.  We have told him that we are not going to give it.  It appears that he still needs to be made to understand that he is not going to take it, either. 

Categories > Presidency

Shameless Self-Promotion

More Stuff About "Never Enough"

  1. Scott Johnson of Power Line is an enthusiastic supporter of the Claremont Review of Books.  Today he devotes a post to reiterating his kind support for Never Enough, and to providing that book's author an opportunity to reflect on what the Gulf oil spill tells us about the argument between liberals and conservatives.
  2. My 15 minutes of fame worked out to be only seven-and-a-half minutes long.  You can view them here, an interview taped at last month's Book Expo America in New York. 
  3. If, understandably, you would prefer to listen to Never Enough's author discuss the book without having to watch him, you can catch Seth Leibsohn's interview on last week's Bill Bennett Show, or the one I did on June 12th with Steven Spierer on Talk Radio One.
  4. Perhaps you're old school, and like to listen to the radio on the radio, instead of the computer.  Tomorrow is your lucky day, then.  I'll be a guest on the Dennis Prager Show from 2 to 3 p.m., Eastern Time, 11 a.m. to noon, Pacific Time.
  5. I encourage NLT readers living in or near our nation's capital to attend a speech I'll deliver next Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation.  
  6. Also in Washington, Brother Hayward has kindly organized an American Enterprise Institute panel to consider the arguments in Never Enough and in The Struggle to Limit Government, by John Samples of the Cato Institute.  It will be held the morning of Thursday, June 24, and feature, in addition to the authors and Steve, Jonathan Rauch, Christopher DeMuth, Charles Murray, Fred Siegel and Jonah Goldberg.

Shameless Self-Promotion

"Obama & Hayward, in it together"

The headline in today's Washington Post.  (Except when you click on the link, you get a different headline in the online version than the print version.)  Nonetheless, I think I'll retire anyway.  

(By the way contrary to rumors, I'm not certain whether I'm related to BP's beleaguered CEO Tony.  He does come from the same general area of England as my Hayward ancestors more than 100 years ago, so who knows.  There isn't facial resemblance.  But I've lost track of tons of distant English cousins.)


Obama's Flop

My brief thoughts on Obama's energy speech are up over on The Corner.
Categories > Environment


More on the Oil Spill

My long piece on the oil spill with Ken Green is now out on the interwebs, as is this short video I did from the beach last week about natural oil seeps.

I'm booked to be on Bill Bennett's radio show Wednesday morning at 8:05 am eastern time.  And I should turn up later tonight on the Jim Bohannon radio show (on more than 300 stations nationwide) at about 10:05 pm, though there is some uncertainty about this.
Categories > Environment


It's Official!

I've long suspected it, but it now turns out that soccer is gay.

Categories > Sports

Now THIS Is Going Too Far

Looks like the anti-smoking Nazis have succeeded where the Third Reich Nazis (head man an anti-smoker, recall) failed: they've airbrushed the cigar from Churchill's mouth.

If I run into one of the clowns who did this, they'll get something in their mouth from me.  It won't be a cigar.


Pro-Lifers And The GOP

Some scattered thoughts,

1.  This isn't news, but the Human Life Amendment is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.  Any Republican presidential candidate who makes that their abortion policy and makes that policy a centerpiece of their campaign is really hurting their chances of getting elected, and even if they do get elected, the Amendment will not pass Congress. Focusing on the Human Life Amendment as an immediate goal is worse than just bad electoral politics.  It is a waste of pro-life energy that, if it were better directed, could lead to better policy outcomes and better position pro-lifers to make future gains.  This does not necessarily mean changing the Republican platform, but it would mean the Republican presidential candidate might avow that they won't pursue policies that they are not convinced have majority support.

2.  Pro-lifers should not let themselves get taken for granted.  There are commitments that pro-lifers can demand without hurting either the Republican Party's or the pro-life movement's prospects.  At minimum, pro-lifers should expect that the President would pursue popular abortion restrictions (especially on public subsidies) and commit to judicial appointments that move the abortion issue out of Anthony Kennedy's head and into elected legislatures.  They should also expect a Republican nominee that can, when asked, make a principled pro-life argument - even if it is not central to that candidate's message. One might argue that the assertion of pro-life principles by the Republican presidential nominee will repulse some voters.  Maybe, but how many voters that were gettable by Republicans will be repulsed by the mere knowledge that the Republican candidate is a pro-lifer?  Probably alot fewer than the pro-lifers who will stay home when they see that there are zero pro-lifers among the two major party candidates

3.  For coalitional and demographic reasons, Republicans will have to maximize turnout among their base, win over white persuadables who don't self-identify as conservative, and make some marginal gains among Latinos and Asians.  The politics of abortion will be secondary, but can be nontrivial in both mobilizing social conservatives and making some gains among nonconservatives.  A combination of an incremental, majority-supported policy agenda and a focus on the abortion extremism of the national Democrats and President Obama personally could be a vote winner if Republicans also have a winning economic agenda and message.

4.  Republicans have not been losing because of abortion.  The one time during the last campaign that abortion came up in a big way (during the Rick Warren thing), the tactical advantage went to McCain.  During the financial crisis, not so much.

5.  Abortion is the easy part.  Crafting an abortion message and policy agenda that can mobilize social conservatives while minimally alienating persuadables who were not committed pro-lifers is something Republicans have been doing for thirty years.  I think they could do a little better, but it is the least of their problems.  Crafting a positive winning message on market-oriented health care will be much harder and this is an area in which Republicans have very little history of political success.

Categories > Politics


How Deepwater Happened: A Tale of Negligence

This letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal offers the best and most succinct account of how bad decisions led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout.  This fits with what other people in the industry tell me they think happened.
Categories > Environment


Bourbon Trail

It is well known that I am fond of Kentucky and you know Lincoln needed it ("I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky"), and where--for those of us who like to add hot and rebellious liquors to our blood--very good bourbon can be found.  I should also add that I like the way the women talk, with a kind of silken affectation.  Very sweet.  For the bourbon part, see this useful propaganda site: Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Categories > Leisure


Reacting to the Past

I've just returned from Barnard College in New York, where I attended the tenth annual summer institute of the Reacting to the Past series.  If you're a college or university instructor, you should know about RTTP; they're elaborate role-playing games set during pivotal moments in the past.  For example, there's one based on the French Revolution, in which students play Louis XVI, Lafayette, Danton, Robespierre, etc.  At the institute I participated in two new games--one set during the Constitutional Convention (I played Roger Sherman of Connecticut and yes, I did prevent the Convention's collapse by suggesting a compromise that satisfied both the large and small states) and another set in Kentucky during the secession crisis of 1861 (in which I played Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Inspector General of the Kentucky State Guard).

Of course, role-playing simulations have been used in education for years, but in my opinion most are not serious enough for use in college-level classrooms.  Reacting to the Past games are different in that they are tied directly to important texts.  In the French Revolution game students must become thoroughly acquainted with the work of Rousseau and Burke.  For the Constitutional Convention they must read Montesquieu, Hume, Paine, etc.  Those playing the Kentucky game had better be familiar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, as well as the work of Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson, and John Calhoun.  Students must give speeches and write papers, in character, drawing on the texts.  But because these are games, the participants are highly motivated.  Each character has specific objectives that he or she must try to achieve; for example, in the Constitutional Convention game Roger Sherman prefers a confederal plan, and scores points for achieving it, but if the Convention falls apart Sherman earns points for proposing a compromise solution.  Working for a class grade is one thing; working to WIN is another.

A complete list of the available games may be found here.  Some have already been published by Pearson. Others are still being playtested, but may be downloaded if you'd like to give any of them a try in your classes.  Many more are at one stage or another of development--I am, in fact, working on two, one set in Japan during 1940-41, and another set during the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848-49. 

One further note: because these games are set in the past, there may be a temptation to regard them as only suitable for history courses.  This is not the case.  The subject matter crosses many disciplinary lines, encompassing (depending on the game) political theory, philosophy, religion, and even the sciences.  Since they are writing-intensive, they could be used in composition courses, and because they require public speaking they might be used for speech communication courses.  Having used a number of them myself, I can attest to their effectiveness in keeping students engaged. 

Categories > Education


More Class from Our Governing Class

Congressman Ethridge of North Carolina shows why he deserves to be retired.  Did he start drinking early on this day, or is he simply just a part of the anatomy that Obama wants to kick?

Categories > Politics

Health Care

Write the Bill to Know What's In It?

Nancy Pelosi famously said that "we have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it." Now, as Scott Gottlieb points out, we find that even that isn't enough.  Congress left the most important law-writing to the unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services.  The result does not look promising:

The 3,000-odd pages of legislation left most of the really important (and controversial) policy decisions to the regulations that government agencies were told to issue once the bill passed. Now that those regs are starting to take shape, it's clear that the Obama team is using its new power to exert tight control over the payment and delivery of all formerly "private" health insurance.

The ObamaCare law references the Secretary of Health and Human Services almost 2,200 times and uses the phrase "the secretary shall" more than 725. Each reference requires HHS to set new rules on medical care, giving control to an existing federal office or one of 160 new agencies that the bill created. . . .

The draft regs envision more than half of all policies having to change within three years -- an unmistakable break with President's Obama's oft-repeated promise, "If people like their insurance, they will be able to keep it."

Yet that may be the least of the broken promises.

Ultimately, these rules force consumers to buy one of just four health policies -- which vary mostly only by trading off higher co-payments for lower premiums, while offering essentially the same actual benefits. In arguing for passage of the law, ObamaCare's defenders claimed the rules were aimed at health plans sold in the "exchanges." Oops: Now [HHS Secretary] Sebelius is applying them to employer plans. Eventually, this would force all but the very wealthiest Americans into a single government-designed insurance scheme.

Categories > Health Care

Political Philosophy

All You Need is Love?

Instapundit links to a study which suggests that the hormones related to love may also cause war:

"Oxytocin has received much attention for boosting social bonding and cooperation, but it also appears to trigger defensive aggression against outsiders who might threaten an individual's social group, psychologists say. That indicates the hormone has a much more complex role in social dynamics than just encouraging humans to make love and not war."

Move evidence that John Adams was onto something when he said made a similar observation. Against the peace, love, and harmony types of his day, Adams said that love is often the cause of wars.  Adams said that the desire to be seen, and, through that, to attract the admiration and love of others, was the basic political passion.  As he put it in his "Discourses on Davila":

"Who will love me then?" was the pathetic reply of one, who starved himself to feed his mastiff, to a charitable passenger, who advised him to kill or sell the animal. In this "who will love me then?" there is a key to the human heart; to the history of human life and manners; and to the rise and fall of empires.

Pop Culture

Little Known Facts

The Best Man, old style:

The tradition of the best man has its origin with the Germanic Goths, when it was customary and preferable for a man to marry a woman from within his own community. When women came into short supply "locally," eligible bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community. As you might guess, this was not a one-person operation, and so the future bridegroom would be accompanied by a male companion who would help. Our custom of the best man is a throwback to that two-man, strong-armed tactic, for, of course the future groom would select only the best man he knew to come along for such an important task.

The role of the best man evolved byy 200 A.D. his task was still more than just safeguarding the ring. There remained a real threat that the bride's family would attempt to forcibly obtain her return, so the best man remained at the groom's side throughout the marriage ceremony, alert and well-armed. He continued his duties after the ceremony by standing guard as sentry outside the newlywed's home. Much of this is German folklore, but is not without written documentation and physical artifacts. We have records that indicate that beneath the altars of many churches of early peoples (the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals) there lay an arsenal of clubs, knives, and spears. The indication is that these were there to protect the groom from possible attack by the bride's family in an attempt to recapture her.

Categories > Pop Culture


An Un-American Response

I continue to be disappointed by the response to the oil spill. While Steve Hayward's article puts many of the issues in very clear context, commentary like this is certainly not the norm. I am surprised that Obama has still not found any footing on this. The New York Times has joined in beating up on him. They correctly identify many of his problems, but it is the New York Times after all, so they come to all the wrong conclusions.

The thing that strikes me most about the response is just how un-American it feels. There is something helpless and blaming about it. We Americans are at our best when facing a crisis. But in this one, we are left feeling powerless and weak. Obama has shown anger, but we don't want anger. We just want some effective leadership. He has also used this as an opportunity to demonize BP. Yes, they are responsible, but on the whole, they seem to be living up to that responsibility. Frank Rich encourages Obama to take this demonizing even further and become a modern trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt. Obama is making a mistake by turning this issue into US against BP, and he would be making a mistake to take this any further. We are not looking for blame and threats. We want action to fix the problem and appropriate responsibility in cleaning up the mess. But Obama is not giving us either of those things. He will not be remembered well for this, because, at its core, his response has been very un-American. It has been serendipitous to watch The Pacific on HBO during this crisis. That was an American response, and the contrast is striking. 
Categories > Presidency


Ramirez Sizes Things Up

Following up on Steve's comment below about Obama and Jimmy Carter, Michael Ramirez provides his usual clarity to the issue.

Categories > Presidency


Oil Spills--Do'h!

I've returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak, having written four days before the Deepwater Horizon blowout that offshore oil spills were likely a thing of the past (hence the "Do'h!"), in the new issue of the Weekly Standard out this morning, pointing out the adverse environmental tradeoffs of overreacting.  I'll have a much longer and more technical article with Ken Green coming out on Monday.  Stay tuned.

P.S.  Couldn't happen to a more politically correct oil company, by the way.  BP's entire "Beyond Petroleum" image makeover a few years ago was the brainchild of a number of liberal groups (such as pollster Stan Greenberg), and BP has been a major contributor to environmental groups.  There's long been a lefty website called "ExxonSecrets" (though what the "secret" is eludes me, since all the info on the site comes from public disclosure documents); I'm wondering if we'll get a "BP Secrets" site some time soon.  I'm not holding my breath.
Categories > Environment

Foreign Affairs

BP the New British East India Company?

Well, then.  That soccer game ought to settle things.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


See, What Did I Tell You?

Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat offer Mitch Daniels constructive criticism on his idea of a "truce" on social issues.

Department of I told you so: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Mike Huckabee both go after Daniels on the "truce."  Daniels actually started taking heat on this a little earlier than I expected. I think Daniels should listen to Ponnuru and Douthat.

I'm interested in how Romney will treat Daniels.  I think Daniels is a much bigger potential threat to Romney than to Huckabee.  Huckabee can use Daniels as a foil with Daniels as the economy-focused (and spending cut-focused) candidate with Huckabee as the social conservative/conservatism of the heart alternative.  Romney's two main strengths were his support (or least-of-all-evils acceptance) among movement conservative institutions (he was endorsed by National Review and he took less fire from Limbaugh and such than Huckabee or McCain) and his record of competence as an executive.  Daniels seems to have made the conservative press swoon with very friendly profiles in National Review and the Weekly Standard, and in retrospect, would you rather have Romney's record on health care policy or Daniels'?  If  I were Romney, I would be preparing attacks on Daniels as a tax raiser (it would be misleading but I'm assuming that wouldn't stop Romney) and a defense cutter along with being a social issues squish. 

I say all this as a Daniels fan who likes his record in Indiana and would really like him to run in 2012.  It is just that politics is already tough and unfair enough without Daniels making extra trouble for himself with this truce stuff.

Categories > Politics


Quote of the Day

From the news pages of the New York Times:

The indictment of Mr. Drake was the latest evidence that the Obama administration is proving more aggressive than the Bush administration in seeking to punish unauthorized leaks to the press.

In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often in public fights with the press.

Categories > Journalism


Foist Amendment Protects Fortunetellers

The highest court of Montgomery County (Maryland) declared that the First Amendment protects fortunetellers.  I guess this means Sunday morning political shows, pollsters, and political consultants (to mention but a few) can continue their ways without fear. 
Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Summer Thoughts: Tourist!

Some excellent thoughts on American tourists by a shrewd observer, Eric Felten.  One memorable instance of American tourist stupidity was a comment on the hunting scene featured on a Roman sarcophagus:  "Look, they had dogs back then."  Your memorable moments?
Categories > Pop Culture

Thinking About Mitch and the Real Culture Fight

The discussion on this blog and in other forums of late about a possible candidacy by Mitch Daniels for presidency in 2012 has fixated on his calls for a truce to the culture war. A candidate who seems to be one of the most successful governors in the new era of state fiscal policy disasters has angered or provoked many with his proposed truce. Perhaps more extended reflection on the Daniel's truce can be had if one considers what Daniels, I think, rightly regards as the pivotal moment in American limited government.  

Daniels' remarks over the past few months have urged that the central political battle boils down to self-government achieved through robust consent to actual policies, i.e., Is the creepy Peter Orszag to be our master and the efficiency commissions headed by similar types of officials, or is there something much better that is possible? In listing the accomplishments and, I think accurately gauging the universal thinking of Obama on regulatory policy, Daniels repeatedly underscores, in the measured tones reminiscent of Calvin Coolidge (Daniel's speeches are similar to Silent Cal's), that the failure to recover the hearts of Americans on the prospect of actual self-government leads us in a new direction of social democracy. This is the central moral loss, and from it flows even more of the San Francisco and faculty lounge moralizing we have heard for years and are now seeing slowly implemented.

The central moral and political question evoked by Daniels is what do we make of our lives as human beings and as American citizens? Do we want to be citizens? Are we free and capable of self-rule in any muscular sense? One gathers that Daniels may see the culture wars not as unnecessary but as the inherent consequences of the primal failure of a manly assertion of political honor for oneself, one's family, and one's community. If we are incapable of these basic tasks, then, of course, the fallouts of abortion, deconstruction of the family, and a hiding within the therapeutic mentality that existentially absolves life of meaning and consequence (moral relativism) inevitably follows.

Daniels proclaims the political good of pride, courage, and liberty as the central elements of limited and rightful government. His venture into the national political waters is predicated on the notion that a significant enough cross-section of American citizens will understand this and join him. These are neither the "achievatrons" of America's meritocratic elite, nor the 20-30% who support entitlement politics, but a group who are in conversation with rightly ordered political habits that still seem real and plausible. Moreover, these political habits are our own as Americans.

This, of course, says nothing about Daniels' constitutional conservatism that would lead to originalist appointments across the federal judiciary.


Last chance to vote for William M. McCulloch!

A few weeks ago I told you why I argued that Congressman William M. McCulloch should have a place in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capital.  You have to vote (and can do it on-line) by tomorrow (the 12th).  You may vote by clicking here.  Thanks.
Categories > History

Shameless Self-Promotion

Never Too Many Reminders About "Never Enough" Publicity

I spoke with Seth Leibsohn on this morning's Bill Bennett Show; you can listen to it here.  I'll be interviewed on the Michael Medved Show later today: 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time; 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time; 11:00 a.m. in Honolulu, etc.  Next Thursday, if the schedule isn't changed, I'll be a guest on the Dennis Prager Show.  


Oz or Kansas?

In today's WSJ, Daniel Henninger writes that the oil spill in the Gulf, along with the inability of the federal government to contain it (forget about correcting it), exposes an even deeper well of trouble for Americans than the one now spewing forth (a seeming endless!) amount of crude.   That is, we are in the Land of Oz.  And like the Oz of Dorothy's dream--with its Emerald City (as much a fraud as was the Wizard) and its Wicked Witch (who turned out really to be a busy-bodied neighbor self-righteously armed with some product of over-regulation on the animal control front)--the Oz of our own creation is a dream world where, we imagine, our mistrust in our fellow "ordinary" man might be supplanted by the hopes we are sure must be manifest "somewhere over the rainbow."  The trouble is that in our hapless journey to find them, we've allowed them to become manifest in a great and powerful wizard commanding a bureaucracy of imagined efficiency, perfection, and an incorruptible and boundless compassion. 

Because we have determined that imperfection will not do and, because we wisely detect the imperfection of our neighbors, we no longer trust in our ability to govern ourselves or believe that our neighbors have a legitimate claim to self-government either.  Won't we botch it?  (ed., yes, probably . . . but can we botch it worse than our "betters" have botched it?)  Instead, we have been flattered to be a part of Oz and have trusted that the men in green knew better than we how to find those hopes at the end of our rainbows.  So we happily wore the glasses, bowed in awestruck fear before its altars, and condemned as wicked all those who questioned the wisdom or motivation of its dictates.
Now, confronted as we are by this wicked oil slick--one that no hope on any side of any rainbow will contain and one that the best efforts of both private industry and government together may only (and eventually) imperfectly contain--we see that the capacities of the great and powerful Wizard are at best equal to (and probably, even, less impressive than) the limits of private industry.  Moreover, we see that the Wizard's limits and corruptibility are on an even plane coming into the job but may be, because of the power we've allowed him, even more to be questioned.  That is, he is no better than we but now, because of his power, has the potential to be worse. 

Fortunately for Dorothy, when she awoke from her dream, she realized that it was actually a nightmare and she was grateful to be back in Kansas and among her fellow "ordinary" and imperfect men.  Imperfect men have the virtue of being able to stand up again after tornadoes (or hurricanes or oil-spills) and restore the farm.  They don't need well-meaning hope peddlers to come along selling them the snake oil that there is a land without the unpredictable or imperfect or the nasty or the mean.  These frauds are of no help in times of trouble and (usually when it is too late) can only advise us to do what we'd probably have done on our own without any assistance from their mystical wisdom.  What free men should do instead, is humbly and freely admit their inability to prevent disaster--whether it stems from an act of God or from a failing in Man.  But they can also man-up and set things as close to right as they are ever going to be--without the aid of Wizards or bureaucrats--when disaster comes . . . that is, once Toto has pulled back the curtain and we put down our green glasses.

But, as Henninger seems to know better than anyone--the trouble is not with the man behind the curtain.  The trouble is with the many who should be looking in the mirror
Categories > Politics


The Obama Way?

In today's Wall Street Journal, Steven Rattner has a very revealing op-ed (the full piece is only available to subscribers).  Arguing that "Wall Street Still Doesn't Get it," he quotes the President's comment to a group of bankers that "my administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."  I take that to be the Obama way. H e did the same in the health care deal. If memory serves, Obama made deals with drug companies and the AMA very early in the process. I gather that, until recently, he was working the same angle with BP on cap and trade. (BP has extensive natural gas reserves which could make the company a good deal of money, if the bill is structured in a particular way).  I suspect he's doing the same with Israel just now. Thanks to the cartel-breaking dust-up, he has more leverage than he had recently. (He tried to use the recent housing permit incident similarly).

The President, in other words, practices classic Chicago politics.  He uses popular anger to threaten the big guys, and then cuts a deal with them for half. The intended result--the big guys are happy that they did not get killed, and the common people are happy that they took a hit. (In the mean time, the smaller players are creamed. The big guys can take the hit, and then profit from the reduced competition).

This corporatist approach is not all that new, but Obama is trying to expand its scope.  It is probably the inevitable direction that bigger government will take in America.

I suspect the part of Obama's anger at the tea parties is that they gum up the works of his pragmatic, moderate, corporatism.  They show that there are other ways of seeing it. There are people who don't want such cartelization.  When Obama says he's no socialist, he's being sincere.  He wants to use the market to serve what he takes to be public goods that otherwise would be ignored.  A big, diiverse economy, with players of all sizes makes that more difficult. It is much easier to use the private sector when it's limited to fewer, bigger companies. The tea parties, in this sence, represent the ancient American prejudice in favor of mediating institutions.  Their principles reflect that idea.

Categories > Politics


If, If

I'm not done with this Mitch Daniels thing yet.  How does it play out if Daniels runs for President and if he keeps his current strategy of trying to avoid social issues and trying to get everyone else to do the same thing?  Here how I think it would probably play out:

First, Daniels would take fire from social conservative leaders and his rivals for the Republican nomination.  Try to picture the ads about Daniels not willing to take a position on whether the federal government should subsidize abortions under most circumstances or whether he would he would appoint judges that imposed liberal social policies.  It would become a media story that would compete with Daniels' economic message.  Ironically, Daniels' not talking about social issues will create a spiral of commentary on Daniels not talking about the social issues.  This wouldn't be a big problem if millions of people didn't care about these issues.  And I don't just mean people who are socially conservative first.  There are lots of economic conservatives who are also social conservatives. This is a threshold thing.  Someone doesn't have to be the best social conservative or have a perfect record (see Romney or McCain), but tossing the social issues overboard risks alienating this large group  of down the line(ish) conservatives along with the social conservatism-first group.  Daniels has a chance to be the Republican contender with the best economic record and the best economic message.  If he is acceptable on the other issues, I think he would have a good shot.  But if people who are socially conservative get the idea that he has written their issues off... well then there will be plenty of other Republican contenders who are also selling their own brand of economic conservatism (maybe not as good) but who also have some kind of social agenda.

Then after these dynamics become clear, Daniels will be backed into making some kind of high profile statement of principles and lay out some set of policies on the social issues.  But the damage will have been done.  Social liberalism-first voters will scorn Daniels because he laid out policies they disagreed with.  The reality is that (as Reihan Salam pointed out somewhere) neither Daniels nor any other Republican presidential candidate was ever going to get these voters.  Voter who don't think much about the social issues one way or another will think less of Daniels because he will have clearly made his statement out of political pressure rather than conviction.  With these voters, he will take a hit on character rather than ideology.  Social conservatives will discount his statement because it will seem like he had to be dragged into making it.  This strategy is lots of loss for no gain.

The way to really deemphasize social issues is to lay out an orthodox set of principles (if those are Daniels' principles) and an incremental policy agenda built around policies with majority support.  The country will not be unduly divided at the news that the Republican presidential candidate is pro-life, and if Democrats want to build a campaign around defending taxpayer-funded abortions, let them.  The way to focus on economic issues is to talk about the economic issues most of the time and in the greatest detail.  The irony is that the best way for Daniels to minimize having to talk about the social issues is for him to have something of substance to say.      

Categories > Politics

Mitch Daniels Makes Things Harder On Himself

Jennifer Rubin describes a pretty impressive performance by Mitch Daniels in front of a group of conservative activists and journalists.  The biggest problem that I got from the meeting was Daniels' insistence that the social issues be "set aside" while we deal with the country's economic problems. 

This is a good way for Daniels to lose more friends than he makes.  There is a way to integrate and deemphasize the social issues without alienating social conservatives.  It involves articulating a framework and laying out a series of incremental policies that have majority support.  For instance he can describe his pro-life convictions and say that he is in favor of legislation to remove the license for abortions in the last three months under most circumstances.  If he wants to be a strict federalist about it, he can say he favors that legislation on the state level.  He can surely say that he opposes federal subsidies for such abortions.  And then he can move back to the economic issues.  He will also need a good answer on federal judges and the role they play on social issues. 

Daniels can run, but he can't hide and he can't even really call a timeout.  We can't have a total timeout because these issues are part of public policy and they will be thrust on the next President (if only on court appointments) whether Daniels likes it or not.  These issues matter even to many people who don't rank them at the very top of their concerns.  If Daniels really wants to diffuse these issues, the answer is an eloquent statement of his principles and a prudent, incrementalist policy agenda.  Social conservatives are not the problem.  McCain didn't lose because he spent too much time talking about Obama's abortion extremism.  If Daniels can let them know that he will, within the limits of the powers of his office, seek to advance some social conservative goals, and appoint judges who will not usurp the power of the voters in order to impose liberal policies, Daniels might find plenty of common ground with social conservatives and alot of political room to focus on his economic policies. But he needs to stop telling social conservatives to shut up about their concerns until such time as Daniels decides that American can afford to talk about them again . 


Electoral College Overhaul?

Trent England of Save Our States warns of efforts to undermine the Constitution through the implementation of state legislative actions that would permit states to skirt the original intent of the Electoral College (since no serious efforts to undo that provision of the Constitution have been able to get traction) by directing electors to ignore the popular vote of their own particular state and, instead, cast their ballots for the Presidential candidate with the highest percentage of the national popular vote.  

Efforts like this are advancing in places like New York and Massachusetts.  If the reasons why such a development would be a disaster are not immediately apparent to you, then remind yourself of the 2000 election, think about this and, above all, re-read all of these.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

The Koh-rean Drone War

Marc Thiessen notes that State Dept. legal adviser Harold Koh justifies the deadly Predator drone strikes via the congressional Iraq War resolution (AUMF).  But, as several others (including the UN, the ACLU, and former Bush officials) have observed, the victims of the drone strikes had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.  Yet the terrorists could be targeted, as John Yoo, among others have maintained, under the President's Article II powers--an expansive argument Koh has rejected.  Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, raises the questions, "In a few years, when the situation in the war against terrorism has stabilized, will there be calls for the disbarment of the Obama lawyers who authorized these strikes and criminal investigations of the CIA officers who carried them out? Will Harold Koh join John Yoo and other Bush lawyers in the left's hall of infamy?" 

For some background, see my previous post on this issue.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Sleeper Issue Waking Up?

I've been saying for a while now that Obama's hostility to Israel might be the sleeper issue in a few election contests this fall, even without the assist of the egregious Helen Thomas.  Our pals over at Powerline offer some evident that the Jewish vote may be starting to swing over, as it did in 1980, when Reagan got a historic (for a Republican) 35 - 40 percent of the Jewish vote because of Carter's Israelphobia.
Categories > Elections


Approaching Jimmy Territory

The comparisons between Obama and Jimmy Carter continue to roll in, but I hadn't expected Obama himself to contribute to the lists.  

One of the nadirs of Carter's presidency in 1979 was when he said that if Ted Kennedy ran against him, he'd "whip his ass."  (Johnny Carson made a point of repeating the quip in his Tonight Show monologue, explaining that there was no punch line--he just wanted to outwit the network censors, since you can't prohibit quoting the President of the United States.)

Comes now Obama, telling NBC' Matt Lauer that he's getting all the best information so "I know who's ass to kick."  

UPDATE: This choice comment from another old roommate (way to go Tim!) deserves to be promoted here:

Obama will first seek regulatory approval for that action, which may take weeks to complete, but only after first determining which agency(ies) have jurisdiction(s) and completing their review process(es), while also gathering input from stakeholder(s) local, regional, national and international on potential economic, environmental and political (shhh!! expunge that) impacts of proposed ass kicking, all of which to make certain that proposed ass-kicking will work ("Before we do anything we have to know that it will work") and upon positive preliminary assessment could be considered for exemption from review status and final implementation processing.

Reminds me that apparently the Army recipe for baking brownies is 27 pages long.  (True.)
Categories > Politics


T For Textbook

In the Texas textbook fight, as it so much else, it's wise to read the bill, or in the case the standards, before criticizing them:

Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, had come from his headquarters in Baltimore to complain about the downgrading of the human debasement of African slaves. According to Jealous, language referring to the "triangular trade" among the English colonies on the eastern seaboard, the Caribbean, and Britain had excised the horrors of slavery

Of course, the "triangular trade" has been taught in American public schools at least since I was in California's system a half-century ago, as the import of slaves to the New World, their harvesting of sugar, tobacco, and other commodities, and the sale of these or their by-products (such as molasses and rum) in Europe. Jealous was caught by the gimlet-eyed Terri Leo, secretary of the board. She asked him if he had, in fact, read the proposed curriculum changes and could cite the language he found unacceptable. He was compelled to admit that he had not, and could not. Whereupon she pointed out that the new language summons students to explain "the plantation system, the Atlantic triangular trade, and the spread of slavery." Jealous had been caught in a criticism by inference--or, more bluntly, by dependence on second-hand talking points. 

Texas has also, apparently, exercised reasonable judgment about whom to study:

Later Paul Henley of the Texas State Teachers Association, a powerful public employee union, assailed the board, blasting the replacement of a reference to Santa Barraza--a Texas woman of Hispanic origin, alive and well, who paints folkloric representations of the U.S.-Mexico borderland--with the late cartoon animator Tex Avery (1908-80) on a list of Texas-born contributors to the arts. Most of them, like Barraza, are obscure; Avery is not

Speaking of Tex Avery, here's my favorite of his cartoons. (Beward. puns ahead!)

Categories > Education

Foreign Affairs

A Conservative England?

Well, let's just say that I'm not holding my breath in anticipation of British PM David Cameron's promised spending cuts.  Deputy PM Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, likely will stand in the way of any serious reform, as will the public-sector unions.  Now comes word that George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, wants the British public to get involved by, among other things, submitting ideas online, which proves that silliness in the face of problems demanding serious thought knows no national boundaries.

On the other hand, Cameron deserves credit at least for starting a serious discussion.  If his leadership combined with lessons learned from Greece help put the British people in a belt-tightening mood, then the coalition government might yet succeed in bringing fiscal prudence to the UK.  It's a situation worth watching.      
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Job Approval, 1994, and 2010

Is 2010 shaping up to be another 1994?  According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Obama's job approval rating has been between 50 and 47 since the beginning of the year.  Gallup puts Obama's approval at 47.  To compare, at this same point in Clinton's first term, his job approval in the Gallup poll was 46 and would head up to 49 by the end of the month before dropping to 39 in September and end up back at 46 again the week of the midterm elections.  So if the pattern holds, it looks like some of the conditions for 1994-like Republican gains are there.

But there are also reasons for long-term concern for Obama opponents.  The unemployment rate for Jan-Nov 1994 varied from 6.6 to 5.9.  The unemployment rate for the year to date has varied from 9.7 to 9.9.  Obama has been keeping his approval ratings at about Clinton in 1994 levels during a much worse job market.  And as Daniel Larison has pointed out (I can't remember when he posted it), Obama's approval ratings have been much more stable than Clinton's.  I'm not sure exactly what all this means except that Obama's popularity has been holding up remarkably well given the labor market and that even a modest decline in the unemployment (say to the low 7s) could, absent some perceived foreign policy disaster, push Obama's job approval rating into the 50s and put him in a very strong position for reelection. 

One of the things that jumps out at me about the relationship between the unemployment rate and a President's job approval rating is how context-dependent it is even absent foreign policy disasters like Iraq in 2006 or rally-round-the-flag effects due to events like Reagan getting shot.  Reagan had high approval ratings for most of 1984, but the unemployment rate for most of the year was in the 7s - which isn't that good by the standards of the last thirty years.  But it was alot better than the 10 percent or more unemployment of much of 1982.  Probably just as important, the halving of inflation rate from 1981-1984 halted the erosion of the living standards of those who had jobs.  Obama, after this recession, might also be running for reelection in a country with reduced expectations for what a "low" unemployment rate looks like. 

Categories > Politics


The Trouble with Big Government

It makes it harder for the government to take care of those things that really are job of the federal government:

Under intense media scrutiny, at least a dozen federal agencies have taken part in the spill response, making decision-making slow, conflicted and confused, as they sought to apply numerous federal statutes.

In one stark example of government disputes, internal e-mail messages from the minerals agency obtained by The Times reveal a heated debate over whether to ignore some federal environmental laws about gas emissions in an effort to speed the drilling of relief wells.

One agency official, Michael Tolbert, warned colleagues on April 24 that emissions of nitrous oxide from the well were "pretty far over the exemption level," an issue that his colleague Tommy Broussard said could result in "BP wasting time" on environmental safeguards in a way that would be "completely stupid."

But a third colleague, Elizabeth Peuler, intervened to demand that the agency take "no shortcuts."

"Not even for this one," she said. "Perhaps even especially for this one."

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

The Coming War in the Middle East

Paul Rahe and Daniel Jackson both think that Turkey's turn against Israel is a sign that war will soon return to the Middle East.  Both sound like they know whereof they speak, I fear.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

The Right Man for the Job?

Isn't an oil spill a job for "Slick Willie"?

Categories > Pop Culture


The Case Against Mitch Daniels

I made a case for Mitch Daniels as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.  Why should conservative be wary of Daniels?  I'll try to be fair and balanced.

1. George Packer argues that Daniels got the cost of the Iraq War horribly wrong when Daniels was head of the OMB.  Daniels responds that his estimate of the Iraq War's cost was only for the first six months of the war.  I think Daniels has the better of this argument on the substance, but if he runs for President, he will also have to make sure everyone who hears the charge that Daniels underestimated the cost of the war (possibly to increase political support for the war) also hears Daniels' explanation.

2.  What does Daniels think about foreign and defense policy?  This is more of a blank space than a real weakness, but Daniels will have to fill it in.  Unlike with McCain on domestic policy, I don't worry that Daniels won't do his homework if he decides to run for President.  I don't see the foreign policy equivalent of McCain's responding to the financial crisis by suggesting putting Andrew Cuomo in charge of the SEC.

3. Does Daniels underestimate the importance of social issues?  Daniels is reported to have said that we need a "truce" on social issues as the country deals with its economic problems.  The 2012 presidential election is likely to be economy-driven unless there is some widely perceived foreign policy disaster at least as large as the Iraq War in 2006 (let us pray nothing like that happens.)  But we should keep in mind President Obama's wise observation that a President should be able to handle more than one thing at a time. There is no contradiction in pushing a plan for economic reform and highlighting (though not obsessively), President Obama's abortion extremism.  There is a way to highlight these issues in a way that is not obnoxious.  In fact, a focus on social issues, would be, in every sense, preferable to the culture war identity politics that the McCain campaign played in 2008.  I also worry that Daniels will fall into the same trap that Phil Gramm fell into in 1996.  Despite a good record, Gramm was visibly uncomfortable talking about social issues.  The result was that Pat Buchanan became the candidate of voters for whom social issues were a high priority.  Buchanan ended up beating Gramm in the Louisiana caucuses and scuttled Gramm's hopes of being the conservative alternative to the establishment candidate Bob Dole.  Daniels is a much more appealing candidate than Gramm, but Mike Huckabee is also a much more plausible President than Buchanan.  I'm not sure that Daniels will be able to compete with Huckabee for those conservatives for whom social conservatism comes first by a wide margin, but he will need to be eloquent enough, often enough on the social issues so that social conservatives who are also strongly economic conservatives won't get the sense that he will marginalize their social concerns if he becomes President.  Having good answers on the role of judges will go a long way, as would a strong message about the wrongness of late term abortion.  There is a lot of rhetorical room to reassure social conservatives and even appeal to people outside of the conservative base.  Tonality matters as much as substance here, but it will take work to get it right.

Categories > Politics


D-Day: Does Europe Remember?

I thought I would scan British and French newspapers to see what they were saying about D-Day, with its 66th anniversary today.  I looked at the on-line front pages of the Independent, Daily Telegraph, and Times (UK), and Le Monde and Le Figaro (France).  Nothing.  I'm sure there were opinion pieces, tv coverage, memorials, and so on, so at this point I just raise the question of how much Europe remembers.  Of course a European (or a Euro-oriented American) might say we Americans are obsessed with past wars.
Categories > History


The Internet Dumbs us Down

This author argues yes, maintaining that regular Internet use shapes our brain physiology to make us, in so many words, stupid.  High-speed brain dumps make us unable to read deeply: 

To read a book is to practice an unnatural process of thought. It requires us to place ourselves at what T. S. Eliot, in his poem "Four Quartets," called "the still point of the turning world." We have to forge or strengthen the neural links needed to counter our instinctive distractedness, thereby gaining greater control over our attention and our mind.

If so, this is worse than cell phones and brain tumors, alcohol and brain cells.  The argument for wisdom from the Internet (not really a contradiction) can be found in the accompanying WSJ article.

And, no, the remedy is not reading No Left Turns!

Categories > Technology


Mitch Daniels For President?

Mitch Daniels might be running the smartest presidential campaign of any Republican and he might not even be running.  He has gotten glowing profiles from both the Weekly Standard and National Review (only available to subscribers it seems.)  He has written several smart op-eds for the Wall Street Journal on the takeovers of GM and Chrysler, health care, and cap and trade. 

Daniels has the chance to combine elements of Obama's 2008 appeal and position himself as the antidote to Obama's shortcomings.  By not being a retread presidential candidate or a recent member of the Republican Washington leadership (and his Washington experience was obscure to most people who aren't obsessed with politics), Daniels can come across as a fresh face from the hinterland running for hope and change against a corrupt, incompetent and spendthrift Washington establishment.  But unlike Obama, he can point to oodles of experience and to a record where he was able to balance the budget while keeping taxes under control, and both maintaining and demanding a higher standard of government services.

Daniels' Wall Street Journal op-eds also show the outlines of a compelling 2012 message.  He has a record of moving health care policy in a market-driven direction through HSAs.  What really helps Daniels is that his HSA plan had positive outcomes that can be pointed to in a campaign.  The great political weakness of market-driven health care reforms is that they ask the public to give up something they like in the form of employer-provided health insurance (even if they think it costs too much) in return for a promise that market-driven policies (whether renewable individual policies or HSAs) will make things better.  The act of asking the public to give up something real for something that is outside most people's experience gives Democrats the opening to terrify the public with the prospect of losing their coverage and in return getting nothing or inferior coverage that costs more.  Daniels will be able to point to Indiana and say that his health care plan, in the real world, increased people's take home pay, saved the government money, and preserved people's access to the world's best health care system.  That also gives Daniels one heck of a platform from which to attack the other guy's combination of individual mandates, coverage mandates, tax increases, and expensive subsidies.

Daniels also seems to have found the range in attacking Obama's economic policies.  Obama likes to say that he is pro-business and not a socialist.  Fair enough, but there are lots of ways to be pro-business and not all of them are good.  A cap and trade bill that taxes most people and businesses and subsidizes connected companies is pro some businesses but not really all that good for most of us.  A health care bill that forces us to buy insurance that costs too much is pro some businesses but bad for most if it increases the cost of coverage for businesses and workers and/or increases government costs that have to be paid in either higher taxes or fewer medical services.  Daniels' description of Obama's policies as "crony capitalism" ties together a bunch of Obama policies (Obamacare, cap and trade, the takeover of the auto companies) and taps into public frustration not only with government, but with the privileges of insiders.

Daniels doesn't seem to be doing the things a presidential candidate is expected to do in our current permanent campaign era.  He isn't going to Iowa or New Hampshire and if he is building on the ground operations in those states he is keeping it very quiet. He hasn't published a pre-campaign campaign biography/manifesto and left his job behind to go on a nationwide book tour so people can tell him how awesome he is.  Daniels has a PAC that distributes money to favored candidates, but it seems more oriented to Indiana races than toward collecting chits from Republican candidates around the country.  All this would seem to put him at a fundraising and organizational disadvantage for a presidential campaign, but I wonder about that. If a candidate can produce the right buzz through their message and positive media coverage (and conservative journalists seem to really like him), the internet can produce a huge surge of cash.  If no other candidate produces genuine enthusiasm, even someone with a "late" start in the summer of 2011 can swamp established GOTV operations of candidates that are neither loved nor fully trusted.  Above all, the thrill of novelty should not be underestimated, and especially not when it is combined with substance.  But what do I know?  I backed Phil Gramm in 1996. 

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

"Never Enough" on C-SPAN2

I'll be talking about Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State on C-SPAN2's Book TV this weekend.  The interview, filmed May 27th at Book Expo America in New York, first airs at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, June 5th.



Michael Gerson writes an elegant and spot on editorial in today's Washington Post on sin, virtue, aspiration, hypocrisy, humility and mercy.  A must read.
Categories > Religion


The (Unstated) Conventional Wisdom

Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House Press Corps, suggests that Jews should leave their homeland and go back to Poland and Germany.  As if often the case, she is simply following the Progressive position to its logical conclusion.
Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Israel's Blockade: The American Precedent

In "The Gaza Blockade and International Law" University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner (WSJ subscriber only) notes the precedent for Israel's blockade of Gaza in the American Civil War--the Union's seizing of Confederate ships on the high seas.  Israel does not recognize Gaza's sovereignty.  "... Israel's legal position is reasonable, and it has precedent.  During the U.S. Civil War, the Union claimed to blockade the Confederacy while at the same time maintaining that the Confederacy was not a sovereign state but an agent of insurrection."  A closely divided Supreme Court approved the seizures, suggesting "a certain latitude for countries to use blockades against internal as well as external enemies." 

In an important sense, the criticism of Israel is a criticism of past American practice as well.  In looking to our self-interest in the Middle East, Americans should recall our own history.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Poverty Line Dancing

Robert Samuelson gives an interesting reflection on the politics of defining poverty. The official poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged for decades partly because of how we count it:

The poor's material well-being has improved. The official poverty measure obscures this by counting only pre-tax cash income and ignoring other sources of support. These include the earned-income tax credit (a rebate to low-income workers), food stamps, health insurance (Medicaid), housing and energy subsidies. Spending by poor households from all sources may be double their reported income, reports a study by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Although many poor live hand-to-mouth, they've participated in rising living standards. In 2005, 91 percent had microwaves, 79 percent air conditioning and 48 percent cell phones

And the Obama administration's effort to improve the statistic might not be helpful:

The "supplemental measure" ties the poverty threshold to what the poorest third of Americans spend on food, housing, clothes and utilities. The actual threshold -- not yet calculated -- will almost certainly be higher than today's poverty line. Moreover, the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty -- but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn't decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: people get richer but "poverty" stays stuck.

Categories > Politics


The Case of Linda McMahon

So Rich Lowry went after the likely Republican Senate candidate from Connecticut pretty hard today.  But I don't think that WWE programming is McMahon's most glaring weakness.  I think her biggest weakness is how her company has handled the health issues of her employees.  Some journalist should go through the back issues of the Wrestling Observer from the last ten years and then construct a tick tock of how WWE handled say, the death of Eddie Guerrrero and how WWE dealt with the steroid issue. 

There are things for a Republican partisan to like about McMahon.  She seems willing to spend enough money that Connecticut voters will have heard her message dozens of times before election day.  Based on her business past, she is both relentless and ruthless.  And who knows or cares about how WWE handled the immediate aftermath of some wrestler's death?  But the Rand Paul situation demonstrated how the media can, all at once, latch onto something that was already out in the open and transform the public's perception of a candidate.

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Enough Already!

I guess we need a category for "shameless friend promotion."

Our own William Voegeli gets a shout-out today in Jonah Goldberg's column over at NRO (the column also appeared yesterday in USA Today) for his just released book, Never Enough:  America's Limitless Welfare State.  Goldberg suggests that the purists who insist on need (as determined by their own very pliant heartstrings) and the purists who ideologically oppose any and all safety nets in society have led, are leading and will continue to lead us toward a stalemate that ends with the same result:  Greece. 

Bill also gets a nod this week from George Will (a nationally syndicated version will appear tomorrow). 

Bill is scheduled to appear on both the Michael Medved and the Dennis Prager shows in coming weeks.  So stay tuned to those also.  

Finally, a very good source tells me that Bill did brisk business at a Book Expo in New York but found himself in the curious position of being seated near "a flowing haired former wrestler" whose fans and autograph seekers stretched around the block.  This source observed that it is, indeed, "a big country."  I hope Bill's fans here will show him just how big it is by ordering his book (and reading it!).  RTWT, as they say in the blogosphere.  


On Social Security

It seems like all the obvious fixes will either create perverse incentives that cripple savings and investment or most disadvantage those in the most low paying and unpleasant jobs.
Categories > Economy


Want to increase your country's average life expectancy?

Then support policies that promote growth in GDP.
Categories > Economy


Taking Joe Seriously, Part II

It was Memorial Day yesterday and Vice President Joe Biden was offered a chance to speak at Arlington Cemetery.  It is easy to understand why serious people have a difficult time concentrating the mind when such a profoundly un-serious person is elevated to a lofty position like Vice President of the United States and stands before them offering a meaningless stew like this.  There was no of mention of liberty; no mention of the threats to liberty.  To be sure, there were a few gratuitous remarks about the military being our "heart and soul" and then "spine" (though it is unclear to me why he thinks a spine trumps a heart and soul).  He had some genuine words of sympathy to offer to grieving Gold Star families--employing the usual (and, may I say, lazy?) practice of singling out a few and telling their stories to illustrate his point (and take up space).   But sympathy, in Biden's case, had everything to do with personal loss.  He even made reference to his own personal loss and tragedy--well-meaning and heart-felt, I have no doubt--but still, beside the point of the occasion.

Sorrowfully lacking in all of this display was any recognition of what the nation lost when these men gave their "last full measure of devotion."  All honor to those families and friends whose hearts are aching for a brave soldier who gave all on behalf of our freedom.  But we miss the point, entirely, if we don't recognize how much we lose in permitting such sacrifices to be made.  Part of what makes our freedom so valuable, after all, is its cost.  And, consequently, we can never fully understand when and if those sacrifices are worthwhile if they are only presented outside of their larger context. 

There is a place for acknowledging and honoring private grief.  And it may even be the case that there is a place for it on Memorial Day--for their sacrifice is as much a part of the cost of our freedom as was the loss to the nation of a good citizen and soldier.  Yet, if we fail to put these sacrifices in their larger context, we fail to honor the dead.  Instead, we do what Biden did . . . we feel pity for their families and we come close to insulting both family and fallen.  .  Yet this, too, is revealing of the thinking of Biden and his associates.  It is part and parcel of the profound lack of understanding that this administration has shown when it comes to our fighting men and women and the cause for which they enlisted to serve.  Joe Biden--though unworthy of the ground where he stood yesterday--did us a service in revealing the true sentiment of this administration on these matters.  Again, we ought to pay attention when this court jester speaks.  
Categories > Military

Foreign Affairs

Taking Joe Seriously

Joe Biden's remarkably absurd and outrageous comments last month in Brussels were noted here on these pages with righteous indignation.  But apart from that sound judgment, it seems that the remarks have been given the usual pass from both the right and the left.  "It's just Joe being Joe," people are apt to say.  Perhaps dismissal of this kind is to be expected when one earns for himself the reputation of being a moral idiot on the one hand, and a useful idiot on the other.  But, because this conclusion is so easily arrived at, perhaps we shouldn't be so eager to draw it?

It should be noted that Biden has, on more than one occasion, used his reputation for general idiocy to his and to his benefactors' benefit; and this may be another such occasion.  Conservatives, especially, ought to avoid the temptation to roll their eyes when Biden speaks.  All the more true when one notes, as Jonah Goldberg does here, that Biden's remarks in Brussels were no "off the cuff" gaffe.  They were part of a prepared speech.  They reflect his--and the administrations'--true sentiments.  Given that, Biden's idiocy ought to be more useful to us than it is to his patrons.  He is not a clever enough student or politic enough as a speaker to learn the subtleties of selling the outrageous opinions of his clan.  He takes to them with childlike wonder and cannot imagine why anyone might take exception to these notions or differ with him and his betters.  Like a puppy with a bloody offering, he lays it bare and presents it with pride in all its horrific glory--and he seems genuinely hurt and confused when he is repulsed for his good efforts.  He thought that he was doing good work on behalf of a big "*ing" deal, after all.
. .
So the next time Joe speaks, open your eyes and your ears.  A friend of mine likes to say that "stupid people are dangerous."  Yes, they are.  But we ought to make sure that this particular stupid person is more dangerous to those who embrace him than he is to those of us who are too easily tempted to ignore him.  Dangerous people, after all, should be observed with more care than are the benign.
Categories > Foreign Affairs