Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


20 Minutes before Beck (Updated)

"Racism, racism, fight, fight, fight/Workers of the world unite"--a Communist leafleteer provided some zest for the Glenn Beck rally and handed out fliers to bemused participants.  In my mere 20 minutes at the rally (I had a lunch engagement) I heard little from the stage and saw less, save the apparently middle to upper-middle class crowd, very thick just NE of the Lincoln Memorial.  I have no way of estimating its overall size, except to observe that where I was it was denser than, say, the Fourth of July crowd.  I did hear numerous complaints about the sound and the lack of a view, as many people left, but maybe the audience further back had better sound and perspective on the stage.

In case someone else hasn't made this obvious point, I note that the Lincoln Memorial unites the Beck crowd, the counter-rally, and the original civil rights March on Washington through its presentation of simple justice.  After all, it was Lincoln who defined slavery as "you work, I eat."  That was at the heart of his attacks on slavery in the 1850s, and it is the moral precept that condemns slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and compulsory redistribution of wealth today.  And it is the logical deduction from the proposition that all men are created equal.  The Communists and others who don't share American principles would have a different view of the matter. 


On the methodology of counting crowds:  Consider this photo analysis.  That's fine as far as it goes, but this is like taking roll at the start of class and ignoring all the students who sneak out (and others who come in later).  As I came in, around 11 a.m., I saw innumerable folks leaving, some complaining they could not see or hear.  Others may have found the heat too hard to take.  Yet they should count as attendees, too.  Many more people were coming in than leaving.  So the count needs to take into consideration the total numbers who were there throughout the day--not just a static snapshot of the event.  Maybe some (overly clever) social scientist (a new-bred economist) has devised a methodology for doing this.  So my total count would exceed the static count at the crowd's greatest size by a considerable factor.

Categories > Conservatism


On-Road Hindenbergs?

Well this is strange: a hydrogen car filling station blew up in New York.  Not sure if it means anything, but it surely won't help with folks who think hydrogen cars parked in underground garages might be some kind of risk.

Meanwhile, video of my Hannity Fox News segment on cap and trade is now up.  They used more than I thought they might.
Categories > Environment


Presidential Missteps

It is amazing to watch a President of the United States continue to be so thickheaded about something like golf. This has turned into a liability for him, and he doesn't even see it. Michael Ramirez does:
But what is even more amazing is that his thickheadedness extends well beyond how he spends his free time. It looks like he is about to spend this week digging himself even deeper: a Sunday clarification of his comments on the Ground Zero Mosque (which he shouldn't have even waded into in the first place, and unless he is going to contradict himself, he should stop making a bigger story of it), a Tuesday visit to Louisiana to commemorate Hurricane Katrina (you would think that at least one of his advisors would tell him that after the Gulf oil spill on his watch, he really won't be able to score any points against Republicans and George W. Bush on this one), and a Tuesday evening Oval Office address on foreign policy (violence is escalating, we are leaving, but this is somehow good). But yes, d★#m, he really is good -- but it looks like he will continue to be even better for the Republicans.
Categories > Presidency

Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss tapes

This note in the Wall Street Journal is important for those who may consider themselves serious students of political philosophy: It's a reminder that the Leo Strauss Center at The University of Chicago is uploading to its website written and audio recordings of Strauss's lectures, many made by graduate students in the 1950s and 60s. Eventually, students world-wide will be able to take courses by Strauss, free of charge.  This is significant on many levels, the most important one for me has to do with learning and teaching as the search for truth, as an affair of love.  Students loved Strauss.  He took the human mind seriously, as he did them.  Everyone has always said that Strauss was fine teacher in a classroom (we have only had books and some transcripts of classes until now); now we will have the voice and the conversation, the hint and the giggle, and the blunt talk and the persuasive silences.  It would seem that in this case techne is on the side of truth, the human questions, for the sake of which we do what we do.  It will be good to hear him talk.
"Listening to the tapes, you hear Strauss's different approach [than that of historicism]. He believes that thought--at least by great minds--can transcend its time and place. In other words, he believes there is such a thing as truth.

Instead of cataloging philosophers for rows of classroom note takers, he throws students into an ongoing argument: How should we live? He forces students not merely to study political philosophy but to engage in it."

Shameless Self-Promotion

Media Alert

Last week Fox News sent a crew up four hours from LA to my remote summer location on the California central coast to tape a long interview with me on climate change and cap and trade policy for a special Hannity show on the topic that will air tonight on Fox News at 9 pm eastern (the Hannity web site only has a banner listing for it, with no further details).  Much of what I said will surely end up on the cutting room floor, but I'm told I made the final cut, so tune in!


The Spiliakos family isn't moving far, but we are moving.  Probably no blogging until after Labor Day.


Presidents and their generals

Elliot Cohen is interviewed by The American Interest on this topic, starting with the Stanley McCrystal episode,  The whole thing is very much worth reading.  Some truths have to be understated, I hope you will allow me to remind you.
Categories > Presidency


The Hack Caucus

So liberals have already started their attacks on Joe Miller (h/t to Andrew Sullivan.) If that is the best they can do, he should be fine in a Republican-leaning state in a Republican-leaning year - as long as it stays a two person race. 

It seems like Lisa Murkowski might be thinking of going the third party route.  It is tough to imagine a rationale for her campaign.  I guess she could cobble together some kind of pro-choice, pro-pork, pro-seniority platform.  It would clearly just be a Charlie Crist-like attempt by a hack politician to hold on to office for the sake of holding on to office.

Even though the polls are all over the place, I don't expect Crist to win in Florida.  Rubio's message is a little overwrought for me, but he is a well above average speaker, seems to have a clue on domestic policy, and will have plenty of money to get his message out.  With Crist's movements to the left on abortion and Obamacare, Rubio should be able to consolidate the right-of center vote.  It would take a major Rubio scandal and/or virtually unanimous tactical voting from usually Democratic voters for Crist to win.

It is interesting to compare Crist and (maybe) Murkowski with the Democrat-affiliated independents in the Senate.  Lieberman broke with his party over differences with his party's base on a high salience issue.  Bernie Sanders is an explicit social democrat and the Democrats (an internally complicated party) tend to furiously reject that label.  Their formal estrangement from the Democratic Party is based on stuff that matters.  What, other than ambition, estranges Crist or Murkowski from the Republicans?  Does anyone doubt that Crist would take back his support of the stimulus and the Obama hug if it could be guaranteed he would get the Republican nomination and a two man race against Kendrick Meek or that Crist would still be pro-life and pro-repeal of Obamacare if he was the Republican nominee?   

Categories > Politics

Men and Women

A good old man, talking

You know Ed Taylor as a donor and friend, both to the university (Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award) and the Ashbrook Center (Taylor Chair in the MAHG program, held by Christopher Flannery; Taylor Excellence in Writing Award, etc.).  He is an old friend.  And here is where the humor of it starts.  Not only have I known him for a long time, but he is also almost 101 years old.  It was late in the day, and I was a bit tired, yet I visited him yesterday as he is recovering.  He fell a few weeks ago, broke his leg, but didn't know it, kept walking on it, damaged old bones, and had to have a partial hip replacement.  I was there last week when he was taken into surgery, giving thoughtful orders to the nurses. He still rules himself, and others around him, as needed, by right.  He still has his wits and his authority.  I repeat myself, Ed is one hundred years old.

There he sits, a good man and true.  He can't see everything, but he sees enough to know that this fat shape in front of him must be Peter.  He doesn't hear well, but he can turn the gizmo in his right ear up, in case I say anything interesting.  I was with him an hour and a half.  He wasn't interested in talking about himself, or the weather, only the well being of the country.  His experience hasn't dulled his most fundamental sense, his vigorous mind.  He is not too old to think, he is not too old to learn.

Do you think that there is enough of a constituency out there that still appreciated standards, so that the old virtues of diligence and perseverance can be re-kindled when necessary?  It wasn't enough for me to say yes, I had to give reasons, and each had to be expanded and clarified as a result of his queries.  The whys and wherefores forced me to concentrate, just to keep his pace.  It was not possible to get beyond him.  Sure, there was some talk of policy issues, and taxes, and government spending, but mostly there was just talk of the virtues necessary for self-government and questioning whether or not we still have them, as needed.  He argued with perfect clarity why we shouldn't hide our virtues in the world as it now is.  No tempest in his old unblemished mind, nothing but clarity and wisdom on behalf of freedom.  Impressive and good, and I noticed as I left that I was no longer tired.  Another gift from Ed.

Let me praise my old friend this way: An old man should always be an Edward Taylor.
Categories > Men and Women


The Legal, the Moral, and the Natural

For just about everyone who has addressed the question, the controversy has to do with whether Muslims ought to build a Mosque in the blast-zone of Ground Zero.  Almost everyone agrees with President Obama that the owners of the property have a legal right to build it.  Even so, most people who heard Obama's remarks thought he was endorsing the Mosque, rather than making a trite comment about the legality of the matter.

In this context it is interesting to consider the question of "strategic default"--defaulting on one's mortgage not because one cannot pay it, but rather because it is no longer an economically sound position.  Megan McArdle takes the classic view on the question, saying it is, morally wrong and financially stupid.  The first half of that comment is relevant here.  McArdle believes that a moral man pays his debts.  Failure to pay one's debts when one has the means to do so is a form of fraud, or perhaps theft.  Many Americans, however, don't see it that way.  They simply think that the law allows it, and, therefore, they are perfectly entitled to do it.

I suspect that in both of these cases we are seeing nature at work.  It is natural, and I would say inevitable, for people to conflate what is right with what is legal.  Everyone allows that there is daylight between what is right and what the law allows or requires.  On the other hand, to hold that the legal and the moral are completely separable is to wish for that which cannot happen among men.  The law is by nature a moral teacher.  It cannot be otherwise so long as we remain human.

Categories > Education


The Question to Ask This Fall

"Have you ever voted for a bill that was unconstitutonal?"  That's what possible upset winner Joe Miller asked Lisa Murkowski in their only debate for the Republican Party Senate nomination in Alaska.  Expect even worse answers than the one she gave the Yale-educated lawyer, with even worse results.
Categories > Conservatism

Shameless Self-Promotion

Happy Anniversary to Me

The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counter-Revolution, 1980-1989 was published a year ago today.  Time flies when you're having fun.  If you missed the hardback, copies are still available, but the paperback edition will appear on November 2 (you can pre-order now), which happens to be Beatdown Day, I mean, Election Day.  By then I should have news about my next book project, which is on the drawing board right now.


Suppporting The Ryan Roadmap Takes Courage

says Dick Armey, and he is right.  But I don't think he spells out why it takes so much political courage.  Alot of conservatives are thinking of 2010 in terms of 1994, so it might make sense to compare the Ryan Roadmap to the Contract With America.  The Contract was a collection of poll-tested rightish proposals that the House Democratic leadership was not willing to support due to some combination of opposition from Democratic political elites (welfare reform), the arrogance of power (ending congressional exemptions to federal regulations) or principle (the tax limitation and budget balancing amendment.)

What the Contract lacked was any provision that seemed to threaten the economic interests of any constituency that Republicans were courting.  About the only group that was being directly asked to give anything up were the trial lawyers (families on welfare are a complicated case.).  The Ryan Roadmap is a totally different kind of document.  It isn't designed to put together a set of popular policy ideas as a campaign document.  It is designed to try to answer the hard questions about how to get the long-term deficit to sustainable levels without crushing the economy.  That means asking for sacrifices from alot more groups than the trial lawyers.  Running on the Roadmap is nothing like running on the Contract.  It is more like running on the 1995 Medicare cuts, plus some major Social Security cuts, plus a middle-class tax increase.  Oh, and it might cost you your employer-provided health care coverage.  Running on that does take courage, but it might also be the wrong political answer in the short and medium term.

It might also be something less than the ideal policy answer.  I think that the Ryan Roadmap is best thought of not as the economic policy agenda for the center-right, but as framework for thinking about a broad range of policy problems.  Individual Republicans might want to structure the tax burden differently.  They might want to transition to a more market-oriented health care system differently.  Those might be better ideas and debate between different approaches should be encouraged rather than demanding featly to one plan as a sign of seriousness (something which Ryan himself has never demanded.)

But I'm prone to some of the same vices as Armey and I do recognize that Republicans need something more than just not-Obama.  Actually I don't think that (Republicans could probably make big gains just based on the huge flop that "recovery summer" has turned into), but I would like to see the Republicans advance arguments in favor of a set of policies that have a chance of winning majority support and are achievable in the medium term.  This would structure the forthcoming debates with Obama in a way that would force Obama to either compromise or hurt his chances for reelection.  The Ryan Plan doesn't put that choice to Obama.  It makes it easier for him to dig in and paint the Republicans as the party that will cut benefits for Granny, take away your health insurance(and your children's) and raise your taxes for the privilege. 

The best such Republican agenda I have seen was the one put together by Ramesh Ponnuru.  I would also throw in some version of Medicaid reform that introduces some kind of Swiss-style voucher option into the program. 



Categories > Politics


The Wages Of Corporatism...

or how the collusion of the government, environmentalists, and the auto companies made life tougher for low-income Americans who don't have a lobby or a public relations apparatus.
Categories > Politics

The Founding

The 14th Amendment

Two distinguished scholars explore its original meaning. First, poitical scientist Edward Erler

Most revealing, however, was Senator Howard's contention that "every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States." Almost everyone certainly would have understood "natural law" to refer to the social compact basis of citizenship, the basis for citizenship adumbrated in the Declaration of Independence.

The argument of the Declaration grounded citizenship in consent. The natural law argument of the Declaration was a repudiation of the notion of birthright citizenship that had been the basis of British citizenship (i.e., being a British "subject") ever since it was first articulated in Calvin's Case in 1608.

Next, law professor John Eastman:

Such a claim of birthright citizenship traces its roots not to the republicanism of the American Founding, grounded as it was in the consent of the governed, but to the feudalism of medieval England, grounded in the notion that a subject owed perpetual allegiance and fealty to his sover­eign.[33] 

So is "Born in the U.S.A." an anti-American song?  No, as long as we agree through democratic republican principles.  "All men are created equal" means that Americans are free to determine their destiny through proper means--not through the aristocratic principles that underlie birthright citizenship.  In the current debate over illegal immigration, the true egalitarians here, the believers in the Declaration of Independence, are not the "birthers."  This nation long ago stopped recognizing "squatter rights." 

UPDATE:  See at least this earlier post on the 14th amendment, with Richard Adams' comments.

Categories > The Founding


Unbossed, Unbought and, So Far, Unasked

I was shocked to learn that it has become "standard operating procedure" for political campaigns to pay bloggers for favorable coverage.  If only someone would pay me the compliment of trying to induce me to rent my analytical abilities until November.  I'm sure I would take the opportunity to give a righteously indignant speech about my inviolable integrity, right out of a Frank Capra film.

Alas, it seems not to have occurred to any candidate that my independence is worth bidding on.  Pending further notice, then, NLT readers can rest assured that every half-baked argument and stretched-to-the-breaking-point metaphor appears in my posts because I sincerely believe the drivel I write.  
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Come, Let Us Reason Televisually

I discuss my book, and practice walking across the Claremont McKenna campus, in this interview with Reason TV.


Managing The MSM's Decline

Over in one of the threads, political scientist Carl Scott referenced the shrinking of the mainstream media.  He is certainly right when you look at the long-term ratings trends of the CBS Evening News or the prime time line up of the old big three networks.  But I don't take much solace from that decline.  My sense is that the decline of the mainsteam media and the resulting audience fragmentation is going to make it harder for conservatives messages to reach certain segments of the population.

The old MSM sure wasn't fair.  I remember being in seventh grade and reading a Time magazine story about abortion.  I didn't know what abortion was.  At the end of the really long story I still didn't know what abortion was, but I knew that people who were against abortion were bad.  It wasn't like the story outright told you to dislike them but the message got across. 

But even though the coverage wasn't fair, the vast size of the MSM's audience, its commercial orientation and certain journalistic conventions that predominately liberal journalist felt they had to follow gave conservatives the space to get their message out.  If you had the money to but ads, you could be pretty sure that most people would hear your thirty second (or thirty minute) message.  The interviews for conservative figures might have been more hostile than the ones for liberal figures, but at least people got to see you and the hostility was usually limited to subtle cues (an exception being Bryant Gumbel, who usually didn't bother to disguise his detestation of center-right figures.)  Even an overtly hostile interview could play to a center-right figure's advantage as George H.W. Bush and Dan Rather could tell you.  Certain conventions where journalists were discouraged from openly taking sides and were obligated to describe center-right arguments, and provide coverage and interviews for center-right figures usually put boundaries on a press corps with liberal defaults.  That these conventions allowed conservative messages to reach the public has been bitterly noted by  liberal media critics who wanted the media to more overtly side with liberal partisans.  Even when the MSM clearly took sides (as in the 1964 presidential campaign), if you had the money, you could buy a thirty minute ad that could make a huge impression on people who never thought of themselves as conservatives 

The decline of the MSM, rise of the right-leaning media and the fragmentation of audience into small pockets that consume formally "nonpolitical" media has made it much easier to mobilize right-leaning Americans even as it has made it much harder for conservative messages to reach that majority of Americans that don't consume right-leaning media.  Reaching that majority is now tougher because it means fighting for space in hundreds of outlets that aren't overtly political.  These media often have a celebrity, lifestyle or ethnic/racial focus.  The defaults of those who produce the media are probably liberal, and those producers can, by their occasional interventions into political issues, shape the political orientation of their media consumers.  The most obvious example was the US Weekly "Babies, Lies and Scandal" cover story on Sarah Palin.  This helped shape the perceptions of people who don't follow much "news."  While reading my wife's Parenting magazine (don't judge me!) I was struck by an explanation of Obamacare that read like a paid advertisement.  It didn't seem "political."  It was just telling busy middle- class women (and me apparently) how a new law was going to change the lives of their families.   

Twenty years ago you could count on at least reaching those people by ads during popular programs.  Today it is much tougher not only because of audience fragmentation, but because it is easier to skip ads.  Getting conservative messages into the forums that people are consuming will require different techniques than the ones that conservatives developed to deal with their relative weakness in the old MSM.  It doesn't matter so much now that the economy is so bad, the turnout model for the November elections favors Republicans and the right-leaning media is able to help mobilize tens of millions of voters.  But reaching those tens of millions who aren't being reached now is a major long-term problem with no obvious solution.

Categories > Politics

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Jonathan Chait is scornful and livid - not, in itself, a news bulletin - because Sen. Mitch McConnell has not made it his highest priority to inform every American that Barack Obama is not a Muslim.  Instead, McConnell said today that the president says he's a Christian and, "I take him at his word."

If the odiousness of that response is not apparent to you, then your antennae are not as sensitive as Chait's, who believes McConnell's formulation is: "dirty pool," "absurd," and "a sneaky little game" designed to "get more chatter about Obama . . . possibly being a Muslim into the news."  

Chait's position would be stronger if McConnell were the first person to say such a thing, or if Obama considered those who had said such things in the past to be so contemptible that he wanted nothing more to do with them.  That not being the case, it may be that McConnell's formulation is not "a dog-whistle message to the far right," but an insult that only Chait can hear.


Vin Scully is back

A friend who cares about the right things sent me this note about the great announcer for the L.A. Dodgers, Vin Scully.  He will announce for at least one more year; suspicion had it that he would retire.  Note how Scully explains his decision to stay on:  "I remember thinking, 'Gee, I should cut back.' But I talked to my wife, and she said, 'No, if you totally love it, then maintain the pace.' "  Great advice.  You can't retire from something you love.

A friend, overjoyed, sent me this note when he heard:
"Good news for America, and I can feel the world economy turning around as we speak, driven by an ineffable joy.  At restaurants in L.A. strangers walk up to your table, starry eyed, and announce their engagements or offer you a cigar.  A used car salesman stopped lying for 45 minutes--and he was not fired.  Sean Penn and George Clooney signed a public announcement in the L.A. Times: 'We love America and are ashamed of ourselves.  We will never speak about politics again, except to sing the national anthem at Dodgers games, and we will try to make better movies.'"
Categories > Leisure

Once More Into the Mosque

The Associated Press and the New York Times have banned the use of the term "Ground Zero Mosque" in all future stories about the "Unbelievably Benign Community Center Containing Acres and Acres of Facilities For All Kinds Of Inclusive and Unobjectionable Activities (including a nearly undetectable worship thingy of some sort) Located Two Vast, Gargantuan, All But Impassable City Blocks Away From A Place Where Something Vaguely Unpleasant May or May Not Have Happened At Some Indeterminate Point In The Past."  Instead, most stories about the . . . entity, are using "Park51," the name chosen by its sponsors, and a standard nomenclature for New York real estate developers promoting new office buildings, condos and retail sites.

The substitution of "Park51" for "Ground Zero Mosque" treats the fact that Park51 is more than a mosque, located near but not right at Ground Zero, as politically significant, not an incidental detail.  And that fact is indeed emphasized by those who believe that the Park51 controversy is about, not just the constitutional limits determining how government treats religion, but the social attitudes that make religious freedom a day-to-day reality in America.  Thus did President Obama say, in endorsing Park51, "This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."  Thus did his admirers interpret Obama's endorsement as "casting this as a larger argument over the bedrock moral principles that are the foundation of American identity."

As Clive Crook points out, however, if the Park51 controversy is simply and solely about Americans' tolerance for religious diversity, it wouldn't matter if the "Ground Zero Mosque" really were a Ground Zero Mosque.  Indeed, it wouldn't matter if it were the "Osama bin Laden Mosque," located as close as physically possible to where the World Trade Center stood, preaching every day about the vileness and treachery of the American infidels.  In that case, Park51 would be a deliberate provocation, like the attempts by neo-Nazis in the 1970s to march through Skokie, a Chicago suburb that was home to many Holocaust survivors.  Americans, you say you're tolerant? Tolerate this!

Park51 is supposed to be nothing like Nazis marching in Skokie.  Its defenders say it represents a "vision of interfaith harmony."  Its developer says, "we know the best way to start a conversation is by extending a hand."  These are relevant considerations if we are supposed to make a distinction, as President Obama did by the time he finished expressing his thinking on Park51 last weekend, between the right to build Park51 and the wisdom of exercising that right in that particular way, and place. 

It is, therefor, legitimate to inquire about the vision of interfaith harmony Park51 will represent, rather than accept the characterizations advanced by the project's defenders as dispositive.  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the sponsor of Cordoba House, Park51's mosque and Islamic center, has at least some notions of interfaith relations that are not self-evidently harmonious.  Rauf's repudiation of the 9/11 attacks, delivered in a 2001 television interview, was notably equivocal: "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."  Rauf has had almost nine years to retract or clarify those remarks, and un-blame the victim.  If he has ever done so it is a remarkably well-kept secret, given that it would be so politically useful.

Moreover, if Park51's developers and defenders sincerely want the project to reconcile Muslims and non-Muslims, the undeniable fact that lots of Americans consider the project a gratuitous provocation cannot be dismissed as unimportant, or ascribed to bigotry and intolerance.  The "rights-ization" of the debate over Park51 is, for those purposes, exactly the wrong approach.  Defenders of Park51 who conflate the most strident opponents of the project with all opposition to it, thereby denying that there are any legitimate arguments or respectable sentiments against Park51, are guaranteeing that the whole endeavor will lose friends.  As Micheal Tomasky recently conceded, the argument that liberals have erred by framing the Park51 debate entirely in terms of rights and tolerance, leaving no room for the consideration of community norms, is "not wrong."  For them to continue to insist that those who consider Park51 an affront should simply accede to the idea that First Amendment rights trump all competing political considerations, as the Skokie residents were told they must do 30 years ago, is . . . not wise.


Churchill, Again

A long feature article about Churchill's determination to defeat Hitler appears in the current issue of Der Spiegel, Germany's version of Time magazine.  It is standard stuff to, say, any Ashbrook scholar, but is probably not very familiar to an entire generation of Germans. My (limited) experience with Germans is that they have only the most superficial knowledge of their  20th century history, beyond knowing, like Americans and race relations, that they must express guilt for what took place, while avoiding prolonged study of the matter.  Mel Brooks' joke in the original film version of The Producers, where the director says after reviewing the script of "Springtime for Hitler"--"I didn't realize the Third Reich mean Germany!"--might not be such an obvious joke some day.
Categories > History