Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lawrence Lindsey Says...

We are in huge trouble if we don't adopt sensible spending policies and make some tough choices really soon.  We are in huuuuuge trouble.


Rubio In 2012?

Regular commenter Redwald asked about our opinions of Marco Rubio as a potential presidential candidate.  I don't know about anyone else, but these are my thoughts:

1.  There are things to like about Rubio.  It doesn't do him justice to say he is an excellent speaker.  He is funny when he talks about his kids and really moving when he talks about his parents but all those generational themes are tied into a coherent and powerful message about the ethics and policy implications of political responsibility.  A lot of politicians take this approach ("I went into politics so that my children could blah, blah, blah..."), but Rubio does it better than anyone I've ever seen.  Rubio showed impressive strategic patience after Crist went the independent route and the polls for most of the summer showed Crist leading.  Rubio didn't opportunistically change his policy positions after the Gulf oil spill.  He showed confidence that as people heard his message they would come around.  Rubio was pretty honest about Social Security reform and he still won in a swing state with an outsized population of retirees.  Rubio presents his differences with Obama as being high stakes but his criticisms of Obama never come across as malicious, petty, or personal.  He projects a kind of mental and emotional stability that serves an ideological politician especially well.

 2.  If Rubio ran for President, loads of Democrats would attack the freshman Senator for inexperience.  This would give most of us plenty of opportunities to practice hypocrisy.  I'm not sure that the right question to ask is whether Rubio would pass some minimum standard for experience (my answer? sure!).  I think a better question is what kind of experience (and other qualities) will maximize the chances that a Republican presidential nominee will get elected and mobilize enough public support to work with Congress to implement the policies we need.  The main domestic policy challenges for any conservative politician in the coming decade will be to get the deficit to a sustainable level without imposing crushing tax increases (which isn't necessarily the same thing as no tax increases), and reforming our health care system in a more free market-oriented direction.  Trying to do either of those things will be really scary to much of the public.  Having a Republican presidential candidate with a record of cutting government spending during the Great Recession while keeping public services at an acceptable level would go a long way to defusing inevitable Democratic scare mongering about killing Granny.  This is a place where the kind of experience is a lot more important than the volume.  Even a first term governor like Chris Christie has some of this kind of experience (though Bobby Jindal and especially Mitch Daniels have more), while a second term senator like John Thune doesn't.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

A 21st Century Great Plague?

Fascinating account of the purported "Stuxnet" computer virus that apparently disrupted the Iranian nuclear program.  Someday we'll likely learn the whole story, just as we learned after the Cold War about many espionage and other covert actions.

The question for the moment is--if we, or someone, can do this to the Iranians, can't we please do it to the Norks, too?  At the very least pre-load their iPods with Team America?
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Refine & Enlarge

A John Wayne note

Peggy Noonan's discourse on the presidential bubble, and the need for a Special Assistant for Reality aside, is worth a mention if for no other reason than her mention of John Wayne.  In other words, there is an important note about the American character in her essay.  It doesn't matter how many special assistants, advisers, spinners, and philosophers in residence you may have, if you don't understand a fundamental fact--a grounding if you like--about the American character (and then the cause of it) then you are in a bubble, and you will never understand the manly eloquence of an American at an airport talking about his junk.  Noonan:

"President: I've wondered if this general feeling of discomfort might be related to a certain Puritan strain within American thinking--a kind of horror at the body that, melded with, say, old Catholic teaching, not to be pejorative, might make for a pretty combustible cultural cocktail. This heightened consciousness of the body might suggest an element of physical shame we hadn't taken into account.

SAR: Mr. President, the rebellion isn't shame-based, it's John Wayne-based.

President: I don't follow.

SAR: John Wayne removes his boots and hat and puts his six-shooter on the belt, he gets through the scanner, and now he's standing there and sees what's being done to other people. A TSA guy is walking toward him, snapping his rubber gloves. Guy gets up close to Wayne, starts feeling his waist and hips. Wayne says, "Touch the jewels, Pilgrim, and I'll knock you into tomorrow."

President: John Wayne is dead.

SAR: No, he's not. You've got to understand that. Everyone's got an Inner Duke, even grandma."

Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Obama Losing His Game

First it was his approval rating, then his Democratic majority in Congress, and now Obama is even having it handed to him on the basketball court! The President took an elbow from the director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (suspicious, say I) during a game of 5-on-5, earning 12 stitches for his efforts. It's tough out there for a liberal.

I don't want to take the metaphor too far, but it's as fine an opportunity as any to note the theme of this president taking it on the chin (or lip) for and from his closest supporters in recent days. Having ushered through a series of radically leftist policy initiatives (universal health care, stimulus spending, finance regulation) - always through grueling political contests - Obama has now been attacked by the left for disappointing their expectations.

I may disagree with Obama's policies, but it is unimaginable to claim that he has not pursued - with great determination, success and pride - the most liberal agenda in recent memory. A more treacherous and less grateful cabal of curmudgeons could not be found than among these whiny liberal elites. It's lonely at the top, Obama.

But I suspect this president is going to spend more time than he expected licking his wounds over the next two years.  

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Iceland's Folk Constitution

Following an economic collapse and subsequent revelations of systemic corruption in the government, Iceland has decided to reinvent herself by drafting a new constitution. However, in what appears to be a prime example of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction, the new constitution is to be drafted by ordinary, everyday bubbas. The only people who may not be elected to the drafting board are current politicians.

While the entire scenario is humorous and somewhat refreshing, perhaps it speaks to the underlying non-seriousness in political thinking which got the Icelanders into such trouble in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I fully concur with William F. Buckley assessment, "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." Perhaps the people will elect thoughtful statesmen from among their midst. But this seems a perfect stage for demagoguery.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, "Let us not forget it is a constitution we are expounding." Iceland should take care to preserve the dignity due to such documents. The American Constitution is sacred secular-scripture, whereas the French constitution is a periodical.  Perceptions have consequences.

Here's to wishing our Viking neighbors the best of luck with their radically democratic shot at nation-building.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


More 2012

A commenter in a below thread had these very worthwhile insights:

Pete, why do you prefer Mitch Daniels to Thune and Pence? Daniels may be great on fiscal and economic issues (which, I'll grant you, are of greatest salience now), but he has a demonstrated tin ear for dealing with hot button issues and, having watched a speech of his, he seems to me unlikely to appeal to ordinary voters, either in the base or in the general electorate. From what I've read, other than on money issues, he seems to be an unimaginative, uncharismatic, standard issue RINO/mainstream Republican. Also, can he address foreign policy or national security with any authority? In sum, he strikes me as well-suited for a governorship, but not for the presidency.

I think this is a very plausible interpretation of the problems that a Daniels presidential campaign might face and I would further add that Daniels' flirtation with a VAT would also be a problem.  That is why I think Thune or Pence are more likely to emerge from the pack.  That isn't how I want it to be, but it is how I see it.  Some points,

1.  Daniels is a standard social conservative on issues like abortion/gay marriage/Second Amendment.  He is no RINO. 

2.  Daniels' record of maintaining an acceptable record of public services while keeping spending under control is an important strategic advantage.  It gives him some credibility when talking about cutting the deficit and reforming government, while allowing him to point to a record to help parry accusations that he will starve Grandma.

3.  His health care policies begin to offer a plausible alternative to Obamacare that increases worker take home pay, decreases government costs, maintains care, and begins to reform the expensive and dysfunctional Medicaid program.  The fact that these policies were actually implemented is a huge advantage because he would not be offering purely speculative benefits.

4.  I would not underestimate Daniels as a speaker.  He was a former George W. Bush functionary who outperformed the Republican presidential nominee by 20% in a year when Bush's job approval ratings were in the mid-to-low 30s.  He is governor of a state with an unemployment rate over 10%, but his job approval rating is around 70%.  He doesn't project good humor like Huckabee or charisma like Rubio, but someone is liking what he is saying.  I know Indiana isn't America writ small, but on a national election level, it leans Republican less than does Mike Pence's congressional district, Huckabee's Arkansas, or Thune's South Dakota.  He has a way of talking about economic issues in a way that seems honest, relevant and temperate.  I'm not sure that it translates well in the context of a presidential campaign, but I'm not assuming it doesn't.

5.  Daniels would of course need policy answers on foreign and defense policy.

6.  I think that Pence, in his rhetoric, record and policy preferences is more in tune with a larger fraction of Republican primary voters than any other candidate.  As he gets better known, I think he has a lot of room to gain from voters who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters (he is at least as good as any other candidate on both the social and economic issues) and from more establishment Republicans who might think that Palin and Huckabee have electability issues.

7.  I take back none of my concerns about Pence as a general election candidate and as a President.

8.  John Thune is an interesting case.  There is some evidence he can play in the big leagues.  Beating Tom Daschle (even in a right-leaning state in a right-leaning year) was pretty impressive.  He could dig into Romney's establishment/basically conservative enough support.  Ramesh Ponnuru noted that Thune does not seem to have distinguished himself in six years as a Senator.  I've seen him on tv a couple of times.  He could be a vessel for a lowest common denominator conservative candidacy.   

Categories > Politics


Real American Greatness

James Poulos interviews Ross Douthat.  Stick around for Poulos's closing comment at the very end.  Awesome.

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

Panicked Progressives

This Michael Gerson op-ed is worth noting,  He thinks the progressives have lost contact with political reality.  We have the most liberal/progressive president we have had in our lifetime, and he is unable to persuade.  Instead of asking why he (and Pelosi, et al) are unable to persuade, they are now relying on their own conspiracy and sabotage assertions.  This forces them to  assume, according to Gerson, that "the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent."  If this is true then they are not likely to engage in the conversation we think we want in the next many years.  This will have an affect on our attempt to revive fundamental political questions on behalf of self-governance, on behalf of constitutionalism.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Refine & Enlarge

Thanks to the 111th Congress

Michael Schwarz is grateful to the 111th Congress for allowing us to have a serious political conversation.  Pelosi's dismissal of constitutional issues ("Are you serious? Are you serious?") has led not only to the shellacking, but more importantly, to a conversation about fundamental political questions. He is right.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

The Founding

Hezké Díkůvzdání!

I'm spending the holiday with mixed Czech-American company - teaching our foreigners the true meaning of over-consumption with turkey, potatoes, cranberries, rolls, etc., etc., etc. So, to add a bit of redeeming intellectualism to a day otherwise crammed full of shameless binging, here's a bit of history on Thanksgiving Day.

The custom originated in 1621, when Governor Bradford of the Plymouth colony appointed a day for public praise and prayer after the first harvest, and the practice spread throughout the other New England colonies. The first national observance was when President Washington, at the request of Congress, recommended Thursday, 26 November, 1789, to the people of the United States "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God". This proclamation exhorted the people to "beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best". It was the first observation of the day on the date that present custom holds it.

In 1817 Thanksgiving Day was first officially noticed in New York State, and by 1859 its observance had spread to twenty-eight states and two territories. In 1863 President Lincoln made his first proclamation, naming the last Thursday of November as a day of national observance.

Tak, hezké Díkůvzdání - Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories > The Founding



Happy Thanksgiving!

A fellow I met in the cruise reminded me that the flickering lamp of history sometimes becomes vivid and the passions of former days may be rekindled through modern magic, in this case YouTube.  We talked about the great Hungarian soccer team of the early 1950's and he told me that some of their play was available on YouTube.  Amazing.  They were a grand team, called the Golden Team, or the Magical Magyars. They invented "total football", the 4-2-4 offense, and their captain was Ferenc Puskas ("Gunner", his real name was Purczeld), one of the greats.  His name was always in my ear as a boy, as Babe Ruth must have been in the ear of American boys in the 1920's.  After 1956 Puskas played for Real Madrid.  I saw him play once.  I never forget beauty.  He lived to be eighty years old and grew fat and, I hope, happy.  Here is a YouTube Puskas Compilation (five minutes) and England-Hungary game of 1953.  Enjoy, and my thanks to Al Jenkins.
Categories > Sports

The Founding

Rush and the Rest

Rush Limbaugh just read George Washington's original Thanksgiving Proclamation.  You won't hear such antiquated language from any other popular media.  The Progressive left disdains the founding and its principles (see, e.g., Wilson's "What Is Progress?"), so it cuts itself off from the most powerful and true resources of America.  Obama's politics reflects the extremes of Progressivism, thus rejecting what is in its interest and the national good.
Categories > The Founding

Foreign Affairs

Time for Team America

So I read in the New York Times that we're going to respond to North Korea's latest provocation with military "exercises."  It reminds me of the clarity of Ronaldus Magnus, who listened to everyone at a national security council meeting offer big talk about having naval exercises in the Gulf of Mexico to rattle Fidel Castro but scuttled the whole thing with a simple question: Just how, exactly, is Castro going to be intimidated by exercises?

The obvious answer is to send in Trey Parker and Matt Stone for a sequel to Team America: World Police.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Looking At 2012

Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore looks at how the 2012 Republican primary race is shaking out.  I think his take is a bit concern trollish, but I think he is right about how big of a problem the family resemblance between Obamacare and Romneycare will be for Romney.  Huckabee would seem to have the clearest path to the nomination.  His social conservatism is articulate, authentic, and a strength rather than a weakness.  He talks the populist economic rap as well as anyone.  He is very likeable.  His biggest weakness is that I haven't seen him take a hard shot on the FairTax.  I'm not sure how well his support holds up when it becomes clear he wants to slap on a 30% sales tax.  I'm not sure Palin is running, and I'm not sure how well she would do in a crowded primary.  It isn't that I think she would do badly in the Republican debates (she knows her audience), but I do think she risks being diminished if she doesn't do great and seems no better than solid performers like Huckabee and Mike Pence.  Gingrich's personal history will probably keep him from the nomination.

I think that all of the Republicans who are currently polling best are vulnerable to bleeding support as the nomination contest unfolds.  There is plenty of space for a not-very-well-known candidate to emerge from the Republican presidential debates of 2011 and become the anti-Huck/anti-Romney/anti-Palin/anti-Gingrich.  They will have to seem more authentically conservative than Romney, more orthodox on taxes than Huckabee, more electable than Palin, and less baggage-encrusted than Gingrich.  Who will it be?  Well, maybe no one, but it depends on who runs.  I would prefer it were Mitch Daniels, but I think John Thune and Mike Pence are better positioned to hit that sweet spot of being the freshest, most conservative, most (seemingly) electable candidate who is acceptable to the most kinds of Republican primary voters.  

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Obama's America at the UN

It's that time of year again, when the UN sternly speaks truth to power and publicly denounces those nations which transgress upon human rights. Some might expect to hear stern words for Sudan, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, etc., etc. - but, those people haven't been keeping their eye on the ball.

21 resolutions, totaling 80% of all resolutions, were - as always - directed toward Israel. Six additional countries each earned one scolding resolution. Among the six: the Republic of Georgia and the United States. We shared the honor with Burma, Iran and North Korea (the latter having just attempted to instigate a war with its neighbor while announcing illegal nuclear weapon facilitation, but nevermind that).

And all of this follows on the heels of the UN's "universal periodic review" session last week, during which non-human-rights-violating countries such as Cuba, Libya and Venezuela lined up (literally) to condemn the U.S. - and for which the Obama Administration offered "thanks to very many of the delegations for thoughtful comments and suggestions." (Note: Obama joined America in the UN human rights body which condemned America, contradicting the wisdom of all former presidents who sought to elevate the U.S. above such humiliating company.)

The only thing more sickening than U.S. involvement in the UN is US self-abasement before the UN.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Don't Touch My Junk Yard

Has anyone seen a good article or discussion about how much more secure the new machines and screening procedures will make us, compared to those which have been in force since 9/11, and which compares them to the procedures in place before that?

No one that I've seen is saying that we should go back to the days of no screening of passengers on airplanes.  The question is how intrusive the rules should be for all passengers, and how to decide who deserves more scruitny.

We could reduce car crashes if we banned left turns and made the speed limit 5 miles an hour.  The question of what is a reasonable regulation in such cases is, in part, a calculus of convenience v safety.

In some instances, our bureaucrats seem to forget that.  The new security screening looks like it might be such a case.

Ultiamately, I suspect part of the problem is the delegation of legislative powers.  Congress has, in effect, delegated law-making to unelected bureaucrats.  In a democratic republic, more decisions should be in the legislative arena than is currently the case.  The American people want more say, through our duly elected representatives, in making the rules by which we live.

Categories > Politics

Political Parties

November 2nd Aftershock

I'm presently about five minutes from the Alabama border, and the big news down here is that four state house Democrats have just announced that they'll abandon ship and switch parties - thereby giving the GOP a supermajority in the 'Bama house.

The reason for their switch is reportedly that "they're very conservative, and their views are more in line with Republicans than Democrats." Funny they just figured that out.

In the wake of a landslide election, and with Obama polling at an all-time low of 39%, state Dems can hardly be blamed for noticing the rising water and deciding not to go down with the ship. The Alabama mutiny follows a similar mass exodus by six Georgia State House Reps, as well as recent party switches in Louisiana, Maine, Texas and S. Dakota. I'm at a loss to find any significant state GOP-to-Dem crossovers.

But the Dems did poach Arlen Spector - for a blissfully short time.

Categories > Political Parties


The Invasion of the Body Scanners

John Podhoretz makes a good point about where the anger at the TSA is coming from:

The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration's political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.

I wouldn't put it quite that way, but I suspect he's onto something about what's making Americans angry. 

P.S. If large numbers of Americans demand pat-downs on Wednesday, should we call it, "The evasion of the body scanners?"

Categories > Politics


Was It The Organization?

The knives are out for Sharron Angle and her top campaign staff.  I discount stories like this as party hacks trying to maintain their viability by trying to shift the blame onto someone else.  The fact that there are names attached to many of the criticisms of the Angle campaign are perhaps a reason to take the article a little more seriously than the despicable and anonymous post-election attacks on Palin by McCain's campaign staff.

The thing is, I'm not sure that, even if the disarray was as described, it would have mattered that much in itself.  The conventional wisdom before the election was that even a weak Republican had a very good chance to beat Harry Reid.  I'm now leaning more toward Byron York's judgment that Reid was able to run a focused, ruthless, and competent campaign that it would have taken a pretty good Republican candidate to beat him.  If you look at the exit poll, Angle lost because she underperformed among whites.  She didn't lose because of her margins among Latinos.  She didn't do much worse among Nevada Latinos than did the Latino Republican candidate for governor who beat Harry Reid's son by a significant margin.  Looking back, there are probably several models of candidate that could probably have beaten Reid.  There is the Pat Toomey-type conservative politician who spent years trying to hone a persona that appealed to working and middle class persudable whites.  There is the Kelly Ayotte-type establishment conservative politician who is already well known and well liked around the state and who has a reassuring affect.  No such candidate ran against Angle in the Senate primary.  I'm not even sure if an affable and disciplined self-funder like Ron Johnson would have beaten Reid.  

I've been tough on Angle, and there are a lot of lessons to be gained from her defeat, but she didn't just lose, Harry Reid also earned a win.   

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

"Toward the Precipice"

I have an article in the November 29 issue of National Review on how the midterm elections will affect the debate over federal spending and borrowing.  It's now available on the NR website. 


Benedict XVI on Condoms

Continuing on the religion theme, the media seems especially breathless in reporting the Pope's confirmation that Church teaching may permit condom use to prevent the spread of STDs. There is an obvious desire for a "gotcha" moment, to be followed by the customary litany of demands for social and doctrinal change. But Pope Benedict XVI's pronouncement isn't actually radical in the least.

First, here's the statement (link provides commentary):

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.  But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

While the statement is among the most direct and on-point with regard to condoms, the Pope's opinion (it was spoken in an interview, not officially) is not new. Abortions are allowed within Catholic morality if necessary to save the life of the mother (e.g., in the case of ectopic pregnancies), and the1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae explicitly approved of birth control pills and hormonal contraceptives as licit means to "cure bodily diseases" (i.e., endometriosis). Contraceptives are licit "even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from - provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." As in criminal law, intent is critical to discerning moral justification.

Further, the Pope reiterated the Church's opposition to the "banalization of sexuality" threatened by wide-spread condom use, and criticized the "fixation" on condom use in the fight against AIDS.

The learning moment here regards the knee-jerk proclivity of the media to reduce moral questions to "yes/no" criteria - a consequence of their aversion to discussions of morality and condescension of religious moralists as anti-philosophic automatons reciting Scripture on blind faith.

Categories > Religion


The Old and New Politics of Faith

I've been completely off the grid for some time - traveling for work and play, moving into a new home and entertaining family (some visiting from abroad) - my sole internet has often been a blackberry ill-suited for blogging. But there has been much news, and I'm late in arriving to the party!

Let me begin by drawing attention to a Brookings Institution survey of "Religion and the 2010 Election." The study reveals several interesting, if not unexpected, currents of American thought. Catholics broke heavily for the GOP, 58% of Americans agree that "God has granted America a special role in human history," 56% agree that "If enough people had a personal relationship with God, social problems would take care of themselves," Americans split almost evenly when asked whether "the values of Islam, the Muslim religion, are at odds with American values and way of life," and 35% see their religious views as "very different" from Obama's views (12% saw them as "very" similar).

Categories > Religion


The Trouble with Earmarxism?

As the debate over banning or at least suspending Congressional earmarks continues, it's worth returning to a recent study from Harvard Business School which indicates that earmarks have a negative impact on economic growth overall.

Why would that be the case?  Because the rise of earmarks and other hand-outs for business encourages the most talented and ambitious people to try to make money by lobbying Congress and gaming the system rather than by becoming entrepreneurs and creating new businesses.

Next question: can corporate hand-outs be reduced without reducing other hand-outs?  Or is the cultural logic that leads to one almost impossible to square with a refusal to do the other?

Categories > Economy