Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Media mindlessness

Instpundit brings to our attention The New Republic's view of how the national media botched the Arizona shooting by descending into mindlessness.  Please click on the E.B. White YouTube video that explains the whole phenomenon of "descend."  Just a few minutes long.
Categories > Journalism


Dear Paul Ryan

I just can't help myself.  I described the people that I disagree with as collectively believing that "taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That's what lies behind the modern right's fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty." and that "There's no middle ground" between the views of those people and the views I hold.  When I wrote this column, I was, on some level, aware of your Roadmap and the Ryan-Rivlin Plan.  I have been able to take a step back from my work and can now see that your plans include a substantial welfare state funded at approximately the same level of federal taxation that has prevailed in recent decades.  When looking at what I wrote and what you have proposed, I can see the hysteria and dishonesty of what I have written.

That doesn't mean I don't have honest criticisms of your proposals.  I'm not sure the taxes in the Roadmap will bring in as much revenue as you project.  I think that the tax system in the Roadmap is too regressive and in any case I would prefer a state that takes in more revenue and redistributes more to recipients.  I think that your proposals for Medicare reform are such that the "death panels" I favor would be both more efficient and fairer.  I use the term death panels with bitter irony since we both know (as does Mitch Daniels) that there is no conceivable reform of health care for the elderly that does not leave some families with terrible choices.

But those were not the differences I described.  I suppose I could try to weasel out by saying that I was only talking about some more extreme members of your political coalition but I would be kidding no one.  I explicitly set up my side as those who believe in "the modern welfare state -- a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society's winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net."  That means I excluded the nontrivial socialist fringe of my coalition and we both know that Rand Paul is no more going to undo the welfare state than Bernie Sanders is going to undo the corporation.  Real policy is going to be made by people with something like my views on my side (maybe a little more statist on things like trade and top marginal tax rates) and people like you on your side (maybe a little less likely to reduce entitlement spending.)  And the eventual policy outcomes are going to be somewhere in the middle ground that I pretended does not exist.

In my column I wrote that "political leaders" need to "declare that both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds."  I agree with that but I'm rethinking the implications.  My own newspaper published an article by former Democratic congressmen Paul Kanjorski in which Mr. Kanjorski wrote that "it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation."  Then it came out that Mr. Kanjorski had called for the murder of Florida's Republican candidate for governor.  I don't think he meant it but that is the kind of thing that should stop.  

I also need to rethink my use of the term "eliminationist" as a description of political rhetoric.  I originally used the term as a sly way to paint my democratic political opponents as proto-Nazis who were preparing their followers for a genocidal campaign against people who hold my views.  I more specifically used it to stigmatize a kind of heated rhetoric that grotesquely elevates the political stakes so high, and so demonizes the opposition that political violence becomes reasonable.  With that standard in mind, I am taking a second look at my own rhetoric.  I can see where I implied that if your policy preferences prevailed that the elderly and the poor would be left utterly helpless.  I can see where I described my opponents as collectively violent as well as heartless and that there is "no middle ground" between us and them.  I can see where someone terrified and indignant at the thought of the abandonment of the elderly and the poor at the hands of a bunch of terrorists and terrorist-enablers might contemplate violence despite my pro forma declarations against violence (after all, even Sarah Palin is officially against political violence.)  

Is my rhetoric eliminationist?  I don't think so, but I don't know.  I never intended for that standard to be applied to me or Alan Grayson or anyone else on my side.  I have no confidence in my ability to craft a standard of rhetoric that isn't a contradictory and self-serving mess.  I shouldn't be trying to tell other people how to talk.  I should be making the strenuous efforts it will evidently take for me to learn to write about my opponents with some modicum of honesty and civility.  So, Rep. Ryan, let us talk about our significant differences over the best way to craft a sustainable, just and humane welfare state.  Let us even see if we can find a middle ground.


Paul Krugman 

Categories > Politics


According to Paul Krugman,

the elephant listened to a lot of conservative talk radio.
Categories > Politics


Beatus Ioannes Paulus II

Pope John Paul II is soon to be Blessed John Paul II. Benedict XVI will preside over the beatification rite for John Paul II on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday. (Decree here; excerpts here)

I will only add that future generations will know him as Saint John Paul the Great.

Categories > Religion

Shameless Self-Promotion

Defending 'Toxic' Rhetoric

I've an article at The American Spectator asking: "What if Loughner wasn't a tin-foil-hat lunatic, but a card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, a disciple of Sarah Palin and full-throated, tea-dumping critic of Obama's taxation-nation? What difference would it make?"

I humbly recommend that you RTWT.


On The President's Speech

1.  A large (but too long effort) to call forth the better angels of his countrymen.

2.  The audience reaction was very weird, but the people cheering and hooting really, really wanted to like him and they thought that the cheering was what he wanted.  They were trying to help.  It is a reminder of the (sometimes latent) strength of Obama's bond with millions of Americans. 

3.  The speech contained implied criticism of the Paul Krugman's and Andrew Sullivans of the world.  This was very smart, but also very politically convenient.  Obama is especially strong when he can position himself as an arbiter above left/right debates.  He knows that being seen as a bitter and disingenuous left sectarian would get in the way of implementing his agenda and conducting the other responsibilities of governing.  He has greater self-control and depth of vision that Professor Krugman.  Obama is also tougher than the big mouthed Krugmans, Sullivans and Clyburns of the world - though they no doubt have their uses for Obama.  He is focused on winning rather than lashing out petulantly

Categories > Politics


Megadittoes, Mr. President

Battling a circus of a crowd and some loutish speakers, the President gave a fine speech last night that uplifted the mourners and the nation.  A conservative could have given the same speech--as could be said of Obama's 2004 Democratic Convention speech.  It's all those other speeches he gives (and his policies) that justifiably get him into trouble.
Categories > Presidency


Chris Christie

I happened to see this NJ Gov. Christie appearance on Morning Joe (MSNBC) yesterday morning and I thought you might take ten minutes to see how a politician should both seem and be, how he should think aloud, how he should talk.  Very impressive, and very disarming.  You can tell how his interlocutors--even those who want to disagree with him--are disarmed, even persuaded. His character and personality for a politician are nearly perfect, in my opinion.  You cannot help liking him.  Honest, clear, amusing, lucid--notice that there is no "uhming and ahing" at any time, no hesitation--clearly deeply thoughtful and knowledgeable, he speaks with an authority that is rare.  Very persuasive.  Also, he's fat, lards the lean earth as he walks along, he's thrice wider than other men. therefore worthy of our entire trust.  It is not possible that this man will not run for president.
Categories > Politics


Nice goin', John

After an election that was supposed to be about returning "fiscal sanity" to Washington, our new House Speaker was unable, when pressed, to come up with a single example of a government program that needs to be cut.
Categories > Congress


Dear Sarah Palin

I am sorry.  When I heard that a moderate Democratic member of Congress had been shot by a white male, I had all kinds of suspicions.  It is not clear to me, even now, to what extent those suspicions were reasonable and to what extent they were fueled by a set of personally-held cultural bigotries that I am only now beginning to recognize.  In any case, I should have kept those suspicions to myself until facts came out substantiating any link (whether personal or ideological) between the shooter and yourself and a broad movement of citizen activists.  I am embarrassed at my confidence at the "odds" that the shooting was "political."  By "political" I meant that the shooter was directly inspired by your rhetoric and ideology rather than the shooter having a combination of personal and political (though deranged) motives that I could not have guessed at given my perfect ignorance of his personal situation.  I now recognize that my confidence was really a manifestation of my desire to wound my enemies at every opportunity.

I am especially sorry that, as the facts came out, I did not admit that I had been wrong in my assumptions and that I instead retreated into a politicized pseudo-meteorology about the "national climate" in order to continue my campaign of linking you and other organizations and people I disagree with to the Arizona attack.  I still don't know to what degree I was motivated by pride, hatefulness, a desire to see my policy preferences prevail or some combination of the above. 

There has been much talk of a need to increase the amount of civility in public discourse.  I have come to agree with that sentiment.  I will start with myself.

My apologies.


Paul Krugman

Categories > Politics


Reflections on Current Contentions, and Other News

I've been rather preoccupied over the last few weeks with several things, among them Monday's Bradley lecture at AEI on "Eminent Progressives" (video not up yet, but soon to be a book and major motion picture), and launching my new environmental website (about which more in a moment).  What else is going on?  Oh yeah, Krugman and company have blown all their fuses over events in Arizona.  

The New York Times "Room for Debate" blog asked for a submission, where I argued that the left's response was not merely outrageous and unserious, but was forestalling the deliberation we should be having about what can be done about mentally ill people who are behind most of these recent violent acts.  Fortunately it looks from the polls and other media reaction that the left is getting its head handed to them (oh wait--I guess I can't use language like that any more), and has merely forestalled this discussion by about 72 hours.  Today there are a number of good articles about how mental illness, not Sarah Palin, is the problem that needs attention, including this from Bill Galston, and this from Benjamin Kerstein, among others.

Back to my new website.  Long story, but I decided to retire my old Index of Leading Environmental Indicators after 14 editions, and replace it with the Almanac of Environmental Trends, which will have one last print incarnation shortly, but then go wholly online at  The site is up and running as of last week, though we're still tweaking it and adding lots of content.  It will be interactive, and will have new material and updates on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.  
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture


Ken Masugi thoughtfully explains why the barbarian, the person without reason, should not set the standard for how civilized people should argue.  Not bad.  Also see below.
Categories > Pop Culture

Pop Culture

Nihilism, through the opened door

This New York Times article on the Arizona killer begins to piece together his true character.  Although others since the event have made references to his weird mind and disposition, we get a bit more insight from a friend, a 21 year-old no less, Zane Gutierrez: "He was a nihilist and loves causing chaos, and that is probably why he did the shooting, along with the fact he was sick in the head."  Gutierrez said they talked about his reading Nietzsche's The Will to Power, and about his dreams: "Jared felt nothing existed but his subconscious," Mr. Gutierrez said. "The dream world was what was real to Jared, not the day-to-day of our lives."  They went shooting together, this anarchist and this insightful young man, and he explains that Loughner "used the word hollow to describe how fake the real world was to him." He also explains that he became "until he became proficient at handling the weapon and firing it quickly."
Categories > Pop Culture


The Authoritarian Media

James Taranto takes down the New York Times in today's WJS for its morally indefensible coverage of the Arizona shooting. Taranto begins with a comparison of the NY Times' disparate treatment of the Ft. Hood massacre and the Arizona shooting, and he doesn't relent until he's canvassed a wide spectrum of liberal hate speech over the past years.
Categories > Journalism

The Founding

Christmas Gift

Just thought I'd share a gift from my lovely Czech lady which now hangs in my bedroom. "The Prayer at Valley Forge" by Arnold Friberg.

The Prayer at Valley Forge Arnold Friberg.jpg

Categories > The Founding


Liberals Recalibrate Attacks

Leftists have shifted their goal in manipulating the Arizona shooting to their political advantage. At first, they tried to tie the tragedy to the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, talk-radio and conservatives in general. Revelations that the murdering madman was a left-of-center lunatic, as well as a general public backlash against such brazen politicking in the wake of a national crisis, ended the "blame conservatives" campaign. So, the left is now trying to use the shootings to bolster their campaign against guns.

That's fair. Reasonable people can disagree about gun ownership. Just following a diatribe about inappropriate rhetoric and the need to restore reasoned debate to politics, liberals may risk seeming a bit disingenuous by capitalizing on the emotions roused by a tragic murder to push an agenda. Nevertheless, the incident deserves a debate. Conservatives successfully defended themselves against accusations of culpability for the crime due to alleged overheated rhetoric - now they need to defend their gun policies by the same rational method.

It is commendable that conservatives have not attempted to use revelations of the killer's apparent liberal ideology as an indictment of the left. Conservatives have thus far conducted themselves well and will not be seen at the conclusion of this sad episode as the breathless, hysterical faction of American politics.

Categories > Politics


Speak for Yourself

"If Jared Loughner is crazy, then so are we."

- Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, 11 January 2011

Categories > Journalism


Engaging the Federalists

The most recent issue of Engage, the journal of the Federalist Society's practice groups, has just been posted on the FedSoc website. Always worth a read.
Categories > Conservatism

Hmmm, I wonder...

I don't know about the rest of you, but whenever some significant event occurs in our political culture I find myself asking, "I wonder what Michael Moore has to say about this?"

Naturally, we didn't have to wait long before he chimed in on the Tucson murders.  He tweeted (and I'm not going to reward his website with hits by linking to it): "If a Detroit Muslim put a map on the web with cross-hairs on twenty politicians, and then one of them got shot, where would he be sitting right now? Just asking."

A fair question, Michael, and I think I'll take a stab at answering it.  First of all, I think we'd want to know something more about your hypothetical shooter.  Is there any evidence that he was motivated by Islamic extremism?  Is he even Muslim?  Is there any evidence that he ever even saw the web page with the cross-hairs?  Did the cross-hairs stand alone, or were they accompanied by an explicit call for someone to kill said politicians (after all, if Muslim extremists want you dead, they don't tend to pussyfoot around)?

If the answers to these questions are, "Yes," then I imagine that, at the very least, our "Detroit Muslim" would be declared a "person of interest" by the authorities.  If not, not.

Now, if I might pose a counter-question to Michael Moore: if your "Detroit Muslim" were arrested for complicity in this hypothetical shooting of a politician, what would you be doing right now?  The answer, I suspect, is "loudly demanding that he be released, and denouncing the authorities for violating his freedom of speech."


Mis en Bouteille dans nos Caves

After dropping anchor at Mount Arafat, Noah promptly disembarked the ark and set himself to cultivating a vineyard so as to celebrate his arrival on dry land by properly wetting his whistle with fruit of the vine and work of human hands. Archaeologists have now uncovered an advanced winemaking operation - including a wine press, vat, grape seeds, and plant pigments - dating back 6,000 years in a cave near Mount Ararat. It's the oldest known vinoteca by well over 1,000 years.

We never cease to learn from the example of the ancients.

Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

Hope and Hopelessness in Egypt

I previously noted the recent atrocities committed by Egyptian Muslims against Coptic Christians. Some Egyptian Mulsims have now taken a stand for their Christian brethren. Muslim intellectuals and activists have called upon Egyptian Muslims across the nation to attend Coptic Christmas Eve masses as a show of solidarity with the Coptic minority and to serve as "human shields" against an attack by Islamist militants.

Many Egyptians have nobly and courageously spoken out against the Islamic murders - but most express their regret with a tragic sense of hopelessness. Murderous militantism is deeply embedded in Islam - or, murderous militants are deeply invested in employing Islam as their vehicle of propaganda and terror - and Islamic political parties are often in a race to the bottom to appease highly organized Islamic extremists.

Moderate Muslims and all those living under the tyranny of Islamic extremism have a hard road ahead.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

How's This For Political Rhetoric

So you think American political rhetoric is too extreme?

"Witches will head to the Danube to put a hex on the [Romanian] government and hurl mandrake into the river 'so evil will befall them'" following the government's decision to levy a tax on witchcraft. Fortune-tellers will also be taxed, but, as the paper notes, they "should have seen it coming."

Do you suppose the witches are from the Christine O'Donnell wing of the international Tea Party?

(H/t Wheat and Weeds)

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Terror with a Spanish Accent

"Basque armed-separatist group ETA declared Monday that it will lay down arms for good." The cease-fire would end 42-years of violence intended to create an independent Basque state.

I expect there's little hope for the ceasefire, as ETA is likely only positioning for political leverage - their political arm has been banned by the Spanish government and their goal of an independent state is presently hopeless. Like terror outfits in Palestine, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, the promise of peace is their only bargaining chip. If they were to lay it on the table honestly, they'd soon be out of the game - so expect them to renege on any promises.

In case anyone was curious as to the likely composition of a future Basque state, the ceasefire statement ended with the chant: "Hail an independent Basque country! Hail a socialist Basque country! Onwards with socialist independence, until the end!"

You didn't expect terrorists to adopt free markets, did you?

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Sarkozy's Earlier Visit

France's President meets ours today.  If you don't know Sarkozy's remarks to Congress back in Nov. 2007, do listen or read.  He gets so much about America right, reminding us of Tocqueville almost 180 years ago.  Our President might learn something from that speech about American exceptionalism--and the French people's love and respect for America.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


More on overheated rhetoric

Ross Douthat does a good job of seeing through the left's overheated rhetoric on the Arizona horror.  The guys over at The Corner are doing a pretty good job of paying attention to all the horse chestnuts, see especially, Seth Leibsohn, "The Secretary and the Sheriff," Jay Nordlinger, "Again and Again," and also see Glenn Reynolds, "The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel," in today's WSJ.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

"US Gripped in Row Over Rightwing Rhetoric After Arizona Killings"

That's what passes for news among the left-wing, anti-American news-agencies in Europe. They make the New York Times proud. The UK's liberal Guardian splashed the sensational front page headline across yesterday's paper, leaving little room for doubt that the tragedy is to be blamed on Sarah Palin (who the paper says is "well-known for her intemperate language and actions"). The Tea Party and conservatives in general are also incriminated, though the Guardian does allow that "conservative bloggers accused liberals of seeking to exploit the attack." Allow me to confirm that those "liberals" are not confined to this side of the pond.

There was one ray of sunlight, however. The most "recommended" comment under the story was by PaulinNI:

Rhetorical hatred and violence went through the roof with the extreme vitriol shown towards George W Bush during his presidency, especially from the keyboards of many contributors to Guardian columns. And these same people now have the gall to try to paint this nutter, who lists the Communist Manifesto among his favourite books, as a right wing conservative.

Absolutely disgusting!

Even in Europe, the people are nowhere near as liberal and unprincipled as the media which daily force feeds their distorted agenda.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Man's Search for Meaning

I wonder if some of the reason why so many people wish to pin a political significance on the recent murders in Arizona is that that would give the violence some meaning.  When political people are involved, meaning tends to be political.  It is far easier for us to think that murder has a purpose (even a bad one), and that someone died for a reason, than it is to think that someone died because we live in a world that is often cruel, and that evil exists, and that sometimes a random kook can kill someone for no rational cause.  The real question here is the ancient one of why evil exists if creation is good.
Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

An Independence Day in Africa

As we speak about the Constitution, political rhetoric and the proper functions of government, it bears noting that a new nation is about to appear in Africa. Southern Sudan votes for independence today. A majority vote and 60% turnout are required for the referendum to be valid, but it seems that the southerners will meet those hurdles.

Southern Sudan - or whatever it will be called tomorrow - will initially become one of the most poverty stricken countries in the world. It will require great assistance from the U.S. and, hopefully, African neighbors, and security will continue to be a serious problem. But it will provide a lesson for the world to witness the comparative evolution from this point of an Islamic north Sudan under dictatorial sharia law and an anomalous Christian south Sudan which, one hopes, will adopt a moderate form of western democracy. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Deja Vu

Alongside praying for the victims of the evil act in Arizona, it might make sense to dust off this book by James Pierson.  I don't agree with every word he writes, but Pierson is great at explaining how center-left writers desperately try to identify their small-d democratic political opponents with political violence even if the attacker did not share their ideology.  Liberals in this instance resort to guilt by nonassociation through stuff about climates of hate or violent rhetoric despite the lack of evidence that the attacker was influenced by any of this stuff.  As Pierson points out, liberals will try to identify their democratic opponents with a violent attack even when the attacker self-identifies with the left.  Several thought to keep in mind.

1.  Decency, and honesty have nothing to with the Paul Krugmans and Bill Presses of the world (no shock there to some.)

2.  They don't deserve politeness or any assumption of good faith.  They are trying to exploit the unburied dead to attempt to silence criticism of powerful political figures and relevant policies.  They owe everybody an apology and should be treated with the coldest and most persistent contempt until they alter their behavior. 

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

A note on political rhetoric

I spoke to a tea party group on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., just hours before the horrific event in Arizona.  We had a perfectly fine time, I spent most of my time explaining to friends how remarkable this country was, indeed, why it was exceptional.  At one point I tried putting it something like this: You people actually invented politics, or good politics, if you like.  Before you came along and discovered your own American mind on the subject, politics was nothing more than power, force, fraud.  Whoever had the biggest guns ended up ruling, and it didn't really matter that he ruled on behalf of the one, the few, or the many.  The rule was arbitrary and cruel and terrifying to all those being ruled.  Nothing else--life, liberty, property--had as much certainty or permanence about it, as the certainty that all rule was a result of force or accident.  Certainly there were times when that rule was less arbitrary and more gentle than at other times, and human beings were grateful for those accidental moments were brief.  Politics was really nothing more than civil war and terror.

Then the Americans discovered a different way, because now politics had a different purpose.  After asserting their natural rights, and their freedom to govern themselves, they also tried to limit their own rule.  And they did.  Self government brought forth a rightful rule in the Constitution and the rule of law, therefore was based on something not arbitrary.  And they also knew that within that constitutional construct they reflected, deliberated, and argued.  This was now both a right and an obligation.  One of the reason I like the HBO: John Adams mini series is because it so engagingly and clearly revealed the loud and talkative ways of these new people. It showed that now in principle they had a right to talk and to argue.  Reflection and choice replaced accident and force, and ballots replaced bullets.  It seems ironic that we use military terms to describe our civil politics (campaign, rallying the troops, etc.); this is all we have left from the old days.

That we do all this in principle, doesn't mean that anomalies don not arise.  Presidents and other politicians are, unfortunately, sometimes assassinated or killed (never mind our Civil War for a moment).  That's why we find events like the killing yesterday in Arizona such a horror and that's why we all, of all parties and views, rightly denounce it.  (I mention in passing, by contrast, the event in Pakistan a few days ago when a governor was assassinated and much of the country publicly rejoiced and made the culprit into a hero.)

So I come to this morning.  Sen. Dick Durbin (on a talk show) is implying that our public conversations have become extreme and implying that that may be the cause of such a horrific act  ("our rhetoric is over the line"), and wondered aloud on how it could be limited ("how do you come to an agreement on what is acceptable political conversation?" and "even though it is constitutional it should be toned down") is really remarkably irksome and inapropriate.  What President Obama said ("Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society.") and Speaker Boehner said ("An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.") should be the alpha and the omega on the subject, the rest is without value.  Sen. Lamar Alexander (on the same show) rightly chastised Candy Crowley for even allowing the topics to be connected and said that the only way to answer Durbin's question is "civility."  Good for Alexander and good for us.

Needless to say, I am horrified by this event and the deaths, pray that the wounded recover, and especially hope that Representative Gabriella Giffords recovers fully very quickly and gets back to arguing about politics the way she has, and we have, from the beginning of this new order.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Next to the Bottom

The New York Times is not to be outdone. No doubts mortified that the Washington Post beat them to the punch in laying the Arizona disaster at the feet of conservatives, the Times now features a column to the same effect by the reliably far-left Paul Krugman.

Krugman blames Palin, Beck, Limbaugh and "the whole Tea Party" as he conjures images of the Oklahoma City bombing and warns that "violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate." In case you're wondering who he's talking about, Krugman lectures, "it's long past time for the GOP's leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers." It will no doubt always elude Krugman that he is the creature he so despises.

Verum Serum graciously responds to Krugman (so the rest of us needn't do so). I'd simply add two observations: First, the gunman in Arizona has been described as a liberal by a friend, which, coupled with his obvious insanity, should quiet speculation that the tragedy is part of a vast right wing conspiracy. Second, readers should remember the trove of hateful malice spewed by the left toward President Bush - to pretend that the left has not potentially incited violence through aggressive language against Bush, Republicans, conservatives, Tea Partiers, etc. and that the right has a monopoly on invective is beyond silly, it is intentionally deceitful.

Categories > Journalism