Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


In Defense of Bush's National Security Policy

Steve Knott, who teaches at the Naval War College, has just published Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, which offers a vigorous defense of President Bush's national security policies. Knott (who teaches in the MAHG program) argues that the assessment of any presidency requires a "decent interval" before judgment can be pronounced.

I've read all of Steve's books (though not the Don Knotts book in the link) and respect his scholarship and judgment greatly.  He certainly picks his books' subjects well: Reagan, Hamilton, and covert actions. This is the defense Bush and his team should have been giving when they had the power (and the duty) to do so. Their failure to do so has led to cynicism in the public, the Obama election, the rise of Ron Paul, and decline in support for the vigorous foreign policy our country requires today. May Knott's work reverse these trends and advance prudence in politics.

Categories > Presidency

The Founding

An All-Star George Washington Panel

At AEI earlier today. Not only Steve Hayward but also Harvey Mansfield, Diana Schaub, and Rick Brookhiser, with Leon Kass presiding. I thought Steve and Harvey might duel later over what Americans should want in an executive. Diana could have given the eulogy, and Dr. Kass, MD, could be the attending physician. The panel featured elegant brief presentations by Diana and Rick on Washington's Farewell Address and his Presidency.

Another commentary on Washington can be found here, along with the text of the Farewell Address.

Hayward struck the day before with this observation on think-tanks and partisanship a few blocks away at the Hudson Institute. The crucial point: 'A slight paraphrase, but Churchill once wrote that "The distinction between politics and policy diminishes as the point of view is raised; true politics and policy are one." This distinction between politics and policy is one that I think is unsustainable.' Steve reminds us of Plato's wisdom--thinking and acting must somehow be one. 

Categories > The Founding

Pop Culture

Nostalgia Playing in Hollywood

Two of the top contenders for film awards this year are focused on the early years of cinema-- Martin Scorsese's Hugo and The Artist, by French director Michel Hazanavicius. The former leads the pack with the most Oscar nominations, while the latter is sweeping awards for direction, writing, and acting--and picking up a few Best Picture trophies, including one from the British equivalent of the Academy Awards. Both films have been described as "love letters to cinema" by their creators, and both are charming in that regard.

Hugo is focused on the birth of film and the crossroads of science and storytelling that gave the movies their magic, and it is unlike anything else I've seen by the normally-gritty Scorsese. The film pays homage to Georges Méliés, the great French illusionist who pioneered special effects at the turn of the last century and is regarded as the father of the science fiction and horror genres of cinema. Méliés and his work had a tremendous influence on other wizards like Thomas Edison and Walt Disney, who would help America to become the leader of filmmaking. Most of the Méliés films were lost during the Great War, and the man spent much of his later life in obscurity, selling toys and magic tricks in a Paris train station--where Hugo picks up his tale. Eventually, interest into the innovations of Méliés and his surviving films began to pick up, and in 1931 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor (presented by none other than Louis Lumiere), and Méliés spent the rest of his life teaching the next generation of filmmakers. As he sat in a hospital bed losing a battle to cancer, he invited some friends to his bedside to show them the final picture he would draw--a champagne bottle with the cork popping off. "Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams." This sentiment was shared well in the film.

The Artist is a fantastic example of filmmaking. The movie is about the death of silent films and the rise of the talkies, and it is itself both black-and-white and silent. The silence of the film forces the actors to use their abilities to tell a story through actions and expressions alone, and they are magnificent at it, especially lead actor Jean Dujardin. The Frenchman plays George Valentin, king of the silent silver screen, who resists the rise of sound in film, initially shrugging it off as a passing fad and then falling into despair as a new generation of actors with voices steals his limelight. While I was originally skeptical that a full-length silent movie could completely keep my attention in this day and age, I found myself loving every minute of it--the movie was great fun. Though I have yet to see The Help and The Descendants, I expect this film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (though some people tell me The Help and The Descendants are as good if not better than The Artist).

Both movies capture pivotal moments in the history of cinema, and in the process allow the artists to express their own thoughts on their craft. It is no surprise that Hollywood is in love with these love letters, and I think this could be a good thing; they capture the essence of what makes movies fascinating, fun, and sometimes even important. Films can make us laugh or cry, get us to think about things we normally would not, and allow us to escape the world for a few brief moments and let our imaginations play in the fantasies that these wizards conjure up. It is no coincidence that many of the earliest pioneers of cinema were also great scientists and magicians. Hugo plays with a well-reported scene from one of the first movies: the Lumiere brothers had taken a brief shot of a train coming down a track, and were showing it on the carnival circuit. When people watched it and saw that train come towards them on the screen, legend says they all panicked and began ducking for cover, fearing that the train was actually coming at them and would leap off of the screen to crush them. It was magic that it did not. From the pioneers like Méliés, Lumiere, and Edison to the titans like Disney, Hitchcock, and Welles to the plethora of great storytellers and technical wizards over the last century, they continue to entice us. It is good for Hollywood to explore its roots now and then, to remember where it came from and why it went that way, and to continue looking to the future for new ways to divert us and new magic to conjure up.
Categories > Pop Culture


A New Book on Clarence Thomas

Ralph Rossum describes Justice Thomas's jurisprudence in a lengthy conversation at the Liberty Fund's LibertyLaw website. The constitutional law scholar details the differences between Thomas's original understanding jurisprudence and that of Justice Scalia.
Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

No Egyptian Hostage Crisis for Obama

There had better not be, after this $1.3 billion payoff. But this is a great opportunity for other countries around the world, pre-election. Obama is imitating Carter but would rather avoid this Iranian hostage comparison. "President Barack Obama asked that military aid to Egypt be kept at the level of recent years -- $1.3 billion -- despite [sic! because of] a crisis triggered by an Egyptian probe targeting American democracy activists."
Categories > Foreign Affairs