Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Bennett Affair

I am very troubled by the Bill Bennett gambling story.

Bennett knows his Aristotle: virtue isn’t limited merely to public virtue (the Clinton problem), but is primarily about one’s private character. The pinnacle of virtue for Aristotle was moderation. Bennett’s gambling appears highly immoderate, even for a wealthy man. (I find it hard to believe that he is wealthy enough to blow $8 million--IF that figure is accurate--without it being meaningful. But even so--it represents a squandering of wealth that could go to better purposes. It’d be different if he lost that kind of money in church bingo.)

Recall that Bennett was very exacting that Hillsdale College come clean about every fact of the Roche affair. I think we conservatives who want to defend Bennett deserve the same from him just now.

Knowing a bit about Vegas (my wife grew up there, and had an aunt who owned a mid-sized casino on Fremont Street--the old Vegas before the strip), there are some aspects of his story I find troubling and difficult to believe. He says he avoids table games because people want to talk politics with him. Bennett, not wanting to talk politics? Well, okay, maybe so, but casinos cater to high rollers, and would surely have been willing to arrange private tables or regulate the company he had to keep if he asked for it. They do this all the time, and have VIP rooms for just such people. It doesn’t ring right to me. Gambling on slot machines late at night is not commensurate to Churchill working the tables at Monte Carlo in his tuxedo after dinner. (And even allowing for inflation, Churchill didn’t gamble the kind of sums Bennett does.) I think it possible--even likely--that Bennett may have a problem, and I think he should come clean if he wants us to defend him vigorously.

I find interesting Bill Kristol’s comments to the New York Times. He said that this was a private matter between Bennett, his wife, and his accounant. One needn’t be a Straussian to see that Kristol is not absolving Bennett of having a potential problem.

Yes, the left is going to jump all over this, but before we man the barricades in Bennett’s defense, he needs to share the full story.

McCain-Feingold Ravaged

As this article in the Washington Post points out, a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. has declared most of the soft-money prohibitions included in the McCain-Feingold Act to be unconstitutional. There will undoubtedly be an appeal, so that the Supreme Course is likely to hear the case before the year is out.

I’ll leave it to the legal experts of this forum to comment on the importance of this development, but the suspicious side of me has a nagging question. Given that these provisions seemed so obviously and manifestly unconstitutional, did members of both parties (but particularly the Democrats, who would suffer disproportionately from its effects) support the bill with the expectation that its most objectionable parts would be struck down?

Bush’s Speech on the USS Lincoln

President Bush has gotten rave reviews for his speech yesterday on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Here’s a link from NRO to the speech.

The Soul of W.E.B. Du Bois

In case you missed it, Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution penned a thoughtful and thought-provoking op-ed in the April 29 Wall St. Journal "The Souls of Black Folk". It links Du Bois’s 1903 book of essays to today’s protest politics.

Simply put, Du Bois’s old school approach of attacking "the color line" by emphasizing "white responsibility for racial reform" ensures that "blacks are always victims," at least in the public mindset and unfortunately among many blacks themselves. Witness the hue and cry on display at last month’s Supreme Court oral arguments on affirmative action: there, college protesters feared that a color-blind world would somehow prevent minorities from getting into college.

Steele argues that the "dilemma of protest" is "if it wins us freedom, it ill prepares us for it." Linking "black problems" to "white burdens" only reinforces the racist paradigm of white supremacy. The just claims of racial minorities must therefore be pursued in a manner consistent with their own individual freedom and character. This means they themselves must be what Steele calls the "transformative agent" in their own freedom and prosperity.

What Steele identifies as "the problem of emergence" for those taking their initial steps of freedom will not be solved by "the easy dignity of racial militancy." (Not a bad phrase; kind of like "the soft bigotry of low expectations" that Bush lamented was taking place in the schools of many depressed neighborhoods.) Freedom requires effort on every individual’s part to exercise responsibility. Instead of looking to Du Bois, we do better to study the words and emulate the deeds of other great Americans, like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington. Their lives give noble guidance on how to live as free men and women and ultimately bridge America’s racial divide.

Still More on the Gingrich Speech

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a fan of the left-wing conspiracist site Buzzflash, but this piece makes a fair point.

Leaving aside the inflammatory anti-administration rhetoric and the conspiratorial allgations, it asks a worthwhile question: why should we be particularly surprised by the Gingrich speech, given that it reflects views that have been expressed by certain members of the administration on many occasions? Fundamentally this is a group that does not trust diplomats (hardly a new sentiment in the United States, by the way).

Busch Compares Bush I and Bush II

Andrew Busch presents a useful comparison of 41 (GHW Bush) and 43 (GW Bush) in an editorial nearby, which shows why the 2004 presidential election will differ significantly from election year 1992. Focusing on the lasting impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack and success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Busch argues that our current president has a keener sense of domestic issues (and the politics it takes to make gains with them) than our 41st president--a huge advantage going into election 2004.

Let me add that with national security a top priority for at least the next few years, a respectable, focused, and winning political program, and money to burn by the next election cycle, Pres. Bush should have little problem winning reelection. Quite the prediction, I know; you heard it here first. Anyway, my real point is that election year 2004 will soon become simply a Democratic dry run for election 2008--the way first-time candidates for political office build their Rolodexes, recruit advisors and staff, test how well they can raise money, and generate name recognition for the next go-around.

The question is, what issues will Democrats focus on in the next 17 months, what "important" speeches and soundbites will they enter into conventional wisdom’s fact file, in order to be the last Democrat standing come 2008? I’ll leave it to others to chime in on these points, but for starters let me note that one Democratic senator who has yet to declare interest this time around has been biding her--I mean his or her time by making speeches, raising money, and spreading the wealth around to other campaigns in preparation for a bid when Bush finishes his second term. Look for this senator to be quite measured and calculating in her support for the Democratic nominee in 2008.

Diversion with Shakespeare

... and it’s nice to know that Schramm has personality qualities that are like generosity. In honor of Schramm while he’s away, I’m posting a quote from Shakespeare. I thought of this quote while we were invading Iraq but did not have time to post it when it was relevant.

Lincoln thought Macbeth was the perfect play because it taught everything there is to know about tyranny. I was reminded of this when Saddam’s Fedayeen started harassing American supply lines on the long march to Baghdad. Secretary Rumsfeld and the rent-a-generals on TV called the Fedayeen "dead-enders" and the "bitter-enders." The Fedayeen were the most vicious elements of Iraqi society. In a free society, they would be on the street or in jail, but tyrants sooner or later rely on them to keep decent people in line. Shakespeare makes this observation when he has Macbeth hire Banquo’s murderers:

Murd. 2: I am one, my liege, Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world Have so incensed that I am reckless what I do to spite the world.

Murd. 1: And I another So weary with disasters, tugg’d with fortune, That I would set my life on any chance, To mend it, or be rid on’t.

Macbeth, III.i.108-14.

Out of Town

I will not be blogging for the rest of the week. Off to D.C. to attend a White House Forum on American History and Civics. It should be fun, and I mean to take advantage of it. I presume Alt, Morel, Craig, Moser, Tucker and Claeys (et al) will take advantage of the gap in nature, and say something amusing for they have been known to show some sparks that are like wit. See you next week.

A Reality Check on the Rumsfeld Doctrine

Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings offers what he calls a reality check on the Rumsfeld Doctrine. Neither fully persuasive, nor shocking. More needs to be said on this matter.

Cuba on UN Human Rights Commission

Cuba now joins Saudi Arabia, Congo, and other worthies on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Like the man says, it’s like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security. No other comment necessary.

Iraqi Lawyer who saved Jessica Linch in U.S.

Mohammed Odeh Al Rehaief and his family have been granted assylum and are now in Virginia, Tom Ridge announced today. Good story. 

Profile of Abu Mazen

MEMRI is running a two part profile of the new Palestinian Authority PM, Abu Mazen. This is the first part. Long, detailed, useful. 

Pournelle on Democracy in Iraq

Jerry Pournelle, the great science fiction writer ("The Mote in God’s Eye," and others) has a few good and interesting thoughts on why patience, a solid middle class, and no fear of losing an election are needed to establish a constitutional or "democratic regime" regime in Iraq (see under April 28th). Long and thoughtful.   

Free Press in Iraq

The Christian Science Monitor runs a very interesting story about how the Iraqis are appreciating their new-found freedom by watching a lot of (various) TV stations, from FOX to al Jazeera (note, they prefer FOX). A few lines are worth quoting, although the whole is worth reading.

"His friend, Abbas Ali, says: ’We used to go to sleep at 10 p.m. Now we stay up until 4 or 5 a.m. because we can’t get enough.’ Still desperate for war news, they tune to CNN, BBC, and what appears to be a local favorite, Fox. They like it, people here say, because it has been the most supportive of the war.

For many here, the only foreign channels they can understand are in Arabic, and they are deeply resentful of the most prominent one, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.

Abu Bakr Mohammed Amin, an elderly man in a red-checkered headdress visiting Salih’s television shop, gives them a dismissive flick of the wrist: ’They only knew how to support Saddam,’ he says."

Judge Jeffrey Sutton

The Senate just voted to confirm Jeffrey S. Sutton to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 52-41. Congratulations Judge Sutton.

More on the Ideology of Federalism

Here is a piece I wrote for NRO on whether federalism is conservative. As I note, those who oppose federalism and its proponents often do so based on outcomes, but federalism is neutral in that regard, and may be used to strike down conservative and liberal legislation alike. For example, the partial birth abortion bill recently passed by the Senate is likely unconstitutional on Commerce Clause grounds--a point which I explain at greater length in the article.

Why History Matters

James Lindgren of Northwestern Law School has a tremendous op-ed in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune. He claims that the media are treating Iraq as though they were covering the New Hampshire primary, "in which a winner is treated as a loser because he did not win by as wide a margin as pundits expected." He reminds us that the protests and lootings in Iraq shouldn’t trouble us overmuch. After all, 200 were killed in Nigeria when a journalist wrote something apparently unflattering to Mohammed; why should we expect order and harmony in the midst of a massive regime change in Iraq?

He concludes: "We need more historical perspective brought to bear on our public debate over the Iraq war and its aftermath, so that our expectations are more reasonable. There is one thing we can all be thankful for: Neither the press nor my equally insightful fellow academics were running the war--or are now running the reconstruction of Iraq."

Black GOP Hopes

George Will has a terrific column on the many Black Republicans elected to various state offices (including three in Texas, and Blackwell in Ohio) and what it means for the future.
Notice who the campaign manager was for Michael Williams (a member of the Texas Railroads Commission) when he first ran for public office in 1978.

More on the Gingrich Speech

I have received a number of responses to my remarks on the Gingrich talk, almost all of them against my position. Here is one of the longer and more comprehensive ones:

I don’t think Gingrich’s speech was the killer Gaffney does, but I do think it was important, and with some exceptions, right on the money. What you really find in that speech is a simple, but generally unacknowledged truth: diplomacy may be defined as "talk talk" that advances a country’s interest, but State’s diplomats-- especially on the Arab desk--long ago became spokesmen for the Arabs, something that is also true of the British Foreign Office. There are many reasons for this: diplomats deal with diplomats and by nature tend to come to like their counterparts; diplomats tend to be liberal (i.e., they believe in talk, talk, not war, war), and the Arab, especially the Palestinian cause is a liberal one while the Israeli cause is a conservative one; even simple self interest: there is only one Israeli ambassadorship to be had in the middle east while there are many Arab ones.

As for the politics of it, I have two observations to make: (1) this is a good time to remind everyone that State, like the U.N., has been dead wrong on this one (and many, many others as well), and Defense right. If State has its way, it will--again, just like the U.N.--
ensure only that the ills of the area are never addressed. As the kids say, State just "doesn’t get it," the "its" being that peace is a means, not an end (and the same is true of process, which diplomats (God save us from the French), also tend to confuse with being an end. Can you imagine State saying, as DOD did a couple of days ago when asked whether Iraq would be allowed to have any form of government it wants: "Hell no: no more damn clerics running the show!" (Well, kind of.) (2) Politically, Gingrich was the wrong man to deliver this speech. Bush 2 still holds Gingrich partly responsible for Bush 1’s single term presidency. My prediction is that this effort to weaken State, or even the Arab desk, will backfire. Add Powell’s popularity with the Pesident to his (the pres.) dislike of Gingrich, and what we may well end up with is a State strengthened by the speech. Good old State: like an economist (or the CIA), it never has to worry about being held accountable for its mistakes.


Reuters has an interesting piece about the Hollywood response to the war’s outcome. Note the reticence of once-was-celebrity Mike Farrell, who still opposes the war in spite of the outcome. I’ll give him points for consistency--a foolish consistency, but consistency nonetheless.

Perhaps the most entertaining thing is the way they see free speech as a one-way ratchet. When they spoke out against the war, joining groups that used pretty vulgar speech and acts to show their opposition, that was the apex of free speech and patriotism. When, however, others criticized them for their stance, well, that was an attempt to "muzzle" or "silence" speech. Uhh, Mr. Farrell, perhaps that was political speech, too. I’m not talking about the alleged threats, but it doesn’t appear that Farrell was either. He was talking about the rank and file individual who had the audacity to criticize celebrities--the same celebrities who claim now to be capitalizing on their anti-war publicity. These people were, in Farrell’s words "ugly mouthed" individuals who used "hate radio." How dare people not buy the Dixie Chicks album! The stars claim to be regrouping for their next big cause celebre. In the meantime, I have a little recommended reading for them.

The Ideology of Federalism

There are few certainties in life, except perhaps for death, taxes, and unfounded New York Times editorials against outstanding judicial nominees. Today the NYT takes aim at Jeffrey Sutton. What is Sutton’s sin according to the Times? He has argued Federalism (which in Times-speak is "a euphemism for a rigid states’-rights legal philosophy") cases, and they don’t like the outcomes. Aside from the fact that it is grossly unfair to smear a lawyer with the position or desired outcome of his client (are defense counsels who represent murderers "pro-murder"?), the Times, apparently incapable of actually addressing the substance of federalism, decides instead to use its well-honed skill skill of ad hominem. To the extent that the NYT does address federalism, the analysis is typically outcome-based. But here is where the editorial is most wrong: federalism as a set of legal rules is object neutral, and as such may offend conservatives as well as liberals in terms of outcomes. I have a couple of explosive examples in mind, but I will save them for tomorrow, when I will have more on this topic tomorrow to correspond with Sutton’s scheduled vote.