Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mean Dean

Mean Dean action figure is now avaliable. And the real Howard Dean is now attacking the Iowa caucus system, he said Saturday he was surprised by the "under the table" campaigning he faced during the Iowa caucus and said the state needs to prevent such negative attacks if it wants to keep the nation’s leadoff presidential vote. Suffolk Poll claims that Kerry is extending his lead over Dean, but Zogby claims that Dean’s drop may have already bottomed out. Newsweek poll claims that Kerry would beat Bush, 49-46%.

Moving to France

Theodore Dalrymple is moving from England to France. One cup of undistinguished (i.e., American) coffee. 

Iraq and al Qaeda

Power Line has an extended and very useful commentary on how article by Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus in the WaPo attack Cheney and the Administration’s claims that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam. Worth a careful read, and follow links. Also note that Husam al-Yemeni has been captured in Iraq. He is said to be part of the leadership structure of Ansar al-Islam, the Al Qaeda-associated terrorist group based in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some U.S. officials described al-Yemeni as the first Al Qaeda operative captured in Iraq.

New Hampshire debate

The Franklin Pierce College Poll puts Kerry up by 14 points in New Hampshire (with Clark very close behind). But note that about 40% of the folks say they aren’t firm about their decision. Zogby has Kerry leading Dean by only 8 points. It seems to me that Dean will end doing no better than third place, behind Kerry and Clark, perhaps even below Edwards. It is very helpful to Kerry (and hurts Edwards) that Fritz Hollings endorsed him. I heard much of the debate last night and my quick opinion is that there were no critical moments in it, for anyone. It did seem to me that Liberman was (although amusing in spots) like a fish out of water. He has no constituency. When you think about this is odd since his original position on Iraq is not that different from Kerry’s. Too bad, but he’ll do not better than fifth. Both Kerry and Edwards have pulled in about $700,000 on the internet since Iowa. Washington Post claims that the whole debate now is about electability. Jonathan Last claims that the Dean supporters are preparing for the worst. John Podhoretz claims that Edwards and Clark did very badly last night. I have a busy day today, so this will be about it. I’ll be around for a bit on Saturday. By the way, it was about 4 degrees this morning at 7 a.m. Why did I ever leave Southern California?

New Hampshire, a thought

The debate among the Democrats tonight will be worth watching. This will be pivotal. Things have started shaking out in Iowa. Kerry, who was left for dead at the end of November, ended up beating Dean 2-1, and Edwards came in a close second. While I predicted the decline of Dean around early December (based in large measure on two unnataural acts he committed: he didn’t think catching Saddam Hussein was a big deal, and he got Gore to endorse him, and then over the next few weeks got other establishment liberals to endorse him), I did not predict that Kerry would win. But he won big.

The candidate most disadvantaged in New Hampshire by the Kerry victory (aside from Gephardt, who dropped out, and Dean) is Wesley Clark because he seemed to make himself into the un-Dean candidate. But if Dean counts for less, so does Clark. Besides, Clark himself is similar to Dean in that he is full of contradictions, and in other respects seems less stable and or not trustworthy. Kerry and Edwards are doing well because they are steady and sure in their campaigning and (more or less) in the positions they take. Their political character is better. Where does this leave Lieberman? He will be to New Hampshire, what Dean was to Iowa. He will come in fifth (unless the bottom drops all the way out of Dean and Lieberman ends up coming in foruth)and will drop out of the race. Will Edwards be able to come in second or third? Not necessarily, but it’s possible. If he does, he will surely go all the way, after having won South Carolina. He could end up on the ticket, after all.

I believe that Dean commited political suicide with his screamning and yelling after the vote in Iowa. He revealed a man off balance. It scared folks. That fear will follow him to New Hampshire. Now, it is possible that an excellent performance by Dean in the debate tonight might help him re-group, but I doubt he can do it. People now think they have seen his true self and they don’t like it. But see Hugh Hewitt’s (under January 21st) serious suggestions on how Dean might overcome his problem. Watch the debate tonight.

Advice for Dean

Hugh Hewitt has a nice paragraph reflecting on Nancy Pelosi’s speech (which he has read!) and it became clear to him why the Demos can’t be trusted on national defense; they just don’t get it. But then he has a few long paragraphs reflecting on Dean’s "I have a scream speech" (I have heard some call it this, it took place on MLK day) and writes the three minute speech he must give tonight during the debate to salvage his candidacy. This is very good (seriously) and I think that’s what he needs to do. Do read it. It would seem from last night’s and this morning’s news shows that Dean is in deep trouble. The Muskie tear is nothing compared to this. I don’t think he can pull it out. Zogby has Kerry in the lead in NH by three points (27 to 24%). Remember that about three weeks ago Dean was leading by thirty points! And Kerry has now been endorsed by both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

"He went all the way."

That’s how Mel Gibson described Christ’s death on the cross yesterday to a group of evangelical pastors gathered to preview "The Passion." Even the WaTimes article on the upcoming movie is inspiring. The movie, by the way, has been rated R and will be released Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Ohio set to ban gay marriage

The Ohio legislature just passed what is already being haled as one of the most restrictive bans on gay marriage in the country, and Governor Taft has promised to sign it. Ohio’s defense of marriage prohibits state employees from getting benefits for their domestic partners. The Senate passed the measure 18-15 yesterday.

Books in Review

Last month’s issue of First Things carried two book reviews that might be of interest to some more than others. The first, entitled "A Noble Failure," takes on Richard Epstein’s latest book Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (Alt may have something to say about this), while the second, "Baptizing Middle-Earth" looks at The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth, by Ralph C. Wood.

Reproductive Technology Report

The President’s Council on Bioethics is finalizing its latest advisory report, "Biotechnologies Touching the Beginnings of Human Life," on the costs and benefits of reproductive technology. Here’s the WaPo story. Here’s the Council’s web version of its January report on stem cell research.

Cowboy Cloners

From cowboy poetry to cowboy cloning, British scientists are calling on nations and the international community to ban what they call "cowboy cloners" after Kentucky doctor Panos Zavos claimed on Saturday to have emplanted a cloned human embryo. According to Lord May of Oxford, the president of Britain’s Royal Society, "It is important therefore that every country introduces effective legislation to deter cowboy cloners."

In related news, the BBC has compiled a list of questions a cloned child might someday ask its parent(s), not the least of which being: "Mommy, why do kids call me Frankenstein?"

"A prairie dog on speed"

That’s how former Senator Alan Simpson described Howard Dean during his "yeah for third place" speech. Here’s the WaTimes story on reaction to Dean’s ranting.

WaPo misquotes Bush

Glenn Reynolds has a few choice paragraphs on the Washington Post’s misleading sentence (misqoute, really) on what the president said about whether or not we are acting unilaterally in Iraq. The Post says:

"Some critics have said" U.S. foreign policy is too unilateral, Bush allowed, before ticking off a list of 17 countries with troops in Iraq and citing his teamwork with ’the international community’ to contain threats in North Korea and Iran."

The President said: "Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq."

The Post halved the countries that are there. Can this be an honest mistake? I know bloggers don’t have editors, but assumed The Post did. Read it all. It’s short.

Churchill’s parrot

I thank John Moser for this other story wherein Lady Soames, Winston’s daughter, is denying that he owned that parrot and that the Great Man taught the parrot to say those things (or anything else, for alas, she claims, the parrot didn’t talk). With respect--for the daughter is a Lady--I think this is exactly what we should expect from a daughter whose heart is still filled with love and piety. In short, I don’t trust her in this matter. Besides, if the story about the parrot isn’t true, it should be. So it is.

Cowboy poetry

This announces the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the end of this month in Elko, Nevada. I don’t know anything about it, but it sounds as though it might be good. What is cowboy poetry? I don’t know, but I was recently reminded of a line from a San Peckinpah film, Ride the High Country, that I think is fine. Two old lawmen, whose time is past, are hired to take gold from a mine to the town. One of them is tempted to forget about the old morality, and tries to persuade the other to steal the loot (The actors are Joel McRae and Randolph Scott). They would become rich and live out their last days in luxury. Randolph Scott tries to persuade McRae to steel, and says: "What’s on the back of a poor man when he dies? The clothes of pride. And they’re not any warmer to him than when he was alive. Is that all you want, Steve?" Joel McRae replies: "All I want is to enter my house justified."

A nice by essay by John Marini entitled, "Western Justice: John Ford and Sam Peckinpah on the Defense of the Heroic," reminded me of this great scene. It is to be found in the just published book, The California Republic, edited by Brian P. Janiskee and Ken Masugi. There are other fine essays in the volume; very much worth a look.

Churchill’s Parrot?

It turns out there’s some reason for skepticism about the story that Churchill’s parrot has been found. According to this article the Churchill family is denying it.

His daughter, Lady Soames, 82, told The Scotsman: ’I’m fed up with this story that my father taught it rude words. He only ever had an African grey parrot and it certainly did not talk.’

Personally I would’ve gone for the Norwegian blue. Lovely plumage....

Bush’s State of the Union speech

The President’s speech last night, it seems to me, was very good. We have gotten so used to him giving great speeches, including the State of the Union after 9/11, that when he gives a perfectly fine speech, we tend to be overly critical. So with last night’s speech. Because it was, inevitably and rightly, an election-year State of the Union talk, it did not reach the rhetorical heights of his very best efforts. (And yet, if you doubt it’s success, just re-play Nancy Pelosi’s response!) But, it worked. The strongest part of the speech was on foreign policy and the war on terror. That pudding had a clear theme and he stayed with it. Our duty is "the active defense of the American people," and we are not going to ask anyone’s permission to do that. Our resolution is firm, our actions in the world are not only in our interest, but are good. It was good that he that mentioned our fundamental principles and the "unseen pillars" of civilization that support them.
While his noting the virtues of tax cuts was a good thing, as was his declaration in favor of marriage, and his attack on runaway courts, I think he could have left the steroid issue out. Such particularity, especially in the State of the Union address, lowers our eye sights too much. The presidency is too high an office to be concerned with such matters. They should be handled, and talked about, on the lower levels of our constitutional building. I especially liked his few words on the Patriot Act, not only is he right on the issue, but his tough stance on it will be useful against his Democratic opponent in the fall: They can’t do two things at once, on the one hand critcize the administration for not doing enough on Homeland security, and on the other, criticize the Patriot Act as they have been doing (especially when both Kerry and Edwards voted for it). And, in fine, I liked this formulation of the President especially: "The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years." For more elaborate comments, see

Lucas Morel’s op-ed at Ashbrook.

The State of the Union Address

You know President Bush has the won the rhetorical battle with the Democrats when the prepared responses of both Pelosi and Daschle began: "The state of our union is strong." Daschle is still talking as I write this, and I just heard how college tuition has gone up $600/year and somehow Bush is responsible for this. The Dems are in big trouble.

Some comments on Iowa

Dvaid Frum asks, have the Democrats gone sane? Mickey Kaus thinks Iowans made a mistake and hopes that New Hampshire discovers more about Kerry before the vote. Daniel Drezner doesn’t think Dean is going away soon, he has too much money. The Dean camp is going back to its roots, "We’re the insurgent campaign." David Broder says that noe Clark has to show he’s more than a maverick. David Yepsen says that Iowans found Dean too angry and too liberal. And RealClearPolitics has a few comments with some useful links.

Greek phonics

Edith Foster was led to reflect on Greek phonics by reading this article on phonics by Terrence Moore, which I brought to your attention a few weeks ago. Do you know what a Greek clay pot has to do with phonics? Well, let her explain it to you. It has to do with "potsherd", or pieces of clay pots, the Greek alphabet, and the invention of the Greek alphabet (in order to free writing from memory). A must read. By the way, you might also want to look at Edith Foster’s lesson plan on the origins of the alphabet for the National Endowment for the Humanities.   

Churchill’s parrot

It seems that Churchill’s parrot is still alive. He bought her (named it "Charlie") in 1937, and currently lives in England, and is over one hundred years old. She still says some things the great man taught her, including "’Blank’ the Nazis," "’Blank’ Hitler." (thanks to Andrew Sullivan)

Been There, Done Dean

I don’t follow the daily polls like a fever chart (I have a life, unlike Chris Matthews and Frank Luntz), so I don’t know exactly when Dean’s progress stalled and started going into reverse. It is tempting to date it to Al Gore’s endorsement--is there any more certain kiss of death than to have Gore on your side?

But if you pick apart the polls numbers and look carefully, I’ll bet one Dean gaffe stands about from all the others and can be seen as his turning point: his remark that the capture of Saddam made the U.S. no safer. Even most liberals are smart enough to know this is stupid. It took a while for this to percolate, but in retrospect it looks equivalent to 1968’s early GOP front-runner George Romney, whose campaign imploded when he made his famous remark about being "brainwashed" over the Vietnam War.

Another time-honored lesson is reaffirmed. Dean is an undisciplined candidate. Undisciplined candidates almost always lose (Hart, Buchanan, Kemp, Eugene McCarthy), where as the disciplined candidates (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, GW Bush) usually make it.

The Iowa surprise

I guess almost everyone (save Bill Kristol and a few others) was wrong about Iowa. I turns out I was dead wrong in thinking that Gephardt would win (although I was right about Dean peaking much too early). I thought that Gephard’s organization would pull it out in the end. It turns out that organization in Iowa this time around was not the major factor. Jeff Sikkenga (just below) has some good comments on all this, as does Andy Busch at Ashbrook. Take a look at both.

My immediate opinion is this: First, as Andy Busch states, it is possible that Dean will now sink without a trace. I think it is probable for two reasons a) his temperament--which Andy only politely alludes to--is now in question (did you see his horrid performance on stage to his supporters?) Weird. Off point entirely, the man was screaming when a few thoughtful words would have done the trick. And b) the victory and Kerry and Edward’s great numbers indicate to me that the extreme attack by Dean on Bush’s Iraq war may not be as well received as many have thought. Second, it would seem to me that Clark is no longer as well positioned as I thought he would be. If someone other than Dean wins New Hamshire, Clark will have to have a very strong showing in South Carolina in order to get anywhere. Three, I am satisfied with this result. It shows that people (Democrats in this case) are both not as predictable as everyone in the media would like them to be, and not as extreme as many have thought. The so-called angry mood out there may be a myth. Good.

Dean and Gephardt

What happened to Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean? Here’s a few unfinished thoughts, for what it’s worth:

Gephardt clearly had some serious problems before the caucuses ever started. He was only ever in contention in one mid-Western state bordering his own. For one thing, he’s past his political shelf life. You usually only get one serious go-around at the presidency, and Gephardt had his in 1988. I know that people often cite Nixon (or even Reagan) to the contrary, but Gephardt was no Nixon: Nixon won his party’s nomination, lost a very close general election, and ran again only eight years later; Gephardt collapsed in his party’s nomination process after winning just one state and then promptly returned to Congress, where he lost almost every major political and legislative battle for the next 15 years. Gephardt was "stale".

Gephardt also had a style problem: he ran 13 times in a safe St. Louis district, which didn’t help him on the stump, even in Iowa. I watched some campaign events on C-SPAN and noticed that with his laconic, mid-Western delivery, he either sounded like John Wayne without the movie-star quality or, when he tried to fire up a room, like the mediocre coach of a bad football team who thinks he has to yell even though it can’t possibly make a difference. In a two-way race with Howard Dean, Gephardt’s mid-Western solidity would have helped, but not with Kerry and Edwards seeming like sane alternatives. And boring doesn’t become inspiring by shouting.

Moreover, Gephardt didn’t seem to adjust to the (now well-known) fact that old-fashioned trade unions and family farmers are not the political force they once were in the mid-West. Sure, they can turn out important votes in a close general election against a Republican candidate, but the rise of agribusiness and the serious decline of union membership -- especially in traditional manufacturing sectors -- will continue to reduce the power of these constituencies within the Democratic party -- even in Iowa.

And what about those reliable 65 and older voters? Gephardt couldn’t manufacture a plausible, immediate Social Security or Medicare scare in order to really turn out the senior citizens. Without that, John Kerry appealed to the senior vote that now matters most to Democratic politicians: the 55-64 year old Vietnam generation. If there’s any lesson here, it’s that Bush has nothing serious to fear over Social Security or Medicare.

Finally, Gephardt’s signature issue -- opposition to free trade -- just didn’t capture Iowans. While recent polls show that the economy is a concern among voters (although not the top one, which is terrorism), full-out opposition to free trade doesn’t resonate anymore. This is partly because of the declining power of trade unions and partly because while everyone laments the loss of factory jobs to Mexico or China, almost no one seriously entertains the idea of unraveling global trade deals. People understand that Pandora’s Box would be opened wide, and unless you’ve lost your job directly to such deals, it’s not worth the risk, especially if your job depends in any way on exports.

If Gephardt fizzled, perhaps the biggest surprise (though perhaps not to readers of the blogs on this page) was how badly Howard Dean imploded. I won’t repeat other people’s insights about Dean’s miscues, his limited appeal as the angry candidate, or the fact that endorsements don’t mean anything in national Democratic politics these days unless they come from the Clintons. I would, however, add a few other thoughts.

First, like Gephardt, Dean was the only major candidate to call for repealing all of the Bush tax cut in order to finance universal health care. As John Kerry pointed out over and over again in his ads, repealing a tax cut is raising taxes. Now it’s certainly true that some people -- especially in key Democratic constituencies -- really, really want to have health care paid for by someone else. But it’s also true that most other people -- even in the Democratic party -- aren’t really sure that they want to pay someone else’s doctor bills. Kerry got it right politically by saying that only the "rich" would have their taxes raised to pay for expansion of health care. This shows less about health care than it does about the fact that the Democrats have capitulated on middle-class taxes. Look for the Bush people to start defining very clearly who’s in the middle class.

Dean’s poor showing also makes it indisputably clear that his own defining issue -- passionate opposition to the war in Iraq -- is potentially deadly for the Democrats. Even for most Democrats in Iowa, Iraq is now about finishing the job and winning the peace, not about why we went to war in the first place. In their heart of hearts, most post 9-11 Americans just don’t care: it’s enough for them that Saddam was evil and that they are safe from his future menace (not to mention menace from those who took note of his destruction).

Perhaps most importantly for Dean’s political future, he showed real character problems during the most recent debates and campaign stops. Where instinctive (if undisciplined) politicians like Bill Clinton get clearer and sharper when someone attacks them (almost like they need a serious challenge in order to make it worth their effort), Dean became prickly and unfocused when Al Sharpton or Kerry really went after him. He acted like a patrician unused to being seriously challenged by anyone below him; after all, as governor and in the early presidential debates, he got used to dismissing, outmanuvering, or bullying relatively hapless opponents. And I’m not sure this problem can be fixed: like Al Gore, Dean’s not a Clinton: a kid from the streets who had to scratch and claw for everything he got even while learning to keep his cool doing it. As Gore found out, Dean’s kind of character flaw inevitably comes out when you go up against the big boys and everyone is watching closely.

We’re now heading to New Hampshire with four candidates: Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and Clark. Clark was going to be the un-Dean, but that may not be necessary anymore because if Dean doesn’t win or at least finish a very close second in New Hampshire, he could be finished in the South. If so, Clark’s appeal would dim even though he’s got all kinds of money. That could, perhaps, leave us with a three person race in South Carolina -- Edwards, Kerry, and Sharpton -- with Edwards and Kerry as the serious contenders to the end. The only sure bet is that Hillary is smiling right now.