Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Christmas Greetings

Click on the final hyperlink in this poem. Turn on your speakers. Enjoy.

Why didn’t the Oglethorpe Admissions Office think of this?

Hat tip: Betsy’s Page.

Merry Christmas

This is a nice piece on the American writer Washington Irving, and his appreciation of the traditional English celebration Christmas.

Why do these sketches of Christmas long past still speak so directly to us? Washington Irving himself gave the answer: "There is a tone of sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment."

Thanks to RealClearPolitics.

E. J. Dionne’s continuing descent into irrelevancy

Here’s Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne’s latest rant, entitled "The true values of the day." Beginning with a quotation from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a proponent of liberation theology, Dionne basically argues that unless you support the Democratic social welfare agenda, you’re Scrooge. There’s of course no room at his inn for any argument that there are other ways of promoting the general welfare, i.e., by reasonable means of encouraging economic growth (tax cuts, free trade, and reducing regulatory burdens come to mind) and by supporting the efforts of faith-based and community groups.

Dionne makes a lot of a talk given by the other Kerrey, the former Nebraska Senator and current president of New School University, the transcript of which you can find here. Dionne’s favorite point by the man he calls "President Kerrey" is this one:

[O]n January 1, the quotas on American textile and apparel are going to go off, and over a 12-month period, 3 or 4 million jobs that are currently paying $8 to $10 an hour are going bye-bye unless those jobs are protected. Now, I hazard to guess that most of those individuals will move into the ranks of poverty. They’ll move to minimum wage jobs, which is 20 or 30 percent under poverty today. They’ll move into poverty – and I don’t have the statistics on this, but I’ll bet you the number of abortions in America has gone up over the last three years, and I’ll bet you that those 3 or 4 million people that are out of work – if it’s a young woman who gets pregnant and says, I don’t have health insurance anymore; I can’t – it’s expensive to raise a baby right today – that they’re more likely to choose an abortion even if Bush appoints anti-Roe v. Wade justices that overturn it, because they’re going to make what I consider to be a tragic choice out of economic necessity.

Dionne himself cites an op-ed written by Notre Dame’s Mark W. Roche. Here’s the money quote from Roche:

During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the number of legal abortions increased by more than 5 percent; during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 36 percent. The overall abortion rate (calculated as the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) was more or less stable during the Reagan years, but during the Clinton presidency it dropped by 11 percent.

There are many reasons for this shift. Yet surely the traditional Democratic concern with the social safety net makes it easier for pregnant women to make responsible decisions and for young life to flourish; among the most economically disadvantaged, abortion rates have always been and remain the highest. The world’s lowest abortion rates are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal but where the welfare state is strong. Latin America, where almost all abortions are illegal, has one of the highest rates in the world.

And here’s the absolutely devasting response by Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley:

The truth is that Clinton and the Democrats cannot fairly be credited for the decline in the abortion rate in the 1990s. All that Clinton can legitimately claim on this score is that he generated a voter backlash resulting in a Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Thus, he unwittingly paved the way for actions that have indeed had a positive effect on both the rate of abortions and our national debate. Above all, by raising the issue of partial-birth abortion and enacting a ban on this horrific practice (a ban twice vetoed by Clinton himself — a veto upheld only because of near Democratic unanimity in its support in the Senate) the Republicans placed the focus on the victim of abortion, and awakened the conscience of many Americans to the homicidal nature of the practice.

At the very same time, technological developments — above all prenatal sonography — vividly revealed to Americans, including expecting parents and grandparents, the beautiful and undeniably human life of the child in the womb. Clinton didn’t invent the sonogram, nor did he join the pro-life effort to save babies by distributing sonographic equipment as widely as possible.

Clinton’s efforts on abortion were in an entirely different direction. He supported a so called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) that would have overturned even modest state restrictions on abortion, and proposed federal taxpayer funding of abortions via his wife’s planned nationalization of the health-care system.

And then there’s the issue of equipment for the troops in Iraq. Here’s Dionne:

In Iraq, young men and women serving their country complain of equipment shortages and wonder why their leaders didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Could it be that acknowledging the true cost of the Iraqi invasion at the outset might have endangered all those tax cuts -- and might have reduced support for the war? Isn’t that a question of values?

Here’s one response. Here’s another. Of course, there are issues about the size and configuration of our armed forces, but, as the Weekly Standard has shown, it’s possible to discuss them sanely and rationally.

Shouldn’t a columnist of Dionne’s stature take the time to dig a little and think a little, rather than just parroting discredited liberal talking points?


Here’s something else E. J. Dionne won’t read.

Now go spend time with your family! Merry Christmas!

Progressive thinking

The Liberal Rick Perlstein, writing for The Village Voice, goes--as far as I can tell--absolutely bonkers. This confusing and indignant essay seems to argue that "elections in America are indeed broken, badly, and vulnerable to fraud. That fact is not politically neutral: The problems in America’s election system have advantaged the Republicans, in significant and consistent ways." It’s a big old conspiracy, that’s what it is. That’s why--under the same system that allowed the Dems to dominate American politics--the GOP is now establishing itself as the dominant party. Therefore, change the whole system. Karl Rove is an evile genius, Ohio’s Secretray of State Ken Blackwell is a "cad," etc., etc. This confusing piece is an example "progressive" thinking at its best, unless you want to note

Daily Kos’ response to the mess hall bombing in Mosul: "Bush destroys another 22 families." He should be ashamed of himself! Maybe I’m just irritated after having to dig my car out from eighteen inches of snow this morning, and on my birthday!

But here is a somewhat more rational Progressive thought from John B. Judis & Ruy Teixeira, in which they try to show that Demos should not despair about the election, there is no sign of a realignment. Bush’s victory is merely a "Reagan-lite" coalition that can be overcome. Here is how it starts:

There were certainly reasons to despair after the 2004 election -- chiefly, the awful thought that George W. Bush and a Republican Congress could find the means to exceed the egregious irresponsibility, the xenophobia, the sheer partisan pettiness, and the callous disregard for life and law of Bush’s first term. But the election itself, and Bush’s margin of victory over Democrat John Kerry, were not reasons to despair. Bush won re-election by a smaller margin than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, or Dwight Eisenhower -- and against a deeply flawed Democratic opponent.

And there was little sign of a party realignment. In the great realigning elections of 1932 and ’36, and ’80 and ’84, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, respectively, created majorities by winning over new blocs of voters from their opponents. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, Bush and the Republicans had to patch together what remained of Reagan’s older coalition -- without those states and voters that had earlier begun moving toward the Democrats. Bush’s victory in 2004 didn’t represent the onset of a new majority but the survival of an older one.

The Democrats surely showed weaknesses in the election, particularly in the Deep South and among white working-class voters, but they also displayed continuing strength among constituencies that will command a growing share of the electorate in years to come. These include minorities, single men and women, and college-educated voters. The Democrats also demonstrated surprising strength among younger voters -- partly, to be sure, because of the Iraq War, but also because these voters are in tune with the cosmopolitan sensibility that the Democrats represent. And in this election, the Democrats benefited from a new Internet-based popular movement that could do for this era’s Democratic Party what the labor movement did for the old party and what the religious right has done for the Reagan Republicans.

Russian matters

Vladimir Putin says that he will not be running for a third term, and pledged to organize elections for a successor in 2008 "in a proper democratic way." He also questioned whether the U.S. was trying to isolate Russia. Michael McFaul explains that the elections in Ukraine are not an American plot. Anders Aslund has a few thoughts about the Orange Revolution. He is optimistic. Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuanias first elected president, thinks Putin has "neo-imeperialist" designs. There will be an unprecedented number of foreign
election monitors observing the vote in the Ukraine. By the way, Richard Pipes has a nice piece on the Ukraine crisis (and some history) in the current (December 27) issue of National Review (not on-line). He thinks that the Ukrainian revolution is a most heartening phenomenon, for it may well spill into Russia itself.

He explains something that has always bothered me: the word "Ukraine" is derived from the Slavic word for "borderland," which explains why its name was traditionally--and Pipes thinks correctly--preceded by "the," as is the case with "the Netherlands" or "the Low Countries."

Iraqi matters

Tom Donnelly makes the case that disbanding the Iraqi Army was the right thing to do. Thomas Sowell outlines why the Iraqi elections are important. The attack on the mess hall was the work of a suicide bomber. Also see this. This L.A. Times article seems pretty good on the difficulty of establishing the kind of security that is needed to protect FOB’s: vetting thousands of Iraqis is very difficult, to say the least. Robert Novak has a hit piece on Bill Kristol, claiming that his call for Rumsfeld to resign was "in effect, a declaration of war by the neoconservatives against the secretary of defense." There will be more on this.

Poetic Justice

I received the following press release from Multi-National Forces Public Affairs office this morning:

TIKRIT, Iraq -- A suspected anti-Iraqi forces member was killed at about 7:35 a.m. on Dec. 23 when the improvised explosive device he was preparing exploded prematurely south of Baqubah.First Infantry Division attack helicopters surprised the individual while he was preparing the IED and an explosion followed.

More on Doofus Dads

As I indicated below, I have not yet seen the movie Spanglish but much that is being said about it, makes it sound like it is bucking the trend of portraying men and fathers as loveable idiots or "doofus dads" as Maggie Gallagher called them. So maybe I’ll see it.

But what I’m really interested in is what is at the root of the trend to portray men in such a negative light. It used to just be good fun to pull down the father or figure of authority for a good joke or two--to prove he’s got a softer side and can laugh at himself. But there was still an air of respect. Today, it has gone too far. If men are not sheer evil, then they must be morons. There is hardly ever a portrayal of a truly admirable or John Wayne type of man. Why? I think I have an idea.

I think it comes from something feminism has done to our culture. It has left women so de-feminized that they feel incredibly insecure. And this is understandable because only a truly feminine woman who is comfortable in her own skin can handle a real man. Thus, women of today, by and large, find real men distasteful (or, as they might say, "arrogant") because they don’t know what to do with them. A whole generation of women has grown up without the armor necessary to feel secure around these men. So the portrayal of men as "doofuses" and "loveable idiots" is something akin to nervous laughter. If we cannot actually tame men, we have to find a way to make light of the situation. But this leaves so many women feeling incredibly unfulfilled. And they are! There is a hole in their soul where the love and comfort of a man should be. Who really wants to be loved by a doofus?! It may be better than nothing, but it’s not incredibly empowering!

Unfortunately for many women of my generation, they are going to find that nervous laughter and making light of serious situations is only a stop-gap measure. Eventually they will have to confront the sad situation that they are creating in their homes and in their lives and they may--like the Tea Leone character described by Mr. Moser from Spanglish find that their insecurity and lack of self-esteem is just "good common sense." One can only hope that the men treated in this manner react as the Sandler character does and not in the more mortal way which would give these women something real to fear.

Bush’s Grand Strategy

I have not commented on the calls for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s resignation (here is a good compendium from

Andrew Sullivan) because this is part of a much larger question; the larger geopolitical or grand strategy issues are hidden in the arguments for or against Rummy, and it is the larger issues we should concern ourselves with rather than the day-to-day partisan criticisms of what may be happening on the ground in Iraq.
I think the smaller issues--could we have gotten more armor on Humvees, does everyone have a a bullet-proof vest, etc.--are not something folks like us can reasonably comment upon, unless it is to to say (at almost every turn) that the opponents of our Iraq policy, or of the administration in general (which certainly include the MSM) should stop playing arm-chair generals.
You can follow the links on Sullivan, which include Bill Kristol’s original demand that Rumsfeld step down. I think Kristol is wrong. But he is making a point that will have to be considered: Rummy is less interested in nation-building than Kristol is, hence he thinks we can have a smaller force than Kristol wants (never mind for a moment that Kristol thinks that Bush and Rummy are at odds over this). So Kristol is using the MSM dissafection with Rummy to begin a conversation about our grand strategy. That conversation might be better addressed after reading John Lewis Gaddis’ piece in Foreign Affairs, entitled, "Grand Strategy in the Second Term." And then supplement it with
Francis Fukuyama’s "Nation Building 101," from The Atlantic Monthly, as well as his review of America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West, by Timothy Garton Ash. Interestingly, Gaddis ends his essay on Bismark. What will follow shock and awe?
The U.S. shook up the status quo, and, once that happened, Gaddis writes, "the pieces would realign themselves in patterns favorable to U.S. interests."
His last three paragraphs may be worth noting:

It was free-market thinking applied to geopolitics: that just as the removal of economic constraints allows the pursuit of self-interest automatically to advance a collective interest, so the breaking up of an old international order would encourage a new one to emerge, more or less spontaneously, based on a universal desire for security, prosperity, and liberty. Shock therapy would produce a safer, saner world.

Some such therapy was probably necessary in the aftermath of September 11, but the assumption that things would fall neatly into place after the shock was administered was the single greatest misjudgment of the first Bush administration. It explains the failure to anticipate multilateral resistance to pre-emption. It accounts for the absence of planning for the occupation of Iraq. It has produced an overstretched military for which no "revolution in military affairs" can compensate. It has left official obligations dangerously unfunded. And it has allowed an inexcusable laxity about legal procedures--at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere--to squander the moral advantage the United States possessed after September 11 and should have retained.

The most skillful practitioner ever of shock and awe, Otto von Bismarck, shattered the post-1815 European settlement in order to unify Germany in 1871. Having done so, however, he did not assume that the pieces would simply fall into place as he wished them to: he made sure that they did through the careful, patient construction of a new European order that offered benefits to all who were included within it. Bismarck’s system survived for almost half a century.

The attack on the base mess tent

The Belmont Club explains that the attack on the mess hall in Mosul is assymetrical warfare in action, titled "The Lidless Eye." Also note his post below, "The Odds Against," on the AP article that describes the execution of two Iraqi electoral officials by insurgents in a Baghdad street in broad daylight.

Sunbelt population continues to grow

Congressional power will continue flowing to the sunbelt
if the census were held today (rather than the next scheduled one in 2010).

Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah would each gain one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives if districts were reapportioned today, according to an analysis by American City Business Journals.

Iowa, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, would each lose a seat.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new state-by-state population estimates for 2004 Wednesday. ACBJ used those figures to hypothetically reapportion House seats today, six years in advance of the next scheduled reapportionment in 2010

The four states that would pick up House seats have experienced substantial population growth since 2000, when the last federal census was conducted. Arizona’s population has increased by 12 percent since 2000, Florida’s has grown by 8.9 percent, Texas’ by 7.9 percent and Utah’s by 7.0 percent, based on the latest Census Bureau estimates.

A typo in Albany

This is amusing. It seems that New York’s 31 electors voted for one John L. Kerry, rather than John F. Kerry.

Bush and religion, yet again

Here’s a helpful, but hardly groundbreaking, treatment of President Bush’s religious rhetoric from The Economist. None of it will be news to readers of any of the following things (ranked in order from best to worst): Paul Kengor’s God and George W. Bush; David Aikman’s A Man of Faith; Stephen Mansfield’s The Faith of George W. Bush; George W. Bush: On God and Country; my review of all but the Kengor book (published too late for my purposes) in The Claremont Review of Books; and my "The Normality of Bush’s Faith," posted here back in October.

In Defense of Spanglish

There have been some nasty comments made around here lately on the James L. Brooks film Spanglish. Caution, spoilers follow, so if you intend to see the film you might want to stop reading now.

I saw the film over the weekend, and was struck by its traditional moral message (as well as by Adam Sandler’s ability to act, well, like a grown-up). Some have complained that, because the film does not end with Sandler’s character leaving his termagant of a wife (played by Tea Leone), it demonstrates that he is a hopeless wimp. I disagree; his refusal to commit adultery with his beautiful Mexican housekeeper even in the face of his wife’s betrayal strikes me as a tremendous display of moral strength. Nor does he run back to the wife with open arms; it is clear that much in this marriage will have to change before things are made right. How any self-described conservative can argue that it would be better for him to end the marriage then and there, with two children as part of the equation, is beyond me.

My favorite part of the film, however, is the implicit skewering of the "self-esteem" movement, as exemplified by the harridan wife. The best line comes from her mother, played by the brilliant comic actress Cloris Leachman (whom I’ve loved since her days on Mary Tyler Moore). She has just finished lecturing her daughter about how her horrid behavior is sure to drive off her husband, and the enraged woman responds, "Thank you, mother, for once again making me hate myself!" To which Leachman replies, "Lately, dear, your low self-esteem has just been good common sense."

I don’t want to go overboard here; I’m not about to start adding Spanglish to my top-ten movie list or anything. It was about twenty minutes too long, for one thing. And sorry, I just can’t buy the idea that someone in the restaurant business in Los Angeles doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. But I’m inclined to agree with those who claim that this movie is yet another sign that something good and important is happening even within the bowels of Hollywood.

Evangelical internationalism

Here’s an interesting column by Nicholas Kristof about missions-driven evangelical international humanitarianism. He mentions Freeing God’s Children, by Allen Hertzke. You can find a summary of Hertzke’s argument here, in a pdf file.

Here’s a snippet of Kristof:

Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback, are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad - thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.

So Democrats should clamber down from the window ledges, roll up their sleeves and get to work on some of these issues. Because I’m embarrassed to say that Democrats have been so suspicious of Republicans that they haven’t contributed much on those human rights issues where the Christian right has already staked out its ground.

Hertzke’s argument is ultimately more interesting, and much more subtle than, say, Ann Coulter’s advice regarding what to do in the Middle East. He contends that the explosive growth of global Christianity, rooted in both theology and social conditions, threatens despotic governments, since Christians are not easily intimidated. And since Christians in the West have abundant contacts with these potential martyrs elsewhere, there’s the basis for a movement to protect religious liberty and promote human rights the world over. The Bush Administration gets it, as do Congressional Republicans. I wonder where African-American Democrats stand.

Update: Here’s an interview with Hertzke, via (ugh!) Andrew Sullivan, albeit a guest blogger.

Lemony Snicket

Here’s Frederica Mathewes-Green’s review of the movie. Her advice: read the books.

Not having seen the movie yet, but generally believing that even good movies rarely satisfy fans of the book, I’m inclined to agree, but also to add another piece of advice. Get the books on tape; you can order them from a page on this site. Why books on tape? Two words: Tim Curry. He reads most of them and does an absolutely wonderful job. (Daniel Handler--aka Lemony Snicket--read a couple for the tapes and wasn’t nearly as good.) We discovered the pleasures of Lemony Snicket as told by Tim Curry a couple of years ago on a road trip that took us from Atlanta to Indianapolis to the D.C. area and then back to Atlanta (roughly 33 hours of car time, with two kids then aged 7 and 5). Everyone was enthralled by the stories.

Since then, we’ve made our way through "book the ninth" on road trips, stopping at Cracker Barrels for meals and to trade in books we’ve finished for books we haven’t yet heard. (Cracker Barrel sells you the book-on-tape and then refunds you most of the money when you return it. The only problem with the system is that you can never be certain what’s going to be in stock when you get to the restaurant. We haven’t been able to locate tapes of books 10 and 11, despite some rather ridiculous efforts, which has driven us back to DVDs with wireless headphones to head off the "when will we be there?" chant.)

My wife and I will, nevertheless, go see the movie and may then take our kids, if it seems appropriate and not too dark and scary. Youthful imaginations in the Knippenberg household are extremely vivid and produce nightmares at the drop of a hat.

More on Christmas, I Mean, Holiday Celebrations

This story from the Los Angeles Times is worth looking at if only to get the facts on what’s going on in our schools with respect to the celebration (or lack thereof) of Christmas. In short, it is pathetic and mind-numbing. If I were a parent of a public school student in one of these schools, I think I would be raising hell about this. But then, that’s exactly why I am NOT a parent of a public school student. Both of my kids loved their CHRISTMAS programs and we especially loved watching our daughter take the part of Mary in hers.

Cross on LA County Seal Appears Despite All Efforts to the Contrary

Sorry I could not find an internet link to this story, but I’ve been hearing on the KFI AM 640 news reports all day, that the much disputed cross on the Los Angeles County seal will not be covered. Apparently, the county, in caving to a threatened lawsuit by the ACLU voted to remove the cross from the seal earlier this year. It has now been covered temorarily with a new design in the form of a sticker. But it didn’t work! The cross is still poking through the new sticker! County Supervisor, Mike Antonovich--who is a good guy and voted against changing the seal--said that it was worth noting that this happened during THIS week. He also noted that the county is guilty of gross misappropriation of county funds for this absurdity as their decision to change the seal is almost certainly going to be reversed by the voters in an upcoming ballot measure.

Glimmers of hope in the Arab world

With more attacks on an American base in Mosul today, and Tony Blair in Baghdad, we may want to take note of this optimistic piece by Fareed Zakaria on the region and another by David Brooks. Zakaria:

Interestingly, these voices are mainly being heard from the Persian Gulf, which has become the center of reform in the Arab world. Dubai is far ahead of all others in terms of economic openness and efficiency. But Qatar and Bahrain are moving in the same direction with radical plans. It is a strange reversal. In the 1950s and 1960s, the large Arab states, led by Egypt, were seen as the modernizing forces in the region. The gulf monarchies were backward Bedouin societies. Now progress, at least economic progress, is coming from the gulf, while countries such as Syria appear to be stuck in the Stone Age.

Indeed, despite the stirrings in Egypt, what is most likely is an increasing divide in the Arab world between the small, nimble states on the periphery -- the Persian Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco -- and the slumbering giants.

Although many in the region would be dismayed by this division, it is a healthy development. Pan-Arabism, which was never more than hot air anyway, has been one of the ideologies that has kept Arabs from modernizing. Competition will force each state to focus on its own future. And as some succeed, others will follow, and regional trade and tourism -- currently abysmally low -- will expand. Perhaps this will forge a new Arab community, one created by the practical realities of contact, culture and commerce rather than war, rhetoric and politics

Gun-carry permits

I thought these figures were interesting. The percentage of citizens with gun carry permits by state. (via Instapundit)

Der Spiegel on Bush as Time’s POY

This is what Der Spiegel
has to say on Bush and the honor (via

Heartfelt congratulations to US President George W. Bush for winning the prestigious Time magazine "Man of the Year" award for the second time. We couldn’t agree with Time’s editors more. They say he won because of his successful re-election campaign (true) and his bold, uncompromising leadership (The Microsoft Word synonym for uncompromising? Stubborn. Can’t argue there.) Then again, they also say he won because of his forthright connection with the American people. Here, we’d clash swords. Wasn’t it Bush who spent much of his first term lying to the people about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? Still, as Time editor Jim Kelly points out, Bush remains one of the world’s most polarizing figures and he single-handedly reshaped the global rules of politics "to fit his 10-gallon-hat leadership."

Bush joins an elite list of past world leaders who have been honored by Time. Each year since 1927 the magazine has singled out "the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse." The list includes many past US presidents. It also features Adolf Hitler (1938), Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942) And Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran (1979)

Strangely, Bush -- known to prize loyalty and not to forgive easily -- told Time he doesn’t want people to like him. "I think the natural instinct for most people in the political world is that they want people to like them," he said. "On the other hand, I think sometimes I take kind of a delight in who the critics are." Does he want a list of names?

Danke sehr to our German friends.

Elvis Presley as Prophet

This morning’s Real Clear Politics page provoked the following thought. Between Anthony Browne’s lamentation of European cultural suicide and Francis Fukuyama’s Venn diagram equating blue-state Democrats and "Euro-Atlanticists," I was driven back to Elvis Presley’s immortal "Blue Christmas." But emphatically not this one.

But seriously folks: when both Tony Blair and George W. Bush (both well-known as faithful Christians) scrub their seasonal statements out of a misplaced desire not to seem to exclude anyone, they wittingly or unwittingly send a powerful message of those who celebrate "the reason for the season." Let us remind our leaders that it’s possible to respect and include "the Other," and to lead diverse, pluralistic societies, without forgoing recognition of the central holiday on the calendar of most of their citizens. George W. Bush can personally wish us all a "merry Christmas" while at the same time reaching out in "good will toward men" to everyone, believer and non-believer, Christian and non-Christian, alike. Christmas is a generous, welcoming holiday. GWB should in fact encourage American Christians to reach out in generous fellowship to all their neighbors. I’ll leave it to our brothers and sisters in the U.K. to help Tony Blair figure out how to be true to himself.

Update:On GWB, I stand corrected by the first comment below. I confess to having been misled by a Newsmax report (which I can’t now find on the web) on the White House’s Christmas decorations this year.

Montana as a swing state?

O.K., I think I discovered the Democratic plan of attack for 2006, 2008, and beyond. That great Demo strategist The Daily Kos thinks that Montana can be made into a swing state. He points out that whereas Gore got 33% of the Montana vote, Kerry got 38% (Bush went from 58% in 2000 to 59% in 2004). Because of some state issues that the Demos have been able to use, they now have a majority in the state Senate and four out of five state-wide offices. Kos thinks that Montana may become a swing state because there are some "libertarian" tendencies there, and he quotes with approval a reader who writes: "Westerners want candidates with spine. You could probably run on gay marriage in Montana if your campaign plan was to bar-fight your way across the state--people would respect that." Not all liberals are "pencil-necked spinless wimps" and its time to make Montana into a swing state! Well, this is a bit optimistic, I’m guessing. The folks I met in Montana, cowboys all I admit, might be persuaded over time to vote for a national Democrat, but not in my lifetime. If this is Democratic optimism, they’re hurtin’.

This reminds me of a story I heard in Montana: A few years ago, some do-gooders came up with an alternative to Montana ranchers for controlling the coyote population. For years the ranchers just shot the darn things, but the do-gooders proposed a more humane solution. There was a big meeting between the tree-huggers and the ranchers, and the former proposed that the coyotes be captured alive, the males castrated and then let loose. The coyote population would then be controlled. The room became quiet for a while. Finally an old man in the back stood up, tipped his hat back, and said, "Son, you don’t get what the problem is. Those coyotes ain’t breeding with our sheep--they’re eatin’ them."

The "Holiday" Brunch

Last weekend my husband and I were obliged to attend the "Holiday Brunch" sponsored by his boss (he works for a major Pharmaceutical company) for the research and development department of his company. Of course, it was very nice of his boss to go to the trouble and the food and the company were all just fine. The problem was the huge exercise in absurdity that kept all of these executives from saying "Merry Christmas." It was painful to watch as one co-worker or spouse after another approached us with limp hand and lame smile to offer their "Happy Holidays" greeting. But it was delightful to watch their stunned reaction as I responding in kind with a bold "Merry Christmas" or better still, "Christmas Blessings".

At my end of the table--far enough away from the boss to avoid getting my husband in trouble--a group of wives got into a rather heated discussion of the elephant in the room. No one there was anything other than Christian (at least in theory). Everyone was celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25. We were not on company property. Why were these people acting like this? What makes people cave to such absurdities? One mother started complaining that she was helping out with "craft day" at her son’s school and could not come up with anything that was seasonal but not specific to satisfy the teacher and the sensitivity codes at the public school. Even Santa Claus and Christmas trees are banned. I told her to go in with the old paper-plate angel decoration and tell them to shove it. Honestly, I am just fed up with these people. It is Christmas, for goodness sake. I, for one, am determined to see that my own kids get to celebrate it in the way it should be.

Where did all the Real Men Go?

Maggie Gallagher hints at a serious issue in her review of the new Adam Sandler movie, Spanglish, the emergence of the "doofus dad" phenomenon. Why is it that in popular culture today we can never take fathers seriously? If they are worthy of being listened to at all, it is always with a healthy dose of disrespect. They are loveable, but wierd. If they are not worthy of riducule then they are also not worthy of love. No strong dads, please. Gallagher argues that Spanglish may be an antidote to that phenomenon. If so, I think it will be worth seeing.

Religion, politics, and the battle over Christmas

Hugh Hewitt links and responds to a lengthy post by Jeff Jarvis about our seasonal battles about Christmas and the public square. Lord knows that I have commented on and contributed to these battles, and I’m not about to stop now.

Of course, I wish that they weren’t shouting matches more often than not. And I’m also glad when participants on both sides retain their sense of proportion, with conservative "religionists" (to use Stephen Carter’s phrase) recognizing that there is such a thing as real persecution out there, as opposed to annoying insults and harrassment, and liberal secularists recognizing that there is real theocracy out there, which is often engaged in the aforementioned persecution.

But I’m glad that we’re having conversations, and that at least much of the time they’re more or less civil. Imposing a solution from above, silencing one or the other side (or both sides) in the name of peace, just postpones the "day of reckoning." It’s the fights that end in conversations and the conversations that end in fights that in the end help create the shared stakes in a regime, at least as long as the regime itself offers a principled respect for all sides and stands for something higher than temporal peace.

Here’s James Madison on property:

This term in its particular application means "that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual."

In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.

In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property.

In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them.

He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person.

He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them.

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

This strikes me as articulating the kind of principle on which a government that respects the liberty to be religious or not to be religious can rest.

Islam in Europe

The Pew Forum has this interesting report on Muslims in Europe. It is chock-full of data and analysis, and should be read in conjunction with this article from the Weekly Standard.

Taken together, they provide much more material to digest as we think about how robust the "cultural" basis of a pluralistic society has to be. Dutch multiculturalism, for example, used to be based on "shared and nonnegotiable understandings of three things: language, history, and law." Radical Islam rejects all three. And in Rotterdam, for example, Muslim immigrants constitute nearly half the population and more than 60% of the school-age popupulation. My dad’s old neighborhood, in Rijswijk, a suburb of the Hague, has become a Muslim enclave, essentially foreign to someone who lived there for 20 years and visited for another 20.

American Jews, 350 years later

reminds us that Jews are celebrating "their three-hundred and fiftieth anniversary here. The first Jewish community in North America was established in New Amsterdam (New York) in 1654. In 1658 fifteen Jewish families arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. By 1759 their numbers and resources had increased sufficiently that they undertook the construction of what has become America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue of Newport." Powerline reflects on the invitation offered by Moses Seixas (which they reprint) and Washington’s justly famous response
. Dennis Praeger, reflecting on celebrating Hanukkah at the White House, explains why he has two fathers, George Washington and the patriarch Abraham. May God do good unto you.

Violence in Iraq today - the hidden story

The Washington Post reports that 3 Iraqi election workers were brutually gunned down in Baghdad and two huge bombs exploded outside Shi’ite holy areas in Najaf and Karbala, killing at least 64 civilians. Understandably, media coverage will focus on the horrible body count. But note one section in the middle of the article on how Sunni clerics and even al-Sadr’s people (who are now invested in the elections) have reacted (it’s worth excerpting at length):

"I swear to God, even if they burn all the elections centers, we will still go and vote," said Ali Waili, 29, a taxi driver reached by telephone in Karbala. "We have been mistreated for a long time, we have been tortured for a long time."

In the wake of the attacks, leading Shiite figures appealed for calm. The movement of Moqtada Sadr, a young cleric whose Mahdi Army militia has twice led uprisings against U.S. forces, condemned the attack and dismissed the prospect of sectarian strife.

"It is clear that there are some trying to impose conflict and civil war in Iraq," said Ali Yassiri, a top aide to Sadr. "Deceiving Iraqis is difficult. . . . These attacks will result in nothing but insistence on proceeding toward the Iraq of the future."

Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed Hakim, who with Sistani is one of the country’s four most important clerics, called the bombing an attempt to "incite sectarian sedition."

A similar call for restraint was heard at the Ibn Taimiya Sunni mosque in Baghdad, which was struck by at least two mortar rounds at 7 a.m. Four guards were wounded, one of them seriously; windows were shattered and wood paneling was damaged.

Those responsible "must be trying to incite sectarian strife, but this will not happen," said a mosque caretaker, Ali Mashhadani.

Of course, the violence is awful and many things can go wrong before and after the elections. But however the media reports it, the apparent chaos cannot hide the fact that the forces of tyranny and terror are desperate. After January 30, they will not be able to pretend -- even to themselves -- that they have an argument. Once that happens in politics, total defeat is just a matter of time (and arms).

Mark Warner as the great Demo hope?

George Will thinks that Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia may be the Democrats’ best hope for 2008. He is a governor, and he has broken with Demo orthodoxy on a number of issues (tax cuts is not one of them); the most important might well be his support of the Laci Person law, and "reasonable restrcitions on late-term abortions." This may be not enough, but it is something, and Democrats don’t have all that many options. Virginia has not voted Democratic since 1964, but Will thinks it might be a good place for them to start if they are determined to compete in the South (the 11 states of the Confederacy, plus Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia, have 173 electoral votes. Will: "If Democrats are shut out in those 14 states, and they have been in the past two elections, they must carry 74 percent of all the other electoral votes." Will thinks that as the Northern Virginia suburbs continue to grow
"and perhaps become more like Philadelphia’s liberal-leaning suburbs, Virginia could become one of the states -- Arizona and Colorado are others -- that may soon be fully transformed from reliably Republican to more or less regularly competitive." Maybe. But it is a good argument and Warner bears watching. He is chairman of the National Governors Association and hence will get some much needed publicity, and because he will be out of office in 2006, should have time to campaign for the presidency. Also note this from the Boston Globe showing that Democrats may be softening their views on abortion. This may explain why Nency Pelosi seems to be encouraging Tim Roemer (a former Congressman with an anti-abortion voting record) to run for Chair of the DNC.
Roemer, for example, said last week on CNN that those who don’t favor bans on late-term abortion have a "moral blind spot" on the issue.

Blog of the Year

I guess the big story this morning is that Time Magazine has named President Bush the Person Man of the Year. Good call. But also note that our friends at Powerline have been named Blog of the Year. Congratulations, well deserved. Note the good photo of the three well versed in the sharp quillets of the law, but now famous for more justice than law: The even-handed judgment of the blog that makes the great Mainstream Media tremble when well named Powerline with good cause roars.