Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The other coalition

The leaders France, Germany, and Russia are saying nice things about the elections in Iraq, and are looking forward to being more helpful. Chirac said that the "the participation rate and the good technical organization of the elections were satisfactory." Javier Solana, the foreign affairs chief of the EU said

the Iraqi people "are going to find the support of the European Union — no doubt about that — in order to see this process move on in the right direction." In the meantime, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, chief of the U.N.-backed International Mission for Iraqi Elections, said that
"the Iraqi elections generally meet international standards." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi makes clear that he is still an enemy of democracy. President Bush will be in Europe in a few weeks.

Democratic Party matters

USA Today runs an edited conversation between Matthew Dowd and Joe Lockhart (moderated by Susan Page) on Iraq, Social Security and who they think the nominees might be in 2008. Dowd only mentions McCain and Guilliani, while Lockhart mentions Kerry, Edwards, and Hillary Clinton. Russ Feingold is testing the waters, as are Wesley Clark and Evan Bayh. I’m sorry to report that Hillary Clinton collapsed during a speech this afternoon in Buffalo. She has the flu and seems to be OK. And Donnie Fowler has been endorsed by the Association of State Democratic Chairs, perhaps the first sign that Dean’s candidacy is not a given. Their recommendation will have to be endorsed by the entire association next Monday.

Satire of the MSM

This amused me from Scrappleface.

News reports of terrorist bombings in Iraq were marred Sunday by shocking graphic images of Iraqi "insurgents" voting by the millions in their first free democratic election. Read the rest.

Patriot’s history

This is an interview with Larry Schweikart, a history prof at the University of Dayton, about his new book, A Patriot’s History of the United States. I haven’t read into yet, but I’m betting that it’s better than most surveys, and if it’s any better than Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People, I’ll buy dozens! It almost goes without saying that it has to be better than Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, but I admit that is a low standard by which to judge.

Albanian resort

This is an interesting and informative report on the development of a Club Med in Alabania.
I have long argued that places like Albania, Bulgaria (never mind Hungary and the others), have a great opportunity in attracting tourists, especially to such resorts. Good for them. This is the recently updated CIA
World Factbook on Albania.

People Power, Regime Change

David Kaspar reports that the German media is giving a less positive report on the Iraqi elections than the Arab media. Arthur Chrenkoff gives a very useful (and rather long) report on the good news from Iraq under the title, "Happy Birthday." He has many good links you might follow. John Podhoretz slams those who are not admitting that the elections in Iraq are significant. Roger L. Simon thinks it’s about time for the MSM to stop calling terrorists "insurgents." Good idea. Amir Taheri rightly argues in the London Times that the elections proved the doom-mongers wrong and is a major defeat for the terrorists. Also see this largely positive stories from the L.A. Times and the Washington Post.

I know it is fashionable, and sometimes politically necessary, to say that this election in Iraq is not the end of mischief and terror. I know that. But it is a milestone, nevertheless, and that is what has to be admitted. The reports on television--the interviews with Iraqi citizens, their heartfelt joy being expressed in words and song--about this great event moved me deeply and should move anyone who is prejudiced in favor of liberty. These people got up and walked to their polling places despite all. Is this not an act of courage? Is this not an act of hope? Is this not a revolutionary act? Is this not a great example of people power? The regime has changed, and the rest are details. And everyone knows this, except maybe the likes of John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy, and Juan Cole. These people cannot overcome their sad defeatism, and/or their hatred of Bush. Too bad for them. Let them wallow in their bitterness and pessimism, and let the rest of us rejoice at the event, taking it for what it was and what it represented: A people shaking off the tyrannical past and giving themselves authority on behalf of freedom. In another time and under other leadership this would be called people power and even the Liberals would be rejoicing, as they did in 1986 in the Philippines. I was there for that. But, as they say, the times have changed and the corruption of the so-called progressive forces in American politics is near complete. They don’t know what they stand for, who they are, and they don’t know the difference between good guys and bad guys. Oddly, the moral relativism--their inability to see the difference between regimes--that they expound will have greater consequences in this country than abroad. The progressives continue to de-authorize themselves, to make themselves ever less significant in America politics. Indeed, if this weren’t so serious, we would be laughing. But the rest of us can take great pleasure in seeing the Philippinos, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Ukranians, the Iraqis, and the others to come, begin to take pride in being free. I congratulate these people and wish them well.

Ignatieff on Iraq

Michael Ignatieff manages to say very little in today’s New York Times Magazine commentary. But he does deliver this remarkable admission:

Establishing free institutions in Iraq was the best reason to support the war -- now it is the only reason -- and for that very reason democracy there has ceased to be a respectable cause. The administration’s ideologues -- the ones who wrote the presidential inaugural and its image of America in the service of ’’the Author of Liberty’’ -- have managed the nearly impossible: to turn democracy itself into a disreputable slogan. Liberals can’t bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neoconservative bombast. Meanwhile, antiwar ideologues can’t support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions. Finally there are the ideological fools in the Arab world and even a few here at home who think the ’’insurgents’’ are fighting a just war against American imperialism. All this makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates. The right name for such people is fascists.

You read that right: Bush hatred has gone so far that many Democrats can’t bring themselves to support democracy in Iraq (or elsewhere). They would rather give aid and comfort to the enemy--"objectively," as Marxist grad students used to say, supporting Zarqawi--than admit that anything good can come from the Bush White House. This from a man of the (moderate) Left.

Perhaps then GWB ought to embrace the entirety of the 2004 Democratic platform (speaking in secret evangelical code to let the Republicans know he doesn’t really mean it), thereby driving the Democrats into absolute opposition to everything they once stood for. Works for me.

Is the planet (especially the West) on a non-sustainable course?

Gregg Easterbrook reviews Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and, in doing so, he gives a very good overview of Jared’s previous book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and how the two books are connected. Diamond argues that all variations in societies are not caused by the societies themselves, but by "differences in their environments." Some of this sort of thing is interesting, of course, but Easterbrook does a pretty good job in showing how problematic it is in the end. Just one paragraph:

Diamond’s analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture, especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view is explaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. This happened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change. True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? China’s embrace of a change-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism. Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivation. Yet Diamond considers ideas to be nearly irrelevant, compared with microbes and prevailing winds. Supply the right environmental conditions, and inevitably there will be a factory manufacturing jet engines.

Arab reactions to the Iraqi elections

It will be interesting to see what the other countries in the region will make of the elections in Iraq. Some information is starting to come in. This AP dispatch is quite informative, and largely positive. Note the title of the piece, "Arabs Mesmerized by Iraqi Elections." The last line of the story is especially revealing. A student being interviewed in Egypt was asked about the growth of democracy in Egypt. He looked around and said: "Let’s talk about Iraq. Let’s stay away from talking about Egypt." Here is the President’s
statement on the Iraq election.

Scalia again

Nicholas Thompson joins the swelling chorus of voices urging the nomination of Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice. His wrinkle?

If the religious right is salivating over the prospect of Scalia as chief when the seriously ill William Rehnquist retires, accede. Just demand that the president nominate a moderate associate justice in return and threaten filibuster and gumming up of the Senate in other ways if the deal falls through. This would be better than an even-up trade, since replacing Rehnquist’s slot with Scalia, and Scalia’s slot with a moderate, would ultimately swing some 5-4 decisions away from the conservatives.

This will never happen, I say hopefully. Even if Scalia is elevated to CJ, the Bush Administration will never cut that kind of deal with the Democrats, I say hopefully.

The article does contain a glimmer of hope that some liberals are coming to their senses about the judicial protection of abortion:

Scalia is also a federalist and, as Democrats are quickly starting to realize, federalism is nectar to the federally powerless. Oklahoma can pass whatever reactionary laws it wants, while New York passes the opposites. In a worst-case scenario, the right could overturn Roe v. Wade and see abortion banned throughout the South; but that wouldn’t mean blue states would have to follow suit. Scalia has sometimes abandoned federalism (and other principles) when he’s got big political or personal fish to fry. But it would require serious contortions for him to shun the 10th Amendment here. "If a state were to permit abortion on demand, I would—and could in good conscience—vote against an attempt to invalidate that law," Scalia has said. There’s no reason not to take him at his word on that.

And then there’s this:

The last reason Democrats should support Scalia is the most important and the most complicated: He’s smart.

The high court has long been viewed by many as a bunch of political hacks who only got there because the president considered them pliant or sought to reward blind loyalty. That view coexists uneasily with the image of justices as the sage interpreters of our nation’s laws—who got there because they’re the wisest people in the land. Lately, the political-hack view has dominated, and that’s a bad thing. Counterintuitive as it may seem, Democrats should work toward establishing a respected court, even if it’s still dominated by GOP appointees.

If citizens believe that the grandest interpreters of our laws are merely black-robed political partisans, it’s easier for the administration to treat them that way: The White House can choose candidates based on how loyal they are and how well they’d help the GOP in future elections. That’s the way it is now, and that’s why we’ve reached the peculiar situation in which Gonzales is a more likely nominee than, say, Richard Posner or Frank Easterbrook—conservatives who are also among the smartest appellate judges in the country.

Scalia’s elevation would be a useful tonic. He thinks through issues logically and, unlike Thomas, he asks tough questions during hearings and writes terrific opinions. In the recent decision United States v. Booker and United States v. Fanfan, striking down congressionally written mandatory sentencing guidelines, while allowing judges to continue to consult them, Scalia’s opinion is by far the most readable and logical. Scrapping the key elements of the sentencing regime but keeping the rest is "rather like deleting the ingredients portion of a recipe and telling the cook to continue with the preparation portion," he wrote.

Scalia is a conservative and an originalist, yes, but his core ideology is, and has always been, legal clarity. In the short term, this might seem bad for Democrats. The upshot of the Booker decision, for example, is a muddled decision liberals can fall in love with. The Washington Post editorialized that the decision "did not produce an entirely coherent result from a legal scholar’s point of view, but as a policy matter the outcome was the best that could have been expected."

That’s OK, as far as it goes. But if the Supreme Court sees its mandate as making good policy decisions that are logically muddled, Democrats are sunk in the long term. Many of the court’s future issues will come directly or indirectly through actions taken by the large Republican congressional majorities. With that likely docket, Democrats should attempt to seat a conservative court whose polestar is logic, as opposed to a court whose polestar is the White House.

While I suspect that Thompson wouldn’t be writing this if President Kerry (shudder!) were contemplating elevating a liberal judge or Senator to the Supreme Court, but would be supporting the results-oriented jurisprudence he professes to disdain here, I will offer him provisional membership in the club of those favoring judicial restraint and a respect for constitutional principles and provisions. If he stays long enough, he may actually join the inner circle of "originalists."

Gerson and McGurn again

The Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution had this piece on the transition from Michael Gerson to William McGurn in the Bush speechwriting team. It’s a solid article, better than most of what I’ve seen.

My major complaint is its focus on McGurn’s opposition to abortion, surely the most readily accessible of his opinions. I’d like to have seen a little deeper digging to figure out something about McGurn’s voice on other domestic policy issues. Can he help GWB explain that "a heart for the poor" doesn’t require a massive expansion of the welfare state, that compassionate conservatism is not oxymoronic window-dressing?

Democratic matters

Barbara Boxer is now the new Liberal flamethrower, and some want her to run for the nomination in 2008. The NY Times reports that the campaign for DNC chair is as intense as a presidential contest. And Democrats, according to the Post, are becoming concerned that a recurring theme of many items on Bush’s second-term domestic agenda is that if enacted, they would weaken political and financial pillars that have propped up Democrats for years, political strategists from both parties say. Robert Novak thinks that Sen. Evan Bayh’s vote against Rice’s confirmation was an attempt to appeal to Liberals in the party. He is posturing for 2008.

Soros on Kerry

I watched a good bit of John Kerry on Meet the Press this morning. Quite unimpressive and, you’re right, I wan’t surprised. He has a dull and boring mind, full of self-justification. It would have been tough having to listen to him as president; very tough. Bill Clinton was not. He was amusing, full of himself in the same way the Poet’s Richard III was. Never boring, loved to laugh at his way, his problems, his flaws. Kerry has no mirth in his soul. A Macbeth figure. I was amused to hear that George Soros, who spent about $26 million to get Kerry elected--he says he doesn’t regret it--said this: Kerry did not, actually, offer a credible and coherent alternative. That had a lot to do with Bush being re-elected. And then this foolishness. He said the Kerry campaign tried to emphasize his role as a Vietnam War hero and downplay his role as an anti-Vietnam War hero, which he was. Had he admitted, owned up to it, I think actually the outcome could have been different. He also said that he doesn’t know what the Democratic Party stands for.

GWB: "Statecraft as Soulcraft"

George F. Will has a lot of interesting things to day about the domestic portion of Bush’s Second Inaugural, with which I appear to be obsessed. Here’s the conclusion:

It cannot be said of Bush, as was famously said of Martin Van Buren, that he rows toward his goal "with muffled oars." Bush has said "I don’t do nuance," and his "ownership society" agenda -- from Social Security personal accounts to health savings accounts to tax cuts -- is explicitly explained as soulcraft. Its purpose is to combat the learned incompetence of persons who become comfortable with excessive dependence on and supervision by government. His agenda’s aim is to continue, in the language of his inaugural address, "preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society."

That is the crux of modern conservatism -- government taking strong measures to foster in the citizenry the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for increased individual independence. That is what the Homestead Act did, out in what no longer is the Great American Desert.

Read it all.


You gotta love Tony Blair

Jay Nordlinger heard this in Davos at the World Economic Forum:

President Bush’s inauguration speech last week marks a consistent evolution of U.S. policy. He spoke of America’s mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny to the world. Leave aside for a moment the odd insistence by some commentators that such a plea is evidence of the "neoconservative" grip on Washington — I thought progressives were all in favor of freedom rather than tyranny. [Go ahead — read that line again. You know you want to.] The underlying features of the speech seem to me to be these: America accepts that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. The more people live under democracy, with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it. This may be open to debate — though personally I agree with it — but it emphatically puts defeating the causes of terrorism alongside defeating the terrorists.
Secondly, by its very nature, such a mission cannot be accomplished alone. It is the very antithesis of isolationism; the very essence of international engagement. It requires long-term cooperation.

And it is based on enlightened self-interest. Freedom is good in itself. But it is also the best ultimate guarantee that human beings will live in sympathy with each other. The hard head has led to the warm heart.

None of this means the hard head won’t still be applied. America, as is perhaps inevitable being the world’s only superpower, who in the end is expected not just to talk about the world’s problems but to solve them, approaches all issues with a propensity to question what others assume, treat the pressure groups with resistance, and ask others to share responsibility, as well as demand it of America.

But no one could say the inauguration speech was lacking in idealism.

Let’s make the British P.M. a Knight Commander of the American Empire. (Oops, I shouldn’t have let the secret neocon plan out of the bag!)

Iraq votes

has a great photo from Iraq of some men who had just voted. I have been watching CNN, et al, for the past half hour or so and the coverage, predictably, is awful. All the reports from Iraq start with the violence (relatively limited) and then how many polling places were never opened (a few) and then mentions finally how the number of people voting seems to be much higher than everyone expected. They sometimes mention that Iraqis are happy and there is a party-like atmosphere (one reporter said similar to a wedding) around voting booths. The few such reports that I saw, including some interviews with voters, were very moving. The official Iraqi estimates are that about 70% have voted, which would be tremendous. Almost all the reporters I have seen are saying that the turnout is higher than expected. I did see an interview with a UN election official on FOX News (maybe named Valenzuela, can’t remember), and his report was quite optimistic and informative; he gave special thanks to the election commission and the thousands who were working the polls. He claimed to be very impressed. It is going to be hard to argue that this election was not a success. Even Reuters
is admitting that the brave Iraqis have spoken with a loud voice: Even in Falluja, the devastated Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a slow stream of people turned out, confounding expectations.
A member of the Electoral
was exultant and said: Freedom has won. We have conquered terrorism.

A jumping mouse that isn’t

Now this is important! The Federal government has determined that the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse really doesn’t exist! Why is this important? Because this little non-existent guy prevented a lot of houses from being built when he was (albeit non-existent) placed on the endangered species list. "The Interior Department said Friday that new DNA research shows the 9-inch mouse, which can launch itself a foot and a half into the air and switch direction in mid-flight, is probably identical to another variety of mouse common enough not to need protection." And this important piece of scientific knowledge was gotten, of course, at government expense and, of course, through a very serious process of scientific peer-review process. So it is true. But do note that even though the mouse doesn’t exist, it will remain on the endangered species list for one more year. Then it will be removed. I am betting that this is not the end of the story. There will be fight over this--at least one Kennedy will become involved--honor, ambition, and many elections will be at stake. Good stuff.

Rebirth in the White House

This can be seen as a kind of light-hearted-fluff piece by David Brooks, but I like it, and it means much. I like it because--even if some of the details are not simply true or are exaggerated--it points to a very interesting phenomenon in politics: The winners are always looking ahead, for new projects and political battles to fight, while the losers (the Demos in this case) are looking back trying to figure out why they lost the last battle.

What this means for the Bush White House is that these guys have an up-to-something-mentality about them. They are reinvigorated by their election victory and by the cabinet changes. They are game. Brooks thinks they are in a "springlike, postwar mood." This will sound odd when you consider the problematic nature of the election in Iraq (our embassy
just got hit with a rocket, two Americans died), for example, but it shouldn’t. One of the prime requirements of the high art of politics is to make sure you are doing what you can about today, but to never let that so immerse you that you drown in it. Planning for future actions is critical, especially if such actions are not directly related to the current "crisis" (and there is always one), whatever that might be. It is clear that Bush’s opponents do not understand this. That explains why Boxer and Kennedy are so preoccupied with who lied about Iraq, and who didn’t; darn it, why did we have to go into Iraq in the first place? These guys let the past overpower both the present and the future. They are forever trying to fix the past (not only understand it, but change it to their liking). They cannot move forward until they have had their revenge on the past (you lied to us about WMD’s, etc.). As a result, they can’t think clearly and, of course, they can’t act in the world as it currently reveals itself. Very silly and dangerous view, this.

Those who have just renewed their authority through the election--in part explained by their own appeal to their own virtues--are full of dynamism and mental movement: They are keen to act in the world and wait for the world’s reaction to those acts, and then decide how to act again. This doesn’t mean that they are going to ignore Iraq or the pending peace between Israel and Palestine--on the contrary--but things are in place now that will move such items in exactly the direction that they intended. Now make some moves toward Venezuela, China,
and India--never mind Social Security or taxes--that will allow you even greater impact and flexibility.

A sophisticated (so he thought) student recently asked me to define history for him. He was looking for a convoluted and tricky answer having to do with these kinds of forces or those kinds movements, maybe for the unterbau and the oberbau, the progress of the consciousness of freedom, with some Weltanschaung stuff thrown in. But he was dissapointed. I said this: "History is what Abraham Lincoln did, and what happened to him." I intentionally turned and walked away because I wanted him to get the simplicity and truth of what I had said to him sink in. It did. He came back the next day and said: "That was awesome. I think I understand what you meant." In his own own way, so does David Brooks.

Zogby as fool

Zogby’s poll in Iraq found this:

About 76 per cent of Sunnis say they "definitely will not vote" in tomorrow’s elections, according to the poll conducted by US-based Zogby International for Abu Dhabi television. Only nine per cent of Sunnis say they will cast ballots.

"There are deep divisions that exist - divisions that are so deep and pronounced that this election, instead of bringing people together, may very well tear them apart," said James Zogby, a Zogby International analyst and host of Abu Dhabi television’s Viewpoint.

So Zogby’s opinion is that the election actually has a divisive effect on Iraqi society. In some ways I can understand how this would be so. But I have a question for Zogby (or Teddy Kennedy, for that matter): Why is this a bad thing? Is the opposite true? That is, if not having an election will "bring people together" then I suppose he ought to start making explicit arguments that elections are bad things, in Iraq or anywhere else. This is not deep thinking and, frankly, I am finished with Zogby. The motions of his mind are dull as night.

Courage in Iraq

Iraq prepares to vote
under the most difficult circumstances. The violence continues, it seems. But the country is being sealed off, and martial law is in place for two days. President Ghazi al-Yawar asked Iraqi to be brave and vote and thereby defeat the terrorists. Steve Hadley, Bush’s national security advsor, calls it a day of hope. You might want to go to the Friends of Democracy blog (by Iraqis), it will keep up on the election and the other developments (which I hope will be few). In the meantime, joyful Iraqi exiles have voted across the world, including in the Middle East. The supporters of the Iraqis are hoping for at least a 50% turnout, I have been saying 60% would be just fine; I’m guessing and hoping, of course. It’s very hard to tell based on reports what we have a right to expect. I wish them well.

We’re still talking about the Second Inaugural

In addition to Peggy Noonan and Rod Dreher, Terry Mattingly has weighed in on the allegedly overweening character of GWB’s Second Inaugural. His post prompted an interesting and lengthy discussion in the comments section.

Here’s Rod Dreher:

It seems to me that Americans tend to confuse "all men are created equal" with "all men are pretty much the same." And so, in accord with the Whig view of history, which holds that all events have been progressing through the centuries to culminate in the fabulousness that is Us, so many of us believe that all the world needs is to have a political system just like ours, and their inner liberal democrat will emerge. (I use "liberal democrat" not in the Ted Kennedy sense, but in the sense that all of us in the West are liberal democrats). I think most Americans think that Enlightment assumptions about human nature are true. Thus they cannot imagine that any people, if given the free choice, would choose to live under tyranny. They cannot imagine that to people who have a different metaphysics than ours (say, believing Muslims) might find the way we live to be tyrannical.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating moral equivalence. I’m just saying that our metaphysical naivete leads us into some dangerous blind alleys. To paraphrase someone, "You’ve got to deal with the world you have, not the world you’d like to have."

As I told Peggy earlier today, when I heard Bush’s second inaugural, I wanted to yell, "Hey Icarus, come down from up there before you get hurt!"

And more Dreher:

For traditional society it is the durability of communal norms that lends a sense of immortality to the individual, a life beyond mere physical existence. That is why prayer in the Judeo-Christian sense, the lovers’ exchange between God and the individual soul, does not come into consideration within Muslim theology. Allah is the all-powerful sovereign of the world before whom the individual dissolves; the individual’s submission to the ummah, the community of Islam, is a spiritual experience of an entirely different order.

To this the Americans can only come as destroyers, not saviors. America by its nature disrupts traditional order. It is the usurper of the Old World, the agency of creative destruction, the Spirit that Denies, to whom "everything that arises goes rightly to its ruin" (Goethe) - in short, the Great Satan. America is the existential threat to Islam.

The most interesting response to Mattingly and Dreher is made by Patrick O’Hannigan, who simply asked, "Since when is ending tyranny tantamount to banishing original sin?"

For more of O’Hannigan on the Second Inaugural and on Noonan, go

here and here. In the second piece, he has this to say about Peggy Noonan:

Fans of her writing may remember that Noonan is the columnist who three months ago told fellow conservatives not to rock the boat over Arlen Specter’s elevation to chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee (even though she’s Catholic and Specter has been hostile to pro-life nominees for positions on the federal bench). Back then, she described "Ssssshhhhhhhh" as both a "wonderful sound" and "good advice for our country" -- something to keep in mind while we breathe deeply and "build a great silence" on issues that matter.

I hate to start thinking of her as Peggy "turn down the volume" Noonan, but her newfound enthusiasm for quietude at any cost would explain her adverse reaction to GWB’s second inaugural. She wants oboes and clarinets. The guy in Air Force One whom she voted for prefers trumpets and cymbals.

As I thought about it, I actually found that Immanuel Kant is a good guide to Bush’s foreign policy pronouncements (probably not a ringing endorsement for most of NLT’s readers). But the Kant I am thinking of (and on whom I have published
here) thinks of "republicanism" as a constitution suited for a "nation of devils" (i.e., no need to overcome original sin) and offers a philosophy of history that combines "idealism" with a sense of human finitude. That Kant enjoins us to be as "wise as serpents" and "harmless as doves" (Mt 10:16), which means that we must both take into account the limitations of human nature (including, of course, our own natures) and have respect for our fellows, never merely as means, but also always as ends in themselves. Our behavior should, in other words, deserve their consent, even if it doesn’t immediately secure it. This is a language of liberalism that is idealistic, flexible, and accessible to religious believers.

For one of the relevant Kantian texts, go here.

Update: For Peter Berkowitz’s dissection of WaPo efforts to pick the Inaugural apart, go here. Berkowitz vindicates the point I made in my commentary about the difficulties liberals will have in tackling and attacking the speech and the policies that flow from it.

Ralph Luker Responds

In response to my previous post defending Tom Reeves, Ralph Luker made the following comment:

Professor Reeves was called out by his former colleagues, Michael Meo, and me -- not because he is a conservative, but because his text, in the case of his article, and his citation, in the case of his blog post, were misleading. In a number of respects, I am myself a conservative. Some others who blog with me at Cliopatria also have some conservative instincts. Unfortunately, some people reached conclusions before looking at the evidence and made unreasonable accusations, which they could not substantiate.

This is all well and good, given that I never suggested that Professor Luker’s accusations were motivated by politics. Granted, I did mention that Reeves was a conservative, but I have no idea what motivated Luker’s denunciation of him. My point was that it was unfair. Reeves’ cri de coeur about UW-Parkside was anecdotal; as more than one person has pointed out, the fact that his colleagues had different impressions of their students does not make him a "liar." And while--as I have already said--it is perfectly legitimate to question Reeves’ citation of "solid studies" on the school uniform issue, this is easily chalked up to sloppiness. If he were being deliberately dishonest, why link to the page in question, allowing people almost effortlessly to check the reference?

Finally, regarding Professor Luker’s concluding statement about "unreasonable accusations," I can only hope that he is referring to his own, as they are the only accusations I am aware of in this case.

Ickes endorses Dean

Harold Ickes endorsed Dean for DNC chaiman. This is a bit of a surprise since Ickes is close to the Clintons, and it would, normally, be assumed that he would not go against the Clintons’ wishes. Perhaps the Dean nomination is a done deal, perhaps no one can stop him.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist

The front page of today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had this article about Russ Churchwell, Oglethorpe’s only post player in a four-guard offense. Russ became the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball, joining Heather Francoeur (OU ’03) who holds the women’s record. Russ will also become the conference’s all-time leading rebounder soon, if he didn’t do so last night against Hendrix. (Given that he scored 23 points in an Oglethorpe victory and given how close he was to the record, I suspect he did. Russ leads the conference in both rebounding and scoring this year.)

But beyond his athletic prowess is the fact, as the article points out, that he has excelled in a take-no-prisoners biology major, will likely attend med school this year, and is a genuinely nice human being. I love student-athletes like this and have seen my share of them over the years.

By the way, the Oglethorpe women’s basketball team did beat the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs before Christmas. Slimy, yet satisfying.

Kurds in America

Nashville, Tennessee, it turns out, is home to the largest Kurdish community in the U.S., I learned from this article. Here’s the most interesting part:

The Kurds’ initial arrival in Nashville in the 1970s was a kind of happy accident. Many in that first wave were processed through Fort Campbell, an Army base just over the Kentucky border, about 40 miles north. Proximity and a booming economy led a lot of those Kurds to gravitate to Nashville.

Nashville was viewed as a manageable, relatively affordable place to live, full of entry-level jobs for people who didn’t speak much English. Kurds also felt comfortable in a climate and surrounding hilliness that came close to replicating their homeland.

The city’s Bible Belt character also was appreciated by Kurdish Muslims. They found the traditional family values lifestyle of the city’s Christian congregations compatible with their own conservative, family-centric way of life.

"Being a religious city, it feels safer if you’re in a place that matches your own values," said Tahir Hussain, president of the Nashville Kurdish Forum, which provides immigrant services. "The core values of the three main religions here — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — are the same. The culture values the family."

It turns out that residents of Nashville are proud of their Kurdish residents too. Seems that religious pluralism is possible in "Jesusland," though I should probably check with a couple of my former students (one from Nashville, the other, I think, from Knoxville, both Iranian), Maryam Abolfazli and Bahar Shariati. (I remember Bahar telling me that her favorite thing about Thanksgiving, next to the kabobs, was chess pie.) Bahar, by the way, is a 2L at Villanova, an editor of the law review. Maryam is in the master’s program in international studies at Columbia, having spent a couple of years working with a government ministry in Afghanistan (surely the most exciting job one of my students has ever had).


Here is Bill Hobbs’s post on Iraqi election day in Nashville (one of five expatriate polling places in the U.S.). No predictions yet from the major networks....

WaPo worrywarts and bipolar disorders revisited

I have in recent days commented on discussions of our so-called "culture wars," taking issue with those who accuse religious conservatives of excessive ideological rigidity and with those who take comfort from the fact that many of us are somewhere in the mushy middle.

Along comes Stan Guthrie, who offers a shining example of principled compromise from a "religious conservative" point of view. Here’s a taste:

evangelicals and other "deeply religious" citizens aren’t the only ones who have difficulty compromising on "core values and beliefs." Where was Raspberry when, by judicial fiat, the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand? Where was he when NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and other so-called "pro-choice" organizations fought tooth and nail against any compromise to limit the number of abortions?

While 45 million unborn children have been aborted since Roe v. Wade in 1973, there has been no talk from the left of compromise on common-sense restrictions such as parental notification, waiting periods, or a ban on grisly partial-birth abortions—only endless assertions about a woman’s right over her "own" body.

He also takes up Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent efforts at triangulation, which I discussed

here. His proposal:

Let’s take Hillary Clinton up on her offer and see if she is for real. Three items stand out: the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, the Child Custody Protection Act, and amendments that would limit federal spending for abortions. Mrs. Clinton could also back some of President Bush’s pro-life judicial nominees.

Evangelicals, despite what Raspberry says, are more than willing to compromise, figuring half a loaf is better than none. For example, most have given up on a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Instead they are seeking to take smaller steps (such as banning partial-birth abortions) while building social consensus ("a culture of life") on the issue.

Read the whole thing. And if you like it, Mr. Guthrie has his own website



Gerard Alexander has a good piece taking apart the anti-neoconservatives in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books, the hard copy of which just landed on my desk. Great issue (no surprise), with an especially good cover by Elliot Banfield. Have a look, and subscribe/

George Will on Harvard and the other re-education camps

This George F. Will column on the latest Harvard silliness is very much worth reading.

Forgive Larry Summers. He did not know where he was.

Addressing a conference on the supposedly insufficient numbers of women in tenured positions in university science departments, he suggested that perhaps part of the explanation might be innate -- genetically based -- gender differences in cognition. He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus.

He was at Harvard, where he is president. Since then he has become a serial apologizer and accomplished groveler. Soon he may be in a Khmer Rouge-style reeducation camp somewhere in New England, relearning this: In today’s academy, no social solecism is as unforgivable as the expression of a hypothesis that offends someone’s "progressive" sensibilities

Continue reading, please.   

Clintons blocking Dean?

It’s beginning to smell as thought the Clintons are in a full court press to prevent Howard Dean from becoming DNC Chairman. This is something that we should begin to focus on. Considering Ted Kennedy’s recent statement on Iraq, perhaps we shouldn’t be optimistic that the Clintons will succeed.

Havel on Cuba and the European Union

Vaclav Havel is mightily discouraged that the EU (with the Socialist PM of Spain leading the way) has agreed to abide by Cuba’s insistence that certain people (read dissidents, or those who side with dissdents) be not invited to EU diplomatic receptions. In other words, Cuba will help draw up invitation lists. This is a great step backwards toward appeasement of a nasty dictator, and Havel is right to attack the policy.

Y’all come

This will be great fun. They always are, as the Berry College folks always do a wonderful job of hosting these events.

I’m chairing the panel on John Seery (note that the book is deeply discounted at Amazon, which is no reflection on its quality), which features (among others) Gayle McKeen of the University of the South and Will R. Jordan of Mercer University.

The highlight, of course, will be the debate between Bill Galston and Harvey Mansfield, Jr.

If you show up and mention this post, I’ll buy you a drink.

The Smithsonian Inquisition?

I am far from being a competent judge of the science, but I know something about efforts to enforce orthodoxy, of which this seems to be an outstanding example. A scientific community that marginalizes (note I did not say "critically scrutinizes") dissenting or alternative voices will lead some--and should lead more--to question its openness to the new, which I had thought was the very hallmark of modern science.

Here, for my curious readers, is the article in question.

Max Boot on Seymour Hersh

In this column Max Boot calls Hersh "the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government." The fact that he can still be employed by seemingly respectable journalistic outlets "suggests that the media have yet to recover from the paranoid style of the 1960s."

Yellow Ribbons at the University of Oregon

I’d heard about this, but hadn’t given it much thought. It seems that someone at the University of Oregon complained about one of those magnetic yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons (like the one on my car) that was affixed to a truck driven by a campus maintenance worker. The truck belongs to the University, not to the worker. The University decided to enforce a law prohibiting "political" statements on publicly-owned vehicles.

Fair enough. I’m not sure that I’d like to see a lot of state-owned cars, in Oregon or elsewhere, serving as rolling billboards for the personal opinions of the employees. (How many members does the AFSCME have?) But to be "fair," shouldn’t the University of Oregon also ban the posting of personal political opinions on other forms of University property, like faculty office doors?

Scalia as CJ, Liberal Dream?

Steven Lubet argues that liberals ought not to resist the elevation of Antonin Scalia to the Chief Justice’s chair. Why not? Three reasons: the CJ has limited power; Scalia doesn’t know how to win friends and influence people, so he’ll be ineffective if he sticks to his guns; or the responsibility will moderate him. Keep the powder dry, Lubet advises, for an associate justice position that could really affect the direction of the Court.

I’m persuaded. Scalia is quite effective where he is. Let’s nominate a younger, less incendiary, but no less principled Chief Justice when the time comes. Like Michael McConnell.

One of my former students--whose own political predilections are quite a bit more liberal than mine--took a class from him at Harvard Law School over the Winter Term. (McConnell was visiting; he hasn’t jumped from the judiciary back to the academy.) The verdict: conservative, but impressive. (I would of course have replaced the "but" with an "and.") The campaign continues....

Aren’t you glad they’re not your colleagues....

We’re having a meeting tomorrow, called by our Provost, to discuss politics in the classroom on our campus. There were responses on our course evaluations that indicated that some students detected some professorial bias last semester. Shocking, isn’t it?

My suspicion is that what went on here was mild in comparison to what happens elsewhere. I am very glad, for example, that none of the following folks strolls around our neo-Gothic quad.

Ward Churchill, of the University of Colorado-Boulder. Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad of Columbia University.

Fortunately, Oglethorpe University is too low-key an institution to attract such high-powered agitation. For that I am ever thankful.

Update: More on Ward Churchill here.

The Bush Doctrine considered

Charles Kesler has a long and thoughtful essay in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books called "Democracy and the Bush Doctrine." (RealClearPolitics has offered it as Commentary, and that is the form I’m using.) It is very good, and very much worth pondering. I don’t think Bush’s second inaugural in any way affects Kesler’s main points. Note this, penultimate, paragraph:

Finally, the Bush Doctrine’s all-absorbing focus on bringing democracy to Iraq tends to crowd out concern for the kind of constructive, wide-ranging statesmanship that is needed there and in other Islamic nations. Unfortunately, the administration has never thought very seriously about constitutionalism, either at home or abroad, except for the narrow, though important, issue of elections. As the example of Turkey suggests, it may take many years, if ever, before Iraq is capable of a fully-functioning liberal democracy. In the meantime, the Iraqis need to adopt what arrangements they can to create strong executive powers; security forces able to protect their countrymen’s life, liberty, and property; a free, prosperous economy; local experience in managing local affairs; and impartial courts. Better regimes than the Taliban or Saddam Hussein are surely attainable, and are being attained. But these new governments are haunted by dire threats, including the danger of civil war and national disintegration.

In favor of Social Security reform

The Club for Growth has a new blog, called Social Security Choice. "The Blog is dedicated to bringing pro-growth experts together to advocate Social Security reform, by creating personal accounts. This is part of the Club for Growth’s multi-faceted plan to promote profound Social Security reform." It looks very fine, check it out.

GOP continues to register

The Washington Times reports that "Republicans intend to establish year-round drives to register new voters, especially in closely contested states, and to identify Republican-inclined voters who can be targeted for turnout efforts in elections." Ken Mehlman, the RNC chairman, said, "The object is not to rest on our laurels but do better in elections this year and next." These guys are serious and they realize that the 2006 elections are critical: If the GOP can pick up a few Senate and House seats the realignment speculation will be over.

Rice is confirmed

Condi Rice has been confirmed by the Senate. There were 13 "no" votes against her. Kennedy, Kerry, Harkin, Dayton, Levin, et al, voted "no." I think it’s perfectly OK to vote against her, but I am surprised at the vehemence of the opposition. Calling her a liar, etc., seems to be to be highly imprudent and I can’t figure out what such Democrats are thinking. I find it hard to believe that this will be to their advantage in future elections. If this is a foreshadowing of what will happen when Bush nominates someone to the Supremes, well, we have something to look forward to!

Also note that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Gonzales for Attorney General. The vote was along party lines, 10-8. This may indicate that the Democrats are more united than I thought about how they are going to oppose the Bush administration. One miscalculation after another!

Jonathan Rauch’s "Bipolar Disorder"

Hugh Hewitt has done us the favor of posting the entirety of Jonathan Rauch’s "Bipolar Disorder" from this month’s Atlantic Monthly, an article otherwise available in full only to subscribers.

Rauch’s big point is that the red/blue culture war analysis of the current stste of American political life is overdrawn. The truth, he argues, is closer to what Alan Wolfe says he finds in One Nation, After All:

In 1998 Alan Wolfe, a sociologist at Boston College, said yes. For his book One Nation, After All, Wolfe studied eight suburban communities. He found a battle over values, but it was fought not so much between groups as within individuals: "The two sides presumed to be fighting the culture war do not so much represent a divide between one group of Americans and another as a divide between sets of values important to everyone." Intellectuals and partisans may line up at the extremes, but ordinary people mix and match values from competing menus. Wolfe found his subjects to be "above all moderate," "reluctant to pass judgment," and "tolerant to a fault." Because opinion polls are designed to elicit and categorize disagreements, he concluded, they tend to obscure and even distort this reality.

Along with political scientist Morris Fiorina, Rauch and Wolfe both seem to take comfort in the perception that most Americans are "in the middle":

Red-state residents and blue-state residents agreed on one other point: most of them regarded themselves as centrists. Blue residents tipped toward describing themselves as liberal, and red residents tipped toward seeing themselves as conservative; but, Fiorina writes, "the distributions of self-placements in the red and blue states are very similar—both are centered over the ’moderate’ or ’middle-of-the-road’ position, whether we consider all residents or just voters." By the same token, people in both sets of states agreed, by very similar margins, that the Democratic Party was to their left and the Republican Party to their right. "In both red and blue states," Fiorina concludes, "a solid majority of voters see themselves as positioned between two relatively extreme parties."

The perception of the culture war comes, then, not from "facts on the ground" (most of us and most places are some shade of purple), but rather from the polarization of American politicians and political parties. Here Rauch rehearses the rather familiar story of the unintended consequences of reform, which has led both to candidate-centered politics conducted by professional politicians and to political parties closer to "ideological clubs" than to loose coalitions of regional interests. The computer-assisted practice of redistricting has further produced districts that are for the most part essentially "safe" for one party or the other, reducing the incentive to compromise. Even if they are careerists rather than ideologues, our politicians have little need to move toward the center of the political spectrum, which is where Rauch, and many of the social and political scientists he cites, argue the voters are.

But he ends up putting a somewhat happy face on this: if anyone is discontented, better it should be the moderates than the extremists, who have been coopted by their presence in political parties:

On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out by their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around.

I’m suspicious of the Rauch/Wolfe/Fiorina line of argument, not because I don’t think that it is an apt description of the current state of much of American public opinion, but because I’m not confident of its stability. Here’s why. What Rauch calls moderation, I’m tempted to call confusion. We Americans are not notably deep thinkers, which some have celebrated as a good thing. (I recall Irving Kristol making such an argument in

Two Cheers for Capitalism.) When we mix and match our political opinions from the menus offered by political parties and public intellectuals, we sometimes choose opinions that are ultimately inconsistent with one another. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," someone once said. (I’m being cute here, not ignorant.) If "our" moderation is in fact the confused holding of ultimately contradictory opinions, then sooner or later one or another tendency is likely to prevail. (This outcome was indeed the hope of those liberal rationalists who availed themselves of religious language. They hoped to transform religion into an instrument of liberal rationalism, which seems to have been the fate of some of the mainline denominations.) Our current "moderation," in other words, may be a harbinger of a deeper immoderation down the road.

To state my point one last way: it isn’t clear to me that our moderation is either a moderation of principle or a moderation of non-ideological common sense. The latter two are at least potentially stable. A moderation born of confusion and ad hoc choices is not. Because our moderation is, I think, unstable and because I fear the gravitational pull of one of its elements, I’ll continue to put my shoulder to the wheel on one side, hoping in the end to lay the foundation for something more closely resembling a moderation of principle or common sense.

Baylor again

Here’s the best brief explanation I’ve come across of what lies behind the battles at Baylor. A taste:

The Baylor conflict has pitted "moderate" Baptists against this diverse national coalition -- call it the ecumenical traditionalists. Are they conservatives? Yes, mostly. Are they in favor of "Christian education"? Yes, in the historic sense of the term. Are they "fundamentalists"? No, they are not. Many of the central thinkers in Baylor’s move toward the integration of faith, research and learning are Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants.

What puts the moderate Baptists at odds with the "mere Christians" represented by Sloan is the issue of "soul competency," which implies the encounter with Scripture is intensely personal, and not creedal or doctrinal. On this view, Baylor’s Baptist character is expressed extracurricularly or in religion classes. The content of the particular disciplines derives from the disciplines themselves, not from any particular Christian intellectual encounter with them. Sloan clearly challenged this view, insisting that a distinctively (albeit merely) Christian tradition inform the disciplinary self-understanding at Baylor. This isn’t fundamentalist by any stretch of the imagination, having more in common with, say, the folks at Touchstone Magazine.

Terry Mattingly, who authored the post I quoted above, says that this is the most illuminating piece that he has read about the controversy at Baylor.

For further illumination, from a point of view more sympathetic to critics of the Baylor 2012 vision, go here, here, and here. These thoughtful defenders of Baylor’s traditions cast themselves as members of a particularistic community (warts and all) against a kind of abstract "Northern" and hence alien universalism.

So the Baylor battle is between two kinds of "conservatives," those who would preserve the Baylor of old, a decent regional institution that moderate Baptists "saved from the clutches of the fundamentalists," and those who would use Baylor as a vehicle--a "protestant Notre Dame"--to preserve a distinctively Christian intellectual tradition against the secularizing forces of the academy. Old Baylor couldn’t do that, but tried rather to combine Baptist piety with conventional academics. Perhaps a highly personal Baptist piety could survive that encounter, especially if the academics are both conventional and only moderately good, but it’s hard to imagine that the mix wouldn’t ultimately favor the element that had the greater intellectual force. From the outside--and I am very much the outsider--it looks to me that the Old Baylor was headed down a track toward becoming increasingly conventional and increasingly secular.

Helprin on Bush’s "Evangelical Democracy"

Author Mark Helprin does not write op-eds for a living, but when he does publish an essay on current events, it is always worth reading. Their sensibility and gravitas are sorely lacking in what passes for elite opinion in the mainstream press. His Monday editorial for the Wall St. Journal, "Our Blindness," takes issue with Bush’s Second Inaugural Address (which I very much liked), and repeats his warning that the U.S. needs to prepare for a coming confrontation with China.

Regarding Bush’s strategy in Iraq, Helprin remarks, "God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective." An arguable point, but one worth debating, especially among conservatives who like what Bush is doing in the Middle East, in general, but quibble over the tactics he has implemented.

In addition, Helprin culls from Bush’s 2nd Inaugural Address a commitment to "evangelical democracy writ overwhelmingly large" that he believes is simply too great a burden for our armed forces to bear. I think this point is too fine a point to put upon Bush’s Iraq policy, esp. leading up to the elections this week. Nevertheless, as much as I liked Bush’s speech, there were a few points where the rhetoric was too highfalutin’ even for this fan of eloquent political prose. While I disagree with Peggy Noonan’s blunt charge that it contained "way too much God," Bush’s address could have downshifted a bit on reiterating the laudable theme of freedom, and spent more time drawing out its implications for America on the homefront as well as abroad. Americans on both sides of the partisan aisle could have benefitted from a more explicit connection between his commitment to freedom and his policies for fighting terrorism and proposals for reforming Social Security, among other domestic issues.

And diversity begat homogeneity....

Winfield Myers at the Democracy Project called my attention to this thoughtful and funny meditation on the efforts of two midwestern Catholic universities to trumpet their "diversity," not to be confused with their Catholicity, apparently.

If everyone seeks this sort of diversity in our tradition-transmitting and culture-creating institutions, won’t we just end up with a certain sort of homogeneity? Good question.

Update: Bill McClay chimes in here, describing the time he spent at Georgetown University:

I was not alone among believing Protestants and Jews on the faculty in wishing that Georgetown were more, rather than less, Catholic. And more willing to be genuinely different. Not a view widely shared, however.

In Defense of Tom Reeves

As a historian, I occasionally feel the need to visit the History News Network to read commentary on world events. More often than not I regret having been there.

Take the latest controversy, for example. The editors of HNN sponsor a series of blogs run by people of all sorts of political persuasions. The neoconservatives have Judith Apter Klinghoffer, the libertarians have Liberty & Power, liberals have, well most of the others. Recently Thomas C. Reeves, a distinguished historian and author of some twelve books, was given his own HNN blog. Reeves happens to be a conservative, and on January 12 he wrote an entry suggesting advocating school uniform requirements. In it, he argues:

Hip-hop outfits are not tolerated in the business world, for they betray a lack of learning and discipline that could injure an employer’s pocketbook. Why should they be tolerated in a school, where anti-intellectualism, in symbol and practice, can destroy the very purpose of the institution?

He then cited another web site as a source of “solid studies of this issue.” Here’s where the trouble started. As one of his readers commented:

I am aghast to record here that the reference this writer provides to "solid studies" to support his encomium of school uniforms turns out to be dominated by authors and studies that find no correlation between school uniforms and any of the wonderful things this author claims they promote.

Okay, so Professor Reeves acted hastily in citing something that he hadn’t read closely enough. Embarrassing, to be sure, but could this be an actionable offense? Ralph Luker of Cliopatria, another HNN blog, sure thinks so. He writes:

Since Professor Reeves pays _no_ attention to what his readers have to say and apparently does not bother to read the sources he cites before claiming that they say what he wants them to say, I have called this to the attention of the Editor at HNN.

Later, at his own blog, Luker dug up an editorial that Reeves wrote back in 2002 for Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars, and which was subsequently republished at HNN. In that piece Reeves had denounced the institution from which he had just retired—-the University of Wisconsin at Parkside—-for the pervasive culture of anti-intellectualism that was tolerated (indeed, encouraged) among its student body.

One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America (I’ve been asked, "Is the seventeenth century the 1700s?") or the nation’s constitutional machinery. All religion baffles them (no doubt a tribute to the secularism dominant in modern public schools), all intellectual history eludes them, and politics bores them. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II. All the presidents before Clinton are a blur; Franklin D. Roosevelt sometimes shows up on exams in the Gilded Age and U.S. Grant in the twentieth century. Almost all of the students simply refuse to memorize the Chief Executives in their proper chronological order. In fact, they choose to ignore dates of any kind; written exams rarely contain any. More than one student has told me frankly, "I don’t do dates."

But, Luker tells us, six of Reeves’s former colleagues wrote a response to that editorial, in which they claimed that "Every paragraph is replete with false, erroneous, misleading or outdated information." He doesn’t mention, however, their next sentence, in which they fail to back up their claim: "To refute each of these points would, however, take too long and try the patience of the readers." What conclusion does Professor Luker draw from all this? He asks:

Is there any reason to believe that Tom Reeves did credible work in his books, when he has misrepresented primary and secondary sources repeatedly at HNN? Since 2002, HNN has refused to publish Michael Bellesiles’s op-eds circulated by History News Service because Bellesiles’s credibility had been destroyed. I don’t know whether HNN would publish an op-ed by John Lott. But in repeatedly publishing articles by Tom Reeves and then giving him a blog, HNN has raised up its own credibility problem. The problem isn’t that Tom Reeves is a conservative. The problem is that he’s a liar.

Look, I don’t have any particular dog in this fight. I’ve never met Profesor Reeves, and I hate academic dishonesty as much as anyone. But does this amount to lying, a la Bellesiles, Lott, and Joseph Ellis? Reeves carelessly cited something that didn’t actually back up an entry on a blog. He wrote unkind things about UW-Parkside, and his colleagues were annoyed. But to call him a liar, and to therefore question his entire life’s work as a historian, is as vicious and unfair an accusation as any I’ve encountered in this business.

Katha Pollitt vs. Jim Wallis

Here is a truly biting commentary on liberal evangelical Jim Wallis’ new book, God’s Politics.

Here’s Pollitt:

the case for Christianizing progressive politics is not just about quoting the Bible more, or framing healthcare as a religious value. It’s about lowering the wall between church and state, giving churches more power, more rights and more taxpayer money. The argument in favor often boils down to majority rule--most Americans claim to be devout Christians--but that’s actually the argument against it. Look what Christians did when they had the chance! Preventing religious wars and godly tyranny was the original purpose behind the Founding Fathers’ ban on the establishment of religion, and subsequent history has hardly outmoded their wisdom.

To hang the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition and Oliver Cromwell on conservative evangelicals is about as fair as saying that there’s no material difference between the editorial board of
The Nation and Stalin’s KGB. Let’s keep power away from the secular Left, because, after all, look what happened when they had it! C’mon Ms. Pollitt, you can do better than that!

Well, then, how about this?

[W]hat’s wrong with mustering support for these worthy goals by presenting them in the language spoken by so many Americans? The trouble is, the other side does that too. You can find anything you want in the Bible--well, almost anything. Thus, the more insistently people bring Christianity into politics, the more political argument becomes a matter of Christian hermeneutics. Does God say gays should be executed or married? "Spare the rod" or "suffer the little children"? I don’t see how we benefit as a society from translating politics into theology. We are left with the same debates, and a diminished range of ways in which to think about them. And, of course, a diminished number of voices--because if you’re not a believer, you’re out of the discussion. In this sense, Wallis’s evangelicalism is as much a power play as Pat Robertson’s.

Introducing theological and Biblical language into the public square offers us "a diminished range of ways to think about" political issues only if you assume that religious voices have to exclude or drown out others--Cromwell and the Inquisition again. She can’t get past that old canard.

One final snippet so that you can see what’s really on Pollitt’s mind:

Wallis cites the text antichoicers commonly use to justify their position: "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb" (Psalm 139:13). Say what? Nothing about abortion there, pro or con. Nobody who wasn’t sure that somewhere in the Bible there must be a proof text against terminating a pregnancy would read that meaning into these words.

I beg to differ. If God knit you together in your mother’s womb, then in God’s eyes you are a person in the womb. Sounds like a Biblical basis for the personhood of the "fetus" to me. I don’t think, by the way, that that’s the only argument available to those opposed to abortion, but this is not the time and place to rehearse them. I cite this passage to suggest that the immediate source of Pollitt’s anti-theological ire is not centuries old, but rather one day (or 32 years and a day) old. To open the Democratic Party to religion requires that it be open to pro-life,
Bob Casey Democrats. That won’t happen on Pollitt’s watch.

Triangulation, Hillary-style

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton certainly seems to think she knows which way the wind is blowing. Last week, she spoke in Boston at a dinner organized by the Ella J. Baker House, an inner city faith-based organization. I haven’t been able to get my hands on the text of her speech, but you can see the news reports here and here. Here’s what she had to say:

Clinton said there has been a "false division" between faith-based approaches to social problems and respect for the separation of church of state.

"There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles," said Clinton, a New York Democrat who often is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008.

Addressing a crowd of more than 500, including many religious leaders, at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza, Clinton invoked God more than half a dozen times, at one point declaring, "I’ve always been a praying person."

She said there must be room for religious people to "live out their faith in the public square."

Yesterday, she told "abortion rights supporters" they they should seek common ground with "opponents of legalized abortion" in supporting abstinence programs. You can read the whole story

here. A taste:

Mrs. Clinton, widely seen as a possible candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, appeared to be reaching out beyond traditional core Democrats who support abortion rights. She did so not by changing her political stands, but by underscoring her views in preventing unplanned pregnancies, promoting adoption, recognizing the influence of religion in abstinence and championing what she has long called "teenage celibacy."

Over at

Powerline, Hindrocket had this to say:

This moderation of tone is politically smart, I think. Many on the right blasted Mrs. Clinton for being insincere or hypocritical in her comments. Well, sure. But the reality is that few politicians on either side of the fence are doing anything practical about the abortion issue. Anti-abortion politicians denounce the current legal regime to win the anti-abortion vote, but such posturing means nothing unless either 1) a Constitutional amendment is adopted, or 2) judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade are appointed to the Supreme Court. A Constitutional amendment simply isn’t going to happen, and there is no sign that the Bush administration has any intention of appointing judges who will vote to reverse Roe. So politicians on both sides are only posturing, and in that context, it is smart for Clinton to position herself toward the "middle" on the issue.

HRC has clearly decided that the lesson of the last election is that a Democrat must be seem to be authentically open to people of faith. The folks in the Bush Administration should call on her to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, serving as a principal Senate co-sponsor (with Rick Santorum, perhaps?) of any new faith-based legislation this term. I would love to see the Democrats find some sanity on this issue, but I’m not yet convinced that even a Clinton can lead them that far.


Andrew Busch writes about realignment in the new Claremont Review of Books. He opposes conventional wisdom and argues that the 2004 elections were quite significant. In fact, he thinks that it is not unreasonable to consider whether we are in the midst of a GOP realignment: 1968 and 1980 were not flukes, nor was 1994, "and now, for the first time, Republicans have put together the full package." Yet, he warns the GOP that their hubris may be a more dangerous adversary than Harry Reid. A good piece, but Adam Naguerney and Richard Stevenson would seem to disagree with it. Tom Bevan thinks that the Demos are unlikely to stop this "rolling realignment" (Karl Rove’s phrase) by conducting a "scorched earth opposition to the President." 

Iraqi election coverage

This article suggests that Allawi is making headway:

Recent polls show support is growing for a slate of candidates led by the former neurologist. Nearly a third of Iraqis now believe that Allawi, who was appointed by the United States as prime minister in June, has been "very effective." That’s twice the number who thought so last fall, according to a survey conducted in January by the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based group with links to the GOP.

Random interviews with Iraqis across the country suggest that the prime minister is picking up support in some unlikely places, hinting that he may have the ability to bridge Iraq’s ethnic and religious divides.

This article suggests that even the Sunni leaders who refuse to participate in the election want to be involved in the constitution-making that takes place afterwards. This is a step toward acceptance that Iraq has a peaceful future.

This goes not only for Iraqis, but perhaps even for the MSM.

Principle and Prudence, Religion and Politics

I realize I have missed the spin cycle on this and it is largely irrelevant, but nevertheless, a comment on the President’s Inaugural Address:

Perhaps the principal reason Jefferson believed so ardently in self-government is that he believed not at all in original sin. He therefore believed in a fundamental sense that freedom could not produce evil. As in other respects, this meant that Jefferson was at odds with traditional Christian teachings, which in varying degrees remained skeptical of natural man. Over time, most Protestant denominations in the United States in effect gave in to or accommodated Jeffersonianism. Holiness movements and the doctrine of sanctification accompanied the development of the view that when man reached moral perfection, then Christ would come again. In this perspective, it made sense to anticipate the end of tyranny on earth and to work ardently for that day, through Abolitionism and other movements of moral improvement. It was this theology and its political manifestations that, or so I was taught, Lincoln dissected and satirized in the Temperance Address. Lincoln did not think that it was possible to end tyranny in our world, that there would actually be a Reign of Reason. What does President Bush, an adherent it appears of the theology descended from holiness and sanctification, think? Clearly, remarks in the speech are intended to show some moderation, but the claims he makes are quite grand. He claims, for example, to know the direction of human history. He does not appear to speak with irony about this. (His new Secretary of State, in an article published before President Bush’s first election, claimed that the United States was on the right side of history.) If this is true, then Bush is really a follower of FDR (Bush spoke of freedom from want and fear) and of LBJ, more than a follower of Lincoln.

WaPo Worrywarts

This rather breathless column by the sometimes sane William Raspberry caught my eye. The traditional American willingness to compromise is threatened, he reports, by the usual suspects, evangelicals, and frequent church-goers:

What, in my view, threatens to test the American tradition of working things out are issues closely tied to religious faith: abortion, homosexual marriage, the teaching of evolution.

And not just in my view. Public Agenda has just published the results of a survey that serves to make the point. Support for compromise on issues that involve religious principles is diminishing among all Americans. It is diminishing most rapidly among the most religious of us -- self-described evangelicals, for instance, and people who attend religious services every week.

You can read the survey results for yourself in

this pdf. The Public Agenda people are hyperventilating about it almost (but not quite) as much as Raspberry.

I interpret the data a little differently. On many dimensions, there has been a small (3 - 7%) increase in the percentage of those surveyed who think that elected representatives should base their votes on their religious views; in every case, this remains the minority position. What’s interesting to me is that in every case as well, those who thought that representatives should vote their consciences (yes, that’s what I would call it) overwhelmingly affirmed (by ratios of roughly 4 - 1) that stance "even if their religious views were totally different from yours". Those supporting the unwillingness of politicians to compromise on matters of conscience were in this respect remarkably tolerant of conscientious differences. Stated another way, there’s been an increase in respect for religiously-formed consciences, even if those religiously-formed consciences don’t yield positions identical to one’s own. To my mind, this isn’t worrisome, it’s a heartening sign of maturity.

This is consistent with other results in the survey: There was, for example, a decline from 40% (2000) to 34% (2004) in the percentage of those who said they would be less likely to vote for politicians who regularly voted their consciences (my language, not Public Agenda’s), and a concomitant increase from 29% to 35% who said, in effect, that how a representative arrived at his or her position didn’t matter (again, my language, not Public Agenda’s). This too seems to me to be a heartening sign of political maturity, with fewer people regarding deep religious faith and conviction as being politically out of bounds.

In addition, 61% of those surveyed said that they thought that our political system could easily handle the involvement of religious groups in politics. We are not a nation of Chicken Littles when it comes to religion in politics. And I think that I’ll be indulged if I thank God for that.

BBC on Churchill

John Zvesper informs me that BBC 4 is running a relatively serious program (John says "better than much of the ignorant twaddle that the BBC puts out") called "Churchill Season" this week. You can listen to it live, or later. This morning’s Daily Service broadcast from
Westerham was quite moving, according to John, and included Mary Soames reading from I Corinthians,
a text read at Sir Winston’s funeral.

Iraq elections

William Shawcross, a famous opponent of our war in Vietnam, writes in support of the elections in Iraq. He asks: It is shocking that so few democratic governments support the Iraqi people. Where are French and German and Spanish protests against the terror being inflicted on voters in Iraq? And it is shocking that around the world there is not wider admiration of, assistance to and moral support (and more) for the Iraqi people. The choice is clear: movement towards democracy in Iraq or a new nihilism akin to fascism - Islamist fascism.

Thanks to Powerline.

Churchill Trivia

Peter’s mention of Churchill’s death reminds me of a fascinating piece of trivia I picked up recently from John Ramsden’s fine book, Man of the Century: Winston S. Churchill and His Legacy Since 1945. According to the TV ratings, more Americans watched Churchill’s funeral than watched JFK’s funeral two years before.

Winston Churchill

Today is the anniversary of Churchill’s death. The state funeral was on January 30th, 1965. I can’t believe that I am old enough to remember it. It was awe inspiring. This is a piece by John Keegan from a few years ago in Time. And here is a recent one celebrating his birthday in November by Justin D. Lyons. And this is his first broadcast as Prime Minister on May 19, 1940. This is a very good recent biography by Geoffrey Best. Remember and learn.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi latest

Al Zarqawi has made clear his position: "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," he said on the latest audio tape. He added: "Those who vote ... are infidels. And with God as my witness, I have informed them (of our intentions)." Austin Bay thinks this is significant (you should follow his links):

Z-Man’s been suckered. Z-Man is the troops’ nickname for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s jefe in Iraq. Z-Man has declared a “fierce war” on democracy. Z’s taken Bush’s bait– except the Presiden’ts “bait” of promoting democracy and declaring war on tyranny and 0ppression isn’t mere bait, it’s essential American values. The ideological dimensions of the War on Terror (The Millenniumn War) were there from the get-go, but the Presiden’t inaugural address has focused them. That’s a huge step, I think, to obtaining the kind of resilient victory and secure peace the American people deserve.

This will not happen

Washington Whispers (U.S. News & World report) says this absurd thing: Here’s the long shot of the year: Congressional Democrats will OK a constitutional amendment allowing naturalized citizens like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzen egger to run for president if Republicans help kill the 22nd Amendment barring third terms, thus clearing the way for another bid by Bill Clinton and, presumably, President Bush. Right now it’s the talk among political strategists, but look for it to spread on Capitol Hill when Sen. Orrin Hatch reintroduces his plan to let naturalized citizens run for president after 20 years.

Japan’s shoshika

This BBC report on Japan, save for the first few paragraphs, focuses on the fertlity problem. Japan is the world’s least fertile nation. The Japanese have a word for it, "shoshika," meaning a society without children. "By 2007, Japan’s population is expected to peak at 127 million, then shrink to under 100 million by the middle of the century. This means 30 million fewer workers at a time when the number of elderly will have almost doubled." This decline of the population by about 20% will have consequences, inlcuding the possibility of slipping into a permanent recession. Allowing foreigners in from, say, the Phillipines, is an option, but not something that Japanese readily take to.
In contrast to Japan - and of course the European Union - the US population is expected to increase by 46% to 420 million by the middle of the century. Also note HREF="">this, and the useful graph at the bottom of the article.

China, the sea lanes, and energy

This Bill Gertz report in the Washington Times claims something important: "China is building up military forces and setting up bases along sea lanes from the Middle East to project its power overseas and protect its oil shipments, according to a previously undisclosed internal report prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

’China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China’s energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives,’ said the report sponsored by the director, Net Assessment, who heads Mr. Rumsfeld’s office on future-oriented strategies."

"The internal report stated that China is adopting a ’string of pearls’ strategy of bases and diplomatic ties stretching from the Middle East to southern China that includes a new naval base under construction at the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
Beijing already has set up electronic eavesdropping posts at Gwadar in the country’s southwest corner, the part nearest the Persian Gulf. The post is monitoring ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea, the report said."

Note also the Chinese interest in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand. Read the whole thing.

Also this
and this
and this
for more information and background.

Education as "interactivity"

Put a bunch of Ph.D.’s in a large room and ask them what the essence of education is and they eventually come up with it, if you get some foundation to fund their thinking and maybe give them a couple of hundred years, and they will call it interactivity.
"’The real key,’ Ms. Oblinger, a person who runs a non-profit foundation that promotes technology in higher education, says, ’is interactivity,’ which has become a dominant concept in higher education today, and one that encompasses interaction with the teacher, with other students, and with the material itself, often through the use of information technology." What she means, of course, is conversation and that conversation is now made easier (with a large number of students) with technology. So MIT is now rethinking its large introductory physics lecture course by infusing it with something called Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL). It may be a good thing, perhaps a lot better than a large lecture hall with hundred of students in it, but what amuses me is the implied realization in the article that education is really quite simple: a teacher, a few students, focusing on an interesting mind in front of them (let’s call it a text), talking. Oh yes, Socrates is mentioned at the end of the article.

More thoughts on Bush Second Inaugural

Ken Masugi likes it and thinks that, domestically, it responds to FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Address. William Safire rates it very high, as does David Brooks. Brooks: "Bush’s speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day.

With that speech, President Bush’s foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged." William Kristol thinks it will prove to be a historic speech, as it is powerful and subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced. Details of policy aside, Kristol writes, Bush is right on "the fundamental American goal." And Victor Davis Hanson has some smart words for those who are inclined to castigate idealims, either of Bush or Epaminondas.

And, of course, some are critical. Orlando Patterson thinks Bush misunderstands freedom, and the speech will anger the world.
The socialist Eric Hobsbawm argues that the speech is based on a dangerous illusion and Bush will fail.
Bill Buckley thinks the whole speech was confusing. Peter Robinson says that the speech proves that Bush is not really a conservative. (He’s wrong.) Roger Kimball throws out a few paragraphs about Wilson, Fukuyama, and Hegel, and leaves it there. David Kusnet, a speechwriter for Clinton, parises Michael Gerson, the author of the Inaugural, and concludes: "Bush’s critics can and should challenge how he’ll translate his poetry into policy. But meanwhile, they ought to mimic, not mock, his invocations of democratic values. In public debate, those who speak movingly about democracy have seized the high ground. Bush tried to do that yesterday; his critics should try to do that in the days ahead."

Lanny Davis on Bush

Lanny Davis, who served as Clinton’s special counsel for two years, has some good words on W. They went to Yale together, and he tells a few stories.

Attacking Condi

Colbert I. King, not exactly a Bush supporter, starts to wonder why Codi Rice is being caricatured by Senator Boxer, et al, as if she were Bush’s parrot, or "little more than a diligent echo of Bush’s thought." He smells racism. It is likely that in delaying a full senate vote on her
nomination because they needed more time for debate, so they said, the Democrats are making a mistake: the more they say now--along the lines of Boxer--the more their words will be turned, and will haunt them in future elections.

Principle and prudence

Joe mentioned his piece on Bush Second Inaugural speech below (along with a host of others worth reading), but I invite you to read Joseph Knippenberg’s piece because I think it the best piece so far in trying to explain Bush’s affirmation of principle and prudence, while not ignoring the domestic political consequences of the masterful rhetoric. A masterful job, Joe. Thanks.

Where the rubber meets the road

This article in today’s Washington Post does a good job of letting the Bush Administration speak for itself about the import of the President’s Inaugural Address. Here are my favorite paragraphs:

White House officials argued that some observers have read more into the speech than is there. "The speech was carefully and purposely nuanced," said presidential speechwriter and policy adviser Michael J. Gerson. "We are dealing with a generational struggle. It’s not the work of a year or two."

Presidential advisers also said they were not trying to roll back the speech on the day after, pointing to language in the address that they said made it clear that the goal of ending tyranny would not be accomplished with cookie-cutter policies or unrealistic ambitions. For example, Bush declared that ending tyranny would not be accomplished primarily through armed conflict, and he made distinctions between dealing with outlaw states that actively support terrorism and those whose human rights records may be poor but that have shown a willingness to change.

The senior administration official pointed to Russia and China as countries that have a "successful relationship" with the United States. But he said Russia and China would need to embrace "a common set of values and principles" to have "a relationship that broadens and deepens."

He said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to take steps to restrict democracy, it will "have a consequence on our relations," adding that "it will depend on some sense whether he has heard the message and acted on it, or doesn’t." But he also said that administration concerns might not be voiced publicly, but through private channels.

The official stressed that he was not pulling back from the speech, which he repeatedly called "bold," but he also focused on what he called positive trends in close U.S. allies generally regarded as repressive. He said that Saudi Arabia is taking steps toward municipal elections and is having a "national dialogue" on reform, while Egypt last year held a conference that resulted in a declaration on political reform. "It’s a step," he said.

The President will have to resist those who wish to drag him into imprudently rash actions and respond to those who call him a hypocrite. He could do worse than remind them that Lincoln’s moral opposition to slavery was accompanied by a patient flexibility about the means to put it "in course of ultimate extinction." The more I think about it, the more I like the speech.

Fathers, don’t let your daughters grow up to be coeds

Vigen Guroian offers a long and impassioned indictment of college complicity in the sexualization of student life. Here’s a taste:

Doane College in Nebraska recently mailed a recruiting postcard that showed a man surrounded by women, with a caption that read that students at this college have the opportunity to "play the field." After a public outcry last December, administrators hastily withdrew the marketing campaign, explaining that the postcard was harmless and a metaphor for exploring a variety of education options. But the very fact that the campaign was conceived and approved in the first place speaks volumes. The sexual revolution, if that is an appropriate title, was not won with guns but with genital groping aided and abetted by colleges that forfeited the responsibilities of in loco parentis and have gone into the pimping and brothel business.

Sex Carnival

I do not use these words lightly or loosely, and rarely is a college so blatantly suggestive as was Doane, although this attitude about the commendability of sexual experimentation has become an orthodoxy among many who hold positions as deans of student life at our colleges. Of course, some colleges take concrete steps to resist this revolution of morals. Still, in most American college coed dorms, the flesh of our daughters is being served up daily like snack jerky. No longer need young men be wolves or foxes to consume that flesh. There are no fences to jump or chicken coops to break into. The gates are wide open and no guard dogs have been posted. It is easy come and easy go. Nor are our daughters the only ones getting hurt. The sex carnival that is college life today is also doing great damage to our sons’ characters, deforming their attitudes toward the opposite sex. I am witnessing a perceptible dissipation of manly virtue in the young men I teach.

Frederica Mathewes-Green offers an interesting response
here. She argues that students operate in accordance with a moral code "just different from ours":

They believe that it’s objectively wrong to dump someone in a callous way. It’s wrong to have sex with someone who isn’t willing. It’s wrong to transgress any one of a hundred subtle etiquette cues about who may sleep with whom under what circumstances. There is plenty of objective morality on their side, and they think it’s better than ours. As far as they can see, theirs is working and ours looks pointlessly difficult. Why should they switch? This argument sounds like nothing more than "because I said so."

In other words, a mere assertion of adult or parental authority is not an effective answer. The resources for resisting the "hook-up" culture, she argues, can currently be found only in religion. This gives her two sorts of hope, one from the relationships with God and with others that grow out of religious commitments, the other from living in a world created by God:

Chastity has been such a fixture of human history that the current situation is wildly anomalous, and I expect it will eventually right itself, probably due to women realizing that promiscuity doesn’t make them feel empowered, but endangered. It may even turn out, in a supreme irony, that the current phenomenon of transitory student lesbianism was just a strategy of desperation, the only way society currently allows young women to tell boys, "Go away, I’m not ready."

For a somewhat less despairing view of the sexualization of campus life, there’s this report from Powerline about a panel discussion of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum. As the father of a Charlotte (currently age 7), I hope the Deacon’s claim that the hook-up culture is really a student sub-culture is right. Not that I want simply to leave participants in it to their demons, but that I hope that there are morally and psychically superior alternatives available on campus. What say my collegiate readers, such as they are?

GWB’s Second Inaugural

Here, for what it’s worth, is what I had to say about the President’s speech yesterday.

Other mostly non-MSM takes that are worth a gander can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

In fairness, here are some leftish takes on the speech: Harold Meyerson, David Corn, and Archon Fung. Others, like Kevin Drum and folks at the Daily Kos, can’t bring themselves to write about what the President said.

Update: I wonder if this Archon Fung is the fellow who intervened so provocatively here, here, here, here, and here.

Update #2: More good stuff from Powerline here.

Update #3: The answer to my query regarding Archon Fung is "no."

Baylor President announces resignation

Here’s the news release.

A friend at Baylor told me this in an email:

Sloan resigned this morning in a fashion that I think will be good for Baylor’s mission. Some of us were aware that this would happen, but it has occurred a bit earlier than I expected. He will stay on as Chancellor. His administration will remain in place. He will remain in office until the composition of the Board of Regents changes in May, so that his successor will be appointed by a pro-2012 board. And, finally, there will be an interim who has not yet been named. My source of information tells me that the interim is a great choice and a powerful supporter of Sloan.

This has only the appearance of a bad day for Sloan, but I do not think it is at all. He has resigned voluntarily and in such as way as to control the course of the university for the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope my friend is right.

Update: Read news coverage here, here, here, and here.

Update #2: Still more here and here.

The American President

You Americans are a deeply interesting people. And you are made interesting because you have only had one thought around which all your other thoughts and actions have revolved. Imagine how an ordinary man in some part of the world that is perhaps dark and dreary, if not horrible, reacts when he hears an American speak about the world and the possibilities therein. Imagine how he envies you, how he might think you’re lucky--and maybe even unworthy of your freedom and wealth and greatness--how he might think that you are a romantic tilting at windmills. Imagine then when he realizes that, somehow, when you speak of how things ought to be you are also speaking of him and for him, that you confuse man with citizen, that you are beyond idealism in your ends and purposes. And yet, he listens to the cadence of your words because, somehow, it sits well in his ear and in his soul. Imagine then the man who is in a cold and damp cell--with the windows covered in tin--and without hope, hearing, perhaps as coded taps on concrete walls between the prison cells, that the American president knows your condition and stands with you and has said that Americans will pay any price and bear any burden for the cause of liberty, that slavery is wrong and a just God knows it, that we know there are evil regimes in the world, and that America stands in opposition to human beings being treated like dogs. And then he hears that America will use its considerable influence in freedom’s cause. Your only response to that is this: I now have hope and I hope they have the courage. The rest of it, the grey fog of the practical that intellectuals prefer to focus on, is secondary to such a man in such a condition, no matter where the place. Yes, you Americans are an interesting people, and we are glad that you live and breathe and talk. And I will make sure that my grandchildren know the things for which you have always stood, and how you tried to do what’s right. And they will remember and honor your name and the names of your statesmen who knew how the world ought to be.
A fine speech Mr. President. Thank you.

GWB and Advancing the Cause of Freedom

Bush’s convictions, principles, and policy agenda were clearly outlined in his Second Inaugural Address. In a word, the man believes in freedom, and believes it his duty as president to protect it at home and promote it abroad.

His 24-minute speech reminded us of the vicious character of our enemies, the noble aspirations of our country, and his resolve to "advance the cause of freedom" as the most formidable challenge and opportunity of our time.

President Bush’s address was conservative in its principles, hearkening back to the timeless truths of the Declaration of Independence. But it was also daring in its acknowledgment of the need to reform "our great institutions" (think, Social Security, here) to meet the needs of our time.

To this American citizen, the hallmark of the speech was his quotation from an 1859 letter Abraham Lincoln wrote on the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday:

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."
In his attempt to help every American become a stakeholder in American society, "an agent of his or her own destiny," our president shows his profound understanding of the glorious possibilities and challenges of human freedom. Moreover, Bush’s commitment to human freedom should serve as the starting point for all discussion of how he intends to address the mundane aspects of domestic policy and the sublime considerations of foreign policy. In sum, the president has announced an ambitious and worthy agenda for the next four years; may we do our best to fulfill the tasks he has set before us as a nation.

Barone on GWB’s Second Inaugural

The consistently informative Michael Barone has penned a well-timed and well-articulated editorial today on what to expect (and not expect) from President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address tomorrow. (Alas, it’s not available on-line unless you are already a Wall St. Journal subscriber.)

Entitled "The 16th Second Inaugural," the essay reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly from previous "second inaugural" speeches, and observes that second inaugurals mark a "hinge point" of what previous two-term presidents "expected to be an eight-year administration." Bush clearly approached his first term as if he were invested for the long haul.

At bottom, Barone expects a speech that is part Wilsonian and part Lincolnian--the former for its "vision" of America’s role in promoting peace and democracy in the world, the latter for its biblical allusions and cadences.

Condi Rice hearings

Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to in favor of sending the nomination to the full Senate. John Kerry and Barbara Boxer were the only two voting against her. I saw some of the hearings, including some of Boxer’s outrageous performance and some of Kerry’s typical shuffling about. Boxer is lean-witted and mean spirited. And Kerry’s performance, I think hbis public one since the loss--was done like--as Shakespeare has Joan of Arc say of her French soldiers--a Frenchman: turn and turn again. Does anyone seriously think this man would have made a good president?

John Keegan on the elections in Iraq

John Keegan packs a lot into this op-ed for the Telegraph. He explains the reason for the war in Iraq, the unexpected aftermath, what all this has to do with Sayyid Qutb, and why the elections are important, and why our success is probable. For a good overview of Sayyid Qutb’s thought, see this Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis writen last year by Luke Loboda. He is now a high school teacher. This is the thesis, "The Thought of Sayyid Qutb: Radical Islam’s Philosophical Foundations," in PDF format (32 pages).

African-Americans and the faith-based initiative

This article is worth reading, contributing to my judgment that the faith-based initiative is both good policy and good politics. Indeed, if the larger theme of the "ownership society" bears its promised fruit, good policy will produce even better politics. I’m guardedly optimistic.

Update: Ken Masugi (not Matsugi, as Anne Norton’s indexer would have it) has more over at the Claremont Institute’s Local Liberty blog.

Michael Gerson yet again

I posted on Bush’s speechwriters ages ago here and here. Now the New York Times gets in on the act, writing about Gerson’s involvement in drafting GWB’s Inaugural Address. (Dare we call it his "Second Inaugural," with all the reverence that that implies?)

There’s another fun, but longish, tidbit here--a transcript, finally, of the conference on which the WaPo’s Alan Cooperman reported back in mid-December. If you suffer, as I do, from presbyopia, there’s a bigger-print version of it here.

Here are some of the many wise words in the transcript:

Every society, it seems to me, needs a standard of values that stands above the political order, or the political order becomes absolute. Christianity is not identical to any political ideology. It has had great influence precisely because it judges all ideologies. It indicts consumerism and indifference to the poor; it indicts the destruction of the weak and the elderly; it indicts tyranny and the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come from freedom. And that leads me to certain conclusions. When religious people identify faith with a single political party or movement, they miniaturize their beliefs and they’re reduced to one interest group among many. When society banishes the influence of faith, it loses one of the main sources of compassion and justice.

And my view is summarized best by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that the church should not be the master of the state or the servant of the state; it should be the conscience of the state.

There are clearly some dangers here at the crossroads of religion and politics. The danger for America is not theocracy. Banning partial birth abortion and keeping the status quo of hundreds of years on marriage are not the imposition of religious rule. But religious people can develop habits of certainty that get wrongly applied to a range of issues from economics to military policy. The teachings of the New Testament are wisely silent on most political issues, and these are a realm of practical judgment and should be a realm of honest debate.

Read the whole thing, when you get a chance.

What a phony Ph.D. might get you

Paul Sperry tells an outrageous tale of phony Ph.D.’s from non-universities, important federal positions held, promotions offered. Lies, cheating, arrogance. The only thing missing is sex, well, maybe that’s there too, indirectly, think White House, Lewinsky era. Fun read, albeit a bit disheartening. Also see this on the so-called Dr. Callahan. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Cows, Constitution, and the Ten Commandments

My father-in-law just e-mailed me these, so God only knows how long they’ve been flying around the internet, but I thought they were funny:


Is it just me, or does anyone else find it amazing that our government can track a cow born in Canada almost three years ago, right to the stall where she sleeps in the state of Washington, and they can track her calves to their stalls.

But they are unable to locate 11 million illegal aliens wandering aimlessly around our country. Maybe we should give them all a cow.


They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don’t we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it’s worked for over 200 years and we’re not using it anymore.


The real reason that we can’t have the Ten Commandments in a

You cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians...

it creates a hostile work environment.

Demos a la Gingrich?

This David Brooks op-ed is useful. There are some Democrats (contra the Clintonistas’ instincts) who are going to oppose Bush’s Social Security reforms totus porcus. "They feel that Social Security is to Bush what health care reform was to Clinton - the big overreach that will allow the opposing party to deliver a devastating blow to the president, and maybe even regain control of Congress." The Democrats, therefore, should become disciplined and angry and practice a scorched earth policy against all GOP actions. Brooks thinks this would be a big mistake; their premises are wrong.

Anne Norton’s book on Leo Strauss

I’ve been busy writing a review of Anne Norton’s book on Leo Strauss and some Straussians. It is awful in many ways--gossipy, mean-spirited, ideological, and (it goes without saying after all that) sometimes just downright wrong.

She purports to raise up the "real Leo Strauss" for use against his narrow-minded conservative epigones--above all, Allan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz, and Leon Kass. Do not expect actually to learn anything about these three figures from the book.

I can’t post my review yet (the editor gets first crack at it), but you can find Leslie Friedman Goldstein’s excellent review here, either by searching by author ("Norton") or by browsing through the December 2004 reviews.   (For the review, not the book.)

Life in Prison Too Harsh for a Killer?

AP has a story about Wilbert Rideau, who in 1961 robbed a bank and took three employees hostage. He shot all three, and stabbed teller Julia Ferguson to death. He confessed to the crime, and was sentenced to death. Pre-trial publicity marred his case, and an appeal created a landmark Supreme Court case in which his conviction was thrown out, and he was granted a new trial. Because of racial irregularities in the trial process and changes in the law, he was granted a total of three new trials, the last of which followed his sentence being commuted to life in prison in 1970 as a result of the Supreme Court temporarily striking down the death penalty. In his most recent trial--the first to feature a racially mixed jury--he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and has been released based on 44 years of time served.

Now, there were multiple, serious problems with his case, including pretrial publicity, the racial composition of the grand jury, and the racial composition of the jury. But one thing never changed: there is no question that he committed the crime. He has never denied it. Nonetheless, the Left has become quite enamored with his case. You see, he is a respected writer. He has even been on the speaker circuit from prison. He narrarated an NPR documentary. He’s Oscar nominated! Oh, and by the way, he has never denied that he shot and stabbed Julia Ferguson--a mother, a caretaker for her invalid father, and a Sunday school teacher.

I know that there are many with strong feelings about the death penalty, but this is not even a death penalty case (at least, not after his sentence was commuted in 1970). No, this is a case which asks whether life in prison is a fair punishment for someone who admittedly killed a woman in cold blood. (As best as I can tell from the articles, his sole defense was that he stabbed her because he felt rushed, and that he didn’t walk in the bank with the intent to do that. But it is black letter law that intent can be formed in the twinkling of an eye--or, in this case, in the raising of a knife.) A friend who has been involved in multiple death penalty cases once commented to me that if the death penalty were abolished, the left would then target life-in-prison as being too severe. One needs look no further than the statement of Rideau’s lawyer to see that case being made already: "The stabbing of Ferguson was ’a terrible act, a criminal act, one for which he deserves great punishment, but not one for which he deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life,’ [Rideau’s attorney Juilian] Murray said."

The, ahem, new natural law

I’ve just gotten around to reading the transcript of the exchange last week between Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. As I promised, here’s the "more later."

Hindrocket nails the decisive point in the post I cited earlier. Here, once again, is Justice Breyer, if you missed him the first time:

I usually think, and I think Justice Scalia does too, that in the United States, and this is perhaps unique to the United States, or almost, law is not really handed down from on high, even from the Supreme Court. Rather, it emerges. And we’re part of it, the clerks are part of it, but only part. And what really survives every time is the result, I tend to think of a conversation. I think that’s the right word, conversation among judges, among professors, among law students, among members of the bar, because you need people to put things together, you need people to decide cases, you need people to tell you how it works out in practice. And out of this giant, messy, unbelievably messy conversation emerges law. And that means you have to have the conversation. And then I think we participate it, even at a general level, not just when we’re deciding cases.

Breyer thinks he’s being modest by saying that the Supremes are not oracles, speaking as gods or for the gods. They are part of a larger "law-making" community--judges, professors, law students, and members of the bar--who discuss and argue. On one level (and I’m being charitable here), this is a good thing: if your regard the conversation as rational (remember, I’m being charitable), then law is a product of reason. A very charitable Thomist might say that this "human law" depends upon our apprehension of natural law, which is given to us through our reason. And since every rational human being has access to natural law, why not consult any smart, thoughtful person who has considered the issues that we’re confronting? This is the burden of Justice Breyer’s argument: opinions in foreign courts might bring additional voices into the conversation, enhancing its comprehensiveness and thereby its reasonableness. (Remember, I’m being charitable here.)

If I were writing a treatise on natural law or making some recommendations for how (legislatively or personally) to approach moral questions, I’d wouldn’t quarrel at all with Justice Breyer. Mary Ann Glendon did just that thing a number of years ago in her wonderful book, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.

But there are at least three things that trouble me about Breyer’s argument. The first is the supreme arrogance underlying his humility, nailed also by Hindrocket. I’ll just quote the latter’s post:

I’m not sure I would have believed that if I hadn’t read it: "The law emerges from a conversation with judges, lawyers, professors and law students." No mention of the language of the Constitution; no mention of statutes enacted by Congress or the state legislatures; no mention of American customs, traditions, or popular opinion.

Gee, I always thought it was legislatures that "made law," or perhaps voters by popular initiative, or "the people" through the processes of constitution-making or constitution-amending. Nope, it’s the legal community, answerable ultimately to no one but themselves. (If I were charitable, I’d say "answerable to no one but God," but I’ve ceased being charitable.) Breyer may be speaking loosely here, calling constitutional interpretation law-making, but I really think that he is ultimately indifferent to the authority of the document itself. This is a classic example of "results-oriented jurisprudence," as Scalia points out when he argues that Breyer and his colleaues always cite only those foreign cases and opinions that support the result they want to reach.

My second misgiving is a variation on the first. It absolutely makes sense to consult any wise head when you’re dealing with a moral or philosophical difficulty: philosophers, poets, statesmen, essayists, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, my grandmother, my wife’s late Uncle Alec, eloquently eulogized by his two sons today, even lawyers, law professors, and judges. (I draw the line at law students.) And I obviously wouldn’t limit myself to people alive today, but would mine the wisdom of the ages. Given his approach, in other words, Breyer doesn’t cast his net widely enough. In his defense (O.K., I’m being a little charitable), I’d say that he’s not running a seminar or even re-writing Grotius, but engaging in "legal reasoning," so that it makes sense to narrow the conversation. It’s also obvious that courts can’t take forever to decide cases. But legal reasoning isn’t the same as legislation or "lawmaking." Lawmakers should consult more sources (including, obviously, but not exclusively, their constituents), they’re not bound by the rhetorical, argumentative, or evidentiary conventions of a particular approach, and they’re not resolving a dispute between two parties. They often (but not always) have more time. Breyer should be more modest about what he does, and leave the lawmaking to the lawmakers.

Finally, there is, I think, another reason why Breyer professes to consult only the living. He is a "progressive." Our problems and issues can only be illuminated by those who confront similar problems and issues. And Scalia hits the nail on the head here, in describing the difference between his approach and Breyer’s:

Now if you’re following an originalist approach, you ask, what did the framers believe constituted due process of law? And if you find something there and I don’t like it, it’s too bad; I am chained. I -- because of my theory of the Constitution, that’s what due process was and that’s what it is today, unless you amend it. Whereas if you just say due process of law is an invitation for intelligent judges and lawyers and law students to imagine what they consider to be due process and consult foreign judges, then, indeed, you do not know what you’re saying when you swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. It morphs. I mean, under our current Constitution, changes.

So what is the "new natural law"? It is the "law of nations," selectively cobbled together by judges from the opinions of their fellows all around the world, for the sake of producing results those judges find congenial. I think I’d prefer "the atrocious Grotius" to this. He at least cast his net more widely and found merit in the wisdom of the ages.

More Potential Terrorists Bringing Razor Blades on Planes?

Michelle Malkin has the story here. Because her first post, which describes a flight attendant finding razor blades that were apparently left by the plane’s cleaning crew for 5 Middle Eastern travelers, lacked some key details which would permit corroboration, I was a bit reluctant to link to it. But in her last update, she writes that several Federal Air Marshals have written her to offer some support for the story she heard. Notably, one Air Marshal states: "We have seen this scenario happen a few times and have also found razor blades on the plane before passengers have boarded."

The vote in Iraq

About a week ago, Larry Diamond argued that not postponing the Iraqi elections will hold democracy back in Iraq. This is largely in line with the MSM’s unstated but pernicious assumption. I disagree, and rather think that the upcoming elections will go a long way toward legitimizing the rule of the people (and law). Furthermore, I think the elections will go more or less as planned, and even the MSM will be forced to give the Iraqis (and us) some long overdues credit. I expect turnout to be around 60%, with perhaps as high as 25% in Sunni areas. While it is true, as Diamond argues, that it may be possible for moderate Sunni leaders to, say, over the next three months, to talk their people into reducing the level of violence, and then to have elections that are more likely to be violence-free, I don’t think the Sunnis ought to be trusted enough to be given the opportunity. We have given them every opportunity to participate, and have even set up a kind of proportional representation for them even if they don’t! Enough is enough. If the Kurds and the Shiites become full participants in the process (as they are), and if the Sunnis only partially participate (say 25% of them vote), I think that is enough for legitimacy. The Sunnis are quite put out, I know. On the other hand they have been running the country for generations, and they think they have a natural right to it. They are only going to give that idea up if there is a legitimate Iraqi government in place that can claim to speak for the whole country, and even this will not come overnight. Diamond thinks that the election will lead to further polarization. I don’t. And if it does, it doesn’t matter; things can’t get much worse unless every Sunni takes up arms, which they won’t. It could also get worse if every neighboring Sunni state gets into the act on behalf of the Iraqi Sunnis, but this we are preventing. The Sunnis have been placated enough; it’s time to vote. The Belmont Club has some thoughts on this matter. Note the importance he gives to the city of Mosul (and Nineweh Province), where the elections can be held only with great difficulty; electoral workers have been intimidated and what’s left of them need protection. Mosul has about two million people and is one of Iraq’s most ethnically diverse urban centers, about half Sunni; it is surrounded by Kurds, but--obviously--Kurds cannot be brought in to fight the Sunnis. So there are over 10,000 American troops in the city to try to stabilize the city. Worth watching.

Hillary’s run in 2008

Washington Whispers (U.S. News): "You don’t have to take it from us about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ’s desire to run for president. Her brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, say it’s true. Friends tell us that the two are cheering Sis on and say she’s making all the moves to get ready for the race--presuming she is re-elected by New Yorkers in 2006." (A few clicks down)

Good News from Iraq

Arthur Chrenkoff continues his good work by noting all the good that’s going on in Iraq; many good links to follow. The point is that the vast majority of Iraqis are very interested in making this thing work, and are working hard at it. As a number of linked newstories reveal, the folks running the elections are quite organized and determined. It goas almost without saying that what the ordinary MSM news should emphasize is how remarkable it is that this is taking place at all, rather than placing the emphasis on how the turnout in a few provinces might be minimal. After all, why should we expect their elections to be on par with Cook County Beverly Hills at the first go?

Perspective from abroad

Tim Hames in the London Times has this advice regarding GWB’s inaugural address:

George Washington offered the shortest inaugural address to his fellow countrymen. In his first, he had stunned them by announcing that he would not accept a salary (only John F. Kennedy in recent decades has been similarly inexpensive). In his second, however, with a similar spirit of economy, he produced a mere 135 words. Yet, if inclined, George W. Bush could comfortably beat that record in Washington on Thursday. He might legitimately stand up and state in five blunt words: “I own this town now” and then sit down again.

He explains:

for Mr Bush to dominate the American (and hence, global) scene for almost two years more is an extraordinary achievement. Most second-term presidencies are pale imitations of the first four years in power. They have, historically, been undercut by three factors: agenda exhaustion, personnel depletion and congressional erosion.

. . . .

None of these constraints applies to this President. He still has plenty of proposals for domestic policy left in him. These range from making permanent tax cuts that were passed in his opening term and the partial privatisation of American pensions to his ambition to curtail the outrageous costs of the US legal system. His new Cabinet members are not noticeably weaker than his previous colleagues. His party runs each branch of Congress and, thanks to the November election results, with greater majorities. For the first time since 1937 a re-elected president who has been in Washington for four years starts again with congressional enhancement, not erosion.

The piece’s title? Back for four years, more powerful than ever. Who’s calling Bush an idiot now?

Read the whole thing. 

WaPo Bush interview

Here’s the transcript. This is my favorite exchange:

The Post: In Iraq, there’s been a steady stream of surprises. We weren’t welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven’t found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn’t gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I’m grateful.

Listen, in times of war, things don’t go exactly as planned. Some were saying there was no way that Saddam Hussein would be toppled as quickly as we toppled him. Some were saying there would be mass refugee flows and starvation, which didn’t happen. My only point is, is that, on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.

And the point is, there has to be a flexible strategy that will enable our commanders on the ground and our diplomats to be able to adjust strategy to meet the needs on the ground, all aiming at an eventual goal, which is a free and democratic Iraq, not in our image, in their image, according to their customs. See, we haven’t been -- we’ve been there -- sovereignty was transferred in June of 2004. So this has been a sovereign nation in its new form for less than a year. I’m optimistic about it, and so are a lot of other people who were there in Iraq --optimistic about that, being optimistic about the emergence of a free government.

I’m also mindful that it takes a while for democracy to take hold. Witness our own history. We weren’t -- we certainly were not the perfect democracy and are yet the perfect democracy. Ours is a constitution that said every man -- a system that said every man was equal, but in fact, every man wasn’t equal for a long period of time in our history. The Articles of Confederation were a bumpy period of time. And my only point is, is that I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. And therefore, I am more patient than some, but also mindful that we’ve got to get the Iraqis up and running as quickly as possible, so they can defeat these terrorists.

The election, the President says, was a referendum of sorts on the war in Iraq. And, for all the accusations about being rigidly ideological in his approach, he’s got his eye on the ball--the consent of the governed.

There’s a lot more in this long interview. Read the whole thing.

What Bush reads

CNN has an oily piece on Bush’s reading habits. It mentions that sometimes he meets with authors he is reading (e.g., Natan Sharansky, Bernard Lewis, John Lewis Gaddis). Gaddis says that he was surprised that Bush was reading something that is critical of him, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Gaddis has an essay in the current Foreign Affairs, called Grand Strategy in the Second Term, which is worth reading. Note the emphasis on Bismarck, "The most skillful practitioner of shock and awe" who, Gaddis notes, didn’t "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." I note in passing that I have been re-reading into Woodrow Wilson for a class I’m teaching and came across his essay on Bismarck written in 1877, while he was an undergraduate (he graduated Princeton in 1879). He praises Bismarck, "now the foremost figure in Europe" for his "uncommon wisdom in action," for his "genius and force of character," for being a "master-statesman, and for his will. Wilson: "In Bismarck are united the moral force of Cromwell and the political shrewdness of Richelieu; the comprehensive intellect of Burke, without his learning, and the diplomatic ability of Tallyrand, without his coldness." Wilson’s essay is not avaliable on line, it is in the first volume of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson.

North Korean hair

I tried to get a haircut yesterday (my mother told me to do it last week). Too long of a wait, so I’m going today. Amusingly enough I just noticed this BBC report on the campaign for short hair in North Korea. It is worth reading just to reflect for a moment on the insanity of ideology, then go back to reading Wodehouse.

Tsunami aid

Note this this description of a French TV news broadcast praising the American military’s efficiency in getting aid to survivors of the tsunami, while it castigates the French military’s utterly futile response. Very informative. (via Instapundit). Also note this good column by Mark Steyn on the broader theme of our aid that inevitably leads to the question, "why do we like them?" "Most citizens in the West look at the tsunami’s victims and recognise our common humanity." Bruce Sanborn comments on Steyn’s piece.


This is not so much a review of a recent biography of P.G. Wodehouse as much as an entertaining article based on an interview with the author of the bio, Robert McCrum. I am reading into the biography now, and it seems very fine. The odd thing is, of course, that a Wodehouse biography is kind of irrelevant because here was a man who, in writing about one-hundred books, utterly ignored reality. He ignored the twentieth century! But he created an alternative universe in which reside some of the funniest characters ever conceived: Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Agatha, Augustus Pink-Snottle, Tuppy Glossop, and there plenty others. "There are very few compelling reasons to be glad that one was born in the twentieth century," critic Anthony Lane once wrote, "and most of them are curative: heart transplants, the polio vaccine, the look on Grace Kelly’s face. Then, there is Wodehouse." True.

Wodehouse on writing: "There are two ways of writing. One of these is a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn." Well, when you read Wodehouse, which you must, you will see and hear the musical comedy. You can start anywhere, but might as well start with Right Ho, Jeeves, since it doesn’t matter. You will not regret it.

Don’t Just Count Her Blue; Count Her Ashamed to Be An American

Here is a silly little story from the AP. Berns Rothchild has designed a bracelet modeled on the popular Lance Armstrong bracelets. Only these are blue, and say "COUNT ME BLUE" on them. They are for those who voted against Bush. Fair enough. Her father has even launched a counter line of "COUNT ME RED" bracelets. What is disturbing, however, are her statements concerning why she developed them:

After spending 10 days in London with friends who were outspoken about their disdain for President Bush’s policies, Berns Rothchild came home wishing she had a way to show the world she didn’t vote for him. "I sort of felt ashamed, and didn’t really want to be associated with being an American," said Rothchild, who lives in New York City and voted for John Kerry.

Now, having sour grapes about elections is nothing new. I still recall the "Don’t blame me, I voted for Bush" bumper stickers that adorned cars following Clinton’s win. But Ms. Rothchild’s statement goes deeper. The whole "ashamed to be associated with America" thing seems to correlate much more with the left and losing. The mantra seems to be, either the left wins, or we’re moving to France; or we’re ashamed to be Americans, who are, by the way, not nearly as smart or sophisticated as we are, or as Europeans are. These are the same people who travel with Canadian flags on their luggage. Oh, but don’t question our patriotism. We love America. Massachusetts is just swell. Vermont is a fine place. And we might even admit to being Americans again, just as soon as a Democrat who reflects our disdain for the heartland is in the White House again.

A reporter who gets it

I found this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review interesting. Here’s a taste:

I attended church services more often than many Christians — some months more often than I attended my own synagogue. But the most intense part of my education came from outside the job, apart from the mediation of a reporter’s notebook. At PTA meetings, at Scouts, in the supermarket checkout line, and in my neighborhood I encountered evangelicals simply as people, rather than as subjects or sources of quotes for my stories. Our children went to the same birthday parties. We sat next to each other in the bleachers while the kids played recreational sports. Our family doctor went on frequent mission trips and kept a New Testament in each examining room. In the process, I learned about the Great Commission, the biblical obligation of all Christians to share their faith with the once-born and the unsaved.

Evangelicals were no longer caricatures or abstractions. I learned to interpret their metaphors and read their body language. From personal, day-to-day experience I observed what John Green at the University of Akron has discerned from extensive research: evangelicals were not monolithic nor were they, as The Washington Post infamously characterized them, “poor, uneducated and easy to command.”

I think I’ll start looking for Mark Pinsky’s byline and maybe even his books.

CBS and MSM notes

Van Sauter, a former president of CBS News, slams CBS and Rather for being biased and incompetent: " What’s the big problem at CBS News?

Well, for one thing, it has no credibility. And no audience, no morale, no long-term emblematic anchorperson and no cohesive management structure. Outside of those annoyances, it shouldn’t be that hard to fix. Personally, I have a great affection for CBS News, even though I was unceremoniously shown to the door there nearly 20 years ago in a tumultuous change of corporate management.

But I stopped watching it some time ago. The unremitting liberal orientation finally became too much for me. I still check in, but less and less frequently. I increasingly drift to NBC News and Fox and MSNBC."

Charles Krauthammer thinks that the so-called independent investigation, "clueless, uncomprehending and in its own innocent way disgraceful," pretends that the fiasco was in no way politically motivated. Read the whole thing. In the meantime, even Howard Fineman of Newsweek understands that all this is a catastrophe and enlarges upon the thought by correctly asserting that the MSM is dead. This is an intresting (and self-serving) essay. It is highly imperfect--you will see how he is lying to himself in some ways--but, still, it is thoughtful and very revealing. He understands that the MSM is dead (as do most other, even liberal members of the MSM), even though he doesn’t understand the cause of the illness and then the death, or, how long the MSM has been biased. RIP.

Ramirez Cartoon

Newdow again

Vincent Philip Munoz explains how the pronouncements of Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens encourage frivolous lawsuits like the one filed by Michael Newdow against prayer at President Bush’s inauguration. Here’s a taste:

Justice O’Connor has opined that the First Amendment prohibits governmental acts that "endorse" religion or cause nonbelievers to feel like "outsiders" in the political community. In 2002, Justice Stevens voted against Cleveland’s school voucher program because it would "increase the risk of religious strife" between people who disagree on religious matters. If this year’s inauguration follows the form of Mr. Bush’s last one and includes invocations delivered by religious ministers, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that it fails Justice O’Connor’s and Justice Stevens’s Establishment Clause tests.

Church-state jurisprudence today is infected by modern-day squeamishness about public expressions of piety. This is a departure from, not the fulfillment of, America’s earliest constitutional traditions. The public recognition of God, in fact, was part of those traditions from the beginning.

Read the whole thing. 

Teddy bears and dogs

"Crazy" teddy bears are being criticized by "mental health advocates." The Vermont Teddy Bear Company says it will continue making the bears, even though the governor of Vermont has come out against the bear in the straight-jacket.
I have always loved teddy bears; they might even be better than dogs for human souls. I’m not sure that I would want one wearing a traight-jacket (their slogan is "crazy for you"), but that’s another matter. Silly stuff, no? Also note that a Florida court is questioning a police dog’s competence as a sniffing dog; it’s a probably cause issue. The dog has an imperfect record, therefore the druggy who was busted based on the dog’s sniffs should be set free. I side with the dog.

(Thanks to the Corner for the bear story)

Mapping the Global Future

The CIA’s think tank, The National Intelligence Council, has taken a year to produce Mapping the Global Future (PDF file, 123 pages). This is Dana Priest’s Washington Post story on it (just because I mention it doesn’t make it reliable, I hasten to add, so take care). The NIC also has a web site (interactive) to go along with the report, called International Futures. I have only glanced at the report, and note especially the section on China and India as especially interesting (at first sight) regarding geopolitics. It is predicted (this is not rocket science) that China and India will become "new global players--similar to the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the early 20th century" and they will "transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those of the previous two centuries." Oh, goody! Back to our study of German history. My view is that we must pay special attention to India; it is underestimated in almost every respect.

Constitutional law final

Is this what the Founders intended? Or this?

There are several Supreme Court Justices who are eager to administer the global test, it seems.

I can’t wait to get my hands on a transcript of the debate, if ever one becomes available.

Update:One-stop shopping here at Powerline. Lots of links. More later.

The progressive Democrats

"The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties," said Senator Edward Kennedy in a speech yesterday at the National Press Club. On the other hand, Senator, if there has been a realignment, your only chance is to become the party that resembles the majority party, at least for thirty years or so. There is much more in the speech worth noting; the crux is that it is a speech entirely in the Progressive/Liberal tradition. Very creative, and boring. I point out, without comment, that Bob Shrum (aka Kennedy guy) has announced his retirement.
The New York Times: "He leaves Washington with a mixed record, having served as an adviser on 26 winning Senate campaigns, perhaps more than any other consultant, but also eight losing presidential campaigns, which may also stand as a record." Shrum will be teaching at New York University. And John Kerry is asking candidates for the DNC chairmanship--as he is vetting them--to stay neutral in the presidential campaign of 2008. This means he is actually thinking of running again.

Conservatism on campus

There’s a lengthy and detailed survey of campus conservatism in this article. None of it is terribly surprising for those of us in the business, but there are a couple of points worth noting. First, many of the students said that professorial proselytizing for the Left drove them even further to the right. And second, a number of students, despite personal opposition to homosexuality, took a "live and let live attitude," even with respect to civil unions. There’s lots more there. Read the whole thing. 

Update: More here. Question: are the creators of "South Park" the Aristophaneses of our time? Where is Paul Cantor when you need him?

Progress in India

Fareed Zakaria explains why a private street-cleaning movement in India (with 17,000 chapters) is a sign of great progress and why we should expect more from India. This is the sign of growing wealth, strength and confidence of Indian society. The state isn’t growing, but civil society is.

China should pay attention.

The Demos folly on Social Security

George W. Will has a well crafted and very persuasive Newsweek essay on how it will be very difficult for the Democrats to try to deny "the cohort most receptive to reform, those ages 18 to 29," of allowing Americans the choice of diverting a portion of their Social Security taxes in in tax-personal retirement accounts. The Demos are on a collision course "with the constituency that is the vessel of their hopes: voters 18 to 29 are the only age cohort John Kerry carried." Note the lovely Coolidge quote at the end of Will’s essay.

Andrew Sullivan should know better

Andrew Sullivan becomes unhinged over this statement by President Bush:

President Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship.

Here’s Sullivan’s (over)reaction:

So, out of his beneficence, he won’t trample on others’ religious freedom. But the White House? That’s for Christians only. No Jews? Or atheists? Notice also the evangelical notion of a personal "relationship" with the Lord. That also indicates suspicion of those Christians with different approaches to the divine. I must say this is a new level of religio-political fusion in this administration. To restrict the presidency to a particular religious faith is anathema to this country’s traditions and to the task of toleration. The president surely needs to retract the statement.

Here’s Jonah Goldberg’s reaction, which is spot-on:

First of all, how new is this, really? Do we really think that Jimmy Carter, never mind George Washington, never said that having a relationship with the Lord was helpful to being president? This is how I read Bush’s remarks. Second, How different is this from the spirit of all of Bush’s previous statements (including in two national campaigns) in which he made it clear that he draws sustenance and strength from his relationship with God. I am flummoxed as to why Andrew should be surprised that Bush said it again. Third, the fear that Bush is suspicious of non-evangelical Christians or non-Christians rings a bit hollow considering that yesterday he nominated a Jew to run homeland security and before that he nominated [an Episcopalian](and longtime loyalist) to be his Attorney General. Given his latest hires, how exactly does this new level of "religio-political fusion in this administration" translate itself into policy?

Here, for those less inclined than Andrew Sullivan to fly off the handle is a much longer chunk of the Washington Times interview. The relevant passage (with context):

So that’s what’s on my mind. My enthusiasm is high for the job and looking forward to it. Put a good team together. This office is the kind of place where you sit here, people stand out there, and they say, "I’m going to tell him what-for," and they walk in here and they get just overwhelmed by the Oval Office and the whole atmosphere and the great beauty of this place, and they say, "Man, you’re looking good, Mr. President." [Laughter.] So I need people walking in here saying, "You’re not looking so good." And I put a good team together in the first four years; I’ve got a good team this second four years, and ready to lead.


Wesley Pruden, editor in chief: Well, Mr. President, your point there about faith and how we look at it — many Christians today think that faith is kind of under attack in America, and they’re even talking about whether you should use the Bible to take the oath of office. What would you say — what do you think is the proper role of your personal faith in the public arena?

Mr. Bush: First of all, I will have my hand on the Bible. I read the article today, and I don’t — it’s interesting, I don’t think faith is under attack. I think there are some who worry about a president who is faith-based, a person who openly admits that I accept the prayers of the people, trying to impose my will on others. I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit.

That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have — or one of the greatest freedoms — is the right to worship the way you see fit. And on the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a — without a relationship with the Lord.

I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that. I think that’s just the way it is. On the other hand, I think more and more people ... understand the importance of faith in their life.

America is a remarkable place when it comes to religion and faith. We had people come to our rallies who were there specifically to say, "I’m here to pray for you, let you know I’m praying for you." And I was very grateful about that.

This has gone on pretty long, so I’ll just note a couple of things from the interview, which is worth reading in full. The President leads with and situates his own faith in the context of religious freedom. His faith is personal and gives him strength. He recognizes his own fallibility and his own humanity (which includes the temptation to overstate his own powers and abilities) and consequently acknowledges his own need for a relationship with God. I would never argue, as Sullivan does, that GWB’s language here is "code" for an evangelical "personal relationship." It seems to me that any genuine theist in the Judaeo-Christian tradition would similarly acknowledge fallibility and dependence upon God. And I might not vote for someone who was so utterly confident in his or her own abilities as not to not to acknowledge fallibility. But not offering someone my vote is a far cry from not tolerating him or her. I’m not persecuting. I’m not imposing a formal legal religious test. All I’m saying is that--like the President--I find it hard to believe that a certain kind of atheist would be appropriately humble before the responsibilities of the office and appropriately cognizant of human limitations.

Finally, since I’m not convinced that Andrew Sullivan is as stupid or thoughtless as his reaction makes it seem, I’m forced to wonder why he said what he said. Any ideas out there?

Cosby on Fulfilling the Dream

Bill Cosby has a piece in today’s Detroit News, in which he continues his argument about the need for African-American parents to be more engaged in their children’s lives and education. Here is a taste:

Proper education has to begin at home. We must demand that our youth have an understanding of spoken and written English, math and science. We must transform our communities with a renewed commitment to our children, and that means parents must show that they value education. We don’t need another federal commission to study the problem.

What we need now is parents sitting down with children, overseeing homework, sending children off to school in the morning well fed, clothed, rested and ready to learn.

Some media people or government people, who are already ethnically insensitive, cannot hurt us if we begin to address and act on what is already epidemic. We will then be empowered.

The only question I had after reading this article is: how long will it be before Jesse Jackson’s "blame" coalition takes aim at Cosby?

The moral high ground in Washington state

The Wall Street Journal thinks Rossi shouldn’t pursue his challenge of the tainted election results in the Washington gubernatorial election. I’m inclined to agree that being a graceful loser is morally and politically the right thing to do, but I’m receptive to counterarguments.

Anybody out there got a good one?

The Baylor experiment

Here’s a useful summary of what’s going on at Baylor, whose president, Robert Sloan, wants to turn it into an excellent research university with an explicitly Christian worldview. There’s a lot to be said for this project, and some very good folks are saying it. Here’s a couple of letters from leading academics (not all conservative by any stretch of the imagination, especially if you include Nicholas Wolterstorff and Stanley Hauerwas in the mix). And here’s Richard John Neuhaus’ speech at Sloan’s inauguration.

I’ve kind of promised Peter a longer piece on developments at Baylor. Consider this the smallest down payment.

Back from Hungary

The flight from Vienna to Washington was a bit long, but other than that the trip went well. Looked after my mother, as we said our last to my father. Relatives, old friends of the family were around and pious and caring. There was excellent food and heavy wines and much poetry. A lot of poetry. Scratch a Hungarian and he bleeds poetry. Their revolutions always begin at the foot of a poet’s statute! Give them half a chance and they recite from memory, and do it well. Reading poetry is good for any occasion, and it is always done in perfect pitch. The Hungarians, by the way, are better off and happier than ever, the change in their disposition and habits since the old regime is palpable, entirely to their advantage. Gone is the bleak and dour predeliction you found under the tyranny; there is, rather, a visible charm and energy that is heartening to one who wishes them well. The habits of commerce and citizenship have been established. Walking around, save for the language and some architectual oddities it is almost impossible to tell if you are in Austria, Spain, or the land of the Magyars. This is not to say that their politics are simply just and reasonable and moderate (socialists are in power at the moment, for example) but it does mean that fear and oppression and the greyness of life is in the past, and buried.

Syria and Iraq

The always interesting Belmont Club offers this post, in which he argues that much of the Iraqi terrorism is being directed from Syria, most likely by Saddam loyalists. Evidence of a Syrian connection is widespread and might lead to cross-border raids by American special forces and Iraqi contingents. Clearly we can’t remain simply on the defensive forever, with Sunni and Syrian collaborators essentially paying next to nothing for their support of the rejectionist terrorists.   

Education vs. Literary Theory

This month’s Atlantic includes an essay by Walter Kirn which ranks among the best magazine articles I’ve ever read. Entitled "Lost in the Meritocracy: How I traded an education for a ticket to the ruling class," it tells the story of Kirn’s time at Princeton where, as a middle-class overachiever from Minnesota, he never really fit in. As many people in this situation do, he constructed a false identity for himself, and post-structuralist literary theory gave him just facade he needed. I’d reproduce the whole thing here if copyright laws let me; alas, I’ll have to include just these three paragraphs instead:

I chose to concentrate on English, since it sounded like something I might already know. I assumed that my classmates and I would study the classics and analyze their major themes, but instead we were buffeted, almost from day one, with talk of "theory," whatever that was. The basic meanings of the poems, short stories, and plays drawn from the hefty Norton anthologies that anchored our entry-level reading lists were treated as trivial, almost beneath discussion; what mattered, we learned, were our "critical assumptions."

I, for one, wasn’t aware of having any. Until I was sixteen or so, my only reading had consisted of Hardy Boys mysteries, books on UFOs, world almanacs, a Time-Life history of World War II, and a handful of pulpy best sellers linked to movies (The Day of the Jackal and The Exorcist stand out), which I’d read for their sex scenes. I knew a few great authors’ names from scanning dust jackets in the town library and watching the better TV quiz shows, but the only serious novels I’d ever cracked were Moby-Dick and Frankenstein—both sold to me by a crafty high school teacher as gripping tales of adventure, which they weren’t.

With no stored literary material about which to harbor critical assumptions, I relied on my gift for mimicking authority figures and playing back to them their own ideas disguised as conclusions that I’d reached myself. The deployment of key words was crucial, as the recognition of them had been on the SATs. With one professor the charm was "ambiguity." With another "heuristic" usually did the trick. Even when a poem or a story fundamentally puzzled me, I found that I could save face through terminology, as when I referred to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as "semiotically unstable."

But Kirn was smart enough to know that it was all a scam, and managed to pull himself together in time to secure a scholarship to do graduate work at Oxford. Moreover, during the summer before he left for England he took ill with pneumonia. Confined to his bed, he started to do something new--he began reading, first The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then Great Expectations, and on and on from there.

I apologize for referring readers to an article that’s available only to subscribers, but I consider this piece alone worth the price of a subscription. If you know someone who has one, try to get a peek at it.    

"Americanism" as religion

Here’s an extended case for American exceptionalism. The argument, in a nutshell, is that "Americanism" is essentially what became of Puritanism:

Americanism is the end-stage of political Puritanism, which in turn was the yearning to live in contact with God as a citizen of God’s new Israel.

The author, David Gelernter, a Yale professor of computer science who is a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, marshalls some interesting evidence but admits that "[t]his is an unprovable proposition."

Here is perhaps Gelernter’s most provocative point:

To sum up Americanism’s creed as freedom, equality, and democracy for all is to state only half the case. The other half deals with a promised land, a chosen people, and a universal, divinely ordained mission. This part of Americanism is the American version of biblical Zionism: in short, American Zionism.

I leave it to those more learned than I am to evaluate thoroughly the evidence. That various and sundry American political figures have appropriated the rhetoric of covenantalism is undeniable. That they actually confused their city of man with a city of God is another proposition altogether. I don’t put it past all of them, either for reasons of theological-political fanaticism or of "secular humanism." But Lincoln, who is one of the central figures is Gelernter’s narrative, is careful to say only that Americans are an "almost chosen people." Gelernter notes this in passing, but does not give it the at least slightly ironic force I think it demands.

President Bush, who is often accused of taking precisely the line Gelernter seems to adopt is himself more careful, more Lincolnesque, if you will.

If you’re interested in more on this subject, go here.

Hat tip: HobbsOnline.

Democratic talent outside the beltway

In today’s WSJ, Brendan Miniter calls our attention to a few interesting Democrats who could eventually make some noise on the presidential scene--Governors Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, and Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Bredesen is in the process of wrestling down TennCare, a health insurance program that has in the past been touted as "HilaryCare Lite." If you want to follow his progress, you could do worse than check Instapundit (who, after all, teaches at the University of Tennessee) and HobbsOnline (Bill Hobbs works at Belmont University in Nashville).

What the Supreme Court Did (Or More Precisely Didn’t Do) in the Gay Adoption Case

Comments on yesterday’s post entitled "Supremes let Florida gay adoption ban stand" highlight the confusion that often accompanies the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant review in a case. The vast majority of the Supreme Court’s cases are taken for discretionary review. In order for a "discretionary" case to be heard, at least four justices must vote for review. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court turns away many more cases than it hears. This is what happened yesterday with the gay adoption case: the Court simply chose not to hear the case. What does that mean? As a legal matter, absolutely nothing. It is black-letter law that the denial of review has no precedential value.

Of course, we can try to read the tea leaves to see what this means politically, and that is what the reporters, including Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog were doing. Yes, it probably means that the justices were recoiling from what would inevitably be construed as another step toward gay marriage. And yes, issues concerning adoption are traditionally state law matters, although the fact that the 11th Circuit had weighed in on the question rather than the Florida Supreme Court mitigates in some measure against such a rationale to deny review. The important thing to remember, however, is that this is all speculation. The Supreme Court yesterday chose not to hear the case. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the outcome of that decision leaves in place the decision of the court below,* and thereby the law stands.

*[Editor’s Note: There is a pending challenge to the composition of the en banc 11th Circuit Court which also chose not to hear the case--specifically challenging the recess appointment of Judge Pryor, who cast the deciding vote not to hear the matter. Because I think it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will upset the historical practice of recess appointments, I feel confident saying that the decision below will stand.]

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for December

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Edward Crenshaw

Ed Lally

Steven Meservy

Don De Mello

Michelle Goodman

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter January’s drawing.

The Decline of Political Cartoons

James Lileks has some interesting ruminations on the state of political cartooning (cartoonery?) in America (scroll about halfway down the page). After surveying some recent examples, he concludes:

My reaction is usually one of four. One: if you think I’m that stupid, fine. Two: if you’re that stupid, fine. Three: if we agree, that’s nice, but I can’t exactly use your point in an argument because it’s usually the sort of reductio ad absurdum used by cynical adolescents who believe that artfully rephrasing a suspected hypocrisy invalidates every other aspect of your argument. Four: Nice drawing. I’m not saying the genre is over, or should be swept off the page - but it’s stale.

Supremes let Florida gay adoption ban stand

Read all about it here, here, and here.

Hat tips: How Appealing and SCOTUSblog, both of which you should bookmark.

The Dangers of Overturning Roe v. Wade

In the latest issue of The Atlantic (sorry, for subscribers only) Benjamin Wittes argues that the time has come for the Democratic Party to stop defending Roe v. Wade. Part of his argument is that the criticisms conservatives have made against it are not totally off the mark.

Since its inception Roe has had a deep legitimacy problem, stemming from its weakness as a legal opinion. Conservatives who fulminate that the Court made up the right to abortion, which appears explicitly nowhere in the Constitution, are being simplistic—-but they’re not entirely wrong. In the years since the decision an enormous body of academic literature has tried to put the right to an abortion on firmer legal ground. But thousands of pages of scholarship notwithstanding, the right to abortion remains constitutionally shaky; abortion policy is a question that the Constitution—-even broadly construed—-cannot convincingly be read to resolve.

Of course, this comes as no news to any conservative. But his more interesting argument concerns how a reversal of Roe v. Wade would place the Republicans in a deep dilemma.

Roe gives pro-life politicians a free pass. A large majority of voters reject the hard-line anti-abortion stance: in Gallup polling since 1975, for example, about 80 percent of respondents have consistently favored either legal abortion in all circumstances (21 to 34 percent) or legal abortion under some circumstances (48 to 61 percent). Although a plurality of Americans appear to favor abortion rights substantially more limited than what Roe guarantees, significantly more voters describe themselves as "pro-choice" than "pro-life." Yet because the Court has removed the abortion question from the legislative realm, conservative politicians are free to cater to pro-lifers by proposing policies that, if ever actually implemented, would render those politicians quite unpopular.

He makes a valid point; as long as Roe stands Republicans can fulminate against it, secure in the knowledge that they don’t really have to do anything about abortion. We’ve spent a good bit of time talking about the divide in the Democratic Party between moderates and ultra-liberals, but a reversal of Roe would on doubt expose a fault line within the GOP that is just as wide--the one separating die-hard pro-lifers from those of us who, while favoring certain restrictions on abortion, see considerable moral and practical problems with an outright ban.

The Democratic Attack on Blackwell

Timothy Carney argues persuasively over at NRO today that the farcical election protest conducted in Congress last Thursday was not aimed at President Bush, but rather targeted Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Carney notes that

A word count of the Congressional Record makes the case clearly: George Bush’s name was mentioned 109 times during the debate, while Ken Blackwell’s was mentioned 149. When you take into account that many of the Bush mentions were made by Republicans, and that every mention of Blackwell was in a statement by a Democrat, it is clear who the real target of Thursday’s proceedings was."

And, as Carney points out, for the Democrats, race matters:

Miguel Estrada knows how this works. Democrats, as their memos revealed, found Estrada "especially dangerous because. . . he is Latino." It’s not that Dick Durbin and Pat Leahy’s staff think Hispanics are inherently more "dangerous," it’s that they don’t want to be seen opposing one for the High Court, when all of America will be watching. He had to be stopped before then.

The attack dogs of personal destruction succeeded with their preemptive strike on Estrada, and now they’ll try with Blackwell.

Back in September of 2003, I made the argument that Democrats opposed Estrada in part based upon the fact that he was Hispanic

here. I received numerous angry emails from those who reminded me that Democrats are incapable of such racist behavior--arguments which seemed a bit less credible when the smoking gun memos were released. (Of course, the left has never actually addressed the merits of the memos. They are far more concerned about the fact that they were released.) Now it seems that the left is up to their old tricks--trumping up charges to thwart the career of a politician because he has the audacity to be conservative and African-American.

Independent Panel Finds That CBS Failed to Follow Journalistic Principles in Memogate

The independent panel’s report on the forged "60 Minutes" memos was just released, and it concludes that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel found that CBS compounded their error by a "rigid and blind" defense of the falsified report. In response, CBS asked three employees to resign, and terminated Mary Mapes, the producer of the "60 Minutes" segment. CBS’s story about this is here, and the full 200+ page Thornburgh-Boccardi report is available in PDF format here. As I am typing this, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard just cut to the heart of the matter on Fox News: "CBS wanted to hurt President Bush. It wasn’t that they were sloppy."

More McConnell Speculation

Today’s NY Sun considers the beltway buzz suggesting that 10th Circuit judge Michael McConnell is on the short list for the U.S. Supreme Court. Joseph Knippenberg has written about McConnell on this page here and here.

True Believers

Who would defend Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric convicted in 1995 of masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing? The typical legal answer is that in this country, we take the right to counsel seriously, and lawyers who are deeply opposed to the alleged criminal acts of the accused nonetheless offer their assistance to maintain the integrity of the system. Sure, some of the lawyers are out for their 15 minutes of fame, but those who represent terrorists aren’t really sympathizers, right? Not necessarily. David Horowitz has a disturbing article in today’s LA Times, in which he provides some background on Lynne Stewart, the blind sheik’s attorney, who is on trial for aiding and abetting her client. How extreme is she? Here’s a taste:

Stewart is on record as approving of "directed violence," which — as she explained to the New York Times — "would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism." The World Trade Center, for instance. Stewart also has endorsed Muslim jihadists in particular: "They are basically forces of national liberation," she told the Marxist magazine Monthly Review.

This is enough to confirm all Schramm’s worst thoughts about lawyers.

Lincoln as gay--yea or nay?

Philip Nobile offers us this absolutely devastating destruction of the late C. A. Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Since Nobile was, for a time, Tripp’s collaborator, his insider’s account should be required reading.

Here’s Rick Brookhiser’s highly critical review of the same book from Sunday’s NYT. Over at NRO’s "The Corner", Brookhiser adds this:

The Weekly Standard has a piece by Philip Nobile, accusing C.A. Tripp (author of the book I reviewed) of plagiarizing him, and of bending evidence. The question of plagiarism I leave to the courts. Bending of evidence will be obvious to anyone who reads Tripp’s book. But the wierdness in Lincoln remains.

Two thoughts: First, I wonder which major media outlet will run the first favorable review of the book, or, indeed, if any will? Nobile’s claims of plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty--this early in the game--are formidable obstacles to the willingness of any serious reviewer to praise the book. Second, I think I’ll stick with my old standby Lincoln book--William Lee Miller’s Lincoln’s Virtues--in my "Moral and Political Leadership" class.

Update:Winfield Myers of Democracy Project has much more here.

Red State Democratic Senators Feeling the Heat Concerning Judicial Confirmations

The Lincoln (NE) Journal-Star ran an article today in which Senator Nelson responded to Dr. James Dobson’s suggestion that Nelson could be targeted for defeat in 2006 if he opposes President Bush’s judicial nominees. Nelson’s response was that he did not support obstructing judicial nominees, and that he joined only one filibuster: that of Henry Saad for the Sixth Circuit. He claims that he opposed Saad "because he was not allowed to read Saad’s background files and because both Michigan senators strongly opposed the nomination." Perhaps he should be asked to explain why he is following the lead of the Michigan senators, who are opposing Saad and three other nominees from Michigan not because of the qualifications of those judges, but because of a kind of nepotism. Indeed, Senator Levin has vowed to block all judges nominated from Michigan who do not have one key qualification: they must be his wife’s cousin.

Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see Nelson denouncing obstructionism--a move that I think other electorally vulnerable red state Democratic Senators are likely to mimic in the coming months.

The Left Discovers Federalism . . . Sort of

Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford offers an article on Slate entitled "The New Blue Federalists," in which he argues that federalism isn’t just for conservatives any more. On some points he is undoubtedly correct: Federalism as a principle is not explicitly partisan or ideological--a point I made nearly two years ago here, in an article arguing that the federal partial-birth abortion statute exceeds congressional authority found in the Commerce Clause. Yet on other points, Professor Ford’s thinking is a partisan muddle. Take the following, for example: "Sensible federalism has its limits: It must not allow states to limit the enjoyment of important rights, and it must allow for federal regulation of activities with significant interstate effects." This is his way of having his cake and eating it, too. Under Ford’s theory, we need not limit national power by any constitutionally meaningful test based on, oh, I don’t know, interstate commerce, but rather we should apply an outcome-based analysis. If we do this, I can assure you that the sacred cows of liberalism will remain within the contours of "sensible" federalism, while regulations that the liberals don’t like--e.g, federal drug laws--will be found impermissible. (Editor’s note: I have not taken a look at the briefs in the case, but I have been told that the plaintiffs make a very strong case that the federal drug laws exceed congressional commerce clause authority in the California case pending before the Supreme Court.) You’ll also note Ford’s loose use of the term "important rights." This permits him to keep elements of culture wars within the federal ambit, by failing to recognize that rights which are not constitutional are in fact reserved to the people and to the states.

While I am glad to see Professor Ford enter the fray on this question, I would be far happier to see a liberal with the intellectual seriousness to concede that federalism is a constitutional principle which cannot be ignored--one which assures the limited character of our federal government, and thereby makes impermissible laws and programs which are favored by both ends of the political spectrum.

David Brooks and social security reform

This sounds like good advice:

The president’s role - at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after - will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn’t need to say what the legislation should look like. That’s too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it’s values.

Here are some of the values he might endorse:

First, Social Security reform should liberate our kids, not shackle them. It should eliminate the fiscal overhang so they have the money to tackle the problems that will arise in their own day.

Second, the reform should be transparent, so that people can see what kind of return they are getting on the money they put into the system. People should have information about their own lives.

Third, it should enhance people’s control over their own retirement. In a self-governing democracy, citizens should do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

Fourth, people should be encouraged to work longer. In an age in which many live into their 90’s, we should be making better use of people in their 70’s and 80’s.

Fifth, we need a savings revolution. The plan should encourage the nation to save more, to create more capital for America’s future greatness.

This is a time to trust the legislative process. Social Security has a better chance of passage if Congress leads. It’s also time to think big. Social Security reform plus tax reform go a long way toward getting you to an ownership society.

Read the whole thing.


All That is Old is Newdow Again

Everyone’s favorite atheist, Michael Newdow, who sued challenging "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, is at it again. This time, AP reports that he is challenging the offering of any prayer at the Presidential inauguration. After succeeding in the 9th Circuit on his "under God" challenge, the Supreme Court slapped him down for lack of standing. But don’t count on his case getting that far this time. This suit has been appropriately (at least as a jurisdictional matter) brought within the confines of the DC Circuit--a circuit which is less prone to the LSD flashbacks that too often masquerade as 9th Circuit opinions. Anyone needing more convincing of the lack of merit attendant to Newdow’s latest challenge need only read the 1983 case of Marsh v. Chambers, in which the Supreme Court upheld Nebraska’s policy of paying a Judeo-Christian chaplain to offer a prayer to open the legislative session.

Update: Rehnquist Will Not Sit Next Week

AP is reporting that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will not participate in oral arguments when the Supreme Court returns next week "because of continuing secretions caused by his tracheotomy and radiation therapy." He nonetheless is still participating in the cases, and still plans to administer the oath of office to the President on January 20th--health permitting.

Campus diversity, yet again

Winfield Myers offers a nice summary of the latest on campus diversity, or lack thereof, here. There are lots of good links.

I’ve said my piece before here, here, and here.

President Bush’s speechwriters

Here’s a story in Newsweek reporting on a change in President Bush’s speechwriting staff. The big news, not yet formally announced: Michael Gerson is moving into a policy position and so will not be directly involved in the day-to-day speechwriting tasks. Newsweek presents this as a major loss of the President, comparing Gerson to Peggy Noonan and Theodore Sorensen in the pantheon of presidential speechwriters and implying that the religious undertones in Bush’s speeches may be absent in the future.

Ramesh Ponnuru in yesterday’s NRO’s "The Corner" (scroll down a bit) doesn’t think so:

[T]hey’ll have McGurn’s religious undertones instead--just read his recent articles for NRO or First Things or the New York Post and you’ll see that he is not so far off from Gerson’s (or Bush’s) understanding of the proper role of religious language in public life.

If you want some insight into the mind of McGurn, you could look here, here, here, here, and here.

Hat tip: Democracy Project.

News Flash for Specter: Cabinet Officers Are Not Independent

There is much that could be and that has already been said by others about Alberto Gonzales’s confirmation hearings for the postion of U.S. Attorney General. The hearings gave us a first glimpse of Senator Arlen Specter as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and, while he has been largely praised for his handling of the hearing, he committed an embarassing constitutional error. AP reports that Specter

proclaimed his independence and said he expected the same from Alberto Gonzales, President Bush’s nominee to be attorney general.

"While Judge Gonzales is the appointee of the president ... he’s representing the people of the United States, a key distinction which I’m pleased to say in advance that Judge Gonzales has noted in the statement which he has submitted," Specter said.

Senator Specter can be as independent as his constituent electors allow him to be, but Judge Gonzales cannot be independent as U.S. Attorney General. That is because cabinet officers have no independent constitutional authority. All of their power is derivative from the President, in whom the Constitution vests all executive power. If Gonzales, or any other cabinet officer were to decide to go off an independent lark, the President could override their decisions by directing them to toe the line, or by removing them from office. While it is true that cabinet officers serve the people, they do so by carrying out the agenda of the President whom the people elected. If the people believe that the cabinet officer is inappropriately carrying out the duties of his office, the remedy is not an appeal to a political check on the imagined independence of the cabinet officer, but ultimately is a political check on the President himself.

Specter is just the latest in a cavalcade of malcontents to call for greater independence among the cabinet officers. Most of these calls have come from those who are disappointed with the reelection of President Bush, who therefore wish to undermine the agenda of his Presidency. Yet aside from the clear constitutional basis to recognize cabinet officers as subsidiary rather than independent, such a system respects the democratic process. The people get a single vote for the Executive--for the person whose policies they would like to see implemented by the cabinet offices. By suggesting that the cabinet should be independent, the Specter-objectors make those positions less responsive to the people, and therefore less democratic. Of course, this is precisely what the blue staters want. They know better than the majority of Americans, who they have dubbed as stupid and misguided, and therefore they seek cabinet officers who are beholden to their values and not to the electorate or the electorate’s popularly elected President.

I’m quaking in my boots

I found this exchange between William Voegeli of the Claremont Institute and Gerald L. Houseman, representing a group calling itself "Taxpayers Against Extremism" (TAX), amusing. The only "extremism" Houseman wishes to deprive of tax-exempt status is that supported by conservative-leaning foundations.

The only Gerald L. Houseman I can find through a Google search is a much published professor at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, who worked as a Democratic precinct officer in the last election, and who is likely the same guy who lost an election in 1996 to U.S. Representative Mark Souder (R-IN). In other words, he’s a not atypical member of the Democratic Left. As Voegeli points out, when Dennis Kucinich is President, we’d better be worried.

Ballot Initiative Seeks to End Racial Preferences in Michigan

The Detroit Free Press reports that Ward Connerly and the proponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative--a proposal which would prohibit racial preferences in state government hiring and university admissions--filed 508,202 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2006 ballot. To qualify for the ballot, 317,700 signatures are required.

The Free Press reports that "U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said the proposal would close the door to higher education for many people." This is a lovely statement of how the liberal elite attempt to have it both ways. They have claimed for years that affirmative action is only really a slight finger on the scale, and yet eliminating preferences effectively closes the door for minority students. They also have been quick to suggest that non-minority candidates who are discriminated against because of racially preferential policies can simply go to other, less-competitive institutions of higher learning. But somehow, based on Ms. Coleman’s statement, this option must not be available to the minority candidates. And then there is the subtle racism of the left, which with the nuance of a sledgehammer suggests that minorities can only achieve if the benevolent elites give them a handout. It is past time that people of all creeds reject this kind of benevolent racism.

Anyone got a job for me in Wilmington, Delaware?

Via the Democracy Project’s blog, an account of the Mayor’s inaugural address. Here are two nuggets from the speech:

We cannot continue to be baffled by the existence of crime or continue to run and hide from it. We cannot continue applying simplistic answers to the very complex reasons why crime has overwhelmed almost every city and town in America. We cannot look to the police as our only real solution to the epidemic of violence caused in large part by our own children who are enthralled with guns, drugs, and making money illegally. This crisis of crime, fueled by a crisis of values, has gripped urban neighborhoods around the nation, especially poor and minority communities, and is even more pronounced within the African-American communities. In the Bible, there are two passages that I think speak volumes about people and their future: “without vision the people will perish” and “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Crime can and will destroy vision, knowledge, and people. So we of this City must never let this happen.


Complicating this issue even further, as we try to understand criminal behavior and take action against criminals, is the fact that many of us, and our children, have adopted values that are alien to most people in this Country and are contrary to expected, required, or normal behavior. This crisis of values is having a devastatingly negative effect on our cities. The crisis of values is a type of self-inflicted genocide, the new lynching, that is not inflicted upon people by some evil, white-hooded terrorist in the middle of the night, but by those in black hoods or white T-shirts, whether in the middle of the night or in the light of day, who spew death, destruction, and fear at monumental proportions, far greater than at anytime during the highest number of lynchings that occurred in this country.

Winfield Myers provides further commentary and context, as well as the text of the whole speech.

Cynthia McKinney #1

It didn’t take long for my representative to embarrass me. Here’s a little nugget from NRO’s "The Corner" (you’ll have to scroll down just a little). Of course, she could just be paying the campaign debt she owes to Maxine Waters.

Update:You can tell something about people by the company they keep. Here’s a story about a rally in Lafayette Park this morning (McKinney wasn’t there, but her allies were) and here’s the Al Jazeera account of what’s transpiring. Whee!

Update #2: I somehow missed this article when it came out.

Shame, Thy Name is The Swimmer

Andrew McCartney over at The Corner has this little gem: "At the Gonzales hearing this morning: On ’water-boarding,’ Senator Kennedy, I kid you not, actually said that ’as a human being,’ he would have been ’offended’ by something that could have caused ’drowning.’" Me thinks the Senator doth protest too much.

Rehnquist Back at Work

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports today that Chief Justice William Rehnquist has returned to work in his chambers on a part-time basis, and is continuing to work from home. The article notes that

Coupled with Rehnquist’s plan to administer the oath of office to President Bush on Jan. 20, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg’s acknowledgment that Rehnquist has returned to his chambers on a part-time basis lent credence to the view that the 80-year-old chief justice, who has been receiving treatment for an unspecified form of thyroid cancer, will not retire in the near future.

Why Terrorists Fear Democracy

The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial yesterday ran an interesting editorial in which they quoted a statement from the Ansar al-Sunnah Army describing its opposition to democracy:

Why do the terrorists fear democracy? In a remarkable statement recently, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups dropped all the self-serving double-talk and self-righteous excuses for slaughtering innocents. They spelled out their fear and hatred--and ignorance--of democracy. They made clear that their campaign is not simply to thwart American interests--it is to thwart the Iraqi people.

"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," the statement said. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God--Muslims’ doctrine."

The people will do what they see fit. That, to the insurgents, is the great danger.

Of course, the fear is not merely that the people will do as they see fit, but rather that the people will see fit to do things with which the extremists disagree. Worth a read.

Advice for the Democratic Party

Peggy Noonan offers some sober advice for the Democratic party in today’s WSJ. Here’s a taste:

The Groups--all the left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros--didn’t deliver in the last election, and not because they didn’t try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them. Stand up to the Groups--make your policies more moderate, more nuanced, less knee-jerk. . . .

And don’t forget to confuse categories. Be counterintuitive. Republican Mike Bloomberg of New York won’t let workingmen and -women smoke at the local bar. Democrats always wind up in support of such measures. Don’t! Distance yourself from the smoke Nazis, from all Nazis. Be sane; take the side of normal humans with normal imperfections. Let the Republicans look stupid on these issues if they choose to. Don’t fall for it. The Sierra Club will love you anyway. (Politicians in New York tell me the tide has turned, that even people shuddering outside buildings grabbing a smoke say it’s only right. I’m not shuddering outside a building, but I talk to smokers all the time and let me tell you how they feel about the banners. They hate them.)

As I write this, however, the left-fringe of the party is on full display on C-SPAN, voicing their objection to Ohio’s electoral votes. Perhaps they should have read Noonan this morning.

What to Make of Long Lines at Polling Places

I just received an email from a friend inquiring about the long lines at polling places--in particular, the claim that Democrats waited 10 hours at some places to vote. My response is two-fold:

1) First and foremost: from a legal standpoint, the delay and any voters discouraged from voting did not make any difference as to the outcome of the election, and therefore it is not a basis for any remedy—such as failing to count the electoral votes. The margin of victory in Ohio was more than 118,000 votes. Kerry supporters simply can’t meet their burden of demonstrating that there were more than 119,000 discouraged Democratic voters.

2) Picking up on the italicized language, in the materials that I have seen, the objectors fail to take into account delays in polling places that were more heavily Republican, or to address the simple statistical reality that even in Democratic strongholds like Cuyahoga County, there would be a reasonable number of Republican voters who were also discouraged by long lines. In other words: not every discouraged voter was a Kerry voter, and the challengers need ever discouraged voter (and then some) to be Kerry voters in order to make a case.

Part of the problem with this entire line of reasoning is that it assumes the possibility of perfect elections. In every election, there will be some errors--generally about a 3 percent error rate. In 2000, the local error rate mattered because the margin of victory was razor thin. This year, however, the election was not close enough for any errors to make a difference, but the Michael Moore left is still clinging to errors--both real and largely imagined--in the vain hope that it proves the election should have gone otherwise.

It is also worth noting that voting problems can arise from the best of intentions. For example, in recent elections, some of the longer delays have been attributable to the use of newer voting systems (such as touchscreen systems), which were put into place to assure greater accuracy, but which led to delays because of technical problems or user unfamiliarity.

Stanley Fish on religion and the university

I don’t find this column very illuminating, in either the religious or the secular sense, but it is a straw in the wind. Here’s the conclusion:

To the extent that liberalism’s structures have been undermined or at least shaken by these analyses, the perspicuousness and usefulness of distinctions long assumed -- reason as opposed to faith, evidence as opposed to revelation, inquiry as opposed to obedience, truth as opposed to belief -- have been called into question. And finally (and to return to where we began), the geopolitical events of the past decade and of the past three years especially have re-alerted us to the fact that hundreds of millions of people in the world do not observe the distinction between the private and the public or between belief and knowledge, and that it is no longer possible for us to regard such persons as quaintly premodern or as the needy recipients of our saving (an ironic word) wisdom.

Some of these are our sworn enemies. Some of them are our colleagues. Many of them are our students. (There are 27 religious organizations for students on my campus.) Announce a course with "religion" in the title, and you will have an overflow population. Announce a lecture or panel on "religion in our time," and you will have to hire a larger hall.

And those who come will not only be seeking knowledge; they will be seeking guidance and inspiration, and many of them will believe that religion -- one religion, many religions, religion in general -- will provide them.

Are we ready?

We had better be, because that is now where the action is. When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted to know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.

As long as you’re thinking about these matters, you might as well read Charlotte Allen’s
review of Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book, God on the Quad.

I’ll be interested to see what kinds of responses the column and the book evoke.

The Conspiracy Theorists Get Their Day

CNN is reporting that California Senator Barbara Boxer will join a handful of House Democrats in objecting to the counting of Ohio’s electoral votes during the constitutionally mandated joint session which will be held today to tally the nation’s electoral votes. This is the final election concession to the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic party--those who have been flooding the blogosphere with conspiracy theories since election day. The objection will be put to rest with a simple majority vote--one which should be joined by numerous Democrats who wish to reassert some measure of sanity to their party.

Wacky Warning Labels

Each year a pro-tort-reform group called The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch gives awards to the stupidest warning labels on consumer products. This year’s top winner was found on a toilet brush: "Do not use for personal hygiene." Other gems include:

-- A scooter with the warning "This product moves when used."

-- A digital thermometer with the advice "Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally."

-- An electric blender used for chopping and dicing that reminds users to "Never remove food or other items from the blades while the product is operating."

I hope I live to see this label: "If you’re too stupid to use this product, stay away from the damn thing."

Powerline and Stuntz

The good people at Powerline have entered into a very interesting exchange with Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz, about whose argument I blogged here. The Powerline posts are here and here. The latter post contains an extensive reply from Stuntz to their original post.

I’ll repeat what I said earlier. I think the most promising basis for any coalition is on local anti-poverty policy. To the extent that the academic Left pays any attention to the people actually doing the work in the trenches, they’ll develop a good bit of sympathy for a faith-based approach. But even in this case there are so many other issues connected with it that are hard for my colleagues to swallow. A lot of African-American churches, for example, are theologically and morally conservative. Here’s an example of one Atlanta church--where MLK daughter Bernice King is an associate pastor--that has drawn a lot of fire from the usual suspects. Can my colleagues get past opposition to gay marriage, on the part either of white evangelicals or African-American evangelicals, however meritorious their anti-poverty work is? Are my colleagues willing to support groups doing good work if they wish to hire only people of faith who are sympathetic to their mission?

The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that Stuntz’s hopes about abortion are well-founded. His argument, in a nutshell, is that the less we talk about the law, the more we can talk about the morality of abortion. This is another way of saying, as pro-choice folks often do, that the goal is for abortions to be "safe, legal, and rare" (p. 42 of this pdf). I don’t think that it’s as easily possible to separate law and morality as Professor Stuntz argues. We tend to embody some of our highest moral commitments in the laws we make and, in turn, the laws help teach us what our moral commitments are or should be. We legislate morality all the time and that, in my view, is both a necessary and a good thing. And until we restore abortion policy to the status quo ante Roe--not illegal, but a matter for state legislation--we cannot have the kind of moral discussion regarding abortion that we need to have.

Roe and its progeny do not encourage moral discussion; they are rather, as Richard Rorty once said about religion, "conversation stoppers." Professor Stuntz seems to think that if we leave the legal framework of abortion rights alone, we can talk honestly and concretely about good and evil, right and wrong. I think we have to "desanctify" the "right" to have an abortion in order to have that conversation. With the framework in place, there will always be the trump--the law says it’s my choice, or it’s between my doctor and me (i.e., it’s discussion about a medical procedure). This does not encourage responsible moral argumentation.

O.K., I’ll shut up now.

At the movies with Max Boot

Here’s Max Boot’s column describing two movies that explain, in his view, "why we fight" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first is Osama, now available on DVD. It’s not about the infamous one, but about a girl who must work to support her family in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.

The second is Voices of Iraq, compiled from footage gathered through the distribution of 150 digital video cameras to ordinary Iraqis. There’s a compelling clip at the site.

Iraqi Elections

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman pens an op-ed today that raises the right issues about the coming elections in Iraq. He writes, "We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there." The sooner the various Iraqi factions (Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds) exercise self-rule, the sooner they can exercise self-defense, to put it simply.

Friedman is not sanguine about the prospects for self-government in Iraq, and takes the expected potshot at the administration for what he sees as a naive approach to liberating Iraqis. Nevertheless, his op-ed presents enough context for what’s at stake to make the read worthwhile.

What he fails to acknowledge is the connection between Iraqi self-rule and American self-defense and the attendant "peace in the Middle East," or at least the beginnings of which are tied to our grand strategy in that region of the globe. This would explain why we set our sights on Saddam Hussein in the first place.

Bowman on the Election

If you read nothing else this week, or this month, about politics, and even if you are sick of post-election commentary, you must read James Bowman’s analysis of the election fallout, "Cutting Moral Corners." (Hat tip: the article appears in The New Criterion, but this link is to Bowman’s own website.)    

"Moralistic therapeutic deism"

Here is a fascinating interview Michael Cromartie conducts with Christian Smith, a leading sociological authority on American evangelicalism. They are discussing Smith’s forthcoming book, Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers.

Teenagers (13-17 year olds), we learn, are more conventional than rebellious. According to Smith,

Very few teens are hardcore relativists. In fact, they are quite moralistic. They will confidently assert that certain things are right or wrong. What they can’t do is explain why that’s the case, or what’s behind their thinking.

To the extent that there is one, this is the "theology" implicit in teen attitudes:

the de facto religious faith of the majority of American teens is "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." God exists. God created the world. God set up some kind of moral structure. God wants me to be nice. He wants me to be pleasant, wants me to get along with people. That’s teen morality. The purpose of life is to be happy and feel good, and good people go to heaven. And nearly everyone’s good.

Smith suspects or fears that the kids are basically getting this attitude from their parents and church leaders. Even most religiously conservative teenagers hold something like this view, he finds.

[W]e can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of ’Christianity’ in the U.S. is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition [and that]this has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.

Of course, if the point of religion is merely social control or promoting healthy, pro-social behavior, there is some evidence that, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, moralistic therapeutic deism is "good enough":

Highly religious American teens are happier and healthier. They are doing better in school, they have more hopeful futures, they get along with their parents better. Name a social outcome that you care about, and the highly religious kids are doing better.

But, as Smith asks, "what is the interest of the Christian church? Is it to make kids wear their seat belts more often? Is that their goal? Or is there some higher commitment—to understanding the world, to practicing a way of life, Jesus’ way, whether or not it makes you happier and healthier and gives you a longer life."

There are more nuggets in the interview, but I want briefly to bore you with my own highly idiosyncratic conclusions, as the parent of two children, aged 9 and 7. Smith makes the point that religion plays a relatively small role in the lives of most teenagers, who devote a good portion of their time and energy to maintaining the relationships they form at (public) school. They’d spend more time with their parents, but virtually everything in their lives (and the lives of their parents) militates against that. So parents and religious educators end up competing for teenagers’ attention in terms of the dominant language of the culture and marketplace, which happens to be therapeutic and moralistic.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Boy, am I glad we’re home-schooling!   

Why We Don’t Trust Government

Over at Division of Labour, Michael Munger offers a thoughtful answer to the question of why Americans do not trust their government. After citing authorities from Plato to Ludwig von Mises to Edmund Burke, he concludes:

One cannot blame the FORM of government for its failings. Simply the existence of a pervasive, intrusive nanny state, doing the only things it can do, explains why people don’t trust government. You can’t blame a dog for eating out of the garbage. But you can put a lid on the garbage can. In the U.S., people are worried that the lid is coming off.

Come together

Harvard Law professor William J. Stuntz is provocatively at it again, this time proposing the oddest red-blue coalition imaginable--between the Christian Right and the academic Left. His first column on the subject was much more modest, proposing merely to open lines of communication, given certain unacknowledged similarities between those who take sanctuary in the sanctuary and those who take sanctuary in the faculty club.

I’ll leave it to Ramesh Ponnuru to put the kibosh on Stuntz’s opinions regarding a meeting of minds on abortion. I agree with Ponnuru that that’s a non-starter.

But Stuntz’s other ideas are more plausible. Here’s the nub of one:

The idea that intellectuals could play a large role in poverty policy might sound naive. But intellectuals had a lot to do with the War on Poverty of the 1960s. Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, got the political train rolling. That could happen again. If it did, a lot of evangelical Christians would get on board. Urban ministry is a hot topic in the churches I’ve attended; evangelicals are eager to get behind people and programs that aim to ease the suffering in inner cities. That includes government programs, if they actually accomplish something. In the churches I know, there is real hunger for a politics that is about something nobler than tax cuts and tort reform.

I wrote about Jim Sleeper’s interest in these matters here and have a review essay forthcoming in the Claremont Institute’s Local Liberty, the most recent issue of which is available here. The two books I review are Stephen V. Monsma’s Putting Faith in Partnerships and Stanley Carlson-Thies’s and Dave Donaldson’s A Revolution of Compassion. Taken together, both books demonstrate that, increasingly, evangelical churches are major players in the the world of compassionate social service. So Stuntz is onto something here. Of course, the academic Left either has to get beyond its visceral hatred for President Bush and everything with which he’s associated (like the faith-based initiative) or simply pay closer attention to the good things that churches and faith-based organizations are doing in marginal urban neighborhoods. A professor who happens to work alongside a conservative evangelical tutoring at-risk kids might discover that the latter can read and think at astoundingly high levels; many of the folks in my church, for example, have graduate degrees from what we in Atlanta call the trade school on North Avenue. And the evangelicals might discover that not all professors have horns and tails.

Stuntz also discusses what I called "evangelical internationalism" and even nation-building, which the academic Left--especially folks like Michael Ignatieff--supported, at least when Clintonistas were doing it.

I’ll close with Stuntz’s peroration:

Blair’s popularity in the U.S. captures something important about today’s politics. Left and right have no clear meaning anymore. Which was the more progressive stance a decade ago -- supporting Newt Gingrich’s welfare reform, or supporting the welfare status quo? Which is more progressive today: vouchers for parents of inner-city school children, or keeping public education the way it is? Who should be more committed to fighting fascist Middle Eastern dictators, conservatives or liberals? Should liberals oppose cuts in Medicare and Social Security, even if showering money on the middle-class elderly blocks spending that might improve the lives of the youngest and poorest Americans?

Michael Barone is right (as usual) to call the left’s politics nostalgic. An even better word would be sclerotic. The status quo is pretty good: America is rich, strong, and free, and freedom and democracy are expanding all over the world. But it could be so much better -- especially for those among us who are most vulnerable. The left should aim higher. For that matter, so should the right.

I can think of two groups that would welcome bigger dreams than prescription drug benefits and dividend tax cuts. Academics dream for a living -- we think about ways the world might change, and how the change could happen. And evangelicals believe we live in a world afflicted by sin and filled with wrongs that need righting. I bet both groups would welcome a politics that aimed to right some of those wrongs. I know I would.

Gosh, this Stuntz fella is almost as smart as George W. Bush. They dream some of the same dreams. And like Bush, I suspect he’ll have an easier time with the folks in the church pews than with the folks in the faculty clubs. But I don’t fault him for trying.  

More freedom from religion

The other shoe has dropped. Today the Freedom From Religion Foundation announced that it had filed legal papers challenging a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to Emory University’s Interfaith Health Program. Here’s a press release describing the partners benefitting from the HHS grant to Emory. In many cases, they are traditional religiously-affiliated hospitals, attempting to reinvigorate the religious dimensions of their original missions.

Just so you know, in 1899 the Supreme Court upheld public aid to a religiously-affiliated hospital in Bradfield v. Roberts.

Here is the FFRF press release announcing its complaint. As soon as I can get my hands on the FFRF brief, I’ll write at greater length. In the mean time, you’ll have to be satisfied with this piece on the other part of the FFRF’s suit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation Loses One

Thanks to NRO’s "The Corner," I learned that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had issued this decision (pdf file). The case involved the sale of public land containing a Ten Commandments monument to the "Aerie" of the Fraternal Order of Eagles that had donated the monument in the first place. Here’s Shannen Coffin’s summary of the court’s opinion:

The opinion...holds that even if the original installation of the monument (which was erected in honor of those who saved the city from a flood) violated the constitution, the sale of the land cured the supposed violation. So here’s the obvious solution to the problem -- privatization of public land!

The plaintiffs in the original case were ginned up by our old friends, the ever-industrious Freedom from Religion Foundation, which wasn’t happy with the City of La Crosse’s extensive efforts to disassociate itself from any conceivable message of endorsement, which included the erection of a fence separating the land on which the monument stood from the larger park and copious signage. Here’s some colorful language from the dissent:

I am aware of the fact...that a disclaimer has been set next to the monument which remains exactly where it was originally placed on what was unquestionably public property, surrounded by public property, and ofr all intents and purposes is still public property.... Moreover...a disclaimer sets out that the City is not endorsing anything. The disclaimer seems to me to be taken from a scene in the movie "The Wizard of Oz," in which the phony wizard, whose fraud has been exposed, directs the onlookers to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain;" a disclaimer that is nor more or less effective than the disclaimer at the monument. It too is an obvious sham.

It’s unfortunate that things have come to this pass--that a city government has to go to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of endorsing the Ten Commandments, that judges have to engage in considerations more appropriate to landscape architects (read the opinion; you’ll see what I mean), and that all this still isn’t good enough for some.

Nevertheless, it’s satisfying to see the Freedom From Religion Foundation lose one.

Update: This article, in discussing a dispute over a Ten Commandments monument in Cumberland, Maryland, offers some interesting historical background regarding the interest of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the monuments. Cecil B. Demille also figures in the story. Fascinating.

More Democratic Navel-Gazing

The media continue to be fascinated by the divisions among Democrats over why they lost in November. In the New York Times Adam Nagourney surveys about a half-dozen different theories, from the familiar "values-voter" interpretation to Nancy Pelosi’s no doubt comforting "the Republicans just did a better job at getting out the vote" theory. Meanwhile Ronald Brownstein at the LA Times focuses on the exchanges that have been taking place in liberal journals.

Liberals, conservatives, and "republican virtue"

Last year (well, last month), I posted this comment in which I pigeonholed Jim Sleeper (a lecturer at Yale, who was a student there at roughly the same time as John Kerry and George W. Bush) as a more or less typical liberal.

I was wrong.

Sleeper, the author of these two books-- The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York, and Liberal Racism--is hardly typical. I haven’t yet read the books, but the other pieces he was kind enough to send me have whetted my appetite. I don’t agree with everything he says--especially about conservatives and George W. Bush--but his is a provocative voice worthy of some attention, not only from his (former?) friends on the Left, but also from conservatives, religious or otherwise.

Let me focus on a recent essay, "Religion in Its Place," posted here.

His diagnosis of our problem is worth quoting at length:

In The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York, I diagnosed an unhealthy decline in public policymaking itself, at least as it affected the urban civic cultures I had engaged as a journalist and activist in the city. While developing my account, I came, against my own left-liberal inclinations, to accept charges that a lot of social policymaking had itself become an accelerant of civic decline. But I had no idea what was missing besides a resilient public spirit whose own wellsprings remained obscure. I knew only that there was something almost anomic about the American provision of social welfare that, whatever its intention to redress the very real damage that economic exploitation and racism had done, retarded any reliable balance between rights and responsibilities that might revive civic responsibility in a liberal republic.

But I also accepted, and still do, the liberal countercharge that a lot of the civic irresponsibility whose increase conservatives blame on entitlement and redistribution policies is driven even more strongly by something they tend to support as uncritically as some liberals do entitlements: the investment and consumer marketing methods of the legal, fictive “persons” we call corporations. Their methods, which are ever-more protean, intrusive, and absorptive of civic life, encourage a kind of spiritual privatization and civic disengagement by workers, consumers, and the unemployed. If liberal social-welfare policy, too, has accelerated civic decline, it has done so, I repeat, as a maladroit and indeed often counterproductive response to this other, more basic cause of that decline. The classical liberal understandings of freedom and sovereignty which conservatives proclaim, and upon which the American republic perhaps uniquely relies, cannot be squared with today’s conservative understandings of corporate freedom and sovereignty.

The thorny paradox we all face is one that Tocqueville only partly anticipated: These patterns of investment, broken loose from the religious ethos in which John Locke would have harnessed them, are generating an ever-more reckless, relentless, and intrusive “culture” of consumer marketing that degrades and atomizes civic and political culture in ways liberal government is not constitutionally empowered to constrain, much less redirect.

In his view, neither the Left nor the Right offers an adequate response to the ways in which commercial "culture" is undermining civic virtue. He also recognizes, however, that the "enemy" is not simply capitalism, but an evil more radical, what religious folk would call human fallenness and what Sleeper calls a "divided nature." Our solutions can’t simply be found, he argues, in a governmental counterpoise to corporate power, but rather also by supporting "the folkways, friendships, and rites of passage of republican (small “r”) training grounds--the after-hours schools, youth programs, summer camps, and other institutions that are established to strengthen civic attachments, not just to enhance the resumés of college applicants."

He especially calls our attention to inner city churches and faith-based organizations:

[T]oday’s crucibles of civic engagement, if not civic virtue, are the stronger neighborhood organizations and churches such as those organized by IAF, some employing community-organizing methods pioneered by Saul Alinsky. They do this in arms-length relationships with public as well as private supporters, whom they tend to fend off but sometimes cajole or embarrass into doing things their way, whether in supporting charter schools or other school reforms or in developing housing and living-wage programs that are far from the social-welfare models of the Great Society. They challenge both inner-city “welfare” programs and corporate welfare, both white racism and the reactive, non-white racialism of “liberationist” academics and activists.

I think he’s right, not only for the reasons he offers in his article, but also for reasons best articulated in this book.

I think, however, that his over-the-top criticism of George W. Bush--at one point he compares him to Augustus Caesar--will not win him any friends or readers among conservatives, or at least among conservatives with influence sufficient to help promote his vision. This may not trouble Mr. Sleeper, since he seems to regard almost all conservatives as in the thrall of a simple-minded free-marketism. But I think there are elements of Bush’s vision, which I attempted to articulate here and here, that ought on some level to appeal to Sleeper. I would urge him and those who might be attracted to his vision to reconsider what Bush has said about the faith-based initiative in various and sundry speeches, as well as what he says in this interview. Here’s a sample:

At home, the job of a president is to help cultures change. The culture needs to be changed. I call it, so people can understand what I’m talking about, changing the culture from one that says, "If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else," to a culture in which each of us understands we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era. … I said that when I was governor of Texas. As a matter of fact, I’ve been saying that ever since I got into politics. This is one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place. Governments cannot change culture alone. I want you to know I understand that. But I can be a voice of cultural change.

It seems to me that Sleeper and Bush are on the same side in the culture war, though Sleeper may not, like many former Leftists, be altogether comfortable admitting it.

Update: If you’ve been persuaded to purchase Liberal Racism, please go here, as the Ashbrook Center will benefit.

Collaborators vs. insurgents, or patriots vs. terrorists?

The Washington Post runs an article on terrorist attacks today in Ramadi. I don’t know the journalist and he probably did it inadvertently, but compare his description of Iraqi soldiers with what one of them had the courage to say about himself and the guy holding the gun to his back -- just before he was shot:

"Al-Qaida’s arm in Iraq released a video Saturday showing its militants lining up five captured Iraqi security officers and executing them in the street, the latest move in a campaign to intimidate Iraqis and target those who collaborate with U.S.-led forces....

In the footage, one of the prisoners identified himself as Lt. Bashar Latif Jassim and said his mission was to "prevent terrorists from entering Iraq."

When asked by one his captors -- who did not appear on camera -- who the terrorists are, Jassim said: "Those who sabotage the country."

U.N. relief?

Powerline links to this site, which provides some insight into who is actually doing the heavy lifting in the tsunami relief efforts and who is publicly taking the credit. I’m not surprised. 

Joshua Muravchik

His long piece in Commentary is worth reading. Much of it many of us probably already know, but there are a number of interesting nuggets.

Here’s a sample:

The most trenchant if also the most revealing postmortem was offered by Andrei Cherny, who had worked for Kerry as a speechwriter in 2003. “What we don’t have and what we sorely need,” Cherny said, is “a worldview that makes a thematic argument about where America is headed and where we want to take it.”

This sounds exactly right, but Cherny was unable to suggest what that worldview might be. In this sense, the Democrats were lucky in 2004 that the news from Iraq seemed so bad. Despite Kerry’s incoherence on the subject, voters unhappy about the situation understandably held it against Bush, thus diminishing the Republican advantage on national-security issues. But that advantage held nevertheless; it goes back to the Democrats’ dovish turn during Vietnam, and is not likely to disappear soon. Neither is the Democrats’ deficit on “moral values.” The label may have been a new invention of the pollsters, but (as I have already indicated) the same constellation of issues has been around for a long time. It was called “family values” in the 1990’s, “social issues” in the 1980’s, and “the three A’s” (amnesty, abortion, and acid) in the 1970’s. Whatever the name, these issues, too, have consistently worked to the advantage of the Republicans. A large share of voters always calls itself “conservative,” and it is their feelings on these matters in particular that make them so.

The Democrats’ answer to all this has taken the form of an appeal to economic issues and a defense of the social safety net. There is reason to believe that this is an asset of diminishing worth. It was observed long ago that man does not live by bread alone; as the country has grown steadily wealthier, with fewer individuals facing insecurity over basic necessities, it should not be surprising that economic factors come to figure lower in voters’ priorities. As the Washington Post noted, 26 of the 28 states with the lowest average income voted for Bush.

Were these people voting “against their own interests”? It is unlikely they saw it that way. If they placed some other issue ahead of economics, they were asserting their priorities. As the liberal columnist Richard Cohen pointed out, Jewish voters, who as a group are wealthy, vote against their own economic interests when they back liberal candidates, and “Christian conservatives can make the same hard choices.”

In other words, there’s

nothing the matter with Kansas.

Happy New Year!