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.
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.
Zogbys poll in Iraq found this:
About 76 per cent of Sunnis say they "definitely will not vote" in tomorrows 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 televisions Viewpoint.
So Zogbys 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.
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, Bushs 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; Im guessing and hoping, of course. Its very hard to tell based on reports what we have a right to expect. I wish them well.
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
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 Berkowitzs 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.
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 Lukers accusations were motivated by politics. Granted, I did mention that Reeves was a conservative, but I have no idea what motivated Lukers 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 Lukers 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.
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.
The front page of todays Atlanta Journal-Constitution had this article about Russ Churchwell, Oglethorpes only post player in a four-guard offense. Russ became the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conferences all-time leading scorer in mens basketball, joining Heather Francoeur (OU 03) who holds the womens record. Russ will also become the conferences all-time leading rebounder soon, if he didnt 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 womens basketball team did beat the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs before Christmas. Slimy, yet satisfying.
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 Hobbss post on Iraqi election day in Nashville (one of five expatriate polling places in the U.S.). No predictions yet from the major networks....
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. Heres a taste:
evangelicals and other "deeply religious" citizens arent 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 womans right over her "own" body.
He also takes up Hillary Rodham Clintons recent efforts at triangulation, which I discussed
here. His proposal:
Lets 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 Bushs 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
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 todays academy, no social solecism is as unforgivable as the expression of a hypothesis that offends someones "progressive" sensibilities
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.
Im 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, Ill buy you a drink.
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.
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."
Id heard about this, but hadnt 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. Im not sure that Id 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," shouldnt the University of Oregon also ban the posting of personal political opinions on other forms of University property, like faculty office doors?
Steven Lubet argues that liberals ought not to resist the elevation of Antonin Scalia to the Chief Justices chair. Why not? Three reasons: the CJ has limited power; Scalia doesnt know how to win friends and influence people, so hell 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.
Im persuaded. Scalia is quite effective where he is. Lets 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 hasnt 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....
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.
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.
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 Im 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.
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.
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.
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!
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 similarâ€”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.
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 Baylors 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 couldnt 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 its hard to imagine that the mix wouldnt 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.
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 Bushs 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 Bushs 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 Bushs 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 Bushs Iraq policy, esp. leading up to the elections this week. Nevertheless, as much as I liked Bushs 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 Noonans blunt charge that it contained "way too much God," Bushs 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 havent been able to get my hands on the text of her speech, but you can see the news reports here and here. Heres 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 Bostons Fairmont Copley Plaza, Clinton invoked God more than half a dozen times, at one point declaring, "Ive 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 Partys 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."
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 isnt 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 Im 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 Roves phrase) by conducting a "scorched earth opposition to the President."
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.
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.
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. Whats interesting to me is that in every case as well, those who thought that representatives should vote their consciences (yes, thats 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, theres been an increase in respect for religiously-formed consciences, even if those religiously-formed consciences dont yield positions identical to ones own. To my mind, this isnt worrisome, its 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 Agendas), and a concomitant increase from 29% to 35% who said, in effect, that how a representative arrived at his or her position didnt matter (again, my language, not Public Agendas). 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 Ill be indulged if I thank God for that.
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 mornings Daily Service broadcast from
Westerham was quite moving, according to John, and included Mary Soames reading from I Corinthians,
a text read at Sir Winstons funeral.
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.
Peters mention of Churchills death reminds me of a fascinating piece of trivia I picked up recently from John Ramsdens fine book, Man of the Century: Winston S. Churchill and His Legacy Since 1945. According to the TV ratings, more Americans watched Churchills funeral than watched JFKs funeral two years before.
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.
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.
Washington Whispers (U.S. News & World report) says this absurd thing: Heres 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 its 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.
This BBC report on Japan, save for the first few paragraphs, focuses on the fertlity problem. Japan is the worlds least fertile nation. The Japanese have a word for it, "shoshika," meaning a society without children. "By 2007, Japans 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="https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/3708098.stm">this, and the useful graph at the bottom of the article.
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.
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 (lets call it a text), talking. Oh yes, Socrates is mentioned at the end of the article.