Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Hillary Meter

Twice monthly, the Rasmussen Report publishes its Hillary Meter  . The purpose of the meter is to measure whether public opinion has shifted in its view of whether Hillary is Liberal, Moderate, or, Conservative. This week Hillary is viewed as liberal by 47%, moderate by 32%, and, gasp, conservative by 8%. Hillary’s desire to be perceived as moderate has lost ground the last two weeks, as her 47% liberal rating this week is up from 43% two weeks ago. As Ben Stein would say, wow.

The poll also shows that 30% would vote for Hillary for President today and 40% say they would vote against Hillary. 23% say it would depend on her opponent. I think that means she is a polarizing figure. The unreported 7% must be from Michigan as it’s 35 degrees here today.

Who pays Rasmussen to do these things?

The Borking of Bolton

’The Weekly Standard’s’ editor, William Kristol , explains what’s really at stake in the battle over John Bolton.

Kristol argues that if Bolton is defeated that will send a message to all conservatives that if you take on the permanent bureaucracy your reputation will be destroyed, your charcter will be impugned, etc. If Bolton is defeated, Bush will get to name a replacement. The replacement will be someone more likely to defer to the permanent bureacracy, not someone as good as Bolton and someone chastened by the defeat of Bolton.

Eighteen years ago, conservatives watched as Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated. Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy in his place. The result has been 18 years of incoherent Constitutional jurisprudence which only Ted Kennedy can love.

Kristol believes the same sort of consequence could follow in foreign policy, if Bolton is defeated.

Justice Sunday

I’ve been thinking about other things, and so haven’t had the time or the energy or anything particularly incisive to say about the brouhaha stirred up by secularists and the religious Left regarding Senator Bill Frist’s participation in the Family Research Council’s Justice Sunday. But in this morning’s WaPo, Colbert King finally got to me. Here is merely the most offensive line in an inflammatory column:

They [religious conservatives] are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.

I assume that Tony Perkins and James Dobson have thick skins, but this kind of invective has no place and shows only how desperate opponents of President Bush’s judicial nominees are.

The Interfaith Alliance’s C. Welton Gaddy actually goes further than the offensive Colbert King, arguing that the President’s judicial nominees are in fact incipient theocrats:

I oppose the election of judges who will, in the name of religion, make decisions that politicize religion and blunt the vitality as well as compromise the integrity of the rich religious community in this nation.

I’ll let his misstatement of the judicial nomination process pass, but not his attempt to claim that these nominees are making religious rather than constitutional or legal judgments.

In his letter, Gaddy also resurrects a meme that I thought was restricted to anti-Semites and anti-Catholic bigots, accusing religious conservatives of loving their country only when it serves their religion, i.e., of being unpatriotic (unlike Gaddy and his supporters: true patriots oppose religious conservatives, who put love of God above love of country). I could say more, but you probably don’t want an exposition of Augustine’s City of God right now.

I’ll restrict myself to saying this: all the efforts to try to intimidate Bill Frist, accusing him of fanning the flames of religious bigotry or pandering to religious bigots by appearing on the FRC program, suggest a fear that his appearance, and the program itself, will actually be effective in mobilizing those values voters. Yes, the FRC and Focus on the Family are religious groups. But what they are asking for is an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees, not a religious test for office-holding. Whatever faith or reasons move them, the position they’re actually supporting is consistent with long-standing Senate practice (actually voting on nominees). Yes, there’s a slippery slope somewhere, and the judiciary may be the only remaining bastion of secular liberalism, but the alternative is not theocracy, but rather sober constitutional jurisprudence.

Update: You can read other folks’ thoughts
here (Paul Mirengoff of Powerline), here (Win Myers of Democracy Project), and here (Hunter Baker of Reform Club).

Science education and liberal education

Also in The New Atlantis is a brilliant and provocative dissection (me know scientific jargon) of the elitist anti-elitism of a popular high school physics textbook. Here’s a taste:

The pose of anti-elitism seems to be a cover for something far more disturbing, something that is perhaps typical of elite anti-elitists. The author writes, “Sometimes the results of the work of physicists are of interest only to other physicists. Other times, their work leads to devices.... that change everyone’s life.” Are these the only two possibilities? Physicists on their mountaintop, speaking only to one another, and the rest of us in the plains, waiting for them to descend bearing magical devices? Nothing in-between? Aren’t there intelligent, curious people who are not professional physicists, but who have the patience and desire to learn? I believe it is this dichotomization of humanity into two ideal types, professional scientists and ignorant consumers, that is responsible for this book’s cynicism. The author doesn’t seem to think his readers are really capable of being educated. This is the worst sort of elitism. Paradoxically, we have here the worst of both worlds: an anti-elitist rhetoric that discredits the higher human possibilities, the very possibilities by which the author orients his own life as a scientist, together with a more substantive elitism that views students from so far above that it can’t be bothered to cultivate in them those same human possibilities.

There’s lots more, about the pernicious effects of state textbook adoption processes, about the insulting utilitarian pandering that characterizes the textbooks, and about the role of frustration and natural curiosity in genuine science education. Read the whole thing.


Aging and dependence

The prolific Peter Lawler’s latest article is an extended meditation on aging, individualism, and dependency. Read the whole thing.  

"Liberal" bioethics, er, "neuroethics"

I just came across an article by Michael Gazzaniga in an old (April 8, 2005) issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Entitled "The Thoughtful Distinction Between Embryo and Human," the article purports to bring Gazzaniga’s expertise in neuroscience and "neuroethics" to bear on the vexed and vexing debate over what the President’s Council on Bioethics has called "therapeutic cloning." Gazzaniga, one of the "liberals" on the President’s Council, left me unimpressed, not by his scientific ability (which I’m incompetent to judge) but by his capacity for philosophy (which I am competent to judge, though Brian Leiter, I’m sure, would disagree).

Another way of putting it is that I am impressed by his moral obtuseness. He writes constantly of the question of when "society should confer moral status on an embryo," as if the moral status of anything depended solely upon a social judgment. (O.K., he’s a simple-minded conventionalist or positivist, not exactly a sophisticated position.) But of course, Gazzaniga isn’t really trading on his philosophical sophistication, but upon the authority conferred by his scientific expertise.

This troubles me for the following reason. In the article, he proudly reports the following contribution to one of the Bioethics Council’s discussions:

I made an analogy comparing embryos created for stem cell research to a Home Depot. You don’t walk into a Home Depot and see 30 houses. You see materials that need architects, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to create a house.... A fertilized embryo is not human--it needs a uterus, and at least six months of gestation and development, growth and neuron formation, and cell duplication to become a human. To give an embryo created for biomedical research the same status even as one created for in vitro fertilization, let alone one created naturally, is patently absurd. When a Home Depot burns down, the headline in the paper is not "30 Houses Burn Down." It is "Home Depot Burned Down."

We can take these "non-human" building materials, he seems to imply, and do whatever we want with them. It is scientifically impossible to say, in any way, shape, or form, when (or even perhaps if) it has a "soul."

What matters for Gazzaniga in assessing the potentiality of an embryo is "intention" of the human creator:

If we create cells for research purposes, and never intend to create a we have the moral responsibility to grow those other embryos into human beings? Of course not.

But then he goes on to argue that "intention arguments are inherently nonsensical," because we are simply hard-wired to attribute intentions, which are merely "personal beliefs," not scientific descriptions of the things to which we attribute intentions. If you separate these "personal beliefs" about "intentions" from our consideration of "these clumps of cells," what you’re left with is a clump of cells. Not a human being or a potential human being. A clump of cells with any potential we wish to give it, receptive to any intention we might have. Building materials at the Home Depot. "O brave new world that has such people in’t!"

Update: Peter Lawler offers this interesting comment on Gazzaniga:

He’s a great neuroscientist. You might remember his book being mentioned in
I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, and the neuroscientist professor who’s initially (and in an open-minded way) impressed with Charlotte is apparently based on him. The two great influences on Tom Wolfe are Mike and another member of the Council, the psychiatrist Paul McHugh (a wonderful man), who cured Wolfe of his depression and provided the story about the cats that opens the book. Paul is a very empirical, common sensical psychological Thomist physician.

Bush on Lincoln

President Bush spoke at the dedication of the new Lincoln museum at the Lincoln Library in Springfield. It is a very good speech.

LIberals and the Pope

Andrew Busch thinks that the discussion about the selection of Pope Benedict XVI, "offered a window into the character of modern liberalism." This pos-modernist jumble called liberalism want diversity without disagreement, and heroism without conviction. Busch explains.   

Karl Rove

Karl Rove was here yesterday. He had on off the record conversation with the Ashbrook Scholars, and spoke at our annual dinner to ver 600 people. Great to have him here, the students and everyone else enjoyed it all. You can listen to his talk by clicking here.
You should also read the latest issue of On Principle, which includes articles on Rove and the election by Robert Alt, Steve Hayward, Adam Carrington & James Kresge, and me.

I was very impressed by Karl Rove. I now understand why he is disliked and feared by his political opponents. He is very smart and very balanced. His disposition is entirely normal, he does not radiate the kind of petty tyranny of those who think themselves important. He is very funny. A natural story-teller, a keen observer of all that moves around him. He misses nothing, and has very sound quick impressions of everything. His judgment is superb. It is impossible to dislike the man. He looks you in the eye, pays attention to you, and expects you to do the same. The rest is normal. All this explains why one student noted after being with him for almost an hour, "This guy is a natural teacher." After some conversation it developed that what he meant was that Rove seemed to him to be a natural student; he is interested in everything, his mind is alive and working and you can feel it, almost touch the moving gears. No wonder James Carville wrote (in Time magazine’s "One Hundred Most Influential People") that "If Rove switched parties, I’d take him up on it in a second." No chance of that. The Demos can only hope that he stays out of politics after 2006. No chance of that, in my humble opinion. And I’m glad of it.

If you can tell something about a man by who his friends and long-term associates are, Karl Rove is another reason to think that Bush is a good and smart man. I was entirely impressed. And I thank him for coming.

The War on Terror

Victor Davis Hanson ably summarizes progress in the war on terror and offers five lessons which must be remembered if that success is to continue.

Meanwhile in Iran, 440 volunteers, pledging to serve as suicide bombers, gathered at the Headquarters for Commerating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement. According to this report, the suicide bombers are given the following choice: "to train for suicide attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq; to train for suicide attacks against Israelis; or to assassinate British author Salman Rushdie, the author forced into hiding after the late Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Muslims to kill him."

I’m not done with Benedict XVI yet

Over at Get Religion, Terry Mattingly calls our attention to this essay by George Weigel, who offers us the clearest statement of the signficance of Benedict’s name that I have yet seen. St. Benedict’s monastery was built as Plato’s Academy closed and Rome went into decline.

The civilizational achievement represented by Plato’s Academy could have been lost; classical culture might have gone the way of the Mayans. That it didn’t had a lot to do with Benedict. His monks not only preserved crucial elements of the civilization of Athens and Rome during the Dark Ages; they transformed that civilization by infusing a biblical understanding of the human -- person, community, origins and destiny -- into the classical culture they preserved for future generations in their scriptoria and libraries.

The result of that fusion of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome was what we know as "Europe," or, more broadly, "the West." It was a colossal, indeed world-historical achievement. And the achievement was entirely consistent with what Pope Benedict XVI remembered in a recent interview as "a Benedictine motto: Succisa virescit -- pruned, it grows again." Thanks to St. Benedict and Western monasticism, the demise of classical civilization was the occasion for a new beginning -- and, eventually, a nobler civilizational accomplishment.

Read the whole thing.

Condi in Russia

I like this comment on Condi Rice’s Russia visit from Powerline.

White Catholics again

G. Tracy Mehan dissects this Democracy Corps analysis about which I blogged here. These are my favorite paragraphs:

Greenberg and Hogan put a lot of stock in polling data that shows a 63-point gain for a pro-choice Democrat among defectors and a 28-point gain among traditionalist Catholics when told that the Democrat "believes in a woman’s right to choose but believes all sides should come together around common goal of preventing and reducing [the number] of abortions, with more sex ed, including abstinence, access to contraception and more adoption." Here the authors are engaging in self-fulfilling prophecy, hoping to finesse such inconvenient issues as partial-birth abortion, government funding of abortion, and liberal hostility to restrictions such as parental notification. Clearly, they are making an effort to define the issue in terms favorable to prospective Democratic candidates who do not want to change their views. They are suggesting a narrative for the 2008 presidential campaign.

In politics, intensity counts for a lot. So it is hard to imagine that the thin gruel offered by the Democracy Corps memo would galvanize movement activists in the right-to-life or pro-family organizations to break a sweat for ersatz traditionalists running on the Democratic ticket. Nor will it cause these activists to decline the opportunity to defeat, say, a supporter of partial-birth abortion. This political reality undercuts the advice offered by Greenberg and Hogan. A liberal Democrat can do very little to blunt a traditionalist challenge without making a serious rightward shift on social issues.

Read the whole thing.

"The progressive agenda has come down to condoms"

For evidence that this judgment by Fr. Neuhaus is correct, go here.

More on Benedict XVI

In case you missed them yesterday, here is Michael Novak telling us that the new Pope reads Tocqueville and here is Daniel Johnson’s comparison of the Pope and Hans Kung:

I once discussed Ratzinger with Küng, his Swiss contemporary and arch-rival. While admitting that the new Pope was a clever man, Küng insisted that he had done great damage to the Church. But Küng believes that all the great world religions essentially teach the same, which is manifestly incompatible with Catholic doctrine. I came away with the impression that of these two brilliant theologians, it was Küng who had succumbed to the temptation to think he knew better, while Ratzinger had submitted to the authority of the Church. Ratzinger is no inquisitor, but Küng is a heretic.

How will Benedict XVI play in Pennsylvania?

This seems to be Howard Fineman’s big question. He’s not sure, though, as he puts it, the promotion of the candidacy of pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. to challenge conservative Catholic stalwart Rick Santorum suggests that the Democrats "didn’t want to have to take on the GOP, the White House and the Church at the same time—at least on the issue of abortion—in a state where the electorate is nearly 50 percent Catholic."

By the by, Fineman also offers a misleading characterization of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s advice to Catholic voters in the last election cycle. Here’s Fineman:

In his writings and interviews, the former Cardinal Ratzinger declared that politicians who support abortion rights should be turned away—and that it is a sin for Catholic voters to support a pro-choice candidate if their main reason for doing so is the candidate’s abortion views.

Here’s Ratzinger:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

Gee, this means that Catholics are permitted to use their prudence in weighing the pros and cons of candidates, so long as they do not make approval of abortion and euthanasia the principal reason for supporting a candidate, a much more nuanced and subtle position than Fineman wants to attribute to the new Pope.

I’m shocked!

No honeymoon for Benedict XVI

Hugh Hewitt surveys the media reaction to the election of Pope Benedict XVI and offers this observation:

The refusal of even a single day’s honeymoon for the new pope from the scribblers of the left tells us a lot about the folks who work on editorial boards, and also a lot about diversity in America’s newsrooms. Are there even five traditional, Mass-attending and confession-going writers among the five editorial boards sampled above? Is there even one who would step forward to defend the Church’s teaching on human dignity and sexuality? There are tens of millions of American Catholics full of joy at yesterday’s news, but do they have any voice within elite MSM at all?

There may be some who attend Mass and even go to confession, but traditional? Heh.

He offers a list of blogs faithful Catholics can consult, to which I would add the orthodox and ecumenical
Mere Comments.

On Being "Overweight"

I wonder why the response to the recent report by the CDC--referenced by Peter below--has been to claim that it is good to be overweight, rather than to redefine what it means to be overweight. Surely if we place the prefix "over-" in front of an adjective, it implies that we’re talking about something that is excessive. Why would we even use the term "overweight," if not to mean that someone weighs more than one ought to?

Diane Knippers, RIP

Diane Knippers, one of Time’s 25 most influential evangelicals (sorry, the article is now only available to subscribers), has died of colon cancer. As Brent Tantillo of Democracy Project notes, the WaPo obituary is not exactly fawning.

For a nice personal appreciation, go here. For the official obituary and other commentary, go here.

Update: Over at Get Religion, Douglas LeBlanc comments on "the politics of obituaries." Guess who comes off as snide?

Lileks on Benedict XVI

James Lileks has a hard time understanding all the wailing and rending of garments taking place among liberals over the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope.

To those who want profound change, consider an outsider’s perspective: the Catholic Church is the National Review of religion. You may live long enough to see it become the Weekly Standard. In your dreams it might become the New Republic. But it’s never going to be the Nation. And if ever it does, it will have roughly the same subscriber base.

Yes, yes, easy for me to say, it’s not my church. New age of oppression and intolerance, and all that. Write me when hot-eyed Jesuits walk into a mosque in Qom with ten pounds of Cemtex strapped to their chest.

In response to those who had hoped for a more "modern" pope, he reminds us:

Habeum pap. Note: every era is the modern era to the people who inhabit it; a “modern” pope in 1937 would have announced that godless collectivism was the wave of the future, and ridden the trains to Auschwitz standing on top, holding gilded reins, whooping like Slim Pickens.

If coffee isn’t doing it for you this morning...

Read this, a stream-of-consciousness rant from MoDo, which features an ill-mannered sliming of the new Pope as only the most offensive of its meanderings.

The politics of the papacy

Neither E. J. Dionne, Jr. nor Anne Applebaum can resist discussing the politics of this papal election.

Here’s Dionne:

Why did the College of Cardinals make such a controversial choice, and with such dispatch? The simple answer is that the 78-year-old pope is a transitional figure. Barring a medical miracle, it is likely that a new pontiff will be elected in a few years. One need not be Machiavelli to suggest that potential popes sitting in the Sistine Chapel decided they did not have the votes or the standing to make it this time, and would use a Ratzinger papacy to prepare for the next.

Dionne’s hopeful and urgent point is that Ratzinger’s age gives "moderate" and liberal Catholics the time and the occasion to prepare for something more than this short-term papacy by reasserting "Vatican II’s hopeful vision of a church that has much to teach the modern world, and much to learn from it, too."

Applebaum is thinking about the effect of this choice on European politics. Here’s a snippet:

The advent of a German pope, who in fact shares many of John Paul II’s views, may well make religion part of the European political debate again, this time on the western as well as the eastern half of the continent. At the very least, a German-speaking pope will be hard for Germans to ignore.

This will be a debate worth watching, even if you aren’t Catholic or religious (and I am neither), because it will reveal much about the direction in which European politics is heading. It might also hold clues to the future of the battered, long-suffering transatlantic relationship. While many of the cultural differences between Europe and America are vastly overstated, the religious differences are profound. It’s hard to be in politics in this country and not at least pay lip service to religion, as John Kerry can attest. In Europe, by contrast, political leaders who profess religious beliefs are derided.

Judging in purely human terms--the only terms I have--the non-Catholic Applebaum comes out looking better than the Catholic Dionne, who would seem to be closer to the European anti-clericalists than to the conclave. Both are political in their approach to this new Pope. At least Applebaum is aware that the politics involved is the the effect of the Church’s stance vis-a-vis the world in which it operates. Dionne wants this worldly politics to colonize the councils of the Church itself: a "new age Church" for a new age, so to speak.

Media take on Benedict XVI

Janathan V. Last does a quick take on the media’s reaction to Benedict XVI. I like this one from Reuters: "German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the strict defender of Catholic orthodoxy for the past 23 years, was elected Pope on Tuesday despite a widespread assumption he was too old and divisive to win election." And this from Andrew Sullivan (although there is more): "And so the Catholic church accelerates its turn toward authoritarianism, hostility to modernity, assertion of papal supremacy and quashing of internal debate and dissent. We are back to the nineteenth century."

Plump Jack, and others

Fat is good. "The new analysis found that obesity — being extremely overweight — is indisputably lethal. But like several recent smaller studies, it found that people who are modestly overweight actually have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight." I am only modestly overweight, in my estimation. So, there you have it. It’s over. The temptation to bring in some Falstaff, Twain, and other worthies on this issue is almost overwhelming, but, like most modestly fat people, I am able to restrain myself. But, if you are a pencil neck, beware.

Pope Benedict XVI

As you must all know by now, we have a Pope, as is said. No doubt much will be said about him in the coming weeks and months. I have heard that his reputation is that he is such a serious thinker that he may have no equal. We think we know that John Paul II knew that. Here is Michael Novak (on NRO):

Ratzinger is on the same theological wavelength, of a more quiet German, Benedictine style. Munich is the city of the monks, and Ratzinger the scholar is never happier than in the monastic life of study and prayer and quiet. For him, service to the church is onerous labor. He has taken heart in the past from the image of a bear being turned into a beast of labor. He several times tried to resign from Rome and go back to teaching. By all reports, he is a superb teacher, open and challenging, deep and memorable, and everlastingly accessible to his former students. They all still meet yearly--or when they can.

He is a shy man, who draws back when others approach. He speaks very softly. He smiles easily, but his habitual look is that of someone in thought.

E.J. Dionne, writing before Ratzinger became Pope, argues that Ratzinger’s emphasis on "the dictatorship of relativism" is too hard-line, too conservative, might even be neo-conservative. There is no question where Ratzinger lined up in the culture wars, in short. I think Ratzinger is a great choice.

Habemus papam

As I was driving home from work today, one of my favorite radio talkers was pre-empted by ABC radio coverage of the election of a new Pope,Benedict XVI. At the time I was driving, the announcement hadn’t been made. (No, I don’t keep what used to be known as "banker’s hours"; my wife and I trade off on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that she can meet her classes; I take over the home-schooling, and then work from home while the kids play with friends.) So there was lots of speculation as to the identity of the new Pope.

This brief snippet of coverage (together with a short burst of NPR a couple of days ago) gave me some sense of what to expect from the mainstream media over the next few days.

First, there’ll be all sorts of speculation as to the politics of the conclave. An ABC reporter cornered an Australian bishop in St. Peter’s Square and asked him who he favored. She wouldn’t accept his answer that his voice didn’t count, since the Holy Spirit was actually working through the conclave to select the new Pope. We all have votes, she only half-jokingly cajoled. (Finally, he allowed as to how he’d always favored Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.) In other words, the MSM will work really hard to find a Machiavellian explanation for a process that has roots in the Middle Ages and is shrouded in secrecy. With (we hope) little hard news to go on, there will no end to the scenarios of how Pope John Paul II’s right-hand man (his "enforcer") rounded up the votes to succeed him.

Second, we’ll hear from a parade of liberal Catholics telling us how this choice will simply grease the skids for the Catholic Church in Western Europe and North America. That, indeed, was the substance of the NPR report I endured. Liberal German Catholic after liberal German Catholic told the reporter how alienated they were from the current Church and how the only way to bring the back into the fold was for the Church to embrace modernity in all of its aspects--ordaining female priests, permitting contraception (at least, if not more), and accepting differences in sexual orientation. In other words, if the Church becomes indistinguishable from the secular world around it, lapsed Catholics will unlapse, so to speak. That this has not been the experience of the mainline Protestant churches that have been on the cutting edges of modernism will not cross the minds of the reporters who predict further doom for the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

And then there’s E.J. Dionne, Jr., who thinks that Cardinal Ratzinger’s "culture war" focus is largely irrelevant to Third World Catholics. I guess that’s why virtually all the Third World Anglican bishops criticized the elevation of V. Gene Robinson to bishop by the American Episcopal Church.

Let’s just say that I’ll probably tune out a lot of the MSM coverage and treat the following sources as a kind of filter: Mere Comments, which offers a spirited and ecumenical defense of orthodoxy; Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ Rome Diary; NRO’s The Corner, and Get Religion, for critical commentary (with links) on journalistic treatment of religion.

Update: Win Myers of Democracy Project has further thoughts here.

Faith-based initiative again

Back in February, former Bush Administration official David Kuo attracted a lot of attention, including mine, with this column critical of his former boss’ lackluster follow-through on the legislative proposals connected with the faith-based initiative. His argument was taken by many to imply that GWB simply wanted to reach out to religionists for merely political reasons, for which more or less empty gestures were almost as good as real efforts and real money.

Today I read a measured response to Kuo’s argument, written by Stanley Carlson-Thies, another former Bush Administration official. Carlson-Thies points to the real and substantial administrative accomplishments of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, as well as of the FBCI centers in various executive agencies. Here’s a taste:

The previous administration had dragged its feet concerning Charitable Choice, doing little to inform state and local officials—the officials who actually administer almost all of the federal funds to which the new rules apply—about the provisions. But the Bush administration has issued Charitable Choice regulations, clarifying the requirements and the extent of their application. Even more important, to guide federal, state, and local officials who expend the bulk of federal funds which are not governed by Charitable Choice, in December, 2002, the President issued a path-breaking Equal Protection Executive Order (Executive Order 13279). The presidential directive mandates equal opportunity for faith-based applicants, protects their religious character, establishes guidelines to prevent the diversion of government money from social services to "inherently religious activities" like prayer and evangelism, and protects the religious liberty of beneficiaries. These equal treatment principles have now been encoded into the general administrative rules of various federal departments, to govern all the federal funds that support social services, whether those funds are awarded by federal, state, or local officials.

This is not to say that Carlson-Thies is uniformly positive: a lot of work remains to be done, both administratively and legislatively. Indeed, he has concrete suggestions. For example, with respect to the new Access to Recovery substance-abuse treatment program, Carlson-Thies has this to say:

To win an Access to Recovery grant, states had to promise to offer recovery-support services as well as their usual clinical-treatment programs, to recruit new providers, including faith-based programs, and to institute a voucher system to give addicts a choice of provider and to enable the providers they select to offer services incorporating religion, without violating the Constitution. But federal officials have not issued detailed guidelines for states about what constitutes equal opportunity for previously excluded faith-based treatment providers nor about the freedom they must give those providers to express religion in their programs. In the absence of well-publicized and clear standards, the anti-faith bias of most states’ drug-treatment agencies and their traditional treatment partners has barely changed, so that in many states outreach efforts have been constricted, eligibility standards have been only minimally modified, and the terms of collaboration have shifted little. Robustly faith-based service providers, if recruited at all, confront restrictions on religious expression that they suspect must no longer be legal, but there are no detailed rules to which they can appeal nor, apparently, anyone in the federal government ready to hear complaints and demand change from recalcitrant state officials.

In other words, where Kuo largely offered political criticism, on grounds liberals find congenial (not enough money doled out), Carlson-Thies largely offers constructive criticism aimed at fixing some of what ails the initiative. While he clearly wishes that more money--private as well as public--would flow to worthy beneficiaries, he seems less interested in embarrassing the President than in promoting the policies to which he has devoted a good portion of his career. I guess that’s why we haven’t read much about this column in the MSM.

By the way, for my review of a book co-authored by Carlson-Thies, take a look at the latest
Local Liberty, not yet posted on-line, but available free by mail from the Claremont Institute’s Center for Local Government 

A Sad Day: Henry Hyde Retires

Henry Hyde announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in 2006. Hyde has served in Congress since 1974 and is the best argument against term limits I know. He will be sorely missed.

Hyde mixed gravity and levity in proper proportion. Hyde was a warrior for all the causes we associate with Ronald Reagan Republicans and no member of Congress did more for the Pro-Life cause. He also served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment. As Chairman he once asked: "Would the gentlelady from Texas like more time to impugn the character of the Chairman of the Committee?"

Here are news reports on his retirement from the ’Chicago Sun Times’ and the ’Chicago Tribune’.

Happy Earth Day

Okay folks, it’s Earth Day on Friday (also Lenin’s birthday, for those who delight in coincidences). And the 10th edition of my Index of Leading Environmental Indicators is now up on the web at Pacific Research Institute and at AEI.

Highlights: Air pollution in 2004 was the lowest ever recorded since monitoring began in the 1950s. Also, sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in Ohio have fallen by more than 50 percent over the last decade.

We are now gaining wetlands in the U.S., something I predicted five years ago that we’d find out the next time the government did a wetlands survey. As recently as the 1970s we were still losing 100,000 acres a year.

The U.S. has gained nearly 10 million acres of forestland over the last decade--about five times the amount of forestland as in Europe.

The environmental movement is about to expire; in fact, they are discussing amongst themselves the best method of suicide.

More on compassionate conservatism

Myron Magnet has a nice summary of the current state of President Bush’s domestic reform initiatives. Here’s a particularly telling paragraph:

Implicit in compassionate conservatism was an epochal paradigm shift that is now all but explicit. Taken together, compassionate conservatism’s elements added up to a sweeping rejection of liberal orthodoxy about how to help the poor, which a half-century’s worth of experience had discredited. If you want to help the poor, compassionate conservatives argued, liberate them from dependency through welfare reform, free their communities from criminal anarchy through activist policing, give them the education they need to succeed in a modern economy by holding their schools accountable, and let them enjoy the rewards of work by taxing their modest wages lightly or not at all. For the worst off—those hampered by addiction or alcohol or faulty socialization—let the government pay private organizations, especially religious ones, to help. Such people need a change of heart to solve their problems, the president himself deeply believed; and while a clergyman or a therapist might help them, a bureaucrat couldn’t.

Read the whole thing.

Armies (of compassion) in the war on poverty

John Fund writes today about this conference at Grove City College. Bottom line: anti-poverty programs that are tailored to individual local circumstances and challenge people to take responsibility for changing their lives are more effective than programs that simply offer people a hand-out. Shocking, isn’t it?

Even after the 1996 welfare reform bill (very successful in helping folks off the welfare rolls) and more than four years of admittedly sporadic Bush Administration efforts to change the way we think and act about poverty, Fund can still write this paragraph:

All told, there are more than 80 federal benefit programs. Like the pre-1996 AFDC program, nearly all have no limits on how long someone can remain on them. All of these programs do good, especially in keeping people fed and housed. But the impersonal government dole does nothing to cure the poverty of the soul that keeps so many mired in self-destructive behavior.

Read the whole thing.

Are we made of cotton candy?

David McCullough speaking on history to a Hillsdale College event in Arizona.

The Greeks said that character is destiny, and the more I read and understand of history, the more convinced I am that they were right. You look at the great paintings by John Trumbull or Charles Willson Peale or Copley or Gilbert Stuart of those remarkable people who were present at the creation of our nation, the Founders as we call them. Those aren’t just likenesses. They are delineations of character and were intended to be.

The whole thing is worth a read. Also see this.

American dream vs. European daydream

It is no secret that Europeans think themselves wealthy and, by and large, think they are much better off economically than the U.S. Not so, writes Bruce Bawer, for The New York Times. While his focus is on Norway, where everyone seems to think they are wealthy, yet have the lowest disposable income in all of Old Europe, there is more interesting info in this piece. And note this: "Economic growth in the last 25 years has been 3 percent per annum in the U.S., compared to 2.2 percent in the E.U. That means that the American economy has almost doubled, whereas the E.U. economy has grown by slightly more than half. The purchasing power in the U.S. is $36,100 per capita, and in the E.U. $26,000 - and the gap is constantly widening."

A second Renaissance?

New words from Sophocles , Euripides, Hesiod, and others? Photographic analysis--based on infra-red technology--at Oxford seems to say yes. "Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance."   

Stalin, killer

Writing for the WaPo Book World Leon Aron reviews two new books on Stalin and his henchmen, one by Robert Service and the other by Donald Rayfield. Great review of two worthy books. The horror is almost beyond telling.

Leon Aron also has a lengthy analysis
(PDF file, 9 pages) of the move away from liberalization in Russia under Putin.

China, oil, and geopolitics

Clearly China likes to huff and puff, note the anti-Japanese demonstrations, destruction of their property, etc. While these public displays of anger (real or other) are not without meaning, observers of Chinese politics should not be blinded to very serious issues regarding Chinese strategy and necessity.

The Belmont Club has a fine post on China, and why it is unlikely that--despite appearances and rooster-like strutting--China will act against Taiwan. China’s primary mission is access to energy.

Also pay special attention to this document, Straits, Passages and Chokepoints: A Maritime Geopolitics of Petroleum Distribution, which Wretchard brings to our attention (he notes especially page 8, but I say the whole thing is worth study; students of international affairs especially should pay attention!). Wretchard
has a short second post on China worth noting. I am betting that China is not amused with this news out of India.

Kinsley on neoconservatism

Michael Kinsley thinks he’s nailing the neocons: they criticized Jimmy Carter’s attempts to promote freedom and democracy in the 70s, and what are they doing now but promoting freedom and democracy? While Kinsley does note that there’s no more Cold War, he doesn’t say a word about the global war on terror. And as Steven Hayward has demonstrated, Jimmy Carter’s human rights campaign all too often led him, especially after his presidency, to embrace groups and individuals who actually were part of the problem we now face.

In any event, until Kinsley offers us a more realistic strategy for waging the global war on terror, I’m not buying his critique of the neoconservatives.