Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Star Wars: ROTS

Here’s a review of the movie I saw today with my son, my friend, and his son. The adults appreciated some of the action but loathed most of the incredibly stilted and pretentious dialogue; the boys, of course, cared mostly for the action. This movie isn’t as bad as the first two, but it serves really only to explain how we get to the only movies that really matter.

I’ve read many of the claims regarding the political dimension of the movie, which is as unsubtle and simple-minded as can be. What interests me more is the germ of a meditation on "technology": Palpatine/Darth Siddius seduces Anakin/Darth Vader to the Dark Side of the Force by promising him the ability to conquer death. Later on, Yoda tells Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon, who had been "killed" by Darth Maul in the first movie, had found a way to achieve a sort of immortality, which Obi-Wan can learn from him on Tatooine. Of course, the shade of Alec Guinness seems to be the result in the later movies of this "good" path toward immortality. Perhaps President Bush ought to appoint him to his Council on Bioethics.

Bush at Calvin: the Commencement Address

The President’s critics must be disappointed. His speech was pitch perfect, focusing heavily on Tocquevillian themes that are not specifically religious, mostly reading religion through Tocquevillian lenses, and also offering the inevitable (for Calvin) reference to Abraham Kuyper.

Those concerned about "theocracy" should consider this characterization of Kuyper’s thought:

The most characteristic feature of Kuyper’s political thought is the principle of soevereiniteit in eigen kring, usually referred to in English as...simply "sphere sovereignty." Sphere sovereignty implies three things: (1) ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone; (2) all earthly sovereignties are subordinate to and derivative from God’s sovereignty; and (3) there is no mediating earthly sovereignty from which others are derivative.

I am no Kuyper expert, but even this very strong statement implies a separation of various earthly institutions, and not the "church" ruling "the state." Indeed, it could be taken largely as a "pluralistic" gloss on Romans 13:1.

Here is Bush on Kuyper:

Kuyper was a Dutchman who would be elected his nation’s prime minister, and he knew all about the importance of associations because he founded so many of them -- including two newspapers, a political party, and a university. Kuyper contrasted the humanizing influence of independent social institutions with the "mechanical character of government." And in a famous speech right here in Grand Rapids, he urged Dutch immigrants to resist the temptation to retreat behind their own walls -- he told them to go out into their adopted America and make a true difference as true Christian citizens.

The President reads Kuyper through a Tocquevillian lens, emphasizing his pluralism and reliance on separate social institutions, over against government.

The most that can be said is that President Bush implicitly responded to his critics by reminding them that the (Kuyperian) principles of Calvin College call them to active service in support of their fellow human beings, not to relying solely on a monolithic, "mechanical" government. The anticipatory criticisms of Bush were more "political" than his response, which put the ball squarely back in the courts of those who are called by their college and their denomination
"[to offer their] hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world."

For more on the speech and its reception, go here and here.

Update: Here’s a "neo-Calvinist" endorsement of Bush’s remarks on Kuyper. Note also the last photo in the slide show you can find here.

Update #2: This WaPo article suggests greater support for Bush at Calvin than had previous press accounts. Elizabeth Bumiller suggests that the anticipated protests cut a 45 minute speech to a non-partisan fifteen. I’m dubious. As a professional commencement attender, I’ve never seen anyone exceed about 25 minutes, and people start squirming at 20. Bush speechwriters would know this and wouldn’t be so insensitive as to damage the cause of their employer, right?

Last Update: Here’s CT’s wrap-up, as well as a "conspiracy theory" I don’t quite buy. What I do believe is that Jim Wallis took advantage of his talk, just a couple of weeks before the President’s scheduled commencement address, to make sure the glowing embers burst into flame. No more on this now, I promise.

George Galloway

Christopher Hitchens writes a fine long piece on George Galloway and his appearance before the Senate subcommittee. Excellent.   

Saddam’s Picture

I think that picture of Saddam must be fake.

Conservative meet up?

In his signature article as new First Things editor, Joseph Bottum posits a conservative meet up against all the talk--most of it from the logorrheic Andrew Sullivan--of a conservative crack-up. Here are the central paragraphs (and no, I haven’t counted):

Down somewhere in the deepest understanding of what America is for—somewhere in the profound awareness of what it will take to reverse the nation’s long drift into social defeatism—there are reasons that one might link the rejection of abortion and the demand for an active and moral foreign policy. Things could have fallen into different patterns; our current liberal-conservative divisions are not the only imaginable ways to cut the political cake. But neither are they merely accidental.

The opponents of abortion and euthanasia insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in domestic politics. The opponents of Islamofascism and rule by terror insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in international politics. Why shouldn’t they grow toward each other? The desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in one realm can breed the desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in another.

Read the whole thing.

Saddam’s No Clinton

Well, at least now we have the answer to the question Clinton straddled: "Boxers or briefs?"

Top Ten Streaks in Sports History

FOX Sports provides a top ten list of the greatest individual streaks in sports history. Topping the list, of course, is Joe D’s 56 game hitting streak. Lance Armstrong gets short shrift , receiving only honorable mention.

A small break from judicial filibusters, Bolton, etc.

GWB at Calvin again

This article covers the run-up to tomorrow’s commencement address nicely and even-handedly. I’m not at all surprised that David Hoekema is one of the signatories of the much-ballyhooed letter.

For more coverage, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Two thoughts: first, some of the brouhaha (far from all of it, to be sure) was stirred up by a Calvin alumna with connections to John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. So the Bush Administration’s "outside agenda" isn’t the only one on the ground in Grand Rapids. Let me ask those who were paying closer attention back then (or who have better memories) whether the President’s Notre Dame commencement address of a few years ago also stirred up such a hornets’ nest. Presidents give commencement addresses all the time. That GWB is only giving two this year suggests to me not that he isn’t willing to give more or that he’s simply politically calculating about this one, but rather that most prominent colleges and universities are likely more willing to countenance this sort of performance than any sort of speech by the current President.

Second, it is worth remembering that both Calvin College and the wider world of evangelicals are divided politically, which is as it should be. I expect tomorrow’s speech to acknowledge that and to celebrate what people of faith (and not just theologically conservative "Judeo-Christian" faith) have or ought to have in common. The speech, I predict, will be statesmanlike, not crassly political.

There apparently is another open letter ad, signed by students, alumni, and staff, in today’s Grand Rapids Press, but I can’t find its text on-line. If anyone does stumble across it, please send it my way.

Update: Here’s the letter:


Dear President Bush:

We are alumni, students, faculty and friends of Calvin
College who are deeply troubled that you will be the
commencement speaker at Calvin on May 21st. In our
view, the policies and actions of your administration,
both domestically and internationally over the past
four years, violate many deeply held principles of
Calvin College.

Calvin is a rigorous intellectual institution, and a
truly Christian one. Since its inception in 1876,
Calvin has educated its students to use their minds
and hearts to transform the world into a "beloved
community" where no one is an outcast and all of God’s
children are cared for. Calvin teaches its students to
work for peace and justice, and to be good stewards of
God’s creation.

By their deeds ye shall know them, says the Bible.
Your deeds, Mr. President--neglecting the needy to
coddle the rich, desecrating the environment, and
misleading the country into war--do not exemplify the
faith we live by.

Moreover, many of your supporters are using religion
as a weapon to divide our nation and advance a narrow
partisan agenda. We are deeply disappointed in your
failure to renounce their inflammatory rhetoric.

We urge you not to use Calvin College as a platform to
advance policies that violate the school’s religious
principles. Furthermore, we urge you to repudiate the
false claims of supporters who say that those who
oppose your policies are the enemies of religion.

I count myself a friend of Calvin College, but, needless to say, could not have signed the letter. To be most charitable, we have here a case of the pot calling the kettle black, especially when it comes to using religion to advance a political agenda. The principles articulated in the letter may be those of the College, but the judgment about how to apply them and about whether the Bush Administration has in fact violated them is a matter of dispute. There’s a certain moral arrogance in the letter that I don’t like to see in anyone, religious or secular, conservative or liberal. It doesn’t provide an opening for conversation and serves only as an attempt--one that I think will fail--to embarrass the President. There are more effective ways to bear witness than to engage in this kind of posturing.

Red, purple, and blue

A former student stopped by my office for a chat. Back in the day, she was a prominent campus Democrat, working at the state legislature and moving in state party circles. She went to law school here, an experience that, if anything, should have confirmed her party affiliation, despite the presence of this guy on campus.

Not one to beat around the bush, so to speak, I asked her if she was still a Democrat. She chuckled and said, "well, I’m a Zellocrat." She voted for GWB last fall, for reasons that are perfectly intelligible to anyone who pays attention to these matters. She has two handsome and lovely children, ages six and eight, so the "parent gap" comes into play. And she attends this church. So, in addition to the other cultural sticking points that make it difficult for her to return to the Democratic fold, there’s abortion and gay marriage. She might have voted for Joe Lieberman, she said, so she’s not exactly a "theocrat."

But until the Democrats can appeal to the Zellocrats on these perfectly obvious grounds, they’re playing a losing hand, not only (I think) in my part of the country, but all over.

Bush Remarks at 2nd Annual Catholic Prayer Breakfast

This morning President Bush spoke briefly at the 2nd Annual Catholic Prayer Breakfast. The president’s remarks demonstrate his clear understanding of the connection between the nation’s founding principles and the religious convictions of the American people. While some may be troubled by his appearance before a sectarian religious group (a Roman Catholic prayer breakfast), his remarks show he understands the need to speak to a nation of many faiths. That said, he also is not ashamed to speak as a man of faith to a nation that includes citizens with little or no faith. Here’s a sampler:

This morning we also reaffirm that freedom rests on the self-evident truths about human dignity. Pope Benedict XVI recently warned that when we forget these truths, we risk sliding into a dictatorship of relativism where we can no longer defend our values. Catholics and non-Catholics alike can take heart in the man who sits on the chair of St. Peter, because he speaks with affection about the American model of liberty rooted in moral conviction.

God and man at Yale again

Naomi Schaefer Riley picks up on a story I noted here. Riley, it seems, would prefer the maintenance of historic ties to even a liberal denomination that clearly commands next to no support in the student body. The alternative, she thinks, is "a vague, ’inoffensive’ spirituality." I think that theologically serious students, conservative and liberal, orthodox and unorthodox, can demand access to the chapel and its facilities. Neutrality or "benevolent neutrality" is probably preferable to the status quo. But we have to make certain that Yale indeed remains neutral.

I like Riley’s other point better:

If Yale is interested in strengthening religious expression on campus, it might want to think more about dorm policies, for instance, than about chapel affiliation. It was eight years ago that five orthodox Jewish students there sought to live off-campus because the co-ed dormitories forced them to encounter in the hallways half-naked members of the opposite sex. The students were denounced for being judgmental and told that, if they did leave campus, they would still have to pay the $7,000 dorm fee. (They lost a subsequent lawsuit.)

At the time, a Yale spokesman explained that co-ed dorms were just one "aspect of the Yale educational experience." Yes, of course. But it is one aspect that might be taken up by a committee charged with figuring out how to make religious students at Yale feel more welcome. Maybe the committee should meet again.

Riley is to be commended for keeping Yale’s feet to the fire.

Dean and Mehlman

Jill Lawrence writes in USA Today about the differences in purposes between the DNC and RNC chairman. Howard Dean is merely trying to shore up the Demo base, while Ken Mehlman is wooing blacks and Hispanics. Dean is shoring up his base, Mehlman is trying to expand it. One Dem says that "Mehlman is playing in our sandbox." Everyone is eagerly awaiting Howard Dean’s weekend TV appearance with Tim Russert. The question is, will Dean do on a national stage what he does in untelevised meetings around the country where he calls Republicans corrupt, brain dead, mean, and "not nice people"? N.Y. Post wonders if Demos will be up in arms after his Russert appearance.

Murder Your Sister: Win Honor

Here’s a report from ’Der Spiegel’ about what happens in some Islamic families to daughters who assimilate to liberal democracy. The youngest son kills the daughter and wins honor in the community.

The Rehnquist Years

Stuart Taylor, a left of center reporter, offers this lengthy summary of William Rehnquist’s 35 years on the Supreme Court.

"Theocracy" at the Air Force Academy?

Jonathan Chait argues that that is an apt description of life at the Air Force Academy, and perhaps a preview of life in the U.S., should the religious right get its way. Unsurprisingly, he accepts, without question, the MSM portrayal of events in Colorado Springs. Here’s a different take:

In other words, at the heart of this controversy is the traditional Christian teaching that salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone and that believers are supposed to witness to other people about this belief.

This is, in other words, an offensive-speech case. It is highly likely that there are macho born-again types who are witnessing to other cadets and making them upset. If that gets out of hand, they need to be slapped down. But they are allowed — under faith-in-the-workplace rules — to talk about their faith. Others have an equal right to tell them to shut up.

Terry Mattingly, the author of this commentary, took the Pew typology questionnaire, and discovered that he was a "conservative Democrat", not some sort of religious right fanatic.

Other interesting results, by the way, from the comments section of Mattingly’s post on the Pew Survey are that Jeremy Lott is "disaffected" and that Rod Dreher is a "social conservative."

For other well-informed (unlike Chait’s) commentary on the USAFA situation, go here.

Update: Ken Masugi has still more here.

Janice Rogers Brown and affirmative action

Buried in this article about Janice Rogers Brown is this statement:

[Bishop Harry] Jackson, who led the pro-Brown rally Thursday, said [that in writing an opinion striking down a minority contracting program] Brown was just interpreting the law [Proposition 209] passed by California voters. But [Rev. Amos] Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said it demonstrated hypocrisy because "she got to where she is" because of affirmative action.

Rev. Brown’s "logic" demands not only results-oriented jurisprudence, but requires every alleged beneficiary of affirmative action to support its perpetuation. There is no time at which any such person would be permitted to oppose it. Should his side win,
Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion in Grutter, which at least foresees a time when affirmative action wouldn’t be necessary, would be consigned to the dustbin of history. May I not live so long.

Hat tip: the indispensable How Appealing.

Cheerleading for Michael McConnell

This article suggests that Michael McConnell is the "most confirmable" of the Bush Administration’s potential Supreme Court nominees. Doubtless those who are out of the mainstream themselves would call him (and likely any other Bush nominee) out of the mainstream, but he had a distinguished roll of liberal supporters when he was nominated to the Court of Appeals.

Update: For a preview of the opposition to McConnell, should he be nominated, go here. Hat tip: Religion Clause.

Cowboys ain’t easy to love?

French cowboys, or at least a celebration of American country music and culture, is alive and well in France. No Passaran has a bit more.

Movement toward democracy in Kuwait

Largely unnoticed last week, the New York Times reported that the Kuwaiti Parliament unexpectedly voted to grant women full political rights over the objection of the Islamists in Parliament. According to the Times:

"The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, welcomed the new legislation, calling it "an important step forward for the women of Kuwait and for the nation as a whole."

The vote climaxed an extraordinary turn of events, just two weeks after the Parliament had thwarted a measure allowing women to take part in city council elections."

Why did this happen? According to the Times:

"The prime minister, Sheik Sabah al-Jaber al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, has been under growing pressure to allow women’s suffrage and is believed to have forced the measure through ahead of a planned trip to Washington. He is widely expected to appoint a woman as minister of health in coming weeks."

P.S. Sorry, but no active link to the story because it’s archived.

On smoking

Each trip to California reminds me how pleasant life is in Ohio. Dine on some exquisite fare here, then step outside for a smoke. Stand on a corner, with other aficionados of the art, reflect on what is noble and what ignoble, what pleasure is worth the having, and what the habit might reveal about the man, never mind Lauren Bacal. Is this the end of the sublime art of smoking?

A.S. Hamrah asks, does the apparent triumph of smoking bans from Boston to Bhutan prove that if the 20th century was a century of smoking, the 21st will end up smokeless? Not necessarily he argues, note how smoking was outlawed in Japan in 1629 (along with kabuki, with which it was associated), but smoking did not stop. And this from King James I in 1604: Smoking was "a custom lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse." So he increased the tobacco tax by 4,000%. His subjects, however, continued to smoke. A worthy essay. Note the few good books on smoking he mentions.

The 2006 mid-term elections for the House

Larry Sabato writes a few prosaic paragraphs on the 2006 elections for the U.S. House, focusing on Delay’s problems and how that may (or may not) affect the midterm elections. Nothing much there, but his analysis of the "fifteen districts particularly likely to host hard-fought barnburners in 2006" is more interesting. Among those districts: Texas (22nd), Indiana (9th), Illinois (8th), and Ohio (6th).

Flushed Korans, Desecrated Statutes, etc.

Amen to Peter’s comment below about keeping in mind that the Islamofacists in Afghanistan are the real bad guys in this episode, much as media sloppiness as deplored. I’ve been waiting in vain for someone to make the observation that the same kind of people who rioted in Afghanistan over the purported desecration of a Koran are likely the same kind of folks who cheered the Taliban’s destruction of those 1,000 year old Buddhist mountain carvings a few years back. At least a Koran can be reprinted. . .

Ashbrook Center

Blue campuses

The Leaderhsip Institute puts out a study, based on FEC reports, comparing political donations (Bush/Kerry). While we all know that the so-called premier colleges are predominantly Liberal or Democratic, having the figures in a row is rather dramatic I must say. For example: "Employees at Harvard University gave John Kerry $25 for every $1 they gave George W. Bush. At Duke University, the ratio stood at $8 to $1. At Princeton University, a $302 to $1 ratio prevails." Follow the rest, and over a couple of cups of coffee, meditate on why it may not be worth your while to send your children to such places, never mind giving them any money. You might want to go another step and become a donor to the Ashbrook Center. Thank you for considering it.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Refocus on the enemy

Just because I haven’t commented on the apparent connection between the Muslim riots here and there and the Newsweek article claiming that pages from the Koran were flushed down the toilet at Gitmo doesn’t mean that I wasn’t angry at the mag for saying something like that.

David Brooks reminds us to refocus our animus against the bad guys, rather than the editors or the MSM in particular. He doesn’t want us to lose our focus: it is the rioters who are the real enemy. He quotes from a sermon delivered by a Sheik which ran last weekend on the Palestinian Authority’s oficial TV station:

"The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world - except for the Jews. The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquillity under our rule because they are treacherous by nature, as they have been throughout history. The day will come when everything will be relieved of the Jews - even the stones and trees which were harmed by them. Listen to the Prophet Muhammad, who tells you about the evil end that awaits Jews. The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew."

Forthcoming Knippenberg rant, er, article

David Mills has kindly posted the table of contents for the June issue of Touchstone, which contains an article I adapted (thanks to David’s kind encouragement and excellent editing) from this post. The new (and exceedingly clever, no thanks at all to me) title is "Muddle America: On Why Red & Blue States Are Really Just a Purple Haze.”

Of course, the real reason to track down a hard copy of the journal is that it contains articles by such luminaries as
Robert P. George, Francis Beckwith, and the impressive stable of Touchstone regulars. You can also subscribe on-line by clicking on the TOC link above.

I should add, for the literarily (and "commentarily") inclined, that David is a wonderful editor, always looking for new voices to add to his mix.

Sowing the seeds

Donald Lambro has an interesting article about Ken Mehlman’s attendance at a fund-raiser for a city councilman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The city councilman is Otto Banks, a young African-American who voted for John Kerry but then switched parties in March. Read the whole thing.

Los Angeles

I’m in a good hotel in Los Angeles--the carpet is thick, a gopher can get lost in it--and the big news here is that Antonio Villaraigosa has been elected mayor by a decisive majority. Everyone is very excited, not because he can do anything about the traffic (it took me over an hour to drive twenty five miles), but because he now gets the national presence he deserves, at least according to Liberals. One professor of Chicano studies said "he almost becomes an effective prime minister for Latinos of the Southwest." I bet Bill Richardson and Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, never mind the mayors of San Antonio, San Jose, and Miami, may think a bit differently. Besides, prime minister has connotations that may need be explained later. Here is another paean to him.
The other state news has to do with the mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, who is about to be married
married. He will spend his honeymoon campaigning for state attorney general. The Democratic speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez calls Gov. Arnold dishonest, as they are gearing up for a fight over elements of a special election expected this year. Meanwhile, buried deep in the L.A. Times, is this about a hero of World War II, Jose M. Lopez. Mr. Lopez died. He was 94 years old. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for single-handedly killing more than 100 German soldiers in a skirmish during the Battle of the Bulge. RIP.

Karl Rove on Michael Gerson

Get Religion calls our attention to a profile of Michael Gerson in National Journal, but (unfortunately) available only to subscribers. My favorite line:

One of the best remarks in the piece comes from Karl Rove: “The shorthand, political way to say it is that Mike is the one always wondering how we can achieve liberal goals with conservative means.”

I’d love to know precisely what Rove meant by that remark. Is it just another way of saying "compassionate conservatism"? What does it mean to trade conservative for liberal goals in government? What differences between liberal and conservative goals do Rove and (apparently) Gerson have in mind? If conservative goals aren’t "good enough," is it because they’re theoretically or morally deficient, or because they’re politically problematical? If I weren’t so doggone tired and preoccupied with my seminar, I might actually begin to venture some answers to these questions. For the moment, however, I’ll cede the field to you, dear readers.

Here’s the whole article, thanks to Joel Rosenberg and Hunter Baker.

Ursinus’ freshman core

Jay Mathews has a very nice article in the Washington Post about Ursinus College’s "Common Intellectual Experience" or freshman core course. My old James Madison College acquaintance Paul Stern is prominently featured, as well he should be.

Ursinus’ course seems to have evolved in much the same way as the current version of Oglethorpe’s core curriculum did. I describe the development of Oglethorpe’s core in this paper.

Relieved or disappointed?

It may not seem like it, but I’ve actually resisted blogging over the past couple of days, especially in response to this provocation and this one, though I may take a whack at the latter once I get through my preparation for tomorrow’s seminar.

My busyness has to do with a faculty seminar on liberal education that I’m currently leading. Here’s the reading list:

Monday, May 16

Bruce Kimball, Orators and Philosophers, chs. I – III, V

Plato, Apology of Socrates

Isocrates, Antidosis

Seneca, Epistle LXXXVIII

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol II, Bk. V, ch. 1, Pt. III, 2nd Article (“Of the Expence of the Institutions for the Education of the Youth”)

Tuesday, May 17

Kimball, Orators and Philosophers, chs. VI – VII, Afterword

Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. I, Pt. I, ch. 3; Vol. II, Pt. II, chs. 9 – 11, 13 – 15 (pp. 46 – 52, 428 – 443, 445 – 452, Mansfield/Winthrop ed.)

Pangle and Pangle, The Learning of Liberty, chs. 1, 2, 8

Wednesday, May 18

Leo Strauss, “What Is Liberal Education?”, “Liberal Education and Responsibility,” in Liberalism Ancient and Modern

John Seery, America Goes to College, Introduction, chs. 1, 4, 8, 12

Eva T. H. Brann, “The American College as the Place for Liberal Learning”

Michael Oakeshott, “A Place of Learning,” “Education: the Engagement and Its Frustration,” “The Idea of a University”

Thursday, May 19

Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity, chs. 1 - 4

David L. Kirp, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line, “Conclusion”

Colleague Selections

We’ve had spirited and collegial discussions, which have included strong contributions from a university trustee (who, among other things cited
this essay from the Claremont Review, to which he subscribes[ No, you can’t have him! He’s ours, I say, ours!]). More later, when I recover from the excitement of it all.

"Ripeness is all"

In "Living Life’s End," Gilbert Meilaender considers the principles and particulars with end-of-life care as he aims
"to think through a few of those puzzles—not so much to solve them as simply to seek increased clarity about where and why we are puzzled." He notes that "To the degree that [he has] a thesis to assert, it is captured in the words of Edgar in King Lear: ’Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither; / Ripeness is all.’"

For those wrestling with the recent happenings in Florida and how we might think about such issues, Meilaender offers a clear, reflective, and balanced analysis of our moral obligations as he recognizes:

We come to our deliberations about end-of-life care with some principles in hand, but we also form judgments about particular cases. There are bound to be instances in which our principles suggest one course of action, while our sense of the particulars of the case inclines us in a different direction. In such instances neither the principles nor our response to the particulars always holds trump in moral reasoning. To be sure, some principles we would be reluctant to change: they are so fundamental to everything we believe that changing them would be akin to a conversion. Likewise, there are some cases about which we can hardly imagine changing our mind. But our deliberations always move back and forth between principle and particular response, and adjustment can take place on either pole.

A long, but quality read available in First Things.


Federalists in Exile?

For Jesse Jackson, Bush’s ten most "radical" judicial nominees stand (or sit) ready to jeopardize "Our entire way of life." This rhetoric adds nothing new to the debate over the nominees, and I might even be willing to accept it as part and parcel of partisan politics. But I can’t overlook this mischaracterization:

Bush isn’t nominating conservative judges as his father did; he’s nominating radicals, vetted by the right-wing Federalist Society, and dedicated to advancing the movement’s agenda through the courts .... The Federalist Society is dominated by an obscure sect that believes in the "Constitution in exile." Essentially, adherents argue for a return to the 19th century jurisprudence of the Gilded Age -- calling on judges to overturn the New Deal jurisprudence that empowered Congress to regulate the economy, defend workers, protect the environment and consumers, and hold corporations accountable. No, I’m not kidding, and neither are they.

The "Constitution in exile" tag is becoming a favorite and derisive label of the left that practically no one on the right takes seriously enough to dignify it with a response. But someone at the Federalist Society might want to update the mailing list, I didn’t get the "we-believe-the-Constitution-is-in-exile" memo, but evidently Jesse did.

"Safe, legal, and rare"

E. J. Dionne, Jr. shines the spotlight on a "courageous" Democrat. Nassau (N.Y.) County executive Thomas R. Suozzi appears to have given a thoughtful speech, described by Bishop William Murphy as "important and, on the whole, very helpful." As Dionne notes, however, "Abortion rights groups were more ambivalent, worrying, wrongly I think, that anyone suggesting abortion is a problem somehow undercuts the pro-choice position."

My problem is precisely with the language of choice and what it implies about the relationship between mother and child. And while I’m all for any measure that will make it more likely that women carry their babies to term, I will not be persuaded of anyone’s bona fides on the "safe, legal, and rare" position unless he or she is willing legally to involve parents when an underage minor is pregnant and to give a voice to the father of the baby. My suspicion is that these rather modest requests will be sticking points for most of those who use the "safe, legal, and rare" language, in large part because they really think that the woman’s choice is what matters most of all.

GWB at Calvin College

The President is scheduled to deliver a commencement address at Calvin College this weekend. Fully one-third of the faculty have signed an ad protesting his visit. I don’t think Karl Rove expected this.

A couple of thoughts: First, I’m not altogether surprised that a significant portion of the Calvin faculty (not a majority, from what I can tell) doesn’t support the President. The most neutral way of stating it is that Calvin’s denomination--the Christian Reformed Church--is theologically conservative (though not quite as much as it once was), but not necessarily politically conservative. Yes, there are serious, theologically conservative Christians who oppose the war in Iraq and who think that our social welfare policies aren’t generous enough.

But that leads to my second thought. I haven’t seen the ad, so I don’t know whether the signatories are simply and politely noting their disagreements with the President or telling him he’s not welcome at Calvin. One can civilly and hospitably note that an invitation doesn’t imply an endorsement of the political positions held by the invitee and also welcome the occasion for a conversation. Or one can uncivilly and inhospitably tell the invitee that he isn’t welcome. I hope it’s the former. If it’s the latter, I’ll be very disappointed in my colleagues at Calvin and will say so.

I write this as someone who once composed and read from the platform the honorary degree citation for then-Senator Max Cleland, when he was Oglethorpe’s commencement speaker. Respectfully to welcome someone and to celebrate his genuine accomplishments doesn’t require that one agree with all or any of his views.

Update: First, here are some samples of student and alumni opinion, including a letter from prominent Ohio State professor (and Calvin alum) Dale van Kley, who does himself and his alma mater little credit by offering the following pearls of conventional academic wisdom:

In need of no introduction, George W. Bush’s chief achievement before becoming president is to have given up drinking, although the whole world would perhaps be better off were he still on his back in a Texas saloon. In his self-styled role as the Lord’s Anointed, he has launched the country on a bloody crusade without a plausible semblance of a cause. While George H. W. Bush may have killed his thousands, George W. has killed his tens of thousands.

How are students as students to be “challenged” by someone who, having had privileged access to some of the nation’s finest educational institutions, learned absolutely nothing from them and moreover takes pride in that fact? And how, except negatively, are they going to be “motivated to renew God’s world” by someone who has set out with ideological malice and aforethought to squander its remaining resources?

The benefit that will accrue to George W. Bush and his junta from this event is clear enough. It will lend additional credibility to his blasphemous claim to be the leader of an American Christendom.

But let’s not dwell too much on the negativism, which is meant to besmirch the President and to demonstrate (in an un-Calvinistic way, I might add) the superior righteousness of the protestors. Most of the letters are much more civil than that written by Professor van Kley, who (perhaps) has been away from Calvin for too long (having left for OSU in 1998); those opposed to the President’s policies apparently plan to indicate their opposition in a non-disruptive way, which wouldn’t likely be the case on most major college campuses. And then there’s the fact that only one-third of the faculty have signed the protest ad. Any guess what the percentage would have been at, say, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Amherst, or Berkeley?

Finally, any reader of pre- or post-election polling data should know that evangelicals, even theologically conservative evangelicals, do not form a political monolith. A
reliable post-election survey found that 22% of evangelicals opposed President Bush. In other words, it would be surprising if voices of dissent couldn’t be mobilized on the Calvin College campus.

Update # 2: Win Myers has more, including the text of the open letter, which is respectful but quietly strident. I’m now curious about who among those I know at Calvin signed it.

NARAL fishing expedition

Powerline calls attention to this Robert Novak column about an attempt by political operatives employed by NARAL to get the financial records of numerous federal Appeals Court judges, many of whom are mentioned as potential Supreme Court nominees. Why, you ask?

Nancy Keenan, who has been NARAL’s president some five months, told this column her organization is concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. Why seek financial information from them? She said the disclosure information might help identify the "character" of judicial nominees.

The Powerliners note that this sounds like the much denied "religious test" about which some of the Justice Sunday folks were complaining. I’m certain that the NARAL activists can’t conceive of opposition to abortion that isn’t, in their view, impermissibly "theological." And I suspect that the Democrats who used to employ these operatives (like Sen. Harry Reid) agree.

NY Times Review of Revenge of the Sith

Just read a review of the new Star Wars movie "Revenge of the Sith." It contains a paragraph (included below) highlighting the political lesson of the movie. Think you know who becomes Darth Vader? Think again. Or, at least try to guess--before reading the paragraph below--who George Lucas alludes to as the Darth Vader of the real 21st-century world.

"This is how liberty dies--to thunderous applause," Padmé observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy." Obi-Wan’s response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70’s engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.

That paragraph began promising enough, for citizens of our republic do well to be vigilant for the erosion of our constitutional institutions and any departures from our founding principles. But that the dark side of the force would be indicted for its "thinking in absolutes"? If this is what passes for cinematic "engagement with political matters," I’ll stick with the Lord of the Rings.

Supremes Rule on Interstate Wine Sales

Have no time to comment, but for those who are interested, the Supremes just ruled on state action on interstate wine sales. See Granholm v. Heald. Kennedy ruled that "both States’ laws discriminate against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause, and that discrimination is neither authorized nor permitted by the Twenty-first Amendment" (quote taken from case syllabus). Thomas’s dissent (joined by Rehnquist, Stevens, and O’Connor) can be found at the aforementioned website.

Florida’s Blaine Amendment

Here’s a nice op-ed by one of the attorneys defending Florida’s school voucher program. I’ve posted about this matter here (on the same issue in Georgia), but the real Florida Blaine Amendment champ is Katie Newmark.

Hat tip: Religion Clause.

Update: Katie Newmark has more.

The Poor Republicans

Here is David Brooks’ take on recently released Pew Research report, "Beyond Red vs. Blue." Brooks says the report shows that the lower middle class votes GOP because they believe that America is the land of opportunity. " According to the Pew study, 76 percent of poor Republicans believe most people can get ahead with hard work. Only 14 percent of poor Democrats believe that. Poor Republicans haven’t made it yet, but they embrace what they take to be the Republican economic vision - that it is in their power to do so. Poor Democrats are more likely to believe they are in the grip of forces beyond their control.

The G.O.P. succeeds because it is seen as the party of optimistic individualism." Bush’s increase in domestic spending is well received by these folks, Brooks argues. "Poorer Republicans support government programs that offer security, so long as they don’t undermine the work ethic. Eighty percent believe government should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt. Only 19 percent of affluent Republicans believe that."

Containing China

Robert Kagan explains why "the rise of China cannot be managed," as the common parlance nowadays has it. He writes that we shouldn’t kid ourselves. We are already trying to contain China, and should treat it as a prospective enemy. Good article with historical exmaples of how the rise of Germany and Japan were "mismanaged."

Today we look back at those failures and ruminate on the mistakes made with the usual condescension that the present has for the past. But there is no reason to believe we are any smarter today than the policymakers who "mismanaged" the rise of Germany and Japan. The majority of today’s policymakers and thinkers hold much the same general view of global affairs as their forebears: namely, that commercial ties between China and the other powers, especially with Japan and the United States, and also with Taiwan, will act as a buffer against aggressive impulses and ultimately ease China’s "integration" into the international system without war. Once again we see an Asian power modernizing and believe this should be a force for peace. And we add to this the conviction, also common throughout history, that if we do nothing to provoke China, then it will be peaceful, without realizing that it may be the existing international system that the Chinese find provocative.

The security structures of East Asia, the Western liberal values that so dominate our thinking, the "liberal world order" we favor -- this is the "international system" into which we would "integrate" China. But isn’t it possible that China does not want to be integrated into a political and security system that it had no part in shaping and that conforms neither to its ambitions nor to its own autocratic and hierarchical principles of rule? Might not China, like all rising powers of the past, including the United States, want to reshape the international system to suit its own purposes, commensurate with its new power, and to make the world safe for its autocracy? Yes, the Chinese want the prosperity that comes from integration in the global economy, but might they believe, as the Japanese did a century ago, that the purpose of getting rich is not to join the international system but to change it?