Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mitt Romney

Terry Eastland offers a very sympathetic portrait of Mitt Romney, who may well be the second Mormon (after Orin Hatch) to seek the Presidency. Eastland devotes a lot of time to explaining the doctrinal differences between Mormons and the "Judaeo-Christian" tradition.

Several things seem clear from the article. First, Mormons in general, and Romney in particular, are well inside the mainstream when it comes to participating in the complex dance of religion and politics in America.

Romney hasn’t felt compelled to regard the church’s guidance to its members as sufficient in matters of public policy. He emphasizes his independence in assessing issues. He points out that he doesn’t drink, consistent with what his church advises, yet he signed a bill permitting liquor sales on Sunday because "there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol if you do it properly and responsibly." He notes, too, that he doesn’t smoke, again as his church counsels, but that it was public-health arguments that caused him to approve a ban on smoking in public places.

On a more momentous issue, abortion, Romney told voters when he ran for the Senate in 1994 that he was personally opposed to abortion but that abortion should be "safe and legal in this country," and that "we should sustain and support" Roe v. Wade because it had been law for 20 years. When Romney ran for governor in 2002, he maintained his position on Roe, but also indicated that he didn’t want to be known as "pro-choice." He promised voters that he would honor a "moratorium," meaning he would not try to move state abortion law in one direction or the other, and he’s kept his word. Romney speaks of the moratorium as an act of deference to "an overwhelmingly pro-choice state" and not as reflecting any commitment he might still have to a pro-abortion rights position. "I recognize the right for a state to choose its own course," he says. Romney describes himself as "pro-life," but his own moratorium has prevented him from moving abortion policy in that direction, were he inclined to do so. On abortion, Romney’s church is in favor of life but permissive of abortion in cases of incest or rape or when the mother’s life or health is threatened (that last a very roomy loophole). Suffice to say, Romney has not seen fit to advance his church’s policy.

In other words, like other religious conservatives, Romney (and his church) recognize the distinction between the moral and the legal, between the laws that ought to govern the behavior of individuals and church communities and the laws that are or can be enforced on everyone by the power of the state. (In the interest of brevity, I won’t say more about this here, though, I’d be happy to elaborate in response to queries. In the meantime, consider this: Romney doesn’t drink, because his church forbids it, but he’s not a prohibitionist.)

Second, while many conservative religionists have made common cause with Mormons, and may even support a Mormon candidate, this doesn’t mean Romney’s Mormonism would be a non-issue in an election:

Someone willing to go on the record was Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship. Notwithstanding his "fundamental" theological differences with Mormonism, Colson said, "I could in very good conscience support Romney," calling him "a first-rate guy in every respect" and "a social conservative on most of the issues we care about." Colson obviously wasn’t declaring for Romney, but simply indicating that he would not in religious principle, so to speak, be opposed to Romney and indeed could find political reasons to support him. Whether he would actually do so, of course, would "all depend on what the lineup is" and "where each person stands." The other evangelical leaders I contacted took the same view. Colson offered the likely correct forecast: Romney’s appeal to evangelicals might slacken if a competent evangelical or Catholic with social views similar to Romney’s were in the race; on the other hand, Romney’s stock with evangelicals might go up if he were pitted against candidates holding more liberal social views, regardless of their religion. One evangelical leader offered this succinct take on whether Romney’s faith would hurt him in the primaries: "Against Giuliani, no. Against Frist, yes. Against [Rick] Santorum, yes. Against Arnold [Schwarzenegger, who is ineligible], no."

Eastland notes that Romney’s political opponents have in the past reminded voters of the social conservatism of the LDS church. Would they do so again? Not likely in a Republican primary. In a general election, who knows? I wonder how much of this we’d see.

My thanks to the John M. Olin Foundation

I once met James Piereson, the Executive Director of the John M. Olin Foundation, whose article on conservative philanthropy from the May issue of Commentary was reprinted Friday in the WSJ’s Opinion Journal. It was 25 years ago, at the University of Chicago, and the venue was a seminar funded by the John M. Olin Foundation and organized by Allan Bloom. I’d hadn’t heard of the Foundation before, but I was very grateful for the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Hyde Park reading some interesting books and talking to lots of interesting people. I never met Mr. Piereson again, though I did profit once more from the Foundation’s largesse, spending a year as a Visiting Scholar at Boston College’s Department of Political Science. I’m sad to see the Foundation go, but understand why it must, as it fulfills its founder’s wishes by spending its resources before it can be captured (as many other foundations have) by fashionably liberal philanthropocrats.

Piereson’s article provides a nice summary of the institutional and intellectual history of post-World War II conservatism, though I must note one omission--Henry Salvatori, about whom others (that means you, Peter) can speak much more authoritatively than I. Piereson insists upon the importance of the investment in conservative ideas, which distinguished his foundation and its "allies" from their liberal counterparts, which were so convinced of the unassailability of the liberal consensus (and of the stupidity of their conservative opponents) that they spent most of their resources in recent years on advocacy and activism. The result is a Left that isn’t all that good at waging the war of ideas, at least not on the level of ideas. They’re good at invective and at the pseudo-Marxist impugning of motives, but not at the rigorous and systematic analysis of theoretical issues.

Here’s Jason DeParle’s summary, from a long article in Sunday’s New York Times:

Feeling outmatched in the war of ideas, liberal groups have spent years studying conservative foundations the way Pepsi studies Coke, searching for trade secrets. They say that Olin and its allies have pushed an agenda that spread wealth at the top and insecurity below, and that left market excesses unchecked - and that they have done so with estimable skill.

"The right has done a marvelous job," said Rob Stein, a former official in the Clinton administration who has formed an organization, the Democracy Alliance, to develop rival machinery on the left. "They are strategic, coordinated, disciplined and well financed. And they’re well within their rights in a democracy to have done what they’ve done."

Mr. Piereson says that one Olin secret is plain to see: its interest in abstract ideas, removed from day-to-day politics. With conservatives in power, he worries that foundations and donors will focus too heavily on "public policy sorts of things," like school choice or anti-tax campaigns; by contrast, Mr. Piereson spent millions on the Olin Center for Inquiry Into the Theory and Practice of Democracy at the University of Chicago, where a typical conference examined the legacy of Rousseau.

As a result, Mr. Piereson is spending his last months in office promoting a route to political influence - intellectual armament - as unlikely as it has been effective. "The ideas have to be tended to," Mr. Piereson said. "Only after that can you tend to the policies."

Piereson concludes his article by discussing the next phase of conservative philanthropy:

That next phase will necessarily be different from those that have gone before. For one thing, conservative philanthropy will likely be based more on individuals than has been the case till now. The prosperity of the past few decades, along with the success of conservative groups and ideas, has created a cohort of such individuals, few with enormous wealth but many prosperous enough to make significant gifts to conservative enterprises. At the same time, some conservative foundations--Olin pre-eminently among them--have spent themselves or intend to spend themselves out of business in accordance with their founders’ wishes, and others have begun to shift their priorities.

The reason for this shift has to do with the fact that conservatism has become a governing philosophy, and governance leans toward the practical. This is a natural evolution in a movement that has assumed national responsibility, and that needs workable agenda items--school vouchers, personal retirement accounts, legal reform, elimination of the estate tax and so forth--to propose and enact. In addition, various conservative donors have themselves become involved in promoting one or another specific policy, and see the passing of a piece of legislation, or the implementation of a reform, as the most tangible measure of their success.

There is a temptation here, Piereson notes, to focus on the practical at the expense of the theoretical. If conservatives and their philanthropic supporters neglect to tend the latter garden, as did their liberal counterparts in the past generation, we could, after perhaps a generation of more or less successful conservative governance, be close to where the liberals are today, albeit with fewer resources that can deployed to assist an intellectual recovery. As DeParle notes:

no group is poised to fill Olin’s niche as a benefactor of big ideas. Hoping to encourage one, Mr. Meyerson organized the dinner in New York to celebrate Olin’s achievements, prompting coverage in National Review, The New York Sun and The New York Observer. In the last year, Mr. Piereson has published essays in The Wall Street Journal and Commentary magazine, summoning donors to the "battle of ideas."

But ideas can be a tough sell. "It can take 20 years to have a serious impact," Mr. Meyerson said, and many donors want quicker success.

As for ideas, Mr. Piereson has a new one. He is hoping to start an initiative to counter liberal influence in academia. Liberal academics "don’t like American capitalism, American culture, and they don’t like American history - they see it as a history of oppression," he said. "There are some people who are prepared to spend large sums of money to address this problem."

I can’t help but wish Mr. Piereson as much success in his next endeavor as in the one he is bringing to a conclusion this year. Perhaps he should take a closer look at what’s going on
here and here. At the moment, I have a bit of a soft spot for this enterprise.

Update: As usual, where things conservative and "Straussian" are concerned, Brian Leiter manages to show how not to elevate the tone of the conversation.

Religion and higher education

This is, on the whole, a hopeful survey of developments at the intersection of religion and highere education. The author, Michael S. Hamilton, argues that there have been some successful efforts to push colleges and universities up the slippery slope of secularization. In some cases, "presidential Christianization" has been successful; in others, there have been efforts to "[empower] Christian faculty to be leavening agents at their schools" that have had an impact. He’s not sure about Baylor, but a little hopeful about Wake Forest, which recently hired Nathan O. Hatch as its President.

Religion and politics in Canada

Tom Cerber calls our attention to this article about conservative Christian activists gaining a share of political influence in Canada. What’s noteworthy is that some of the candidates who have gained nominations are recent immigrants, who in previous generations would likely have found a home in Canada’s Liberal Party, rather than with the Conservatives.

For more on religion and politics in Canada, go here, here, and here.

Hypocrisy, double standards, and the religious Left

Read more about it here. Hat tip: Get Religion.

Heading home

I went up to Fort Collins yesterday to visit Terrence and Jennifer Moore (and their two month old boy Samuel) at Ridgeview Classical Schools. It was great to see them both. They have been there for four
years, and while I knew that the school (K-12) was terrific, it was good to actually see the place. It is a public charter school with a great curriculum, it follows the Hirsch Core Knowledge Sequence in grades K-8. There are about 600 students in the school, and they are impressive. It is amazing what can be done with a good curriculum and a fine faculty. Education at its best. If you don’t know the place, have a look. I’m flying home this morning.

What’s the matter with the middle class?

Here’s a story about a report that argues that Democrats have lost the votes of the white middle class.

Among the five principal findings are that white middle-income voters supported President Bush by 22 percentage points. The study concluded that the "economic tipping point -- the income level above which white voters were more likely to vote Republican than Democrat -- was $23,700."

The federal poverty guideline for a family of four is currently $19,350, so I don’t think of $23,700 as middle class. I’d put it this way: the moment you get out of what might reasonably be defined as poverty, you become likely, if you’re white, to vote Republican.

I can’t find the whole report on-line, but here’s the website of the group that apparently sponsored it.

Colleges in Colorado

This is a front page, above the fold, story in the Denver Post today: "Colleges miss the mark on basics." The point is this:

More than a third of the core classes Colorado public colleges and universities submitted to the state for review have deficiencies that are likely to require a warning that they might not transfer to other schools because they do not meet state standards.

The schools submitted 320 courses that are taught as core classes designed to offer students the basics. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education coordinated a group of 100 faculty members from different schools and disciplines to review class descriptions. The commission is scheduled to vote on the recommendations Thursday.

I am not exactly sure what core classes are, but the categories (arts and humanities, mathematics, etc.) are mentioned in the box at the end of the article. A course on the "History of Rock’n’Roll" passed, while "General Physics" did not. It seems that the various state schools nominated the classes to be "core"; such classes "allows students to demonstrate critical thinking and competency in the subject." Someone explains that the Rock’n’Roll class was approved because it shows "the rock music of the era reflected the society and politics of the time." Perfectly pedestrian stuff, is it not? The physics prof said that his class may not have passed because "the course was too in-depth to be considered a basic class."
That may explian why the Rock’n’Roll class passed. I am perplexed why a front page article like this doesn’t explain in any detail what makes a class core (or basic). Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education takes it seriously, at least regarding the transfer credit issue.

More on the Filibuster Deal: Graham and DeWine Off the Hook?

Last night, Major Garrett reported on ’Special Report with Brit Hume’ that Lindsay Graham and Mike DeWine were dispatched to join the twelve Senators who were trying to avoid the showdown on judicial filibusters by the White House and Majority Leader Bill Frist. Why? The White House and Frist weren’t sure they had the fifty votes to change the rules. Why? According to the report, they didn’t know how Arlen Spector would vote. Without Spector’s vote they didn’t have the fifty votes needed to allow Vice President Cheney to cast the tie-breaking vote. So Graham and DeWine were sent to cut the best deal they could get.

Go here to see the Fox News Report. Once at, you have to go over to the right hand side of the screen to ’Fox News Access Free Video’ and click on ’Politics’ and then click on the ’Behind the Scenes’ story.

Spector still says, in the report, that he will not reveal his position on the Constitutional or Nuclear option.

DeWine indicated that part of the deal was that filibustering Saad and Myers is not a deal breaker.

So I think Hayward is right that the GOP is stronger following the 2004 election but they still don’t seem to have a reliable 50 votes when it comes to judicial nominations. Remember Spector voted against Bork.

An Exercise in Moral Equivalence

Near the end of our trip to Europe we crossed the Channel and visited a few of the sites associated with the Normandy invasion. The American cemetery, with its thousands of simple white crosses, moved me deeply, as everyone told me would happen. Then we stopped at a museum in Caen, ostensibly devoted to World War II, but with a substantial exhibit on the Cold War as well. I was intrigued, but what I found in the accompanying museum guide was particularly interesting:

The Dark Side of the Cold War

Each bloc [i.e., the U.S. and the Soviets] had hidden sides. Both camps had their dissidents and their protesters, and so developed repressive policies.

On the American side, there was the problem of the blacks and social equality, alongside the anti-Communist hysteria that was unleashed in 1949 when news of the first nuclear explosion in the USSR was released.

The Soviet side features the Gulag: thousands of deportees worked and died in the countless Siberian work camps.

Sure, the Russkies had slave labor camps, but, hey, America didn’t have social equality!

So Much for Equality

So, New York City is now going to require a two-to-one ratio of women’s to men’s rest rooms in stadiums, etc. Doesn’t this violate the equal protection clause, not to mention the premise behind much of feminism?

Belmont Club moves, again

The Belmont Club is at a new location, again. He is having trouble with Blogger. His comments on just about everything are always worthy. Note this on the acceleration of operations in Iraq.


A nine year old boy, a second grader, gets his way, and will place flowers on all the graves of veterans at his local cemetery. He will remove them on the day after memorial Day. He didn’t like the idea that some veterans have flowers on their graves, while some don’t (only family members are normally allowed to place flowers on graves). The boy, Collin Kelly, said "I think it’s nice if they have something to remember them by, so they won’t seem that lonely."

Polynesians as warriors

The Iraq war death rate per one million population is almost as high for

American Samoa (86.4 per million) as for the 10 highest states combined (e.g., Vermont, 16.1; North Dakota, 14.2; Wyoming 11.9). The national rate is is about 5 per million. (The chart is not shown in the on-line article). This is the World Factbook on American Samoa.

Hillary favored by majority

Hillary Clinton is now, for the first time, favored by a majority of Americans for president in 2008, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll. 53% said they are likely to vote for Sen. Clinton. "In the poll, 29% were ’very likely’ to vote for Clinton for president if she runs in 2008; 24% were ’somewhat likely.’ Seven percent were ’not very likely’ and 39% were ’not at all likely’ to vote for her.

Her strong support has risen by 8 percentage points, and her strong opposition has dropped by 5 points since the same question was asked in June 2003."

States get more money

Yesterday’s USA Today reports that state government revenues are soaring, ending a period of budget shortfalls. "Tax collections rose to a record $600 billion in the states last year, up 7.2% over 2003, the biggest increase since 2000. The money is rolling in even faster this year as many states report double-digit revenue increases through April." In 2003 Massachussetts faced a $3 billion shortfall. Now, Gov. Romney (R) wants to use about half the surplus to cut the state income tax to 5% from 5.3%. This windfall is already affecting politics in the states and in many the more conservative candidates for governor will benefit in the primaries for 2006. In Ohio there are calls for reducing the state income tax, and in California Gov. Arnold wants to use the windfall to borrow $1.9 billion less.

Leaving the Left

Keith Thompson explains why he has left "the house the left has built." A paragraph, but the whole thing is worth reading:

I’m leaving the left -- more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together.

I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq’s democratic experiment might yet implode.

Thanks to Arts & Letters.

David Brooks on liberals and evangelicals

Today’s NYT Brooks column makes an argument regarding the possibility of an alliance between evangelicals and conservatives:

The natural alliance for antipoverty measures at home and abroad is between liberals and evangelical Christians. These are the only two groups that are really hyped up about these problems and willing to devote time and money to ameliorating them. If liberals and evangelicals don’t get together on antipoverty measures, then there will be no majority for them and they won’t get done.

But, he argues, we can’t have both a war on poverty and a culture war. The evangelicals, he says, are broadening their agenda:

And when I look at the evangelical community, I see a community in the midst of a transformation - branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy. I see Rick Warren, who through his new Peace initiative is sending thousands of people to Rwanda and other African nations to fight poverty and disease. I see Chuck Colson deeply involved in Sudan. I see Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals drawing up a service agenda that goes way beyond the normal turf of Christian conservatives.

As I argued
in this book review, there’s something to this phenomenon: evangelicals are very active in "anti-poverty" work. And they’re even willing to reach out to folks who aren’t their natural allies.

But while Brooks concedes that "[s]erious differences over life issues are not going to go away," he seems to imply that evangelicals are the ones who are and ought to be doing all the reaching out and changing. If they’re too insistent on things like abortion and stem cell research, he seems to suggest, if they aren’t "embarrassed by the people held up by the news media as their spokesmen" (who does he have in mind? Falwell and Robertson or Dobson, Land, Colson, and Mohler?), then secular liberals won’t want to work with them. The war on poverty can succeed only if--am I right about this, Mr. Brooks?--evangelicals soft-pedal the "culture of life issues." That would be quite a price to pay, and one that I’d urge them to not to pay.

Another consideration that Brooks overlooks is that evangelical and liberal approaches to fighting poverty are not quite the same. The former focus more heavily on the individual and "characterological" sources of poverty, as opposed to those found in the structure of the economy. The two can, I think, be complementary. I don’t see anything in evangelicalism that would lead them necessarily and absolutely to resist addressing structural problems. But they would continue to insist, I think, that in many cases the causes of poverty are to be located in the souls of the needy. If they get their souls in order, they’ll get their lives in order, and if they get their lives in order, they’ll very likely be more successful in everything they attempt. Yes, they need opportunities and training, but they also need help becoming disposed to take advantage of those opportunities and training. So, yes, evangelicals can work with secular liberals. And there is, as I said, nothing in evangelicalism itself that necessarily requires that they prefer the conservative over the liberal approach to dealing with poverty. (This is, as I have argued many times, less a matter of theology than of social science.) But I would hope that the evangelical emphasis on "soulcraft" is non-negotiable. And if I were sitting at the negotiating table, I would insist that my secular liberal brethren make room for this soulcraft as a means of dealing with poverty. I’d also, needless to say, be unyielding on "culture of life" matters. If the price of cooperating with secular liberals on goals we have in common is surrender on abortion, stem cell research, and so on, the price is too high to pay. I’d want to see some give on their side as well.

And, above all, I’d want David Brooks using his bully pulpit on the editorial pages of the New York Times at least gently to suggest that more cooperation would be forthcoming if secular liberals (1) stopped demonizing and insulting theologically conservative evangelicals and (2) showed some willingness to recognize that individuals have responsibilities as well as choices, that the role of government is not simply to maximize human autonomy and power, but also to leave as much room as possible for an individual’s (and a church community’s) recognition of its dependence upon a deity.

Travel note

I’m in Denver, just returned from the "Trail Dust," a great big honky-tonk with a good fiddle player and another fellow giving a pretty good rendition of Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Good conversation with Tara and John Abramson, and even their two-and-a-half year old Isaac. I spent many hours in Boulder earlier today in good conversation with two wise guys. They were telling me about, well, let’s call it the anthropology of Boulder, and they were certain that there is something like a "subculture of normalcy" in this goofy town. I’ll take their word for it. San Francisco was good for a day, drove down to Monterrey and saw David and Ellen Tucker. Also had a great visit with Rhea and Elsie Wheeler. Rhea was 100 on her last birthday, and is as smart, congenial, and enlivened as ever. She noted in one conversation that she had forgotten someone’s name the other day and was concerned that she might be getting old! Well, by that standard I have been old for thirty years. She looked great. My mother is doing well; she just turned 80. On Sunday we had lunch in Malibu, and she regaled me with her latest effort to confront the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Her license needed renewing, so she was forced to take the written test. Not good, since her English is poor. Well, by hook and crook and on the third try, she got a 100% on it. She was very pleased with herself. On Monday I had a surprisingly pleasant day. Went to the L.A. Yacht Club with a friend who took me out on his lovely 32 feet Beneteau sloop named the "Spirit."
We were out about four hours. Pure delight! I’m told that I’m a sailor now! The conversation wasn’t bad either, by the way.
Previous to that I was in Dallas, spent most of my time with some former students and even got a chance to get into it with some of the faculty at UD. Worth the trip. Good people. I’ll be home Saturday, and get back to work.

A question

Imagine the situation if the man described in this article had written about racial or ethnic groups what he apparently wrote about religious believers. Would anyone be defending him? Would he deserve to be defended? Would his at least somewhat plausible explanations be heard sympathetically or skeptically?

You make the call.

The Deal

I’ve been digesting the filibuster deal slower than a Philly cheesesteak, and much as I deplore the weakminded Republicans who caved, I think the deal in the end will work out worse for Democrats. First, it makes their hypocrisy more obvious; having found the filibuster sacred after trashing it a few years ago will make them look ridiculous when they try to get rid of the filibuster next time that have a small and frustrated majority; second, allowing votes on the three judges they deemed "too extreme" to be confirmed makes them look insincere and petty. This will become more obvious to voters who pay attention.

The Dems are hoping Bush will send a moderate up for the Supreme Court. He is more likely to send them Bolton. Above all, remember that bad as this compromise is, it came about because of GOP electoral progress. The co-called "nuclear option" was wholly implausible a year ago, and the GOP had no leverage at all to get Owen, Pryor, and Brown through. Now they are through, and the Dems ability to block future nominees, though not eliminated, is somewhat constricted. In other words, it was Republican political momentum that brought us to this point, not Democratic strength.

More on the Filibuster Deal and 2008

Hugh Hewitt offers a reasonable assessment of winners and losers in this recent deal struck by the 14 Senators to avoid a showdown on filibusters.

Hewitt argues that the biggest loser is John McCain. McCain has angered conservative Republican activists and that will cost him in 2008. Other big losers are Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Mike DeWine of Ohio.

Winners, according to Hewitt, are George Allen, John Thune, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney.

Of course, the biggest winners are Priscilla Owen and the other judges who will soon be confirmed. Frist will be a loser in all of this, if he doesn’t bring all of the judges up for a vote and, if necessary, put the Constitutional/Nuclear option on the table

Peggy Noonan offers some caustic comments on the narcissism of the 14 Senators. It was nauseating to listen to these fourteen talk about how they had saved the Republic. I’ve always found Lindsay Graham charming in a blow-dried Huey Long kind of way.

Ohio distinguished itself in the 2004 election by delivering the Electoral College majority to President Bush by 60,000 votes. Since the election, Ohio’s two Senators have embarassed the state, Voinovich on the Bolton nomination (Does Voinovich really believe that Bolton will endanger his grandchildren?)and DeWine on the Seante deal. Hewitt points out that DeWine has probably cost his son, Patrick the upcoming primary election in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District.

Republicans in the House and White House

In a typically ahistorical fashion, this WaPo article portrays as sinister efforts in the House to strengthen the body’s leadership and in the White House to gain effective control over the federal bureaucracy. Here’s the most over-the-top line:

Bush created a top-down system in the White House much like the one his colleagues have in Congress. He has constructed what many scholars said amounts to a virtual oligarchy with Cheney, Karl Rove, Andrew H. Card Jr., Joshua Bolton, himself and only a few others setting policy, while he looks to Congress and the agencies mostly to promote and institute his policies.

Anyone who had more than a nodding familiarity with the scholarly literature on Congressional leadership or on the President’s efforts over the years to live up to his Constitutional responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" would take a more nuanced and much less partisan view of these developments. Such an observer would understand, for example, the difficulties faced by House leaders in much of the 20th century and recognize that the realistic alternative to the current situation are either the Congress where committees were the personal preserves of their chairs or the Congress where individuals were so "empowered" that almost everyone had a tiny bit of turf to call his or her own. The latter is not democracy, it’s decentralized chaos. A non-partisan observer would also know that Congressional leadership of the sort described in the article actually exists only at the sufferance of the majority of the majority party. The current House "regime" serves the electoral and policy interests of the Republican rank-and-file, just as any House controlled by the Democrats would serve the electoral and policy interests of the Democratic rank-and-file.

On the Bush Administration’s approach to the use of executive power, I can’t improve upon this book, which I reviewed here (the third review). Here are the first two paragraphs of my review:

Like many of its modern predecessors, the Bush administration has been evaluated, in roughly the middle of its term, by a group of distinguished scholars, whose essays have been collected in this volume. Readers whose acquaintance with George W. Bush comes largely through press reports and other political commentary might be surprised by some of the conclusions.

For example, John P. Burke paints a picture of a thoughtful, well-considered transition from campaigning to governing, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the election’s aftermath. The Bush administration, others note, assembled a much more experienced and disciplined team than did its immediate predecessor. The result was an exceptionally focused and politically successful ’first hundred days’.

Political scientists who don’t let party get in the way of professional judgment would take a somewhat different view tha the authors of the article. (I am not, by the way, accusing the distinguished scholars quoted in the article of doing so. I suspect that their remarks to the reporters were massaged to fit a predetermined story line.)

Why judicial appointments matter

Over at Southern Appeal, Michael DeBow calls our attention to an article about the American Constitution Society’s Yale conference, which was also discussed extensively over at Powerline.

The conference was intended to help develop "a progressive constitutional vision that is intellectually sound, practically relevant, and faithful to our constitutional values and heritage."
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the very existence of the ACS is testimony to the effectiveness of the Federalist Society.

The most interesting thing that Michael notes in his post is that some folks at the ACS are actually thinking that their agenda may be better promoted in the legislature than in the courts, which for them is something of a novel thought. It is, I submit, a concession to the expectation (which I fervently hope is fulfilled) that the Bush Administration will ultimately prevail in this year’s judicial nomination battles. If those who wish to enact a "progressive vision" actually have to enact something, rather than legislating it from the bench, they stand a very good chance of losing.

Priscilla Owen confirmation

Priscilla Owen was confirmed by a 56-43 vote, with Democratic Senators Landrieu and Byrd voting for her and Republican Senator Chafee voting against. I agree with this press release:

Liberal pressure groups and Senate Democrats ranted for months and years that Justice Owen was an ‘extremist’ whose confirmation must be prevented at all costs. Well, now she’s been confirmed by a bipartisan majority, proving that all the Democrat bluster was a fraud.

"The Senate will now move on to the rest of President Bush’s judicial nominees, and one thing is clear: each and every nominee is entitled to an up-or-down vote, just as Majority Leader Frist and the Republicans have said all along. The confirmation of Justice Owen also confirms that her judicial philosophy, like that of the rest of the President’s nominees, does not constitute an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ under the terms of the compromise agreement entered Monday evening by 14 Senators.

For more, go
here and, of course, here and here.

Britain’s Yob Problem

I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks of shepherding a group of 27--mostly college students--around Great Britain. Having spent some time watching television news there, I can only say that I was surprised by how weak it was. Whether it be the BBC or SkyNews, there was no meaningful coverage of foreign events. There was a great deal of talk about American billionaire Malcolm Glazer’s acquisition of Manchester United (was that even a story here?), and talk about the opening of Parliament (we got to watch the procession of the Queen back from Westminster). George Galloway’s performance before Norm Coleman’s Senate subcommittee briefly made news, but faded almost immediately from public notice.

The biggest news story--one that the networks went back to again and again--involved "yobs." Apparently the term derives from the word "boy" spelled backwards, but according to the American Heritage dictionary a yob is "a rowdy, aggressive, or violent young man." They are, it seems, so much of a problem that many shopping centers have passed rules against the wearing of the hooded sweatshirts ("hoodies") that have become so important to "yob culture" (another term that popped up again and again). A representative of Scotland Yard characterized them as "feral gangs" prowling the streets of English cities, menacing the innocent locals. Tony Blair wants to dedicate his third and final term as PM to dealing with the threat of the yobbos.

The strange part is that, from what I could see, the yob phenomenon is being tremendously blown out of proportion. Youth crime in Britain has actually dropped quite a bit in the past ten years--by something between 25 and 30 percent. But a few headline-grabbing stories from the past few weeks, including the tragic episode of a father of four who was beaten nearly to death by a gang of yobbos, have served to create something bordering on a sense of panic.

Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Case

The Supreme Court will hear an abortion case for the first time in five years. Here’s a brief news report on the upcoming case.

Senate deal on judicial nominations

Details here. Reactions here and here.

Everyone in the Senate is, of course, spinning, but the ability of the Democrats to filibuster judicial nominees hasn’t been definitively broken. They regard themselves as the winners: "We have sent President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the radical right of the Republican party an undeniable message ... the abuse of power will not be tolerated."

If I were doing the spinning on the Republican side, here’s some of what I’d say. Democratic happiness over this deal gives the lie to the rhetoric of extremism they have used to smear three worthy nominees--Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, and Janice Rogers Brown--and which they will of course use to smear others. Their principal goal all along has been simply obstructionist, not a matter of principle. Since their charges of extremism were in this case so lightly abandoned, no one ought to take them seriously again. Let’s portray the Democrats as they are: not principled defenders of judicial activism (a position we’d love to debate and put in its place), but opportunistic and unprincipled partisans, willing to go to any lengths to stymie a President, for whose person and office their contempt knows no bounds. We have for the moment preserved the forms, but not the substance, of Senate procedure. We will hold the Democrats to their side of the agreement, which we think will take some doing, given their record. And we will continue to remind them of the "flexibility" they displayed today regarding their judgments of judicial extremism. If a judge like Janice Rogers Brown, someone who allegedly would have taken us back to the 19th century, deserves an up-or-down vote, so does any conceivable Supreme Court nominee.

This doesn’t quite make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear, but I might be able to sleep soundly tonight.

Update: This response is troubling:

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her group was "heartened that the crisis has been averted and the right to filibuster preserved for upcoming Supreme Court nominations. We are confident that a Supreme Court nominee who won’t even state a position on Roe v. Wade is the kind of ’extraordinary circumstance’ this deal envisions."

If she’s right, then the appearance of being had will be replaced by the reality of being had. One can only hope, probably in vain, that the Republican signatories of this deal will rejoin their party, should even one of their Democratic counterparts contemplate filibustering a Supreme Court nominee.

I note also in response to Fung (comment # 12 below) that had the filibuster been as "normal" and "traditional" (my words, not his) a response to judicial nominations as he claims, Clarence Thomas would surely have been filibustered. The willingness of his vitriolic and underhanded opponents to accept a narrow defeat, when they appeared to be willing to go to any length to stop his nomination, points to the extraordinariness and unprecedentedness of the current Democratic tactic.

I also note that there are two "advice and consent" clauses in the

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors....

The treaty-making power is "seamless," with the implication that the Senate’s advice and consent be sought throughout (which is perhaps as it should be since treaties function somewhat as laws). But the President shall nominate and then seek the advice and consent of the Senate in the appointment, which is also as it should be, since nomination is by and large an executive function. Treaty-making is a shared executive and legislative function; appointment is an essentially executive function, qualified by Senate participation. The agreement crafted by the fourteen "moderates" seems to overlook this constitutional distinction.

No showcase for "Awesome God"

This is unfortunate, but fortunately actionable. For more, go here and here.

This is, most likely, overzealous avoidance of any whiff of endorsement, which is an unfortunate byproduct of the the "subjectivism" encouraged by Sandra Day O’Connor’s First Amendment jurisprudence. When my son was in first grade, his teacher tried to persuade him that on his Thanksgiving poster (to be displayed in the hallway), he shouldn’t say that he was thankful for his church. I almost went nuclear (since "private" religious expression in response to an assignment is clearly permissible), but the teacher was sensible enough to consult the principal and the principal actually was at least vaguely familiar with U.S. Department of Education guidelines.

I don’t see the ADF losing this case, though it is sad that they even have to litigate.

The Angry Humorist Strikes Again

Garrison Keillor goes the the full Moonbat about right-wing talk radio in The Nation.

Pryor opponents grasping at straws

Here’s a passage from the Interfaith Alliance’s document supporting its opposition to William Pryor’s Appeals Court nomination:

Even though Mr. Pryor properly executed a court order demanding the removal of a controversial
monument dedicated to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building, it would be severely
misguided to extrapolate this action by the chief law enforcement officer of the State of Alabama as a
change in philosophy and temperament on the proper separation of religion and government.

Despite Mr. Pryor’s compliance with a court-ordered injunction, nothing has changed in regard to Mr.
Pryor’s personal feelings on the public display of the Ten Commandments. As a matter of fact, in an
August 23, 2003 statement regarding the removal of the monument, he closed with the following
sentence, “The rule of law means that when courts resolve disputes, after all appeals and arguments, we
all must obey the orders of those courts even when we disagree with those orders. The rule of law means
that we can work to change the law but not to defy court orders.” It is exactly this type of judicial activism
from a Justice Pryor that we seek to avoid.

Gee, what more could they ask? Pryor’s recognition of the difference between adjudication and legislation (an understanding that is the very antithesis of "judicial activism") is turned against him, fueled by an unspecific fear, backed by no real evidence (and indeed controverted by the evidence), of how he would behave as a judge.

For more on the Interfaith Alliance, go here and here.

Update: For the record, here is part of an email I received today (Tuesday, May 25th, after the, ahem, compromise) from the Interfaith Alliance:

As you know by now, the US Senate reached a compromise last night around the pending “nuclear option” and several of the president’s judicial nominees. The Senate compromise is a victory for the rules of the Senate and the separation of powers. While I am pleased that this deal takes the unprecedented “nuclear option” off the table, I am very disappointed that it still allows some of President Bush’s most extreme judicial nominees such as William Pryor to move forward.

The Interfaith Alliance will continue urging Senators to thoroughly examine the merits of each judicial nominee and to oppose those who are a threat to religious liberty in America. Using the language of the compromise itself, I hope a majority of senators will reject Mr. Pryor’s nomination because he represents an “extraordinary circumstance” through his failure to support religious diversity and his lack of commitment to maintaining the institutional separation of religion and government.

I hope this compromise ensures that the integrity of future Supreme Courts remains protected from the undue influences of a vocal, radical faction of the right that is completely out of step with mainstream America.

I am particularly pleased that the senators involved in the compromise specifically cite the U. S. Constitution’s requirement that the President must seek the advice and consent of the Senate. Along with those Senators, The Interfaith Alliance will encourage President Bush to return to the time-honored, constitutional process in which the President of the United States consults with Republican and Democratic Senators and considers their advice before making nominations.

The Interfaith Alliance will also continue to urge the president to realize that nominees who are clearly out of the mainstream of our nation’s judicial philosophy will fail to inspire trust and confidence in the American people.

In other words, the Interfaith Alliance will provide cover for any Democratic Senator who goes back on his word and defies an agreement that in other respects the Interfaith Alliance welcomes. I guess honesty and integrity are not virtues of people of faith, at least as represented by the Interfaith Alliance. I seem to recall something in chapter 18 of Machiavelli’s The Prince about this.

Evangelicals and Republicans

Ken Masugi calls our attention to this essay by Richard Reeb. Here’s a taste:

Undoubtedly, religious enthusiasm has energized our politics, even as it has increased votes for Republicans. Its healthy influence owes much to our Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and, in this land of multiple denominations, its official non-sectarianism. Moreover, revealed religion made common cause with practical wisdom in the Declaration’s affirmation of the equal rights of all. America’s common political language, therefore, arises from the "self-evident" truths that Tom McClintock, following Lincoln, draws upon in his political rhetoric.

Read the whole thing. 

"Atheists are not joiners"

So says Ellen Johnson, national president of American Atheists, quoted in this article (hat tip: NRO’s The Corner).

I was reminded of this passage from Edmund Burke’s Thoughts on French Affairs:

Boldness formerly was not the character of Atheists as such. They were even of a character nearly the reverse; they were formerly like the old Epicureans, rather an unenterprising race. But of late they are grown active, designing, turbulent, and seditious.

The article examines the organizational challenges faced by atheists as they "advocate for godlessness."

"Still, it’s a great time to be an atheist," said [David] Fitzgerald, who was raised a Baptist in Fresno. "Five hundred years ago, we’d be burned for what we were thinking. Fifty years ago, we’d lose our jobs. But today, we’re free to be atheists.

"Our thing is that we’re just not that organized," he said. "It’s our strength and our weakness."

It makes one think about the importance of religion as
"social capital." Perhaps there’s something, er, "providential" going on here.

J.D. Crouch and North Korea

The Washington Post features J.D. Crouch, the #2 man on the National Security Council, and our response to N. Korea’s recent saber rattling.

This is moral reasoning?

Here’s an op-ed that appeared in today’s WaPo:

First, do the embryos used for stem cell research and therapy have rights? They are clumps of a few dozen cells, biologically more primitive than a mosquito. They have no consciousness, are not aware that they exist, and never have been. Nature itself creates and destroys millions of these every year. No one objects. No one mourns. In most cases no one even knows. If my life is worth no more than the survival of one of these clumps, then it is terribly unfair that I can plead my case on the op-ed page, and they can’t. But I have no trouble feeling that the government should value my life more than the lives of these clumps. God may disagree. But the government reports to me and to other adult Americans, not to God.

I don’t know where to begin. The author, Michael Kinsley, suffers from Parkinson’s, and so has both my sympathy and an interest in finding a cure. To justify satisfying his interest by means of stem cell research, he has to find some way of denying the potential of the blastocysts. Is it the lack of consciousness, the lack of sophistication, the lack of relationship with other conscious beings? Of course, if they were "endangered species," none of these considerations would be dispositive. We’d have to preserve them. But "endangered species" is a human label, one that can be withdrawn almost as easily as it was given. We, then, are the sources of value and protection, which is pretty much what Kinsley concedes in the closing sentence of the paragraph. In matters of assigning moral value, worth, and protection (at least by government), it doesn’t matter what God thinks; it only matters what we think.

Gee, I wonder who would have appreciated that line of argumentation during the slave era?

And then there’s Kinsley’s "sensitive" medical ethics catch-all:

I guess it’s not cricket to use a woman’s unwanted eggs to cure dreadful diseases without her permission. But if this is what alarms Kass, the solution is a simple release form.

You can’t use my "stuff" without my consent. Not exactly deep and profound thought.

Update: Ken Masugi has more.

NYT on Rick Santorum

This article is long and full of the kind of off-hand political and policy judgments you’d expect from the New York Times, but Santorum’s character and principles do come through.

Update: Jeff Sharlet thinks that the piece was insufficiently critical. I’ll go part of the way with him on his characterization of the Founding (not as Christian as Santorum would have it, nor as "deistic" as Sharlet would), but will quarrel mightily with him on the relationship between absolutes and prudence, not to mention apologetics and the oft-demanded "public reason":

A moral absolute can only derived from an absolute authority, beyond the realm of argument. Santorum "rejects" the very absolutes he claims to uphold by offering reasons -- i.e., the non-absolute work of human minds -- in their behalf. Once Santorum engaged in the debate over gay marriage by suggesting that one reason for opposing it was that it could, in his imagination, lead to bestiality, he abandoned the concept of a moral absolute, a truth so self-evident it requires no explanation.

An absolute authority need not be inexplicable; it can be accompanied, explained, and illustrated by other arguments. And when absolutes are not universally acknowledged, one may have to engage in "apologetics" to procure understanding. What’s more, of course, absolutes, as any good student of St. Thomas Aquinas would acknowledge, still have to be applied to particulars, which requires the fallible application of prudence. God might know what’s right in every instance. Human beings can know the universal rules (natural law), but not necessarily what’s right in any given instance.

Update #2: Get Religion generally agrees with me, arguing that "Sokolove’s tone suggests a certain admiration for — but clearly not agreement with — Santorum’s passion for prolife issues and faith-based assistance to the poor."

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

As Lucas Morel notes below,President Bush spoke to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday. It is a relatively short talk. Bush touched on many of the themes mentioned in Joe Knippenberg’s blog below.

You only have to look at the first line of the talk to see why there is peace in the United States and war in the Middle East. Bush opened: "Thank you for that warm reception -- especially for a Methodist." And the Catholics roared with laughter. When an Israeli can draw laughter from an Islamic crowd like that, then we will have peace in the Middle East.

Just one additional note, the President of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast is Hillsdale College alum, Joe Cella.