Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Day at Knoebel’s

As some of you may be aware, I am an amusement park junkie--although of a particular sort. I don’t go in for the Six Flags/Cedar Point superparks, I prefer the old independently-owned ones that have somehow managed to survive. My favorite is probably Kennywood in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

This week I finally had a chance to visit Knoebels in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, and even though it was beastly hot (90s and humid) my wife and I had a fine day. Knoebels has two great wooden coasters, both of which have been built in the past ten years. But what I really came to ride was the Haunted Mansion (not to be confused with the Disney ride of the same name), which is legendary among fans of dark rides (good sites on this subject are the Darkride and Fun House Enthusiasts page and Laff in the Dark). Now I’ve been through a lot of haunted houses in my day, and this stands out as perhaps the best. The special effects weren’t Disney quality, of course, and a lot of the stunts will be familiar to any dark ride fan--the old snake-in-the-clock, the oncoming bus (complete with deafening air horn), the waterfall that stops just as you’re about to pass under it, etc. But on this ride the action happens only inches from where the cars go past. As a result you spend the entire ride wondering what’s going to pop out at you next. Lots of fun.

By the way, if you like dark rides, another good one is the Whacky Shack at Waldameer Park in Erie.

By the way, Cedar Point, despite its huge size, doesn’t have a single dark ride. No wonder I don’t like it.

AMT a Red-State Boon?

Orlando Sentinel columnist Peter Brown makes a compelling case that the AMT (alternaive minimum tax--grrr) results in the blue states subsidizing the red states (since state taxes tend to be lower in red states), and such ought to be kept. Hmmm. Almost makes me change my mind about this hated tax. I have noticed since the election that not a few liberals have started to discover the virtues of federalism, since blue states pay more taxes than red states and thereby subsidize the red states. Could it be? Liberals leading a tax revolt?

Katherine Harris and Liberal Hypocrisy

Michelle Malkin takes liberals to the woodshed for their hypocrisy in their continued and unrelenting attacks on Florida Congresswoman, Katherine Harris for her appearance and also for their repeated and coarse references to her breasts while crying "sexism" for every other real or imagined slight. For my part, I am not surprised. People (of all political stripes) often react so when confronted by successful, intelligent and attractive women--particularly when their own arguments are lacking. They foolishly think that by insulting a woman’s vanity, they will shut her up. But Katherine Harris is a big girl and I don’t think she will be moved by any of this. Besides, while I’m no judge of these matters, I think she looks great for woman of her age and position.

Still, it is interesting to note some of the vile things these "enlightened" purveyors of liberal wisdom are willing to say for their cause. Odd that their hypocrisy--first and formost among all sins with most liberals--does not smack them in the face.

You will be relieved to learn

that I will be out of town for the next week. Since I don’t know about internet access where I’m going, blogging may be light or even non-existent. I’ll likely be suffering withdrawal pains.

A few parting thoughts: First, if you’re in the Atlanta area on Monday, September 12th, drop by Oglethorpe University in the late afternoon. I’m hosting a discussion of approaches to constitutional interpretation featuring Michael DeBow, who teaches at Cumberland School of Law and blogs over at Southern Appeal, and Gerald Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU’s Georgia Chapter. I’ll post more details as the time grows nearer.

Second, if you have the opportunity to see this phenomenal one-man show, don’t hesitate. We’ve been fans of hometown boy Brad Sherrill for a long time, and his presentation of the Gospel of John is absolutely compelling. Here’s the schedule.

See ya soon!

The Pat Paulson of Our Time?

Hollywood actor Christopher Walken is supposedly running for president in 2008. From the looks of this website, this is a joke, but then when it comes to Hollywood types, who can tell?

NARAL pulls offensive ad

Under withering fire from some ordinarily friendly places, NARAL has decided to pull its ad accusing John Roberts of supporting abortion clinic bombers, though a "NARAL spokesman said it will remain on the air for another day or more until the substitute ad is produced and made available."

While many leading Democrats (Edward Kennedy, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, for example), have distanced themselves from the ad without repudiating its contents,
former Clinton Administration official Lanny Davis has been actively denouncing it.

On the other hand, Barbara Boxer has
embraced the charges, repeating virtually word for word the line about siding with "the nation’s most violent anti-choice extremists." Of course, the speech reveals more about her than about Roberts. While these events were surely awful and demanded an effective law enforcement response, it doesn’t mean, as Boxer (and others) seem to think, that we should simply grab any legal tool at hand, regardless of its appropriateness. Nor does it mean that we should always involve the federal government. On these issues, compared with Boxer, Roberts looks great, which comes perilously close, of course, to damning him with faint praise.

One last point about Boxer’s speech. In this passage, she reveals that she is either ignorant or mendacious:

We can never forget the days before Roe…the days of back alley dangerous illegal abortions when thousands of women died every year. We cannot go back to those dark days.

As everyone ought to know, the overruling of Roe at most simply leaves the regulation of abortion up to the states. If, as she contends, 65% of the American people support abortion rights, what does she have to worry about? Is she not confident about that number? Does she fear that that number includes many who support limited access to abortion (restricted, perhaps, to cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s health)? Hmmm.

George Will Smacks Down Jimmy

George Will delivers a well-deserved smackdown to the perpetually truth-challenged Jimmy Carter in today’s Washington Post. Will leaves out one telling detail about that episode. Carter’s debate briefing book was nearly 1,000 pages long, as befits Carter’s control-freak personality (its very length, to paraphrase a Churchill quip, defended it from the risk of being useful to the Reagan campaign). Reagan’s debate briefing book, by contrast, was only 72 pages. There he went again. . .

Power Line Blog News

All I can say is WOW! I’ve bookmarked it.

Balancing act?

From north of the border, Tom Cerber calls our attention to this piece by Keith Whittington.

Cerber is--rightly, I think--a little dubious regarding what appears to be Whittington’s "official" thesis--that Presidents have "always sought to pick justices who would, by the president’s lights, get the Constitution right." This surely underestimates the political considerations that have in part motivated some nominations. But by keeping our eye on the central responsibility of the judiciary and on the way in which Presidents should respect that role in their own choices, Whittington does us a service. Whatever roles "diversity" and "balance" may have in legislatures and in the choices made by individual voters, they ought to have no role in judicial nominations. We ought to want a Supreme Court that looks at the Constitution, rather than one that looks like America.

Update: Gerard Bradley has more, almost all of it much smarter than anything I said.

If USA Today Did a Graphic of Novak’s Eruption on CNN. . .

. . . it would look like this.

Culture Gap?

Dan Balz, writing in the Washington Post. on the "culture gap" facing Democrats.

On the other hand, see this book, by Mo Fiorina of Stanford University/Hoover Institution, who argues that the whole "red-blue" schematic is way overstated, as does lefty Robert Kuttner in today’s Boston Globe.

Separation of church and school (building)

This article offers an account of a New York City lawsuit regarding religious groups’ use of school buildings for worship. In a nutshell, the argument against it is Sandra Day O’Connor’s "endorsement" test; the argument for it is equal treatment and access. Note these statistics:

• On Fridays, the district issued 2,717 permits to groups ranging from the Girl Scouts to labor unions. Thirteen permits went to religious organizations: six Buddhist, six Christian and one Jewish.

• On Saturdays, 7,450 permits were issued. Forty-four of those went to 15 religious organizations: eight Christian, four Jewish, two Buddhist and one Jehovah’s Witnesses. (The board requires some groups to get several permits for one meeting.)

• On Sundays, the board issued 2,168 permits. Fifty went to religious groups: 35 Christian, 11 Buddhist, three Hindu and one Muslim. In some cases, multiple groups use the same building.

The religious groups ought to win this at all levels, without any problem.

Disaffection in the heartland

This article summarizes this focus group study (10 page pdf), conducted among possible swing voters in four "middle American" states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Colorado, and Wisconsin). The people in the groups were independents, weak partisans, and those who voted for GWB in 2004 but now disapproved of his performance. The big takeaway is that even among these swing voters, national defense and cultural issues loom so large as to make it difficult for Democrats to gain much ground. Here’s a snippet:

These focus groups powerfully demonstrated that as Democrats seek to redefine their
party, both for the 2006 election and beyond, they face some hard truths. No matter how
disaffected they are over Republican failures in Iraq and here at home, a large chunk of white
non-college voters, particularly in rural areas, will remain simply unreachable for Democrats at
the national level. Furthermore, Republicans and their allies on the right have very effectively
used their bully pulpit and their media echo chamber to define Democrats as weak on defense
and security issues, hostile to religious faith and the role it plays in most Americans’ lives,
enamored with big government solutions to every problem, and obstructionists with no positive
agenda or new ideas of their own.

Democrats who seek to draw parallels to 1994 and Republicans’ success in turning
dissatisfaction with Washington and the country’s direction into a sweeping off-year
congressional victory must recognize that Democrats are not making any gains, even as
Republicans continue to lose ground, and no such victories will be possible until Democrats can
rebuild their own standing in voters’ minds. The unity Democrats showed in opposing President
Bush’s Social Security privatization plans was an important first step for a party seen as weak
and standing for nothing, although it also served to reinforce the belief among many red state and
rural voters that Democrats are quick to oppose Republican initiatives but have no positive
agenda of their own.

The authors sketch an agenda they think might be helpful to Democrats, focusing on matters such as health care, veterans’ benefits, and stem cell research.

Here’s what they have to say about the stem cells:

Polling has consistently demonstrated the broad public support for
stem cell research, and these focus groups clearly reinforced those findings. However,
the real power of this issue is its ability to confound many voters who otherwise align
themselves with Republicans on cultural issues and to change the very definition of
‘moral values’ from the narrow classification of abortion and gay marriage advanced by
the religious right and its allies.

While much of the debate in Washington and in the media has been focused on the
science, voters discuss stem cell research in strictly moral tones. They don’t differentiate
between existing and new lines, nor do they discuss embryonic vs. cord blood; they
simply see the opportunity to develop new medical breakthroughs as a moral imperative.

Here’s an article to read in conjunction with these last two paragraphs. I agree that this is an oportunity for the Democrats. If (or is it when?) the President vetoes the stem cell legislation that arrives on his desk, he had better offer a very compelling explanation of what’s at stake.

Don’t Do This

If you want to have a happy marriage.

More Cultural Milestones

Of course, my other not-so-well-known guilty pleasure was this band, which came to an end 10 years ago today with the death of Jerry Garcia. Fellow rocker (and NRA spokesman) Ted Nugent supplied the obvious lesson in a bit of doggerel that goes something like this (I quote from memory):

Jerry did drugs
And Jerry’s dead.
I went hunting,
And I’m still Ted.

Cultural History Note

Slate magazine offers a compelling cultural history of one of my favorite guilty pleasures: ranch dressing.

Not tolerating the intolerant

This NYT op-ed argues in favor of Tony Blair’s new-found (and dearly-bought) domestic toughness.

Here’s a taste:

As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength - even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.

Paradoxically, then, the more we accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness" grows. And ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our diversity, we’ll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will distill almost everybody’s right to free expression?

Of course, Ashland’s own
David Foster still says it better.

Roberts’s judicial restraint

This article nicely summarizes Jon Roberts’s record on the D.C. Court of Appeals. A couple of snippets:

"He’s a conservative. He’s not an extreme ideological conservative," said Thomas Goldstein, founder of Goldstein & Howe, a District-based law firm that specializes in Supreme Court cases. "He’s what I would call a federal-power conservative. I don’t think he’s a states-rights conservative, and I don’t think he’s an anti-government conservative. And this may reflect his time in the executive branch."

Bradford Berenson, who worked in the White House counsel’s office from 2001 to 2003, was among those whose recommended that President Bush put Judge Roberts on the first slate of candidates for appeals court slots.

He said Judge Roberts is "not the kind of judge you can predict based on the identity of the parties" or by the politics of the litigants.

"He wants to find the right answer, and he will go where the law takes him," Mr. Berenson said. "He’s an ump who calls the balls and strikes as he sees them."

Mr. Berenson said it is impossible to know how Judge Roberts would approach Supreme Court precedent were he to be confirmed to the high court.

"But everything we know about him thus far suggests he is rather more reluctant to do that than some of the more aggressive conservative judges," Mr. Berenson said.

Read the whole thing.

NARAL’s anti-Roberts ad

I don’t need to say any more than this about NARAL’s mendacious and despicable ad. If, however, you have the need to read more, go here, here, here, and here.

Update: Here’s’s analysis of the ad, headlined "NARAL Falsely Accuses Supreme Court Nominee Roberts."

Dirndl false alarm?

Win Myers assures us that the dirndl is probably safe from EU regulation. Whew!

Peter Jennings, RIP

Of course I don’t care much for network news, and ABC gives CBS a run for the title of having the worst bias, but Peter Jennings was a gentleman. Through a long chain of events that take too long to recount, I got to meet Jennings and spend an hour talking with him in his office at ABC in New York back in the fall of 1993. He couldn’t have been nicer or more cordial, even though I was there to argue with him and his chief producer about their coverage of health care issues and other things. (This was during the run-up to Hillarycare.) He fiddled with his Dunhill cagarette pack through much of the conversation, I remember.

One thing that became apparent from our conversation was the insularity of network news. Jennings asked what was the leading conservative idea for health care. I told him, "medical savings accounts." "Never heard of it," he said, which struck me as rather amazing since he had had John Goodman of the NCPA, one of the inventors and popularizers of the idea, on a townhall show that he (Jennings) had hosted, and had obviously not absorbed a thing Goodman had said. But recall that TV news people have an earpiece in their ear, and listen more to producers than to the guests, as their fundamental obligation is to keep the show moving along. This all goes to remind us that even TV news is show biz.

Jennings also said he respected the critiques of the Media Research Center, the conservative media watchdog. Yet when the Republicans captured Congress a year later, he seemed to move more overtly to the left, comparing the election result to a child’s temper tantrum.

Kmiec vs. Cuomo

Here, via Religion Clause (indispensable for First Amendment coverage, by the way), is the transcript of yesterday’s "Meet the Press" session with Douglas Kmiec and Mario Cuomo. Not surprisingly, the subject was the relevance of Catholicism to judges.

A few thoughts. First, Kmiec rightly calls our attention to the difference between judges and legislators, between enforcing, interpreting, and upholding law, on the one hand, and making it, on the other. This is a distinction that many, especially on the Left, do not appreciate. However relevant Catholicism may be for a lawmaker, it is much less so, not to say altogether irrelevant for the office of judge.

Second, both Kmiec and Cuomo make much of the fact that judges take an oath (or an affirmation) to uphold the Constitution. The distinction between oath and affirmation is the distinction between a promise guaranteed by God (or by any other deity or deities) and one guaranteed by the individual himself or herself. In this provision, the Constitution itself recognizes that some (perhaps most)individuals will look to a higher authority and regard themselves as answerable to a higher authority than the Constitution itself. We rely on the integrity of their oath to guarantee their (subordinate) allegiance to the Constitution. Perhaps Roberts should say, in response to the question (if asked) that he has already once taken the oath of office, so that he has promised to God that he will uphold the Constitution.

Finally, Cuomo presumes that one can only follow the Church’s teachings "privately," that an observant and obedient Catholic cannot act politically on the basis of his or her faith. Kmiec, of course, disagrees, offering this very nice statement:

When Catholic politicians bring their faith to the legislative branch, they’re not imposing. They’re sharing. If their view is going to be adopted, it’s because the consent of the governed has decided to accept their view. When judges bring their faith, covertly or overtly, to the bench, they’re not accountable politically. They’re given independence only for one reason, because they promise--and here the governor and I completely agree--they promise to observe the text of the Constitution, its history, its structure and the traditions and the Declaration of Independence that undergirds it.

He doesn’t use the expression "natural law," but part of bearing witness or sharing in the public square surely involves making arguments using the reason that the Roman Catholic Church believes all human beings share. Acting legislatively on the basis of one’s conscience is emphatically not imposing one’s private, idiosyncratic views, but participating in and expressing a shared and/or shareable moral understanding.

If you want more, Rick Garnett has it.

APSA 2006

The American Political Science Association is moving its 2006 annual meeting from San Francisco to Philadelphia because of labor disputes in the former. Oh well. I love San Francisco as a convention city, but quite like Philadelphia, which has some significant historical, cultural, and culinary charms.

I will be in D.C. this year, but will unfortunately miss this panel, as well as this one.. I will, however, be here and here. Drinks, anyone?

The Perils of "Acting White"

This month’s issue of The Atlantic cites an empirical study testing the old hypothesis that minority students who achieve high grades are accused of "acting white." Harvard researchers Ronald G. Fryer, Jr., and Paul Torelli have found that there is a clear negative correlation between academic achievement and popularity among black and Hispanic teenagers. The problem is especially noticeable among the latter: "popularity begins to decline at a GPA of 2.5 (C+), and a Hispanic student with a 4.0 average is less popular among other Hispanics than one with a 1.0." Interestingly, though, these results only seem to hold true in racially integrated schools; in predominantly black and Hispanic schools the stigma is far less noticeable.

Unless this problem can be dealt with effectively, all the affirmative action programs in the world will fail to bring equality for members of these groups. Indeed, inasmuch as affirmative action serves to reward underachievement by lowering expectations for blacks and Hispanics, it will ultimately only make things worse.

The Current Moral Revival

David Brooks offers some interesting statistics that are sure to cheer those who believe in traditional morality. Instances of family violence have fallen by half since 1993, while violent crime in general has dropped by more than half. The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent, teenage pregnancies by 28 percent. What’s going on here? Brooks suggests that were in the midst of a genuine moral revival:

I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We’re in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that. This revival has been a bottom-up, prosaic, un-self-conscious one, led by normal parents, normal neighbors and normal community activists.

But, I hear traditionalists say, hasn’t our culture been in steady decline during the past twenty years? What about the rise of violent video games? What about the ubiquity of sex in movies and song lyrics? What about the general coarsening of public discourse? Could it be that these things aren’t as important as traditionalists have suggested? Might it not be possible that in spite of Howard Stern, Grand Theft Auto, and internet porn we’re becoming a better nation? Or--perish the thought--that people might even indulge in such guilty pleasures without becoming chronic ne’er-do-wells?

Reason and religion in the Founding

This review of a new book on Benjamin Franklin makes much of the undeniable rationalism of many of the Founders. Here are a couple of representative passages:

Dray makes clear that Franklin brought to his political work the same rationalism that informed his science. Franklin wasn’t irreligious; he believed in a Creator who paid some attention to what His creatures were up to. But he had no patience with theology; he considered sectarianism a blight and judged reason the appropriate measure of faith rather than vice versa. His parents, solid Puritans, lamented his lapse from orthodoxy; he responded with his own statement of faith: "At the last Day, we shall not be examined [by] what we thought but what we did; and our recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord , but that we did GOOD to our Fellow Creatures." One of Franklin’s revisions to Jefferson’s draft Declaration replaced "sacred and undeniable," in reference to the truths the Americans were defending, with "self-evident." The difference was crucial: "sacred" summoned the authority of God, "self-evident" the authority of human reason.

Franklin would no more have looked to Heaven for political guidance than he would have consulted the Bible in fashioning his lightning rod. God gave man reason, he believed, and expected man to use it. Franklin did so with confidence, as did his colleagues.

That was their genius, and it’s what separates Franklin’s generation from ours. Religion hasn’t driven reason from the public square, but it has gained political leverage it never enjoyed in the days of the Founding. Biblical literalism (currently cloaked as "intelligent design") has fought the science of evolution to a standstill in many schools. The very idea of the Enlightenment evokes derisive sneers. Orthodoxy of some Judeo-Christian sort has become a de facto requirement for American elective office; deists in the mold of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson need not apply. Franklin’s partners weren’t all as scientifically minded as Dray reveals Franklin to be, but they all believed that reason was a surer guide to political progress than religion. And in this belief they accomplished the great things they did.

Yes, the contemporary defenders of reason have lost some confidence, though in the universities this has for the most part come through post-modernism and post-Marxism (e.g., the materialist emphasis on "race, class, and gender"), not through religions. But what they lack in confidence, they often make up in vitriol and condescension toward religious belief. Not only were there orthodox believers among the Founders, but many of them (even many of the rationalists) regarded religion as an ally, not an enemy. Consider, for example, this famous passage from
Washington’s "Farewell Address":

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ’Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric.

Mere politicians, who may not themselves be pious, would still have a healthy regard for the civic role played by religion. They would welcome it in the public square, not lament its appearance there, or attempt to drive it out. I have explained many times (for example,
here) that talk about theocracy is way overblown. The public square is big and varied, and we ought to be generous in welcoming religious voices into it. The hypersensitivity of the separationists (worrying about the merest hint of "endorsement," for example) needlessly turns up the heat and makes it hard to differences to be addressed and accommodated "reasonably."