Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Joel Garreau on New Orleans

Joel Garreau, who in my experience is often given to optimistic happy talk, can’t bring himself to be upbeat about New Orleans. Here’s a sample:

New Orleans’s economy is vividly illustrated by its supply of white-collar jobs. Its Central Business District has not added a new office building since 1989, according to Southeast Real Estate Business. It has 13.5 million square feet of leasable office space -- not much bigger than Bethesda/Chevy Chase, where rents are twice as high. The office vacancy rate in New Orleans is an unhealthy 16 percent and the only reason it isn’t worse is that 3 million square feet have been remade as hotels, apartments and condominiums.

There are no national corporations with their headquarters in New Orleans. There are regional headquarters of oil companies such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips, but their primary needs are an airport, a heliport and air conditioning. Not much tying them down. In the Central Business District you will also find the offices of the utilities you’d expect, such as the electricity company Entergy. But if you look for major employers in New Orleans, you quickly get down to the local operations of the casino Harrah’s, and Popeye’s Fried Chicken.

Hardly a crying demand for a commercial entrepot.

9/11 and youth engagement

Robert Putnam and a colleague (they neither bowl nor write alone) write that from 9/11 "has come a renewed commitment to civic engagement among a crucial segment of the population: young people who were near college age on Sept. 11, 2001." The evidence to which they point is not unimpressive, though I’m extremely disappointed in the suggestions they make as to how to perpetuate this involvement, which reveals all too much about their own not very well hidden agenda.

For them, civic education is less about learning the principles of our government (the Declaration and the Constitution) than about action, and action is about getting the government to do more. This is a telling recommendation:

[To] beef up and revive civics education[,] make it less about memorizing the number of U.S. senators and more about experiential learning (petitioning government to build a local park or playground).

A genuinely Tocquevillian method of civic education would be for the young people to get together with community members and do something for themselves. To paraphrase the namesake of the Harvard program in which Putnam teaches, ask not what your government can do for you, but rather what you can do for your community.

If Putnam’s vision of civic education is simply intended to cultivate engaged clients of government programs, if its purpose is to make us more effective in demanding more stuff from the public purse, as if we’re only responsible for our neighbors and ourselves through the medium of a government program, then it is dead on arrival. At least I hope so.

Hurricane relief and the camel’s nose

This article details efforts by both parties to provide programmatic assistance to hurricane victims, the Republicans by relaxing federal contracting rules and the Democrats by expanding government aid programs like Medicaid and Section 8 rent subsidies. While the measures are temporary, each side hopes to create a constituency that will clamor for their perpetuation. Political scientists call this the camel’s nose: if you let the camel’s nose inside the tent, it’s hard to keep the whole camel out.

Watch carefully, else our compassion may in the long run overwhelm our prudence and our policy.

What We Should Learn from Katrina

Until now, I have intentionally stayed away from the discussion of "what went wrong" with the response to Katrina. It seems to me that there are too many unanswered questions and I am not ready to jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the MSM who are sure that something is wrong and that it is the Bush Administration’s fault. I have also been hesitant to point fingers at local officials until all the details are known. It has always seemed to me to be unproductive in the extreme to blame people when there is still so much work to be done. While things remain in flux, it is unclear not only who did wrong but if wrong was done. Finally, we don’t even know how bad the disaster was--early searches today seem to indicate that the death toll may be far less than people have predicted.

But certain things--in a broad and general sense--are clear. The first lesson is that it is not smart to depend upon Big Government to protect you or loved ones unable to protect themselves from disasters. Living in Southern California, I have been made keenly aware of this fact. If a serious earthquake hits us I know my family will have enough water and food to get by for several weeks. We have even discussed escape routes that don’t involve conventional roads (that would, of course, be overwhelmed with people and probable failures). The second, and politically more important lesson is this: Americans, in general, need to start thinking about things in a more local sense. Who is responsible for disaster response in your city? When something hits, it will be these people who can and should respond first. What is the evacuation plan? Is it a good one? Can it be reasonably implemented? What can citizens do to make themselves more aware of these things and prepared? These kinds of questions would be far more usefully answered by a responsible media and citizenry. I don’t think we want, as Joe Knippenberg suggests, to militarize disaster relief. But, given their expertise, it would probably be a good idea to get ex-military folks to organize these efforts on the local level.

Is this what you want?

According to Daniel Henninger, the Department of Defense had hurricane-relief assets in place and ready to roll as soon as, if not sooner than, they were requested. But, as he notes, federalism requires that state sovereignty be respected. And Katherine Blanco, among others (including some at the federal level), choked. If the only semi-articulate (notice I didn’t say "thoughtful") message the media can deliver is "Do Something! Now!", or rather "Why aren’t you relieving the suffering I see before me now?", and if the DoD can deliver (despite its investment in Iraq), then there seems to be a temptingly powerful case for not only federalizing but also militarizing our disaster response efforts.

I’m an Army Brat. I’m a great believer in the capacity of the U.S. military to mobilize people and resources to deal with every mission it’s given. I respect and admire the men and women of the armed services. (I teared up when they were applauded at the departure gate this past weekend at Hartsfield-Jackson.) But I hesitate before the media storm that’s driving us in the direction of handing this massive responsibility to the bureaucracy with the capacity and willingness (perhaps) to handle it. There’s a reason, I think, why "homeland security" and "defense" are different things, though the proverbial man from Mars might have a hard time making a definitional distinction.

That said, just as it behooves us not to play politics (or rather since it’s inevitable, to play as little politics as possible) with the national defense, so it also behooves us not to play politics with homeland security. The only plausible alternative is putting the generals in charge. I don’t want that, and I don’t think they want that.

Update: Paul Mirengoff reminds us that Democrats wanted the DHS and generated the poltiical pressure necessary to create it. This may be an opportunity to "streamline" that agency.

Update #2: John Tierney shows how politics will inevitably affect any investigation of what went wrong and what to do about it.

Update #3: For more on FEMA and the military, go here.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for August

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Dave Keasey

Mike Carroll

Mark Rantala

Edwin Jacobs

Brenda Webb

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter September’s drawing.

Katrina and Project K.I.D.

A good, smart, and generous friend of mine, Lenore Ealy (originally from Alabama) has taken up a relief effort for families with young children in the disaster-stricken area. Her group, Project K.I.D., has already opened up two sites (with plans for as many as ten) to offer a safe, clean, and supervised environment for these kids to go for care and (above all) play--something completely forgotten for most of these kids in the wake of this tragedy. The group offers free child care (what they are calling "play care") for parents as they work their way through the long cues and red-tape of obtaining disaster relief and the hard work of re-building their lives. I encourage NLT readers who are so inclined to take a look at their efforts and both support and publicize them in any way you can.

Louisiana Politics, Updated

A few commentors were somehow offended by this post, in which I speculated that the long-term political fallout from Katrina would work against Democrats rather than Republicans.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal today:

"Sen, Landrieu, in the spotlight now, could find margins squeezed if thousands of Democratic-leaning African-Americans don’t return by her 2008 re-election. Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis says state could even lose one of seven House seats in the next redistricting."

Leon Kass to step down

According to this report, he will step down as Chair but remain a member of the President’s Commission on Bioethics. He has done a remarkable job orchestrating the Commission’s morally and intellectually serious deliberations, especially in the face of the constant criticism from liberal and libertarian devotees of unlimited technological progress. Ken Masugi has more, as does Wesley J. Smith.

Lee Harris on Katrina and New Orleans

In two Tech Central Station columns, Lee Harris displays a certain ham-handedness in his use of political philosophy, setting up Thomas Hobbes as a straw man when he should have been referring to Hegel, Kojeve, and Fukuyama, or at least reading Hobbes with much greater care than he did. What’s more, his version of Aristotle owes a lot more to a Kojevian Hegel than he knows or cares to admit.

Nevertheless, the question he ends up asking is, within limits, a good one:

9/11 made most Americans believe that a strong central government was necessary to protect and defend them from catastrophic terror attacks, but Katrina has left them wondering what is the point of so much discretionary power if the men who possess it lack the wisdom to use it.

In short, in the post-9/11 world, the federal government was looked upon as a bulwark that stands strong; in the post-Katrina world, it is seen as a levee that failed.

Too many Americans may expect too much of government, especially of the federal government. Rightly or wrongly (I’d argue, more wrongly than rightly), we
hold the federal government responsible whenever something big goes wrong, all too willingly giving lower levels of government a pass.

I wish I could say that President Bush hadn’t contributed to this expectation, but in any number of his speeches he has overpromised what government could deliver. Here’s my modest effort at chastisement:

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush was even bolder, speaking of "our responsibility to history," namely, "to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil" (emphasis added). Even if, as sinners go, we are relatively good, to assert that we can actually rid the world of evil is superhuman—the very antithesis of humility. Perhaps we could forgive President Bush and his speechwriters for misspeaking in the heat of the moment, but he made a similar point in his 2002 West Point commencement address, where he promised to "lift this dark threat from our country and from the world." Why not simply identify and resist evil wherever it appears, recognizing that it is part and parcel of our fallen human condition? After all, in his prayer service remarks at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001, he declared that in "every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom," which suggests that the struggle against evil is unending.

Here’s another smart(er) commentary on the same subject.

It is perhaps impolitic or un-American for anyone to admit that there are limits to what government can do. It sounds to us like an evasion of responsibility, an un-Trumanesque passing of the buck. Of course, both genuinely religious folks and traditional conservatives affirm human finitude. Are they un-American or impolitic?

Here I feel the need for a dose of Steve Hayward’s wisdom and learning. (Steve, are you listening?) Modern American conservatism came of age with the election of Ronald Reagan as a reaction against the dour and humorless Jimmy Carter’s claims about our limits. Reagan is often said to offer the sunny and optimistic side of conservatism, just as GWB displays the confident "can-do" American spirit. There is, it seems to me, a fine line here, one that is difficult to tread. Doesn’t an optimistic, confident conservatism, one that can be and has been electorally successful in America, run the risk of shading into the very "big government" it seeks to avoid, not just operationally (as one would certainly have to concede about the Bush Administration), but in its very bones? How do we stay humble and cognizant of our limits...and win elections? Or must we choose?

New Orleans, Houston, and Dallas

I missed these pieces when they first came out, but they’re worth taking together. First, there’s Michael Barone’s reflection on what’s (economically) worth rebuilding in New Orleans. Then there’s Barone’s comparison of population growth in New Orleans, Houston, and Dallas. The short of it is that while the metro areas were once roughly comparable, for the past 25 years NOLA’s population has stagnated, while Houston and Dallas have each added northward of 2 million people. Barone points us to two pieces by Joel Kotkin. Here’s the conclusion of the first piece:

Instead of serving as a major commercial and entrepreneurial center, New Orleans’ dominant industry lies not in creating its future but selling its past, much of which now sits underwater. Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans’ economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure. This can be seen in New Orleans’ perennially high rates of underemployment, crime and poverty. The murder rate is 10 times the national average.

Perhaps worse, there seems to be some basic hostility in New Orleans to the very idea of an economic renaissance and growth. When I published rankings of the best cities for business for Inc. Magazine last year, New Orleans’ middling performance created consternation at one local daily newspaper -- for not being bad enough. Such negative attitudes may pose the biggest problem as the city begins to rebuild. Rather than imagine anything better, the temptation among some may well be to take the path of least resistance, restoring or reconstructing past icons in order to salvage the tourism-based economy.

A different, and more promising, approach might be to consider an "attitude adjustment." Instead of settling into its old role as a destination for conventioneers, masqueraders and weekend revelers, perhaps the city’s leaders can think about reviving the entrepreneurial spirit that made New Orleans a lure to the ambitious in its most glorious past.

Here are the central paragraphs of the second:

the tourism/entertainment industry is constantly under pressure from competitors. Once, being the Big Easy in the Bible Belt gave New Orleans a trademark advantage. But the spread of gambling along the Gulf has eroded that semi-sinful allure. Mississippi’s flattened casinos, with their massive private investment, will almost certainly rise years ahead of New Orleans’ touristic icons.

For all these reasons, New Orleans should take its destruction as an opportunity to change course. There is no law that says a Southern city must be forever undereducated, impoverished, corrupt and regressive. Instead of trying to refashion what wasn’t working, New Orleans should craft a future for itself as a better, more progressive metropolis.

Look a few hundred miles to the west, at Houston ¯ a well-run city with a widely diversified economy. Without much in the way of old culture, charm or tradition, it has far outshone New Orleans as a beacon for enterprising migrants from other countries as well as other parts of the United States ¯ including New Orleans.

Houston has succeeded by sticking to the basics, by focusing on the practical aspects of urbanism rather than the glamorous. Under the inspired leadership of former Mayor Bob Lanier and the current chief executive, Bill White, the city has invested heavily in port facilities, drainage, sanitation, freeways and other infrastructure.

Obviously, economic and population growth aren’t everything; Kotkin and Barone are as aware of that as the next guys. And no one says you have to trade Bourbon Street for what Joel Garreau once called the "blade runner landscape" of Houston. But much of New Orleans’ misery didn’t begin with the flood, and is intimately connected with a lack of attention to economic dynamism, as
this piece by Michael Novak suggests.

I don’t want to incur Quin Hillyer’s ire, but a reborn New Orleans ought to look forward while making every effort to preserve those elements of its past that can be preserved. Otherwise, its downward (I almost wrote "death") spiral will continue, with vulnerable people in a vulnerable city simply hoping that the next big hurricane never comes.

Update: Michael DeBow, who’ll be at Oglethorpe on Monday, has more links on which to chew.

Honoring the dead

Over at the main site, Mackubin Owens eloquently weaves a tapestry of words in honor of the war dead.  

European superiority

When you see the Katrina reaction stories from Europe, with the usual European tut-tutting about our alleged indifference to the poor and the downtrodden, etc., keep this in mind: In the summer of 2003, at least 15,000 mostly elderly people died of heatstroke and other heat-related causes in France.

Here are relevant portions of an AP story that moved at the time:

"The worst-hit country was France, which on Thursday reported a staggering heat-wave death toll of 14,802."

"In France, authorities placed part of the blame on inadequate care for the elderly and absence of medical personnel in August, a traditional vacation period when residents leave cities and doctors are hard to find. As temperatures soared in the first two weeks of August, elderly victims -alone at home without air conditioning or at overwhelmed nursing homes and hospitals - began to die of heat stroke, dehydration and other heat-related maladies at alarming rates."

They didn’t even have a hurricane or flood to blame. The elderly victims died because everybody else went on vacation and left them to fend for themselves.

Grandma est mort? Quel dommage! But regardez, mon ami, the great tan I got at the beach!

Ashbrook Center

Update on Peter Schramm

I am writing with the good news that Peter Schramm is out of the hospital and is recuperating in Texas. He will likely return to Ohio sometime next week and will spend many weeks regaining his strength from such a long hospital stay.

Testing will continue over the next several months to determine whether surgery on his pancreas will be needed. So far, his recovery has been faster than anyone expected, and we hope this will continue to be the case. Peter asked me to pass along his sincere thanks to everyone for their concern and prayers.

G. William Benz
President, Ashland University

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Hinderaker on the next nomination

John Hinderaker reviews the prospects and predicts that the battle will be ugly, very ugly:

If President Bush nominates another strong conservative to replace O’Connor, the result will be the political equivalent of World War III. Liberal interest groups will face an existential crisis if they do not fight bitterly to keep the Court’s current ideological makeup. Win or lose, they have no choice but to make the effort to oppose Bush’s second nominee. And, unfortunately for Republicans, it appears likely that any conservative jurist whom Bush may appoint will give the Democrats more ammunition than John Roberts did. So be prepared for the ugliest, most bitter confirmation battle in a generation.

Read the whole thing.

GWB’s sense of humor

I hope.

Baghdad and Philadelphia

John Zvesper draws lessons for Iraqis from the history of American constitutional and democratic government. Of course, he writes not just for Iraqis, but for us, reminding us that "[e]very democracy is an ’emerging’ democracy, given this danger of neglecting or denying essential principles."

For more on this theme, go
here and here  

Update on Gay Marriage in California

The latest reports over the wire indicate that the Governor will veto the bill.

Liberalism, conservatism, and Katrina

Willaim Voegeli offers his commentary on this exchange between Noam Scheiber and Ross Douthat.

At issue is the extent to which liberal or conservative approaches to government and to life in general are better capable of responding to and making sense of challenges like that posed by Katrina. Douthat expresses a good sense of the limits of government and a healthy respect for the power of nature. Voegeli does a good job teasing out what is implicit in Scheiber’s comments:

Scheiber would agree with Douthat’s proposition that “nature isn’t our friend,” but goes on to take the thoroughly modern position that humans have a vast capacity and, hence, duty to render nature friendlier to prevent “unnecessary pain and suffering.” Storms can be forecast, floodwaters diverted, illnesses cured – problems, in short, can be solved. Archibald MacLeish voiced this optimism in 1943: “We have the tools and the skill and the intelligence to take our cities apart and put them together, to lead our roads and rivers where we please to lead them, to build our houses where we want our houses, to brighten the air, clean the wind, to live as men in this Republic, free men, should be living.” In The Right Nation we learn that after LBJ’s election in 1964, “One group of scientists, their expenses paid by the National Science Foundation, even began a research project aimed at controlling the weather.”

It’s not clear whether Scheiber believes there is such a thing as necessary pain and suffering, as opposed to suffering to be ameliorated as we make the government ever more robust and efficient. He hedges on whether government’s obligations and capabilities are finite or infinite. If it “can mitigate, if not completely eliminate, much of the chaos and nastiness in the world,” how much chaos and nastiness would remain? Furthermore, would past governmental successes lead to demands to tackle still more problems, until the mitigation of much chaos and nastiness becomes asymptotically indistinguishable from the elimination of all of it?

Everyone ultimately agrees that some, and perhaps every, level of government could have done better. Mistakes, as they say, were made, some of them quite striking and perhaps culpable. But there’s no such thing as human perfection, and, as Voegeli points out, a substantial number of people have sense enough to accept that. I’m not about to argue that we should simply "move on," but I do think that we should ask those whose virtually first move is to blame government what warrant they have for their position. This is potentially a teachable moment for those who have the stomach to teach that human failure and human suffering are not ineradicable, and that nature cannot decisively be conquered.

Update: Bill McClay, smart as always, comes at these matters from a less political, more philosophical angle. Here’s the nub of his argument:

[M]any people will not care about the specifics; the important thing will be that SOMEONE IS TO BLAME. This points to an increasingly familiar pattern of expectation, which only grows as our scientific knowledge and technological wizardry grow. It parallels our society’s growing rage at a medical system, including the pharmaceutical industry, that has been remarkably skillful, and more skillful in each passing year, in successfully addressing a range of diseases and conditions that were formerly thought to be untreatable. But modern medicine cannot banish the existence of risk. Which is why the system is all too often a casualty of the very expectations it raises. There is a sense in which, the more things become mastered, the more intolerable are those remaining areas in which our mastery is not yet complete. This parallels very neatly the observation made by Tocqueville that times of revolutionary upheaval occur when social expectations are rising, and that the growth of social equality in America would exacerbate, rather than relieve, Americans’ sense of class injury and class resentment. This is less of a paradox than it seems at first glance.

Read the whole thing.

Y’all come

Thanks to Senator Robert Byrd, educational institutions that receive federal funds are required to celebrate Constitution Day by engaging in appropriate programming.

At my institution, I’ve organized a panel discussion on approaches to interpreting the Constitution, featuring Professor Michael DeBow, who blogs at Southern Appeal, and Mr. Gerald Weber, Legal Director of the Georgia ACLU. Festivities begin at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, September 12th in the lobby of the Conant Performing Arts Center on the campus of Oglethorpe University. A reception with modest refreshments will follow. Hunter Baker, another SA blogger, will also be there, albeit as a civilian.

A week later, our friends at Berry College will be hosting a lecture by Patrick Deneen. Call or email Peter Lawler for more details.

Gay Marriage in California

You may not have heard this piece of news coming from California, given the other more pressing news from the Gulf Coast, but our legislature passed a bill yesterday to legalize gay marriage. This is not domestic partnerships or some other arrangement . . . it is marriage on par with heterosexual marriages. Of course, the bill has to be signed by the governor, but the word out of Arnold’s office is not encouraging. His spokesman today is quoted as leaning toward letting the Courts decide. Great. More abdication of responsibility.

Partisanship under Bush

Bill Galston, about whom I have said nice things here and here, asserts that "Bush is the most partisan president in modern American history." His argument is that Bush always moves to consolidate his base rather than conciliate the opposition:

In Galston’s view, Bush bears principal responsibility for that condition, saying that on three occasions he passed up opportunities to govern from the center and work more constructively with the Democrats and instead chose a path designed to mobilize conservatives. The first came after the disputed election of 2000, in the early days of Bush’s new administration. The second came after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush’s approval rating rose to 90 percent. The third came after the hard-fought and polarizing election last year.

"While White House aides can provide familiar talking points on gestures of cooperation across party lines, the fact of the matter is on all three occasions, the principal thrust of Bush’s policies was toward polarization rather than conciliation," Galston said. "We are now living in the shadow of nearly five years in which that has been the dominant political message coming out of the White House."

Considering the vitiol and venom coming from many in the Democratic Party--which began almost the moment Bush took office, if not before--it’s hard to fault Bush for attending to his base, rather than risking alienating it in the vain hope of winning over the Kossacks. If moderates like Galston could reassert control over their party, which I think is nearly impossible, there would be something to be gained by reaching out more frequently across party lines.

In any event, to heap all the blame on the President for the current state of partisan bickering borders on the ridiculous. Galston is more measured and makes more sense here:

"Unlike other political scientists," Galston noted, "my recent work has led me to conclude that political polarization has increased sharply over the past forty years. This phenomenon represents, not so much a shifting pattern of convictions in the population as a whole, but rather a changing distribution of those convictions between the political parties and among states and regions."

This line of argument suggests that our situation is part of a longer-term trend, not a product of the actions of one administration, which strikes me as more correct.

New Orleans again

You’ve probably heard lots about what went wrong, but here is a compelling analysis of how wishful thinking contributed to massive human misery.

On the other hand, here’s an account of what wonders have been wrought by our armed forces in the disaster area.

Gilligan Unbound, for Eternity

One of my favorite pop culture books is Paul Cantor’s wonderful Gilligan Unbound, which makes sense of four major TV shows: Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, The Simpsons, and the X-Files. (The first two, Cantor argues, are windows into "Americanization," the latter two, windows into "globalization.")

Comes now the sad news that Bob Denver, aka Gilligan, has died. The critics always hated Gilligan’s Island, but it racked up pehnomenal ratings when it debuted the same fall that JFK was killed. Some critics said Americans wanted to watch some lighter fare in that dark hour.

Bob Denver, RIP.

Blogging and NLT

I had a number of conversations this past weekend at the APSA about blogging (and web-based publishing altogether). Among my interlocutors were NLT’s own Steve Hayward and Lucas Morel (who is currently very busy on an old-fashioned book for the University Press of Kentucky, if I’m not mistaken), Claremont’s Ken Masugi, ISI’s Jeremy Beer and Mark Henrie (who needs a new picture for his webpage; he’s much more handsome than that!), and Charmaine and Jack Yoest. We all agreed that blog and electronic readership is more active and engaged (that is, more likely to give evidence of reading and then to respond), which is quite gratifying for us authors. Of course, since you, dear readers, have been around the block a few times, this isn’t news. What I can’t understand is why anyone with a website promoting ideas doesn’t have a blog to engage readers and encourage them to read and think about the more extensive and discursive content elsewhere on the site.

Does nominating Roberts as CJ change anything?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks it raises the stakes:

By proposing that Roberts lead the court, Bush has given the liberal groups that oppose the nomination (and Democratic senators inclined to join them) a chance to regroup and argue that this battle is no longer a practice session for the next round. This is the next round.

"Now that he’s been nominated for chief justice, he’s not a test case anymore," said a Senate Democratic staffer close to his party’s discussions. "There’s a difference between being one of nine and Number One of nine. And if he’s confirmed, he’s likely to hold the job for the next generation."

I have two thoughts. First, the underlying political calculations haven’t changed for most Senators (with the possible exception of Mary Landrieu, who may have an interest in being difficult after having made pro-Roberts noises in the past). Few, if any, will move from support (in the face of the full-court press by the legal Left) to opposition just because Roberts’s title will change. To say that the new title requires a heightened standard of scrutiny, as Dionne and legal Left do, is a sign of desperation on their part.

Second, this new line confirms the notion that no one takes the "maintaining the balance" argument seriously. After all, replacing Rehnquist with his former clerk simply, for the moment, maintains the status quo, which folks like Senators Reid and Schumer had insisted was so important.

I think that
this article has it right:

[W]ith conservatives and liberals alike saying that Roberts is on track to be confirmed, the focus was already shifting to what both sides believe will be the real battle: Bush’s yet-to-be-named pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

But of course this "real battle" has been waged ever since the President nominated John Roberts. And the Democrats and their interest group allies have lost.

Good news in higher ed

Yes, that category exists, as this article by the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews (my favorite education writer) attests. I agree with virtually everything he says about freshman "great books" requirements, objecting only to his characterization of my institution as "small and little-known." Harumph!

Update: Paul Stern’s comments on the effect of Ursinus’"Common Intellectual Experience" bear quoting in full:

Opinions are like our homes, familiar and comfortable. More specifically, they’re like that picture on the wall in your kitchen -- you’ve seen it so often, it’s so familiar, you no longer even recognize that it’s there. It’s only by leaving the comfort and familiarity of your intellectual homes, by subjecting your opinions to the challenges of others, that you begin to recognize your own starting point because then you can no longer take it for granted. . . .

But thinking about them by yourself is not enough. . . . Make the arguments that support your view -- make them to your classmates, to your teachers, to your friends. And then, listen carefully to their arguments, and be willing to change your mind if you find their arguments sufficiently compelling. Because of the common character of this course, you can engage in this conversation night and day, in and out of the classroom.

Paul has, I think, captured very nicely the intention and spirit underlying and animating the "Great Books" approach to liberal education. The purpose is not simply to wrench people from their cultural or intellectual moorings--liberating them to be endlessly critical--but to enable them actually to own their opinions by understanding them fully. Of course, in some cases we may find that our opinions can’t be defended. In others, we may discover that our allegiance to them becomes much more solid.

"Where was God?"

Niall Ferguson asks this age-old question in relation to Katrina. Voltaire would have used it as evidence of God’s non-existence; Leibniz would have claimed it was all part of some larger plan, incomprehensible to the limited vision of human beings; John Wesley would have cited it as proof of God’s judgment of sinners. Few Christians today will echo Wesley’s line, but some Muslims are already doing it, talking about "Private Katrina" as a recruit in the "global jihad":

It would be hard to get more tasteless. Yet the same underlying impulse — to interpret the disaster as confirmation of one’s own ideological position — was at work among many American liberals too. Opponents of the war in Iraq were not slow to point out that National Guardsmen who should have been on hand to rescue hurricane victims were instead failing to prevent lethal stampedes in faraway Baghdad.

Ferguson concludes that it is pointless to try to find moral significance in natural disasters:

Natural disasters — please, let’s not call them "acts of God" — killed many more people than international terrorism that year (according to the State Department, total casualties because of terrorism in 2003 were 4,271, of whom precisely none were in North America).

On the other hand, disasters kill many fewer people each year than heart disease (around 7 million), HIV/AIDS (around 3 million) and road traffic accidents (around 1 million). No doubt if all the heart attacks or car crashes happened in a single day in a single city, we would pay them more attention than we do.

As Voltaire understood, hurricanes, like earthquakes, should serve to remind us of our common vulnerability as human beings in the face of a pitiless nature.

Roberts hearing speculation

I almost don’t know where to begin with this article, which suggests that religion could be a focus of the Roberts confirmation hearings.

Here’s as good a place as any:

Conservatives distrusted O’Connor for the same reason that liberals are sorry to see her go: She supported abortion rights and took moderate stances on other social causes, including voting to strike down Texas’s sodomy law, a 2003 case that was a turning point for gay rights.

Needless to say, voting with the majority on
Lawrence is not moderate, at least not where I come from.

Then there’s this, which requires much more parsing than she gives it:

The issue for both sides is not so much what Roberts believes is right or wrong. Rather, it is the degree to which he believes religious morality may be permitted to influence public policy. Liberals believe in a firewall between church and state, but as Christian conservatives see it, the Supreme Court should allow elected officials to restrict abortions or permit a Ten Commandments monument to be displayed on public property, if those actions have voter support.

The good news is that we seem to have moved out of Pryor-like "deeply held beliefs" territory, but moved into questioning whether and to what extent the motives of elected officials are fair game, if they’re religious. That way lies madness, it seems to me.

Finally, there’s this:

One way senators could broach the issue would be through a section of the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct that states judges should not preside over cases in which they have a financial "or other" interest. Democrats are debating whether to ask Roberts to interpret the section in the context of a decision by some Catholic bishops last year to refuse Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. If such a ban were extended to Supreme Court justices, would Roberts consider that a sufficient "other" interest?

To introduce this talking point without an even cursory exploration and explanation of Catholic doctrine--my feeble attempt is
here (with the links)--obviously only helps the opposition.

Of course, none of this surprises me.

Louisiana’s Political Future

It is thought crass to talk openly of the political implications of the New Orleans disaster--unless you are bashing Bush--but sooner or later someone is going to notice that it is the Democrats who face the greatest peril in the aftermath: they may very well lose a Senate seat next year.

Both Mary Landreau in 2000, and Gov. Blanco in 2002, owed their small margin of victory to large turnout from New Orleans. Now probably 200,000 or more of those Democratic voters have been relocated out of state. It is doubtful many of them will be back in New Orleans by election day next year. Some may never return. An absentee voting effort might work, but it will be hard to reach and mobilize that large a diaspora. If the Bush administration can do a decent job of throwing money at the reconstruction (how hard is that?), they may be able to cover up the black eye they got for the chaotic and ineffective response of last week.

I can’t want to read the MoveOn and DU posts about how this was part of a Karl Rove plot to disperse Democratic voters so that the GOP can steal another Senate seat.

John G. Roberts, C.J.

I had wondered about this, which effectively preserves the status quo (with O’Connor on the Court until yet another successor for her is found).

Roberts will of course be confirmed, a foregone conclusion even before this additional pressure was placed upon the Senate. We’ve seen the playbook of the "living constitution Left," and we’ve seen how little effect they can have, either on public opinion or on the Senate. As a result, the President can confidently nominate another judicial conservative. And he should, as soon as decency permits. (You know my preference.)

Update: More here and here. It’s clear that Sandra Day O’Connor could complicate matters, if she wanted to. But it’s not clear that someone who holds the substantive opinions attributed to Roberts will suffer any more from the assaults of the opposition than he has, so long as the new nominee and the Bush Administration have the stomachs for it.

Steyn on Katrina aftermath

Mark Steyn’s column nails it. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the people supervising the first responders clearly let them down, not to mention the people they were supposed to protect and serve. Here’s the conclusion:

Those levees broke; they failed. And you think about Chicago and San Francisco and Boston and you wonder what’s waiting to fail there. The assumption was that after 9/11, big towns and small took stock and identified their weak points. That’s what they told us they were doing, and that’s what they were getting big bucks to do. But in New Orleans no one had a plan that addressed levee failure, and no one had a plan for the large percentage of vehicleless citizens who’d be unable to evacuate, and no one had a plan to deal with widespread looting. Given that all these local factors are widely known -- New Orleans is a below-sea-level city with high crime and a low rate of automobile ownership -- it makes you wonder how the city would cope with something truly surprising -- like, say, a biological attack.

Oh, well, maybe the 9/11 commission can rename themselves the Katrina Kommission. Back in the real world, America’s enemies will draw many useful lessons from the events of this last week. Will America?

I guess Mary Landrieu will now have to punch Steyn (and, I guess, me).

Fishing the Sierra Nevada

After a long (nearly 3 weeks!) and arduous camping and fishing trip throughout the Sierra Nevada (Mammoth, Tioga Pass, and Yosemite), I am happy to report that the Ponzi family can brag (despite mosquitos, a possible bout with West Nile Virus, and the many inherent hardships of travelling with a 4 and a 6 year-old) about the budding fishing skills in our young daughter who caught a trout that was nearly 3 1/2 lbs. Of course, in the spirit of a true fisherman, she tells everyone that it was nearly 4 lbs.

Beyond that let me say that there is something deeply good for the soul in being so completely away from things--no T.V., very little radio, no computers, spotty cell phone service etc. Just hiking, fishing, campfires, smores, stars and bad food. But it is always bracing when we head home. We did not even know, for example, about the tragedy in the Gulf Coast until Thursday as we finally got some talk radio during our drive home. The odd thing is that we don’t think anyone else we were meeting around that area had heard about it either. No one, including park rangers at Yosemite, said a word about it! Getting away can be good, but that was a little too far away.