Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Business of America is Business . . . but What of Politics?

Charles Kesler in the LA Times (or better yet, so as not to serve the interests of that rag) see it in the latest Claremont Review of Books demolishes--for all time, one can hope--the argument that leads Republican types to call for so-called "business experts" to run our government. In so doing, he distinguishes between MBA types and entrepeneurs in a way that shows the clear superiority of the latter. Everyone should read it but you should read it, especially, if you are inclined to sign up for an MBA program. Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . . but you should know about the origins of that kind of program in the Progressive movement. Guess my dad was right to tell me years ago that training in business was little more than training to be somebody’s "boy."

Obama on religion and politics

I’m late to this party, but Barack Obama’s speech on religion and politics has been getting lots of attention. Peter Wood is suspicious of a good bit of it. Kevin Drum is cautiously favorable. At Mirror of Justice, Thomas Berg kicked off an exchange that included a number of interesting interventions, more indeed than I can accommodate without adding these links.

I don’t think I’m quite as suspicious of the speech as Wood is, but I do think that it is an interestingly confused (or perhaps carefully strategic, though I doubt it) presentation by a man likely to be a major force in the Democratic Party. I’m going to give some more thought to it and write something formal for one of my publication venues.

In the meantime, here’s an example of what’s interestingly confused:

over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people’s lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it’s time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that’s deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they’re coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

Can you tell whether he means this as an anthropological observation, a theological observation, or both? Here’s his (sort of) answer:

It wasn’t until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

I was working with churches, and the Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me. They saw that I knew their Book and that I shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst.

And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

And if it weren’t for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church.

For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.

What gives his life meaning, apparently, is working for social justice in this world, through a church, albeit not only or even mainly through a church. If faith were merely "a comfort tp the weary" or "a hedge against death" he might not take it as seriously. There’s more that I need to chew on.

N.Y. and Georgia gay marriage decisions

Here’s the NYT’s not altogether impartial account of the 4-2 decision finding a "rational basis" for a legislative preference on behalf of traditional marriage. I haven’t had time to read the opinions yet.

Here’s the AJC account of the Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in a more technical challenge to the state’s constitutional amendment affirming traditional marriage. Here’s the opinion. For some of the political background, go here.

Hamdan, the Court, and the political branches

Distracted by an Independence Day that included a visit to this historic site, I was late in getting this week’s column to the good people at TAE Online, who wasted no time posting it. Here’s the opening paragraph:

One of the most striking features of last week’s Supreme Court Hamdan decision was the way in which Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the plurality, sought always to understand the current global war on terror in the light of rules developed in and designed for more conventional conflicts. This was especially clear in two instances: when he challenged the very use of a military commission to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, and when he insisted upon the irregularity of the commission’s procedures.

And here’s the conclusion:

One good thing may result from the Court’s willingness to exceed the bounds of its competence and tread on the toes of the politically responsible branches. Everyone seems to agree that Congress now has to step up to the plate and legislate for the military commissions that are supposed to try alleged al-Qaeda members. Given the manner in which national security seems to be the Bush administration’s political and substantive strong suit, the resulting legislation may establish procedures that look a lot like those already in place. On the other hand, the Court’s repudiation of those procedures in Hamdan provides some ammunition to those who have a conventional or law-enforcement view of the global war on terror, which is (I’m sure) what they hoped when they succeeded in passing the buck in the first place.

If the Bush administration (as it ought) chooses vigorously to fight this battle, it can accomplish two things at least. First, its judgments about how to try detainees will in the end be vindicated, thus enabling us to “wage war successfully.” And second, the two politically responsible branches will have repudiated the judgments of Justice Stevens and his colleagues, which would have the salutary effect of reminding the Court of its mere equality with, and the deference it owes to, them.

Both results are worth the expenditure of a great deal of political capital. Both would be a substantial contribution to President Bush’s legacy of not only defending the nation but also defending the appropriate balance between the three branches of government. In connection with the latter legacy, the only thing that could improve upon it would be the appointment of yet another judicially modest nominee to replace Justice Stevens, who has here shown his imperious impatience with the limits of his office.

There’s more in between.

Update: Robert Alt details the liberal overreaction to Hamdan, which may lead one to doubt that cooler heads will prevail before November. A taste:

The hyperbolic reaction of the Left seems particularly ill-advised given that the Hamdan opinion will have little lasting practical effect: Congress has already made clear that it intends to grant the president the authority to utilize some kind of military commission. Despite several prominent Democrats supporting some form of legislation, there is caustic liberal sentiment against granting the president any such option. One of the first comments on the Daily Kos after Hamdan was issued summed up this position: "Democratics [sic] in Congress need to be told in no uncertain terms that they shall not vote to allow these tribunals. We need to put the electoral gun to their heads and make sure they march in the right direction on this." Of course, these orders would march the Democrats right out of Congress.

Read the whole thing.   

Update #2: Brett Marston disagrees with me. Here’s my quickie response:

I don’t think and didn’t say that adjudication is simply the application fo existing rules, though I do think that judges are, and ought to be, more closely bound by existing rules (in other words, less creative or innovative) than are the politically responsible branches. The rule of law, which is limited in certain extreme instances, requires that of them.

I also don’t argue that Congree should simply defer to the executive, though I do think that the executive’s responsibility for the conduct of the war deserves some repect and tends to give it the upper hand in any dispute with Congress.

Finally, I nowhere in the piece make the case for anything that could be called torture. My only concern is how, if at all, we’re going to try members of al Qaeda, given the fact that their respect for our version of the rule of law is at best tactical. (In other words, they’re all over the writ of habeas corpus, but not too fastidious about killing innocents.) I don’t regard battlefields as crime scenes, don’t regard soldiers and intelligence agents as detectives, and think that any rules for holding these folks legally accountable have to be fashioned with these and other such considerations in mind. I think the Bush Administration (leaving aside for a moment interrogation techniques, which I think are a separate issue with which Congress has already dealt in the DTA) has fashioned a plausible set of rules for trying these guys, if in fact they are to be tried. Members of Congress might disagree, and something will I hope be fashioned in the aftermath of Hamdan. If the only plausible option is trying them in accordance with the rules that typically apply to courts martial and/or trials in civilian courts, then I’m not sure how we can assemble to sort of evidence that those venues require. The Bush Administration and its successors would, it seems to me, to be left then with two options (consistent with our national security interests): locking these guys up for the indefinite duration of the GWOT (freeing them only at discretion, with no sort of regular process) or making sure there are no captives. I’d prefer some sort of commission route, so long as it takes into account the exigencies of the GWOT, over either of these two options.

Brett’s principal concern is with the use of evidence tainted by the coercive means through which it was acquired. The appropriate arena in which to make that argument is, I think, in Congress. My principal concern is in fashioning an effective and legitimate process for trying the detainees, which at this point also requires legislation. Let’s hope our legislators get it right.

Being American

What makes an American on this Fourth of July, asks an editorial? Good answer.

Icy waters?

I hadn’t noticed until today that Alan Jacobs compared NLT to the Daily Kos in his essay critical of blogs. Here’s the passage and its context:

I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.

Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage. Also—and this is a problem especially on the political blogs—commenters can find themselves confronted with very different beliefs than the ones they encounter in everyday life, where they often are able to select their own society. A right-winger wandering into a comment thread on is likely to get a serious douse of vitriol for his or her trouble; ditto a liberal who plunges into the icy waters of No Left Turns. And the anonymous habitués of a given site are unlikely to show much courtesy to the uninvited guest. (This is one reason why sites like the two just mentioned get more rhetorically, and substantively, extreme over time: everyone is pulling in one direction, and scarcely anyone shows up to exert counter-pressure.)

Wow! I wouldn’t have thought of comparing the level of vitriol at NLT to that I’ve seen at Daily Kos, and I’m not certain that NLT has gotten "more rhetorically, and substantively extreme," in the years that I’ve read and contributed to it. I know that there are a few anonymous commenters who are over the top at least some of the time, but even they, often as not, make substantive arguments. We are, for better (I think), not in the Daily Kos’s league when it comes to venom, vitriol, and extremism. And it’s not something to which I’d aspire.

So I ask NLT readers, liberal and conservative alike, what they think of Jacobs’s observations.

And for gosh’s sake, keep it civil.

Update: You should, of course, read the whole of Jacobs’s provocative essay, which makes a number of telling points, like this one:

Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather "news") can be tested and evaluated and revised, as we have seen repeatedly, from cnn’s firing of Eason Jordan to the discrediting of Dan Rather’s story on President Bush’s National Guard service. But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture. Even on a site with the brainpower of Crooked Timber, what happens more often than not—indeed, what happens so often that I’ve taken the site from my rss reader and only check it once or twice a month—is the conversion of really good scholars into really lousy journalists. With few exceptions, posts at the "academic" or "intellectual" blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.

So, yes, read, the whole thing, even if you don’t agree with it.

Born American podcast

A couple of friends of mine cannot see well enough to read. So, as a way of both celebrating our birthday, and giving them a gift of sorts, I have taken the liberty of reading my essay,

Born American, but in the Wrong Place, in a podcast form. Nothing melodramatic, just straight-forward boring me. Yet, I hope they, and you, may enjoy it. Happy birthday America!

1776 in the New York Times

Would the NY Times have disclosed the secrets of 1776? This is amusing. Thanks to Powerline.

What if...

Sunday’s New York Times published a fun piece on 10 days that - if things had gone a little differently - would have changed American history. Some of the interpretations are debatable, of course, but my favorite was one I didn’t know about: the attempted assassination of FDR in 1933 that was foiled by a wobbly chair. As the Times piece puts it:

"It should have been an easy shot: five rounds at 25 feet. But the gunman, Giuseppe Zangara, an anarchist, lost his balance atop a wobbly chair, and instead of hitting President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, he fatally wounded the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with F.D.R."

But for a piece of furniture, John Nance Garner might have become president.