Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Confessions of a Young Pyromaniac

Let me start by saying that I realize this would have been a lot more appropriate a week and a half ago.

Long before I was ever interested in politics, or before I’d ever heard the term "nanny state," I chafed against the government’s (in this case, the State of Pennsylvania’s) ban on fireworks. Okay, we could have sparklers, but that was about it. But occasionally one of my friends or I would go on a family trip that would take us through one of the "free states" (South Carolina, Wyoming, and Indiana were particularly good) to load up on bottle rockets, roman candles and M-80s. Then we’d go out to the backyard, break out the police radio (does anyone have those anymore?) and indulged our fire-loving ids (hey, those model airplanes weren’t going to blow themselves up). As soon as we heard something on the police radio about fireworks, of course, we’d gather up our contraband and rush inside until the heat was off. But I couldn’t help but think, what’s more American than fireworks (okay, okay, nearly all of them are made in China, but that’s not the point)? How dare the government interfere with our rights?

Now I’m an Ohioan, of course, and we have some pretty strange rules here. Sure, I can drive north about a half-hour to West Salem, and buy just about anything my little heart desires (including mortars--you know, smaller versions of the fireworks you see in professional displays). The only catch is, then I have to sign a document in which I promise not only that I won’t shoot them off in Ohio, but that I’ll remove them from the state within 48 hours. I suppose that’s so the state can enjoy the sales tax income while still avoiding lawsuits from the parents of some kid who blows his finger off with an M-80.

Anyway, I saw this article at ReasonOnline, so I thought I’d call attention to it. I was especially amused to see that one is four times as likely to be injured from an ordinary household cooking range than by a firework.

More gay marriage rulings

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for those pursuing a judicial strategy on behalf of gay marriage. Last week, courts ruled against plaintiffs seeking to challenge the results of a ballot initiative (Georgia) and to overturn traditional marriage legislatione (New York). Today, a federal appeals court reinstated Nebraska’s sweeping pro-traditional marriage constitutional amendment, adopted by voters in 2000. You can read the appellate opinion here, the original district court opinion here, and a news account here.

Efforts in Tennessee to keep an initiative off the ballot in November have been rebuffed by the state’s Supreme Court.

Volokh’s Dale Carpenter tries to find a silver lining, while discussing in another post a Connecticut ruling that turns back a challenge to that state’s civil unions legislation. (To be clear, the challenge was intended gain the label "marriage" for the arrangement the legislature crafted).

Podcast with Peter Lawler

My latest podcast was just posted. This week I spoke with frequent NLT commenter and Berry College prof Peter Lawler. Our discussion covers a wide range of topics from gay marriage to the selling of kidneys on eBay. Peter and I will talk again another time, but this was a great start.

More on Obama on religion and politics

Here’s an interview he gave to a DailyKos person, whose main concern seemed to be that Obama had misrepresented "progressives" as hostile to religion. The most interesting point B.O. made in the conversation had to do with his strategy:

Part of the purpose of the speech was to dissolve this sharp line between quote-unquote evangelicals and other Americans. The country is much more complex than that. The lines between people who are - let me describe it this way: there is a group that is of fundamentalist Christians who are not going to vote for Democrats or progressives, no matter what, and we can guess whatever that number is. Then there’s an enormous group of people who probably consider themselves swing voters who agree with Democrats and progressives on some issues, on opposition to the war, or what have you, who are also very committed to their church and their faith. From my perspective, the issue is not how do I persuade James Dobson to embrace the Democratic platform - that’s not going to happen - the question is, for those people who are committed Christians or Orthodox Jews or Muslims, who could potentially be open to a Democratic agenda, but also consider faith very important and central to their lives, and evaluate what happens in politics based on those commitments, is there a way to talk to them? I’m certain that of the 70% of the people [in Illinois] who approve of my performance in the Senate, that decent percentages of that 70% fall in that category.

To which I respond: if you really want to reach out to evangelicals, you may have to say something about abortion other than "safe, legal, and rare."

Here’s another interview, this one with his denominational news service. He’s committed, he says, to dialogue that is "fair-minded and respectful." He presumably hopes his interlocutors will either be changed or disarmed by the conversation. Is he willing to consider changing anything other than the packaging?

Democratic fall strategy?

This Democracy Corps memo focuses on a populist approach to economic policy. It didn’t work in two presidential elections. What makes them think it will work now?

What’s more, it seems that they have conceded that Iraq and national security aren’t issues on which they can run to victory. And the response they urge on gay marriage is intended to reassure proponents of traditional marriage.

I can’t imagine that the Kossacks would be happy with this, though so far as I can tell, they haven’t yet noticed.

Obama is everywhere

John Podesta’s Center for American Progress hosted a conference for campus liberals, keynoted by...who else? Here’s a blog describing Obama’s speech. No text, video, or other news coverage yet.

More on "Born American"

Regarding my article, "Born American, but in the Wrong Place," a reader comments:

What if somebody was born in America and felt that he was born in the wrong place? Then you guys would be all over this person proclaiming him to be dangerously unpatriotic. So, perhaps the idea of being born in the wrong place is just plain silly. Isn’t Peter Schramm’s self-congratulary piece on being born in the wrong place a slap in the face to all Hungarians who decided to stay and try to defend the country and improve it? After all, they were born in the same place as Schramm and his father. Certainly, things weren’t easy for those who decided to stay and fight. Maybe "born American, but in the wrong place" was just a euphemism for "I give up. We’ll do what’s easier for us, let others decide the fate of our homeland." Why not stay, fight the Communists at every turn, and work for a Hungary that follows the American model?

…I think such "born in the wrong place" claims could simply be used as convenient justifications for disengaging oneself in shaping the future of one’s native country. If it’s all about "accepting an idea(l) as the basis for a political regime," well, those ideas and ideals can and do change. I see "born in the wrong place" as the flipside to the ignorant "America: love it or leave it" mentality.

A response: I fought the communists at every turn after we left, both here and there; and I returned in the Fall of 1989 (and following) to help finish the job, and we did. I am not in debt to Hungary and the Hungarians. I paid and so have "my people" over the centuries. They tried liberalization innumerable times in their history (not only 1956, but 1820’s, 1830’s, 1848, etc). They always failed. The costs were great. Your great-grandfather is a slave, your grandfather is a political prisoner, as is your father. Your family starves. You remain human. You help those who are even worse off than you. You save a few Jews here and there, you risk yourself and yours. You sacrifice a family member here and there. You think, you brood, you act; you always hope and pray. How many generations of this can you take before you "give up?" How many generations before you become one of them (fascists, Nazis, Communists, monarchists, etc), just to feed your family and have a modicum of peace and tranquility in your life? How many generations of noble action are required before you pay your dues? How many generations of sacrifice before you admit that you are not an angel but merely a man? How many generations of slaughter before you say it is more important to be a human being than a "Hungarian"? How many wars do you have to lose--how many souls debased or extinguished--before you say enough? This is why we all want to come here, and no one (almost no one) ever leaves. God bless this people, and the things for which they stand, and may the country live just so long as there is a mankind. And I am not going to apologize for my love of your people and that on which their freedom is built.

Brave New World

This story about creating sperm from stem cells (which can be either male or female stem cells) and this story about a Japanese gadget that can record and replicate smells, present a host of interesting and complicated questions about what, exactly, we think we’re doing with science and technology today.

I remember a Dominican priest, who taught us ethics and apologetics during my Jr. year of high school, who warned our class that before we were well into adulthood men would not be necessary to produce off-spring. We all laughed at the notion--though some of the more snarky among the girls announced that they relished the thought. I very much doubt that those snarky girls thought much about what they were saying. I doubt it about as much as I doubt that those who devise these kinds of experiments in technology think about the consequences of what they have wrought.

The Rule of the Child-less

This interesting bit from USA Today tells us that in 1976 only 1 in 10 women in their 40s were without children. Today that number is 1 in 5. Another statistic cited: "In 1970, for example, 73.6% of women ages 25-29 had at least one minor child at home; 30 years later, 48.7% did." The article quotes Barbara Dafoe Whitehead (the author of the famous "Was Dan Quayle Right" article many years ago and of many good books since) who points out the obvious truth that this necessarily shapes the culture in a different direction. "People who are rearing children and have children in the household no longer represent the dominant force in society or politics," she says. And that means alot. Everything from what kinds of ads appear on T.V., to what kinds of shows, to workplace policies, to government policies will be affected and are affected by this shift. The character of these changes is still open for debate. I have my doubts about the goodness of them.

Where are all the good men?

John Seery takes note of this long NYT article about the relative scarcity of academically successful young men in college. Lots of explanations are proffered. All strike me as at least somewhat plausible. I do see more male than female slackers, but am unsure as to the cause. Do they not take college seriously because it’s not, in their view, worth taking seriously? Perhaps. I’ve seen some slackers who blundered into law school and then did quite well. I’ve also seen some collegiate slackers who have been exceptionally successful in the business world. I’m not saying that "book learnin’" is a girl thing, but wouldn’t it be worth asking what other than "Grand Theft Auto" excites the passions of young men?

There are also maturity issues with some of them. Not made to shoulder any sort of responsibility, or insulated from responsibilities they don’t like, they don’t yet know what it means to be a man.

John, who is manly and gentle, which is to say gentlemanly, concludes in this way:

I don’t know whether it’s time to ring a bell to alert the country that colleges across the nation seem to be graduating a generation of wimpy, diffident, clueless, unmotivated men (see, I’m participating in that wimpiness by refraining from a manly call to arms). Maybe there’s no cause for alarm, and the emphasis should instead be on women’s gains, not men’s temporary setbacks. What I do know is that the story of gender in America has become more complicated.

I certainly don’t have a magic bullet, though I wonder if more collegiate talk about and study of manly men might not begin to light a few fires.

Religious freedom in law schools

Yesterday, the 7th Circuit granted a preliminary injunction aginst the enforcement of Southern Illinois University’s non-discrimination policy, as applied to the Christian Legal Society chapter. Jeremy Richey has some background on this particular case. I wrote about these issues here. I may have more when I read the opinion.

Upate: MOJ’s Thomas Berg hopes the 7th Circuit’s opinion influences the 9th Circuit in the Hastings case. If not, we may eventually be headed to the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama’s profession of faith

That’s the title of this week’s TAE Online column, hot off the presses. (I finished it about two hours ago. That’s what I call service. FWIW, Ben Kunkel here is just as good.)

Update: From Mark Tooley’s description of the setting of Obama’s speech, not to mention the statements of his fellow speakers, Obama emerges, by contrast, as a moral and theological/political giant.

Update #2: I’m going to give Jon Schaff the last word. Beginning from Tooley’s description of the event, and provoked (especially) by Marian Wright Edelman’s speech, Jon has this to say:

Imagine a meeting of the religious right that used this kind of language? What would we read about them? The claims to moral superiority. The belief that their policy preferences have been endorsed by God. The depiction of their opponents as "weasels."

It seems the honest way to have these debates is as follows. The left can claim accurately that Christ wants us to care for the poor. They can then claim that in their opinion a large welfare state is the best way to obey that commandment. That is different from saying Christ wants a large welfare state. Christ tells us to care for the poor, but he is agnostic on how to go about it. Likewise, all agree that Christ wants us to care for the weakest among us. Religious conservatives believe that includes the unborn. So let’s have a debate about what we owe, if anything, to the unborn.

Barack Obama would have to concede that those are "fair-minded words," unlike the ones apparently uttered by Edelman.

Goldberg on Fukuyama

Jonah Goldberg has a nice long review of FF’s recent book here. A snippet:

Francis Fukuyama, the author of The End of History, is a man constitutionally determined to find the permanent theory of everything. It seems, however, that America at the Crossroads represents less a serious theoretical exegesis than a momentary crisis of confidence by one of the smartest observers around. It is a snapshot taken at a moment of maximum neo-conservative despair stemming from confusion over the Iraq war and the nature of the Islamist threat. In a Huntington age, he is unwilling to relinquish the vision of a Fukuyama world. As such, this book offers useful insights into the internal contradictions within and among conservative policymakers, but ultimately it creates more bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion than it dispels.

Read the whole thing.

For what it’s worth, my own half-baked thoughts on the book are here.

Wicked and mad world

Bombs on seven trains in Bombay kill over 100 people (the toll will surely rise) as the Bush administration "in an apparent policy reversal sparked by a recent Supreme Court ruling, said today it will extend the guarantees of humane treatment specified by the Geneva Conventions to detainees in the war-on-terror."

Statesmanship Theses

Each Ashbrook Scholar writes a senior thesis (Statesmanship Thesis). The best is rewarded with publication and receives the Charles E. Parton Award. For 2006 we had two first class theses, both were recipients of the Parton Award. Lauren Calco’s "Hands of a Healer: Tolkien’s Understanding of Kingship," will be published in a few weeks, and I will bring it to your attention then. In the meantime, the other winner of the Parton Award is out: Deborah O’Malley,
"The Dictates of Conscience:" The Debate over Religious Liberty in Revolutionary Virginia, and here it is in a PDF file (63 pages). I hope you enjoy it. I think it’s very good work. Professor Jeffrey Sikkenga was her advisor.

UN Corruption, Quantified

The Weekly Standard draws our attention to this study of parking tickets racked up by UN diplomats that go unpaid because of diplomatic immunity. The authors find a close correlation between the frequency of parking ticket violations and the level of corruption in the home countries (as measured by several international indexes of corruption). Egyptian diplomats, for example, racked up more than 16,000 unpaid parking tickets between 1997 and 2002.

Gotta love that UN. What was it Lyndon Johnson said about that august body? (Answer in comment thread.)

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for June

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

Matt Mingus

Ian Hanchett

Lisa Cook

Lena Johnson

Karen Valli

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 July’s drawing.

Very funny

Remember the question about the "bulge" in Bush’s suit during one of the debates? Bush Pilot explains it all. Very funny. Knowledge of German not necessary. (Much thanks to Kathryn Lopez at NRO!)

Ramirez Cartoon

I have met Mr. Ramirez (listen to his talk at Ashbrook in

2005), and I have talked with other cartoonists. Look at this cartoon. Think of a mind that could conjure old and somewhat creacky spacecraft, just like my father’s first car: a 1949 Oldsmobile, which he bought in 1957. Perfect. Oddly, in person, Michael Ramirez is an entirely normal human being (as far as I can tell).

Rice at Boston College

Remember the tiff caused by Condi Rice accepting the invitation to speak at the Boston College commencement? Well, Marc Landy was the good guy through it all. I talked to him briefly about it in a podcast and congratulated him for his good work.

Mansfield on Womanliness

I’m late in noticing it, I know, but Prof. Harvey Mansfield was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College this year and you can read the text of his remarks in the June issue of Imprimis. Rather than focusing directly on the question of "manliness" Mansfield, instead, took up the question of femininity or womanliness--and did this, as he put it, by way of suggestion. This method was, for him, both wise and prudent--but it leaves open a host of questions (perhaps to be addressed by others as he seems to both hint at and hope for).

The most compelling "suggestion" Mansfield makes is in the title itself: A New Feminism. The title takes on the dual purpose of "suggesting" both that there is something wrong with the current feminism and--which is more--that there may be something good in feminism as such (or reconfigured, or reconstituted, or rightly understood). Many thinkers and writers have attempted to take on the task of redefining what feminism "really is" in the (vain and, perhaps, vainglorious) hope of saving feminism from itself. Indeed, most books that one reads these days from feminists are books that seek to set feminism on the "right track"--either by harkening back to its "founding" or by insisting that it re-birth itself drawing on principles either missed in its founding or incompletely understood at that time. But Mansfield does not make such an attempt here. Because he merely suggests things, he does not have to enter into the fray of that presumptuous discussion.

What he does do is begin with some different conclusions about the natures of both men and women than those adopted by feminism’s fore-mothers. To put it simply, he notes that men and women are both the same and different. Feminism began by emphasizing the "sameness" of men and women over (and sometimes against) their differences in order to achieve a more equitable situation for women vis a vis the workplace and politics. But the standard of judging its success should not be whether or not that project was successful (it was) but whether or not it has produced greater happiness. A mere glance at the covers of most women’s magazines (and, increasingly, one might add--the men’s magazines) in the grocery line suggests that it has not produced much happiness at all.

Mansfield seems to suggest that the problem with the current feminism’s origins (in Beauvoir and others) is that it was not nuanced enough. In denying the existence of or denigrating the existence of "femininity" we seem to have created a sexless society in which no one really seems to enjoy both our common and different natures. Mansfield seems to pine for a feminism that recognizes and encourages femininity--but emphatically states that putting the genie back into the bottle (especially regarding the workplace and politics) is both impossible and, probably, undesirable. So what then can best work to secure our happiness?

A most telling suggestion about how to get to a better place comes in the section where Mansfield reconsiders the old "Double Standard" regarding sex:

The traditional double standard of sexual morality had been higher for women than for men, but feminists posited that men could get away with anything. Rather than trying to elevate the standard for men’s sexual behavior up to that of women, as nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century feminists proposed, the Beauvoir feminists proposed to lower the standard for women down to that of men. The result of abolishing the double standard has been to do away with any standard. Moderate feminists such as Naomi Wolfe have begun to have second thoughts about this result.

I confess to having thought about this more than I have studied it, but a thoroughgoing study of these very early feminists may prove quite interesting if, as Mansfield suggests, it shows that the problem with today’s feminism is not so much--as conservatives frequently like to argue--that it produces emasculated men (though it can and sometimes does) but rather, that it produces far more masculinzed men and women. Feminism, ironically, has made us all more "manly" but not in a way that is either admirable or conducive to our happiness. Perhaps what he’s getting at is that in some ways, we are all pigs now. What we all need to do, he seems to suggest, is to buck up and act like real women.

Back home

California is now always strange to me. Although the friends and conversations are always good, the heat in the desert is surreal, the traffic is pain-giving, and the numbers of people one sees and the expanse of it all seems exotic, but mostly unpleasant. The local political news is almost foreign to my ears. I am now utterly acclimated to the pleasant Ohio towns and country, and the good tempered folks to be found therein. It’s nice to be home. The dinner with the

Publius Fellows was the highlight of my visit. Impressive bunch.

Religion and the university

This looks like an interesting book, so long as its result is not to (re?)introduce this religion into the university.

Anti-Soccer Rant

Thank God the World Cup only happens every four years. I can’t stand the suspense of high-scoring 3-2 games! What kind of sport is it that wastes such amazing fitness and athletic talent on a game where you can’t use your hands on the ball, where 4 points is a super high scoring game ( was there a single game this year where any team scored 4 goals or more??), and where a tie is settled with penalty kicks instead of the American way, "Sudden Death" overtime?

Can’t use it. Give me the NBA or NFL any time over this typically silly European "sport."

The final injustice: France was--it pains me to say--the obviously superior team. Notwithstanding the joy at seeing France lose for political/cultural reasons, this would never happen in major American sports.

If I have to watch one of these Euro-spawned sports, give me Australian-rules football, which combines the best of rugby, soccer, and American football into one high scoring, low-foul game.

Democrats and religion

This Pew poll analysis provides some context for the interest in Barack Obama. Here’s the conclusion:

As scholars who doubt the existence of a culture war point out, there remains in the United States a (very) large corps of moderate citizens and voters, and these voters truly hold the balance of power in American elections. These voters, and even a large portion of seculars, have overwhelmingly positive views of religion and desire an important public and political role for religious symbols and values. The analyses reported here suggest that even among many of these centrist citizens and voters, the Democratic Party is not seen as friendly toward religion, and these analyses show that this is strongly related to the Party’s general reputation and electoral outcomes.

This second dimension of the Democrats’ problem also suggests an alternative route to overcoming their recent struggles with religion. That is, instead of having to peel away at the conservative Christian base of the GOP, the Democrats may benefit simply from convincing centrists of their general friendliness toward religion. Attempting to convince the public of their friendliness to religion, however, may carry risks of its own for the Democrats. Our analysis indicates that among seculars, who have become one of the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, those who view the Democrats as friendly toward religion were actually less likely to have voted for Kerry than were those who view the Party as unfriendly toward religion.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that perceptions of Democrats’ friendliness to religion are the new linchpin of American politics or the single key to understanding electoral outcomes. But in a nation where the electorate is as closely divided as the American electorate has been in recent years, any one of a number of factors could, conceivably, serve to tip the balance in one direction or another. Perceptions of the Democrats’ friendliness toward religion may be one such factor.

In other words, there may be some portion of the electorate for whom Obama’s generally religion-friendly position--despite its predictably liberal conclusions on almost every issue--is sufficient to move them in the Democratic direction.

The one thing that gives me pause, however, is the failure of the Pew analysts to take race into account. I suspect that African-Americans, generally speaking, regard Democrats as friendly toward religion. By not controlling for that factor in their analysis, the Pew folks may, first of all, have overstated the perception of Democratic friendliness toward religion and, second, have overstated the prospects for moving people in the Democratic direction by altering public perceptions.

Of course, as they note, in a closely divided electorate, it doesn’t necessarily take much movement to shift the outcome. This is less true in the House of Representatives, where there are very few genuinely competitive seats, but it could make a difference in Senate races and perhaps even in a presidential race.

Looking at the 2004 state-by-state results, there six states that GWB won narrowly: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and Ohio. Ohio would have been in the Kerry column with a shift of roughly 69,000 votes (1.3% of the electorate), Florida with a shift of 191,000 votes (2.5%). Had 0.43% of the voters in Iowa shifted, along with 0.6% of the voters in New Mexico and 1.3% in Nevada, Kerry would have won the electoral vote (without, of course, necessarily winning the fictitious national popular vote).

Now, factor in a consideration of religious affiliation by state. Evangelicals are the largest or second-largest bloc of potential voters in each of the six states. In two states (Iowa and Ohio), mainline Protestants are the largest; in one (New Mexico, naturally), Latino Catholics are the largest. While there’s all sorts of talk about a leftward drift among evangelicals, I continue to believe that an issue like abortion will continue to loom relatively large for them, as it will for Catholics. The religious voters most likely to be susceptible to Democratic appeals are mainline Protestants, who have been migrating toward the left and diminishing in number (thanks both to the aging of the population in the pews and the well-documented silly trendiness of the denominational hierarchies and/or bureaucracies).

Barack Obama’s appeal strikes me as strongest with the mainliners, and secondarily with the African-American church. (While I share Peter Lawler’s view that "African Americans are easily the most genuinely Christian Americans who vote Democratic," I think Obama’s biography and faith journey are uncharacteristic of that population: his faith seems more cerebral and less evangelical than is typically found in African-American churches.) He looks a little like some of the "seekers" who populate some of the big evangelical churches, but to the extent that he emphasizes social justice at the expense of personal transformation, he may lack a certainly credibility at places like Saddleback Church. Can his appeal make a difference? Perhaps. Has he found the Democratic "magic bullet" destined to diminish the "God gap"? I don’t think so.