Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Is Dubai the "impossible city"? "On the one hand, it’s more cosmopolitan than eastern Germany and southern Italy, more tolerant than Poland or Louisiana, and consumers spend more here than in Munich or Madrid. But on the other hand it’s a dictatorship, almost a rogue state, a desert regime without a parliament or a political opposition, without trade unions, political parties or associations. All books and newspapers are subject to censorship. Sharia law is observed, including corporal punishment, and all Jews are strictly banned from entering the country." (via Arts and Letters Daily).

Confederacy of Dunces

La Shawn Barber has a big thought about the Virginia Senate race, and a race word. (via Instapundit). 

Saturday Soundings

Fascinating article in the latest issue of The Nation, analyzing the attempt of left-wing philanthropists to mimic the legendary infrastructure of the right through an effort called the Democracy Alliance. I recommend it as a pick-me-up for anyone down about Republican chances in the election: if this is what the left is up to, they can count on resuming their long-term decline after a brief blip in this election. It bears all the hallmarks of stupid liberal policy: excessive centralization and an obsession with process.


A secondary problem is the struggle these well-meaning wealthy Democrats have had in getting their own house in order. Since its inception, the Alliance has been unabashedly elitist, while also poorly run. The criteria for choosing winners have been maddeningly opaque and the grants themselves contradictory. Far from speeding up the funding of progressive organizations, the Alliance has slowed certain things down.

Meanwhile, for would-be recipients, the process of applying for money was bewildering: completely secret and seemingly changing all the time. . . The small number of groups chosen, some of whom were already well funded, and the secrecy of the process infuriated organizations excluded from the club. No one knew exactly why the nine groups had been picked. Funding progressive infrastructure was all well and good, but no one bothered defining precisely what "progressive" meant. The partners themselves, with their business backgrounds, focused on the process by which groups were funded, not what they would do with the money. "There was an almost complete lack of actual substance," one adviser to a major donor said of the Atlanta meeting. The groups were selected to mirror the right but were far less anti-establishment than their conservative counterparts.

In the second round of funding, however, the Alliance fell into the common liberal trap of needing to be all things to all people. After two grant cycles the Alliance is overextended. . . To date the Alliance hasn’t been deeply involved in idea creation in the same way conservatives have been. . . A funding shortfall only partially accounts for the Alliance’s inattention. There are philosophical reasons as well. Idea creation takes time, media development is expensive and both are risky. And the Alliance is highly risk-averse.

Clearly they have their work cut out for them, especially since this (scroll down a bit for the chart) is how so many of their target audience conceive the right. Looks to me like LSD is making a comeback.   

Chemerinsky on the Public Expression of Religion Act

Liberal law prof (almost a redundancy, I know) Erwin Chemerinsky argues that by denying plaintiffs’ attorneys (from the ACLU and Americans United, for example) the ability to collect their fees if they win a case under the Establishment Clause, the Public Expression of Religion Act would deprive Americans of the opportunity to vindicate their rights:

Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. The religious right, which has been trying for years to use government to advance their religious views, wants to reduce the likelihood that their efforts will be declared unconstitutional. Since they cannot change the law of the Establishment Clause by statute, they have turned their attention to trying to prevent its enforcement by eliminating the possibility for recovery of attorneys’ fees.

Those who successfully prove the government has violated their constitutional rights would, under the bill, be required to pay their own legal fees. Few people can afford to do so. Without the possibility of attorneys’ fees, individuals who suffer unconstitutional religious persecution often will be unable to sue. The bill applies even to cases involving illegal religious coercion of public school children or blatant discrimination against particular religions.

Aren’t there generous secularists and separationists who are willing to bankroll such challenges? There are plenty of good things, like school choice, which could be funded by government, but often aren’t. In some cases, the philanthropic sector has picked up the ball. Why not let Establishment Clause challenges be another arena in which we rely on the generosity (to use the word generously) of those who wish to pursue that particular agenda?

Chemerinsky assumes that the sorts of challenges he wants to encourage are always meritorious, but Congress--entitled, as it is, to its own assessment of the judiciary’s record in these matters--begs to differ. The legislative branch is certainly free to decide whether or not encouraging such suits, and implicitly approving of the string of decisions that inspired, and will be extended by, them, is a desirable goal of public policy. To my mind, little or no harm would come from reining in the separationist litigators and, in effect, compelling them to choose their cases more carefully, since they’re spending their own--or rather their donors’--money.

A last thought: if Chemerinsky is so interested in defending the litany of rights currently upheld by the courts, would he be willing to support an analogous mechanism for discouraging frivolous lawsuits? Suppose the plaintiffs lost. Could it be possible under law for the defendants to recover their court costs? Turnabout would seem to be fair play. (Perhaps this is already possible. If so, I ’m hoping that one of our attorney readers will set me straight.)

NIE supports GWB

So says this piece from Down Under. A snippet:

The NIE states: "We assess that the Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre for jihadists." Well, let’s assume that’s correct. My question is: And? What follows from that assessment? Israel is also a cause celebre for jihadists. Does that mean we should abandon it? If the answer is: "No, that’s a ridiculous proposition", then it is logically equally ridiculous in the case of Iraq.

Of course, there are people who think we should abandon Israel, who would probably also argue that to respond in any way to jihadist provocations or to offend their sensibilities is to pour fuel on the fire, to which there is this response:

Non-action has its own consequences. There is a strong case to be made, and certainly one I support, that non-action is exactly what caused the original growth and strength of jihadism in the lead-up to 9/11. Would the world have been safer if we had continued to avoid retaliatory action? I don’t think so.

The Which Blair Project

Couldn’t help that headline, as I read this terrific Gerard Baker column on the "Americanization of British politics" under Tony Blair.


Mr Blair’s speech this week too was suffused with American echoes and cadences. A friend commented to me in the middle of the peroration that it sounded increasingly like Martin Luther King’s dramatic final declamation to the startled crowd in Atlanta.

“I may not get there with you,” Mr Blair, the soon-to-be martyred leader seemed to be telling his people. “But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land” — of city academies and foundation hospitals. If he had told us that he had a dream that one day all the little Brownites and all the little Blairites would hold hands together like sisters and brothers there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.


Friday Follies

Remember when Nixon said something like, "If the president does it, it’s not illegal"? Well, I fully expect my green friends to say something like "If nature pollutes, it’s not pollution" in response to this story in this morning’s Washington Post.

I was on the road yesterday in Chicago, where, because the in-house ethernet service was down at the Drake Hotel, I wasn’t able to file "Thursday Thoughts." The Drake’s internet server was down for the entire 24 hours I was there, which is simply astounding these days. I left a scortching note for the manager.

Tomorrow and Saturday

I will speaking tomorrow to the staff of the Harvard SALIENT and other conservative student organizations tomorrow at 530pm in Sever 103. You are invited and feel free to contact me for more details.

On Saturday, I will be speaking briefly with Paul Cantor, Bill Kristol, Michael Sandel, and others at the Memorial for Delba Wintrhop at the Mansfield home on Raymond Street in Cambridge at 1130am.

Freedom Fighter, from San Jose to Vietnam

Cong Thanh Do is back in the U.S.A. after spending 38 in jail in Vietnam.

"Do’s arrest exposed a double life he had led for seven years. By day, he was an engineer at Applied Materials. By night, he was an online freedom fighter who wrote political essays under a pen name, Tran Nam, who pushed for an end to Vietnam’s one-party communist system.

He and his wife had fled Vietnam by boat, arriving in the United States as political refugees in 1982. Even as he settled into the routines of family life, fathering three children and starting a bakery on the side, Do never gave up on hopes of helping reform his native country.

’I have a very nice, comfortable life here in the United States. But a part of me is always in Vietnam,’ said Do, 47. ’I’ve always wanted to do something for Vietnam, so the people can enjoy what I do: democracy.’"

What’s going on?

Fouad Ajami offers a complex and unwieldy take on an unwieldy and complex region.

Grade Inflation

Here’s an article by the courageous Stanley Kurtz on the causes and possible cures for grade inflation. In honor of Harvey C-minus Mansfield, we have to give his analysis some thought. But we also have to remember that Harvey ended up having to give both real grades and ironic grades. The ironic (or typically high Harvard) grade is the one actually recorded, the other is a more accurate evaluation of the student’s work. Harvey ddesn’t want students penalized for taking his class. And Kurtz reminds us that a B at Harvard is a genuinely subpar grade. An unironic Harvard C-minus is vritually inconceivable, although very old people tell me it once was what a B is now.

Harvard and the other elite schools put professors at more ordinary colleges in an awkward situation. Nobody is going to think a B at my college is anywhere near as good as a B at Harvard, but a B at Harvard is not so good. So wouldn’t my ironic position have to be to give someone who would have earned a B at Harvard an A? A fair number of my majors right now could, I think, scrape by with Bs at Harvard. Some could do better still, but I’m left with no grade for them.

Another pressure comes at colleges with schools of education, which often give lots and lots of As based on the principle of mastery grading. If you perform each of the sundry tasks of the course competently, you get an A. So A doesn’t mean excellent, but adequate across the board. Education schools, of course, are all about "the culture of assessment," but that really means detailed quantitative proof of adequate achievement of all the "learning outocomes."

The great injustice of grade inflation is to the admirable, overachieving student who can’t be properly rewarded for his or her outstanding work. The result is an overemphasis on standardized national tests, such as the GRE and LSAT, which should properly be viewed as supplementary, not primary, information concerning a student’s achievement and promise.

I don’t share Mr. Kurtz’s optimism that a war against grade inflation could be won, but I urge him to join us in the trenches any try.

End of term red meat or dead meat

I posted a note on yesterday’s parental notification vote over at Knippenblog.

There was also a roll call on the Public Expression of Religion Act, which would prohibit plaintiffs’ attorneys from collecting legal fees for cases in which they successfully challenged a publicly-sponsored religious display. I think the bill has merit--given the cost and unpredictability of litigation, the very threat of a suit might be sufficient to cause some defendants to surrender--but I’m not at all confident that it will pass the Senate in the waning days of the term.

Republican House, Democratic Senate?

to the astute Democratic analyst Mickey Kaus, the odds are now that the Repubicans will retain the House and lose the Senate. There are enough Senate races now that are even or leaning Democratic according to the actual poll numbers to produce a Democratic takeover. And the historical tendency has been for all the close Senate races to break one way or the other in the final days. Right now, most of the close races show a slight to rather pronounced Democratic trend. But don’t despair. The trend on House races is reassuring. And the Senate races really could break either way, if the break theory really does hold up.

Andy Busch podcast

I had a brief conversation about the elections with Andy Busch a few hours ago.

Testosterone and Brain Cell Depletion

Too much testosterone can kill brain cells! Does this explain Clinton’s explosion? O.k., that was too easy. But just to prove that I’m really not anti-science, take a look. Interesting and, perhaps, relevant. What say you Prof. Lawler?

Waziristan = Talibanistan?

Tony Blankley reflects on some sobering news about a "separate peace" between Pakistan and Waziristan:

Whatever is going on in Pakistan (and we must hope that the men who replace Musharraf sooner or later will not be more sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and will be at least as careful in controlling their nuclear weapons), our effort to stand up Afghanistan and suppress the Taliban and al Qaeda in the region has suddenly taken on an even more formidable dimension.

There are no ready solutions to the dilemma. With Pakistan now hors de combat, our already undermanned forces in Afghanistan will soon have to engage the tribal regions of northwest Pakistan -- fighting some of the world’s most resourceful and cruel fighters in the most unforgiving lands on earth.

Read the whole thing, as well as this.

Update: And then read this for a somewhat more hopeful analysis of the events. I’d love to think that RC2 is right that this actually frees our hands somewhat in Waziristan.

Update #2: This WaPo article offers some more information, but doesn’t settle anything. This AP story offers evidence that Taliban activity has increased since the Pakistanis signed the accord.

Legal vs. natural parenthood

Tom Cerber calls our attention to this study, which details the way in which legal definitions of parenthood are moving futher and further away from our our most natural experiences.

Wag the finger

I like Kathleen Parker’s take on the Clinton interview, his narcissism and "his inner Gollum."  

Mozart cancelled

Is art "falling on its knees before the terrorists" in

Hayward podcast

I talked with Steve Hayward for fifteen minutes yesterday on Bill Clinton’s interview and the elections. Although I am going to be talking with others, I will make a point of talking with both Hayward and Busch every week through the elections. 

Good blogger daughter

This morning, as I was consulting with my daughter (8 going on 14) about what she would wear to track, she announced that she had seen on the news that current temperatures were in the mid-40s. I didn’t think that could be right (high 50s is more like it, going up to the upper 70s), so she gave some ground. "You know, Daddy," she whispered, "the news lies." My response:
"Not about the weather, honey, not about the weather."

Too easy to fact-check.


Forget immigration as a hot-button issue. Sooner or later flyers are going to say "enough!" if the government doesn’t stop idiocy like this.

Your partisan duty

Get married, preferably before November, but certainly before 2008. and have children as quickly as possible. I live, by the way, in the Congressional district with the third highest marriage rate. The number one district is right next door.

Civic literacy

Pete Du Pont calls attention to this report showing an astonishingly low level of civic literacy among American college students. I haven’t been able to download the whole report yet, but Du Pont summarizes the results:

As for the 50 colleges that participated in the program, the best-scoring students were not from the institutions one might expect. Rhodes College, Colorado State University and Calvin College were the top three, with senior students averaging between 9.5 and 11.6 percentage points higher than freshmen.

At the other end of the scale were 16 schools that showed "negative learning"--that is, seniors scored lower than freshmen. Cornell, UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins were the worst three, their seniors scoring between 3.3 and 7.3 percentage points worse than their freshmen. And on the negative list were some other very prestigious universities: Williams, Georgetown, Yale, Duke and Brown.

How did these educational failures come to pass? ISI concludes that "students don’t learn what colleges don’t teach." In other words, in colleges where students must take more courses in American history they do better on the test, outperforming schools where fewer courses were completed. Seniors at the top test-scoring colleges "took an average of 4.2 history and political science courses, while seniors at the two lowest-ranked colleges . . . took an average of 2.9 history and political science courses." Similarly, higher ranked colleges spent more time on homework, 20 hours a week at fourth-ranked Grove City College and 14 or 15 at low-ranked Georgetown and Berkeley.

Here are the full rankings, for those of you who care about such things. Kudos to our friends at Rhodes, whose students registered the greatest increase over their college careers. There are other interesting tables here, which enable you, among other things, to see the absolute scores of the students at various institutions, and to take a look at which questions students seemed to do best adn worst on.

I can’t wait to see whether and how defenders of the status quo in higher education try to spin these results, which seem quite striking. Inside Higher Ed shows the way, offering this banal truth:

The report also found that some of the most prestigious colleges in the United State had lower rankings on the survey questions than did less prestigious institutions.

That seems right, but they’re squandering an opportunity to do so much more with such promising prospects, who know a lot coming in, and often less coming out.

Update: Here’s the one story I could find about the press conference describing the study.

Pop Culture to the Rescue

From an unlikely blog, this reminder from The Beverly Hillbillies that politics ain’t beanbag:

Granny: "Remember what William Jennings Bryan said, ’fight hard but fight clean’?"
Jethro: "But you ain’t fightin’ clean Granny"
Granny: "Course I ain’t, William Jennings Bryan was a loser!"

Happy Wednesday.

Wednesday Wonders

Democrats are having gas pains: the pump price keeps falling! Heavens: there goes a talking point. Here’s Rich Lowry and Rick Newman on the amusing spectacle.

Rural-Metro Partisan Divide Closing?

Here’s Michael Barone’s incisive and detailed analysis of the congressional races. He attempts to explain why Republican support has declined in rural areas but has held steady or even picked up in metropolitan ones. One theory: Rural Americans bear most of the burden of fighting the war in Iraq, while urbanites have the most to fear from terrorists. It could be, though, that Republican metro-success may depend on the peculiarities of particular races--in MD the Republicans have an attractive African American candidate who is doing comparatively well among black voters, in NJ the Democrats are stuck with a crook. It’s also the case the NJ is one of the few states that the Republicans recruited the challenger they wanted most.

Countering the counterculture

Bill McClay has a nice little piece in the new issue of Touchstone. A snippet:

Not so long ago, the quest for liberation from social convention carried certain perils. But now we have made that quest into a new social convention in its own right, with its own canons of respectability, such as the routine celebration of books and movies and other works of art solely on the grounds that they are “troubling” or “transgressive,” qualities now deemed to be peculiarly meritorious in and of themselves, quite apart from their specific content.

Of course, one of the many dirty little secrets of this dirty little ethos is that it rests upon a veiled form of class snobbery. There must always be certain unnamed “others,” the gaping suburbanites and mindless rubes who are thought to sustain and uphold the philistine conventions from which “we” perpetually need to be liberated. But those “others” seem increasingly shadowy and hard to locate. The specter of a monolithic “red state” America is an easy way of positing the continued pernicious existence of such benighted “others.”

But as a resident of a certifiably red state, I can authoritatively testify that we are all Bobos on this bus—or at least most of us. The new convention has been triumphant beyond its wildest dreams, and now suffuses our popular culture and our advertising, assimilated into the mainstream in the most remarkable and incongruous ways.

Read the whole short thing.

Don’t Praise or Blame Strauss!

Here’s an analysis of the connection, or lack thereof, between the political philosophy of Leo Strauss and our current foreign policy. It features fascinating analyses of little-known texts of Strauss. Among Nathan Tarcov’s conclusions is that Strauss taught moderation when it came to the universalistic aspirations of the West. If Strauss erred, it was on the side of underestimating prospects for the spread of liberal democracy, an error (if error it is) that President Bush certainly has not made. But in the end "Strauss can remind us of the permanent problems, but we have only ourselves to blame for faulty solutions to the problems of today." That also means we should praise ourselves and not Strauss if we’ve gotten anything right in addressing those problems. By posting this article I’m not endorsing it all, but it is well worth a close read.

Here’s Looking at You, Democracy!

There’s going to be a sort of one-day conference at Berry on November 9 on Democracy in Athens, America, and Rick’s, or on Plato, Tocqueville, and CASABLANCA.

The featured speaker will be James Pontuso of Hampden-Sydney College, editor of POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY GOES TO RICK’S and fine books on the dissidents Solzhenitsyn and Havel.

Much of the conference will showcase the good work Berry students are doing on Plato, Tocqueville, and films this semester.

But we also are soliciting a few presentations from scholars on the above topics. Better still would be accounts of ways they are connected--Plato and Tocqueville, Tocqueville and CASABLANCA etc.

The date is November 9. Unfortunately, litte to no funding is available for travel or honoraria. (Let me know your situation and I may be able to work with you.) Contact me very soon if you want to [email protected]. (I hope posting that address doesn’t flood me with blog groupies.)

In honor of this conference, I’m soliciting your opinions on 1.The relevance of Tocqueville for understanding America today and 2. CASABLANCA as political commentary.

A busy political day

As I noted yesterday, I had a full plate of state-level political leaders on campus today.

Governor Sonny Perdue addressed an auditorium full of students, faculty, staff, and guests this morning, focusing on the themes of trust and leadership. Without explicitly referring to Aristotle, he offered a concrete example of why the optimal size of a political order is one in which everyone is a friend of a friend. For Perdue, trustworthiness has to be established personally, and hence all politics must ultimately be personal. Hard to manage in a state with over 8 million inhabitants and in a reelection campaign whose budget is approaching $15 million, but worth holding up as a touchstone. Stated another way: character matters, and you can tell a lot about a person by looking at his (or her) family.

As you can tell, this wasn’t a political speech, but was meant rather to reach a college-age audience, who have likely given more thought to family and friendship than they have to political life. It worked as a civic lesson, and it worked as a way of conveying the dignity and decency of public life. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more appropriate message to counter the premature cynicism of so many of my students.

Perdue connects well with his audience and impressed the unscientific sample of students with whom I spoke afterward. The student introducer and questioners also acquitted themselves well, the former managing to convey something of the Governor’s personality and the latter posing questions that were well-formulated and respectful, focusing on the Governor’s promotion of Georgia’s international profile and on public support for private higher education.

A short while later, I hosted Mary Margaret Oliver, a long-time Georgia state legislator who has focused much of her career on child and family issues. As she is unopposed for reelection, she could be very forthright and pointed in the issues and questions she raises. A slightly left-of-center Democrat (who once had statewide political aspirations), Rep. Oliver argued that state government spends too much time and effort on economic development and not enough on education and health care. We worry too much, she argued, about jobs, and not enough about the 40% of those who enter high school in Georgia, but do not graduate.

While she tried to cast this contrast in terms of class (with governors--including her old State Senate suitemate Sonny Perdue, once a Democrat--spending too much time associating with the "super-rich" who bring capital and jobs to the state), I think that there’s a more plausible explanation. Rep. Oliver spoke movingly about the plight of a "permanent underclass," of toddlers who, without state intervention, would be at the mercy of their drug-addicted mothers. It’s extremely hard, she said, to know what to do. How do you intervene? How many chances at rehabilitation do you give the mother? (If I’d been anything other than the good host, I might have asked her here what she thought of state funding for faith-based drug rehabilitation, but I held my tongue.) In short, there are limits to what the state can do in dealing with problems that she came very close to conceding were intractable. And surely there are even greater limits to what a state can do in the relatively short terms allotted to political leaders who have to be able to point to successes in the face of an adversarial environment if they’re to win reelection. It’s much easier to point to the billions of dollars of new investment and the thousands (or tens of thousands) of jobs that have been created on your watch. Those are metrics everyone can understand and about which it’s relatively easy to boast. And, of course, jobs are, for the most part, uncontroversial (unless they’re held by illegal immigrants).

After listening to Rep. Oliver, I’m reminded of something that Rousseau said (which I’ll have to paraphrase badly, since I don’t have the text in front of me): today’s politicians talk incessantly about commerce and money; their predecessors spoke about morals. Rep. Oliver doesn’t want them to talk about money so much, but I’m not sure that she wants them to talk about morals and character in a way that might--just might--begin meaningfully to address some of her very real concerns regarding the least among us.

All in all, a busy and interesting day. The more I listen to these state-level political figures, the more I’m convinced that Georgia has an impressive stock of genuine public servants. Sounds corny and pollyannaish, I know, but I haven’t encountered a stinker yet. (People assure me that there are some, but they seem to be allergic to speaking at Oglethorpe.)

What to Order in American Restaurants

Here are some excellent tips from the outstanding libertarian scholar Tyler Cowen on dining well in American restaurants. They’re very simple and clear. Two I’ve embraced: 1. Especially in expensive restaurants, you get more bang and taste for your buck if you stick with appetizers and side dishes. 2. Don’t waste money and calories on desserts--they’re almost always a disappointment, comparatively speaking.

Tuesday Thoughts

Reaction--pro and con--still pouring forth about Clinton’s performance on Fox News, from Dick Morris, Andrew Klavan in the LA Times (is he related to Cliff from Cheers?), and John Dickerson on Consensus seems to be that it was a calculated outburst.

And don’t miss Time magazine today on Why the Democratic Wave Could Be a Washout. Happy Tuesday.

November prospects

Another straw in the wind.

Y’all come

Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 26th, at 10:45 a.m., Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will be speaking in Oglethorpe University’s Lupton Auditorium.

I’m hosting other speakers as well--State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver at noon on the same day; State Rep. Karla Drenner at noon on Thursday, September 28th; and Alan Essig, Executive Director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, on Tuesday, October 3rd, at noon.

I’m speaking down at Mercer University in Macon on Thursday, November 16th.

Last but not least, I’m looking forward to attending this conference.

This is "Dhimmi"

A few days ago we had some discussion about the meaning of "dhimmi." Well, this about epitomizes it. Apparently the British police have agreed to consult with a panel of Muslim authorities before authorizing further raids on suspected terror cells.

Hat tip: Tammy Bruce.


Yesterday’s New York Times ran a front page story on Rumsfeld and how he plays squash:
"Mr. Rumsfeld took up squash more than 20 years ago when he was a business executive. Rather than tricky bank shots off the walls, a move that better-skilled players favor, Mr. Rumsfeld plays with power, hitting the ball hard and ending points quickly. And he relentlessly attacks his opponent’s confidence." Surprise.

Jay Nordlinger has a good interview with him on NRO (and it is essentially reprinted in the dead tree version of the current issues of National Review). "It’s a tough picture. It’s difficult."

Monday Musings

Several faithful NLT readers took issue with my remonstrance yesterday of Bill Clinton’s blown gasket on Fox News. Well, courtesy of the indispensible Patterco, we know that Chris Wallace asked Don Rumsfeld exactly the same question two years ago, and somehow Dandy Don didn’t lose his cool:

Wallace (to Rumsfeld):I understand this is 20/20 hindsight, it’s more than an individual manhunt. I mean — what you ended up doing in the end was going after al Qaeda where it lived. . . . pre-9/11 should you have been thinking more about that?

. . . .

What do you make of his [Richard Clarke’s] basic charge that pre-9/11 that this government, the Bush administration largely ignored the threat from al Qaeda?

. . . .

Mr. Secretary, it sure sounds like fighting terrorism was not a top priority.

Also, I missed this terrific piece in the LA Times last week on "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals," written by a liberal who gets it.


Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I’d like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are. 

Islam Needs a Pope, Not a Luther

Well, here’s a gutsy article by Jonah Goldberg in USA TODAY (!) that contains complicated and controversial historical, political, and theological claims, including the one found in my title. I’m sure every Starbucks in America is buzzing with animated theological-political (as the Spinozans and Straussians say) conversation this morning.

Is the Chief Justice a Judicial Activist?

Here’s an article that claims he may become one, although he’s been reasonably passive so far. The author cites as evidence two of Roberts’ dissents--one would have declared Oregon’s right-to-die law unconstitutional, the other would have sharply curtailed the authority of the EPA. It’s understandable why someone would have considered either of those decisions by the Court activist, although it does depend on your definition of activism.

Um. . .

From a wire service story out this evening:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Sept. 24) - A car dealership’s planned radio advertisement that declared "a jihad on the automotive market" has drawn sharp criticism for its content but will not be changed, the business said Saturday.

Several stations rejected the Dennis Mitsubishi spot, which says sales representatives wearing "burqas" — head-to-toe traditional dress for Islamic women — will sell vehicles that can "comfortably seat 12 jihadists in the back."

"Our prices are lower than the evildoers’ every day. Just ask the pope!" the ad says. "Friday is fatwa Friday, with free rubber swords for the kiddies."

CAIR is not amused.

Militants Against Our Toxic Food Environment

Here’s a libertarian polemic against the "new prohibitionism." Articles like this are always overblown. But they do cause us to think about possible connections between our increasing clamor for laws against risk factors (or for health and safety) and our increasing indifference to moral virtue in the more old-fashioned sense.

Ohio elections

I have done a few newspaper interviews over the last week or so on the upcoming elections. One reporter actually laughed at me when I told him that I thought both Blackwell and DeWine would win! No wonder. Look at the polls; that’s the only thing they think they understand about politics; they think polls are politics. I think reality is politics, and I think I see reality more clearly than the MSM and the polls do! The Columbus Dispatch runs an above the fold front page story on their latest poll: Strickland leads Blackwell, 52-33%, and "shows that a near-sweep of statewide races appears within the grasp of Ohio Democrats." The poll was based on 1,791 "randomly selected" registered voters. Note also that Sherrod Brown (D) leads Sen. Mike DeWine, 47-42%. Also note that DeWine gets 16% of the black vote, while Blackwell gets only 15%! Does anyone really think this is the case? Get serious. This pollster is a thief.

But, the story is an easy and quick read (and see the details of the poll), so I won’t try to recapture any more of it (although also note that in the poll the Dispatch called Blackwell’s running mate Charles, instead of Tom Raga!). The thrust of the story is that Blackwell is "struggling to keep fellow Republicans in the fold." Every poll has Strickland ahead (none lower than 50%).

Despite the facts (as the social scientists would say) I see no reason to change my opinion about the elections (either in Ohio or nationally; see Joe’s post below). If the so-called scientific polling stays as is three or four days before the elections, then I will re-think things: then the GOP will take a very serious beating and not only in Ohio. But the numbers will not stay; and they are not meaningful even today. So, on this pretty Ohio day, I will get on Isabel, place a Blackwell bumber sticker on her, and do some campaigning!

Popular vs. Judicial Activism

George Will reports on a likely successful initiative on the Michigan ballot this fall to make the state’s law colorblind. Those spearheading that effort, including one of our country’s most admirable and effective troublemakeers--Ward Connerly--and the young woman who actually got the Supreme to side with her against the University of Michigan’s quota system, but not on ccolorblind principles--Jennifer Gratz, have fended off all sorts of thuggish intimidation from various educational and political elites. In GRUTTER and GRATZ, the Supreme Court, arguably in an act of judicial restraint (I’m not endorsing the lame particulars of O’Connor’s opinion in GRUTTER), refused to declare all affirmative action in education unconstitutional. So now the people of Michigan are going to act, quite constitutionally, to remove all legal controversy from the issue. Surely a large part of the cure to Judicial Supremacy is to see that the people must act, usually acting through their representatives, in those cases when the Constitution is not clear enough to produce a legitimate judicial resolution. I could now start to talk about abortion.

November rumblings

Both the WaPo and the WaTi are running articles suggesting, at the very least, that the tide is running in a Republican direction right now.

Two points worth noting, the first from the WaPo:

The president’s support among Republicans has risen, and once-balky GOP voters apparently have begun to coalesce around vulnerable House incumbents, operatives on both sides believe. "Republicans seem to be awakening and coming back to their partisan senses," said a Democratic strategist, who would discuss private data only on the condition of anonymity.

Democrats see independent voters, who continue to register disapproval of Bush and Congress, as the key to victory. Republicans, citing low turnout in many primaries this year, believe many of those independents will not vote in November and are focused on mobilizing their own base.

Translation: everything will depend upon the ground game.

Second, from the WaTi:

[A]dditional polling data released by Gallup within the past week suggest that not only is the president changing voter attitudes about the war in Iraq, but that the Democrats’ inability to shape a strong message about dealing with terrorism and Iraq may be hurting them among their own base.

"Americans are more positive about the war on terror, and voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush on terrorism, rather than one who opposes him," Gallup said in a separate analysis. "By a slight margin, Americans tend to think that the country will be safer from terrorism if the GOP retains control of the House, rather than if the Democrats take control."

While a majority of Americans still disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, only one in four now "believe the Democrats have a clear plan on Iraq -- fewer than those who say this about the Bush administration," Gallup said.

"Also, Americans are about equally likely to say they would vote for a candidate who supports President Bush on Iraq as to vote for a candidate who opposes Bush," the pollsters said.

What should worry Democratic campaign officials "is the fact that only 14 percent say the Democrats have a clear plan, but Bush does not, while a greater percentage (23 percent) says Bush has a clear plan, but the Democrats do not," Gallup said.

Translation: Democrats fear that their full-throated endorsement of the "Demcoratic wing of the Democratic Party"’s position on Iraq will not help their chances, but neither does straddling the middle.

Target Practice

Another YouTube classic short film. Involving beer, "the cause of, and solution to, most of life’s problems," according to political philosopher Homer Simpson.

Worth a Read

Frank MIller, Batman and Sin City comic artist, offers this worthy brief reflection on patriotism.

(Yes, I can’t believe it either; I’m actually linking to NPR. I’m going to lie down now and take an aspirin.) 

Some questions for Damon Linker

In his review, Adrian Wooldridge notes the points you score against RJN and his associates regarding the infamous judicial usurpation symposium in First Things in 1996. As I was reading that section of your book this morning (on the bike in the clubhouse here--I get my reading in when and where I can), the following set of questions occurred to me.

What did you think of the controversy surrounding this symposium when you went to work for FT? Did you then hold the view that you now hold?

If you held the view you now hold, why did you accept a position at FT? Had the views of the principal protagonists changed in such a way as to overcome any obstacles to your employment?

If those views had in fact changed in such a way as to make your employment unproblematical for you, why not mention those second thoughts and reconsiderations in your book? (Perhaps I just haven’t gotten there yet.)

Or were you simply unaware of this apparently notorious controversy when you signed on at FT?

Sorry I haven’t finished the book yet. I have a few other things on my plate, including Governor Sonny Perdue’s appearance at Oglethorpe this coming Tuesday and a book review due at CRB in less than two weeks.

Sunday Scraps

Whoa, nellie! This should be good for ratings: Bill Clinton blows a gasket on Fox News. Apparently good old Bubba wags his finger at Chris Wallace as the veins bulge out on his neck. Remember the last time an indignant Bill wagged his finger at us?

And in the "Stupid Government Tricks" department (a category Letterman unaccountably never uses), this story about my county shows how government attempts to save money actually end up being more wasteful.

Saturday Silliness

Lately I’ve been reading Jonathan Schell’s ridiculous 1982 book The Fate of the Earth (don’t ask why--too long a story right now), and there’s one entry in the index that captures the whole mood of the book in just four words:

"despair, see also futility"

I suspect this will be a long entry written in the chronicles of the Democrats after they fail to break through in this election.

Happy Saturday!

Bin Laden Dead at Last?


Damon Linker

Is blogging, this despite the fact that he is a "print snob."

To my mind, getting published in print -- whether in a book or a magazine or a newspaper -- confers a certain status on the author -- a status that cannot be matched by a blog. The latter is self-produced, demonstrating nothing at all about the quality of my ideas, other than my own fondness for them. A book or a magazine/newspaper article is different. Its existence proves that some small community of editors and other literary judges stands behind the quality of the ideas. That may not be much -- I may have merely flattered their prejudices, I may have merely affirmed the conventional wisdom in the most obvious of ways, I may have merely attacked widely accepted beliefs in order to gain attention -- but it’s something. Certainly something more than the purely subjective self-certainty of blogging.

I’ve never been an editor, except of a book, and my other editorial experience is limited to refereeing articles for professional journals. I like (some) editors, though I won’t name names in order to avoid offending those I don’t name. But the blogosphere exercises its own kind of discipline, some of it civil and incisive even. It’s much mroe of a two-way street than much of the editing I’ve experienced.

And then there’s this:

I tend to believe that political and cultural commentary is best when the critic stands back from the fray to meditate and reflect, to allow his passions to cool, and to gain some perspective. Needless to say, the Internet -- with its rapid-fire pronouncements and reactions -- makes such detachment difficult.

I wish I could regard Damon’s book as having lived up to this standard, but I discern a good bit of passion there, to go along with the intelligence, and sometimes even (I fear) to mislead the intelligence. But I can’t render a full judgment until I’ve finished the book.

Update: Damon links (how many times will I use that expression?) to Adrian Wooldridge’s review of his book, which is generally laudatory, though it says that DL overestimates the importance of his subjects:

In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique. Secular America has more potent enemies to worry about than the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues.

As a criticism of the book, this has to warm the heart of anyone who actually worries about the designs of DL’s subjects. As I noted above, however, I’m not as convinced as Wooldridge of DL’s "dispassionate tone." Well, maybe the tone is dispassionate, but not the thinking it expresses. As I read along, I keep thinking that Damon should know better than the framework he implicitly poses as an alternative to Michael Novak’s syncretism (which I’ll concede is at least sometimes a stretch) and the concerns that many of his subjects express that America can’t retain its identity and aspiration without a religious soul. There’s a long argument here that I don’t have time to make (I’m in South Carolina visiting with my parents), but I find myself wishing as I read the book that DL had actually seriously engaged that argument in the course of the leisure purchased by his advance. Instead, he seems to fall back on a kind of oversimplified secularism, worthy perhaps of
Michelle Goldberg, but not of someone with his learning and experience.

Update #2: The more I think about it, the more ambiguous Wooldridge’s review seems. Does the threat to secular America come from Americans other than the folks at FT, or from genuine theocrats overseas? I vote for the second, but those who know Wooldridge’s work and perspective better than I do may have a different view.

Constitutional Resistance to Judicial Supremacy

Now available online is Jim Stoner’s timely article on elected officials’ constitutional resistance to the unconstitutional claims of activist judges. But Stoner tends to take it for granted that we know what unconstitutional activism is when we see it. Is there any doubt that ROE falls into that category? Are GRUTTER and KELO really activism, given that they let decisions of state and local government stand?

That They May Have Life

Here’s the latest statement of Evangelicals and Catholics together, the theocrats as some would call them.  

Where are the Pope’s American clerical supporters?

Asks my old friend Win Myers.

Friday Fulminations

Byron York is the latest to file a report suggesting Republican election fortunes are rising, and I doubt it is purely a coincidence that Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel came out so forcefully about Cesar Chavez, . . . oops, I mean Hugo Chavez, yesterday. (Gave away my California roots there.) Anyway, I am sure Democratic strategists are losing sleep and pouring extra stiff whiskeys right now. Meanwhile, even as several conservatives were arguing recently that the GOP might be better off strategically in 2008 if they lost this election, now we are seeing a few folks on the left saying, Hey wait a minute! Maybe those Rovebots are on to something. Check out Jacob Weisberg on Slate today.

That said, one must ponder that if Democrats don’t take a majority, they may melt down in the aftermath and be in even worse shape in 2008. For one thing, a number of older Democrats like John Dingell, the Representative from General Motors, might throw in the towel. Rangel has already said he will quit if they don’t win a majority. (How could you possibly replace that great voice?) Recruiting good candidates, a problem for Dems in this election cycle, becomes even harder in the aftermath of a poor showing. Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel with face each other with pistols as 20 paces.

Is Wal-Mart’s Mega-Capitalism Good for America??

Wal-Mart slashes prices on generic prescription drugs. Is this a real prescription drug benefit? Just asking. I’m no expert.

The Republicans Might Just Hang On

Here’s a thorough and rather optimistic read of the recent Gallup poll. Bush helps Republican congressional candidates when it comes to the war on terror, and he doesn’t seem to hurt as much as we thought when it comes to Iraq. A 44% approval rating ain’t good, but it’s far from diastrous or unprecedented. A quick surf of Real Clear Politics and NRO reveals good news in MD (Steele has drawn even--a chance for a R upset and pick-up!), OH (also now a genuine tie), and PA (where Santorum is only down 7%). Allen continues to drift toward implosion, though.

Hugo Chavez, thug

"You do not come into my country, my congressional district, and you do not condemn my president. If there is any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans, whether they voted for him or not. I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president, do not come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State." Said Charles Rangel (D), New York; here is video. And then Rep. Nancy Pelosi calls Hugo Chavez a "thug." If they keep talking like this, maybe they will win back the House! Well, maybe not.

Democrats and abortion yet again

This article explains why Democrats for Life came up with its own bill, and also makes clear to any who didn’t already know it that the timing of these proposals has everything to do with election-year posturing and nothing to do with any genuine expectation of legislation.

Let me go further: if either of these proposals, sponsored by a tiny proportion of the Democrats in the House, actually succeed in persuading folks to vote for Democratic candidates in November, they’re even less likely to become law. After all, a Democratic House majority is unlikely to go along with anything that casts doubt upon moral neutrality of choice.

For more, go here (a statement by Rep. Lincoln Davis [D-TN], the bill’s sponsor), here (a statement by Kristen Day of Democrats for Life), and here.

This from the Chattanooga paper is interesting:

Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said his group supports efforts to reduce abortions. But he said Rep. Davis’ bill lacks programs for promoting contraceptives as a prevention method.

The government first should fully fund programs that provide people with access to birth control and a comprehensive sex education program that goes beyond abstinence, he said.

"The problem is not that too many women are having abortions," Mr. Teague said. "It is that too many women are facing unintended pregnancies. Why don’t we prevent the pregnancies in the first place?"

And in the article Davis denies that it’s an election-year ploy. Right. I’m sure he’s sincere, but he’s providing cover for folks who will never vote for his measure.

Thursday Thoughts

The election season is moving, several weeks early, into the farce stage. Back during the Clinton-Lewinski scandal days I recall thinking that if you went into a Hollywood studio with the Clinton story line tucked under your arm, proposing to make a TV-movie-of-the-week, they throw you out for the sheer absurdity, not to mention implausibility, of the plot. It brought back to mind Malcom Muggeridge explaining why he gave up satire at Punch magazine--real life had become so comical (Archbishops saying things like "Long live God!") that it was impossible to do satire any more.

So this week we are treated to Hugo Chavez auditioning for a guest host slot (or news network anchor position--watch out Katie!) on Saturday Night Live by holding up a Noam Chomsky book at the UN--what a hoot. With oil prices plummeting, Chavez may have to watch his household budget a bit. Meanwhile in New Jersey, a scandal-plagued Democratic Senate candidate is slipping steadily behind the Republican in the polls. Where have I seen this movie before? How soon until New Jersey Dems dust off the Torricelli option? What was that Marx said about history repeating itself first as tragedy, and then as farce? Or maybe we should repair to Edna St. Vincent-Millay’s great line, "History isn’t one damn thing after another--it’s the same damn thing over and over again." At least it seems to be over on the Left.

Weigel on Benedict’s Central Ideas

George Weigel has an erudite and concise op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times explaining in the plainest language possible the true meaning of the Pope’s speech last week. I have seen nothing clearer or more to the point.  

More Democrats and abortion

This bill strikes me as more worthy of support than the one I discussed here. It focuses almost entirely on supporting pregnancy and promoting adoption, and seems to have a relatively small price tag. Co-Sponsors include Chris Smith, Charlie Melancon, James Clyburn, Harold Ford, and Jim Marshall, among others. And there’s this from the press release:

Organizations who have sent statements in support of the bill include the National Association of Evangelicals, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, Democrats for Life of America, National Council on Adoption, Life Education and Resource Network, Redeem the Vote, CARENET, Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, Joe Turnham, Chairman, Alabama Democratic Party, U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey, and actor, Martin Sheen.

If ex-President Bartlet, a thoughtful TV Catholic supports it, what more could one ask?

Happy Birthday--Or Is It?

Did you know that today is Leo Strauss’s birthday?

I’m sure there’s a hidden meaning there somewhere.

Podcast with Andrew Busch

I had a very good short conversation with Andy Busch yesterday on the coming elections and we ended up focusing on the latest polls. I will be talking to Andy each week from now on through the election.   

In Praise of Folly?

I just read the description of my views in a book I think it’s best to ignore. I will say that book says, quite correctly, that I’ve been published and written about in FIRST THINGS. So now it’s time for me to express by gratitude to one Damon Linker as the one responsible for those ambiguous or even pernicious facts. Here’s how the generous (and really mean that) editor Linker summarized my position in my book ALIENS IN AMERICA in a long review in FIRST THINGS:

Lawler maintains that conservative critics [such as Allan Bloom and even Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama] of current trends do little good by reninforcing the view that the souls of Americans have undergone some kind of fundamental degradation. Instead, they should be working to revive a vocabulary that can do justice to the full range of human experiences in all times and places, incuding the present.

And here’s the review conclusion, which includes the only criticism (a stylistic, not substantive, one):

While his quirky style of writing--which combines long, occasionally tedious paraphrases of arguments from other authors with dense patches of original analysis and criticism--detracts at times from his argument, the power and importance of that argument is undeniable. As conservatives [a category that seems to include the review’s author] ponder why and how to resist the temptation to reach for all the good things in life, they would be well advised to do so with Lawler on their side.

I leave to you to determine how these comments square with what their author says about me in his new book, which suggests that I’m part a theocon conspiracy traumatizing Americans with scary scenarios about the very future of their humanity. (Don’t worry. The book says nothing slanderous, and I’m always glad to be mentioned. I’m only suggesting that someone’s mind change a lot.) I express my differences with Kass etc. on the whole "last man," Brave New World thing more thematically in STUCK WITH VIRTUE, and I’m now saying for the first time publicly that Leon told me I would be appointed to the Bioethics Council because of my fundamental disagreement with his views.

Rat Choice Theory--Part 9 or The Wisdom of Conservative Women--Part 2

OK, I lied. Here’s one more--Maggie Gallagher’s--comment on the pope’s speech. I recommend it as a simple and clear statement of the real issue: "The alternative to a new synthesis of faith and to remove reason from the most urgent questions human beings face, including this one: How do we live together in peace?"

Conference alert

Washington, D.C. area readers shouldn’t miss this conference, put together by Patrick Deneen and featuring a stellar cast of speakers, including Justice Antonin Scalia, Hadley Arkes, John Seery, some guy named Lawler, James Ceaser, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Benjamin Barber, Dan Mahoney, George Weigel, and Peter Berkowitz, among others. (I guess E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Bill Galston were too busy talking to themselves to make it onto the program.)

Consider this my penance for bashing Georgetown a few weeks ago, for this is a part of the university that is eminently un-bashable.

Be there or be square.

The Culture of Life vs. The Culture of Nipping and Tucking

Kathryn Lopez of NRO confirms the profound observation made in one of our threads that Nip/Tuck is a conservative show. The show opposes by displaying the misanthropy of cutting-edge technological efforts to produce a "designer" future free from all risks and imperfections. Despite their silliness and seeming celebration of self-indulgence, stories about nipping and tucking might be, Kathryn suggests, basically "pro-life propaganda."

Wednesday Wonders

Well, now. A former Archbishop of Canterbury has come out foursquare on the side of the Pope’s remarks abot Islam. Actually, he’s even more blunt than the Pope, quoting a contemporary rather than a 13th century emperor. Sample:

Lord Carey, who as Archbishop of Canterbury became a pioneer in Christian-Muslim dialogue, himself quoted a contemporary political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who has said the world is witnessing a “clash of civilisations”.

Arguing that Huntington’s thesis has some “validity”, Lord Carey quoted him as saying: “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

Too bad he’s the former Archbishop. You’d expect riots over this, except that no one cares about the Anglical Church much any more.

African-American churches and the faith-based initiative

This article describes this study, also summarized here. I’m not surprised by the results, which suggest that bigger churches with active outreach programs were more likely to seek support from the government than were the myriad small and poor churches in the African-American community. Here’s the most politically interesting observation in the WaPo article:

Black churches in the Northeast and those with self-identified progressive congregations and liberal theologies were most likely to be taking part in the program, a finding that surprised the researchers, who concluded that the White House has not used the program as a political tool as some critics have suspected.

"Those people who were most worried can exhale," said Robert M. Franklin, a professor of social ethics at Emory University who worked as a consultant on the survey. "Churches have not been manipulated by Karl Rove. They have not sold out."

Bet you won’t see these findings trumpeted by the religious left.

Update: A reader sent in
this article, which shows how a Democratic challenger distorts the meaning of the co-religionist exemption in the faith-based initiative as part of a campaign to persuade African-American voters that Rep. Anne Northrup supports discrimination. I guess John Yarmuth doesn’t care about how the faith-based initiative has helped African-Americans help themselves.

Democrats, Catholics, and abortion

In order not to clutter NLT with lots more Knippenverbiage, I posted some thoughts on Democratic efforts to find, er, take the middle, er, high ground on abortion here.

Riots in Hungary

Hungary’s PM (a Socialist, heading the only government to be re-elected since the fall of the Communists) admits to lying on taped conversation during the election in the Spring ("We lied morning, noon and night"), tapes revealed, then riots break out in Budapest. About 150 people were injured, over a hundred were police officers. Here is the AP report. This is the Magyar Hirlap (in Hungarian) for the civilized reader!


Mac Owens thinks that defeatism in Iraq is not warranted.  

Jumped Bait

Ramesh Ponuru baited me over at The Corner. I went for it, hook, line, and Linker.

Bush up

The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows Bush’s approval going up to 44%, the highest in a year.

Did you know. . .

. . . that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Somehow I have trouble envisioning Schramm taking part. As for me, I’m fresh out of rum and whiskey.

The Pope on Love--Rat Choice Theory, Part 8

To put Pope Benedict XVI’s recent speech in the broader context of his political thought, let me offer something from his recent encyclical GOD IS LOVE, which should charm Christians and libertarians--not to mention Christian libertarians--alike. I only promised not to say more about last week’s speech for now, but I can’t ignore Rat Choice Theory altogether.

There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a merely bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person--every person--needs: namely loving, personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need....In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live "by bread alone"...a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.

We Apologize for the Previous Apology. . .

Fans of this classic movie will recall that the opening credits include "an apology for the previous apology." The ruckus over Pope Benedict’s remarks is starting to resemble this silly sketch. Enough already. Anne Applebaum agrees.  

Tuesday Thoughts

The latest sign of the seemingly irreversible decline of civilization in Europe: moves to ban skinny models from fashion shows. Oh well, I suppose it really doesn’t matter, since women will be covered head to toe after the Islamists take over.

And for you nervous homeowners watching your home equity leak out day by day, there is a special blog just for you: The Housing Bubble. Happy Tuesday!

Red Letter Christians

Julia Duin writes about this effort, also connected to this blog.

Two quick thoughts: it’s almost impossible to keep up with the hyperactivity of the religious left; and that Jim Wallis regards Ralph Reed as a worthy opponent and interlocutor tells me a good deal about his sense of himself.

More Democrats and religion

John Kerry has entered the building with this speech.

While he can’t resist the occasional partisan shot, and while his prescriptions are predictable, it is a substantial effort that contributes to the sustained Democratic attempt to court "values voters."

if you want to see some of the strategizing and analysis underlying this effort, go here and here.

Civic engagement and disengagement

This article summarizes this report. There’s some interesting material here, which I need time to chew on. It seems, for example, that the form of civic engagement that I am practicing at this very moment is on the upswing (thanks due to my efforts, of course), but that it’s shallow and perhaps even polarizing (surely not my intention). Perhaps I’ll have to st....

Anne Applebaum on the response to the response

I’ll leave hunting down profound responses to the Pope’s very smart disquisition to Peter L., but I couldn’t resist linking to Anne Applebaum’s column this morning (which is politically smart, but not deep). A taste:

[N]othing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it’s time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn’t the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain’s chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?

Maybe it’s a pipe dream: The day when the White House and Greenpeace can issue a joint statement is surely distant indeed. But if stray comments by Western leaders -- not to mention Western films, books, cartoons, traditions and values -- are going to inspire regular violence, I don’t feel that it’s asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don’t see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.

Of course, our capacity for response has long molded by the culture of victimhood, in which the offended complain and the offenders apologize. Think the complainers around the world might be at least vaguely aware of that?

A more moderate professoriate?

This article (which I haven’t yet had a chance to read)--summarized here--argues for a drift toward the center in some academic disciplines, albeit not in the humanities.

Eugenics That Really Works

Here’s the brilliant SLATE science editor William Saletan on rapid slippery-slope developments in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, the procedure used to weed out defective embryos. It’s easy to imagine a time not too far down the road when having the babies the old-fashioned or unimplanted way will be viewed as involving too many risk factors to be acceptable. And so sex, in the name of safety, will be completely separated from reproduction.

Monday Musings

Let’s see: turns out you can get e-coli from organic spinach, which is another reason not to eat vegetables. I’ve always been suspicious of the organic food craze.

Thanks to John Podhoretz over at The Corner, I learn about a splendid new blog with the provocative title Hatemongers Quarterly. Wish I’d thought up that.

Thomas Byrne Edsall writes in The New Republic that "Whatever happens this November, no one should be fooled: The Democrats are still in deep trouble."

And then there’s this. Words fail me.

The Pope’s Real Crusade--Rat Choice Theory--Part 7

This is my last post on the pope’s speech. The controversy that surrounds it just needs to die down, and certainly he’s said everything he reasonably could to contribute to that goal. The final word should go to the distinguished medieval historian Thomas F. Madden. Madden writes that "the, in fact, not about Islam at all. Benedict is calling a crusade, but it is one against a Christianity stripped of reason and a science stripped of transcendent truths. ’In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, an inquiry into the rationality of faith.’"

James Webb

Here is the Washington Post article on the Allen/Webb debate on "meet the Press". And this is New York Times version of events. Note the great photo, cowboy boots vs. combat boots. The thrust of both articles and the MSM in general is that Allen didn’t do as well on the air as he should have (I saw only part of it, but agree with that opinion). After all, Webb might be a smart guy and all, but a clever and experienced politician should have been able to put Webb on the defensive for not only some positions he holds (or has held) on the mid-East, but for some of his would-be associations (e.g., Kennedy, Reid, Pelosi, et al) if he were elected. This didn’t happen and Allen was put back on his western heels. Webb is a smart guy, a warrior, certainly a fine writer, and one capable of building trust with citizens, a real old-fashioned Southerner (see his Born Fighting) who could have been elected a generation ago. While the polls will have this race tightening, Allen will hold it. The only way he would not is if there really is a tidal wave against Bush’s Iraq policy. If there is, then Webb will become the best they have (and will also discombobulate the national Democratic Party); think about Webb campaigning with either Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton. You might want to review Mac Owens’ piece on Webb when he announced for the Democratic primary in February.

Constitution Day at Ashbrook

Joe brought to our attention a number of Constitution Day events. Our Constitution day speaker is Todd Gaziano from the Heritage Foundation. This is our eighth year of formally celebrating Constitution Day. If you are in the area, join us.

Ashland vs. Hillsdale

Vicki and I went up to Hillsdale for Nancy Silver’s memorial service. She was well remembered at the fine service, and her two sons Arthur and Tony were solid through the event and the months of hardhsip.

It so happened that Ashland was hosting Hillsdale in football while we were at the service. The game concluded during the reception at president Arnn’s house. Ashland won 30-24. Ashland’s president Fred Finks made a well timed phone call--I was talking with Larry when it came in--to remind Arnn that he will have to wear an Ashland sweatshirt one day at work, as they had bet the loser president would wear the other’s logo. Arnn said he would. I badgered Arnn, Craig, and the other Hillsdale partisans a bit about their decline, their lack of virtue, and so on. But once I noticed water-drops staining the men’s cheeks--their women’s weapons worked me well--I felt pity for the lot of them and fell into silence. Here is our story on the game, and here is Hillsdale’s. Sometimes the world is just.

Controversy Reaching Danish Cartoon Level?--Rat Choice Theory, Part 6

Here’s a particularly fine analysis of the misunderstanding that has provoked such outrage over the Pope’s speech in the Muslim world. But the truth of the matter is that "If he’s having a go at anything, it’s not Islam, it’s the patronizing notion...that religion is incompatible with independent thought." The author adds that there’s a real critique of Islamic conception of God "tucked away in the text" that is meant, in fact, to provoke the most fundamental kind of theological dialogue. So far it’s mostly been ignored.

Constitution Day

Monday is Constitution Day. Institutions that receive federal fnding are required to observe it in some way.

I’ve scheduled a lecture by Jon Macfarlane, a new colleague most recently at Notre Dame.

Charlotte (N.C.) area readers might be interested in this event at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

I’d be interested in hearing what others’ institutions are doing.

Update: We probably shouldn’t overlook this event for those in the D.C. area.

Post-Post-Christian Germany?

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR reports that the Germans are no longer getting less religious. And they’re recovering some sense of their Christian identity, with the help of Pope Benedict XVI and secularist philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Taking on Gas

Gas prices are falling fast. They might fall faster, or never have risen so high, in the absence of lots of stupid government regulations. Occasional NLT contributor Nathaniel Stewart reflects on this aspect of the issue in this splendid paper, co-authored with the always impressive Andrew Morriss.

Churchill Abused

My talk to the Churchill Centre’s annual dinner at the APSA on "The Use and Abuse of Churchill in History" is now available here.

Senate Intel Committee report revisited

Stephen F. Hayes, who knows a thing or two about Iraq and intelligence, chews up the Senate Committee’s report on Iraq/al Qaeda relations and spits it out. His conclusion:

Some day there will be an authoritative and richly detailed history of the nature of the relationship between the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups. This latest product of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is unlikely to merit even a footnote in this history.

Read the whole thing.

Artificial Happiness

the Neuhaus report of the conversation he had with Ronald Dworkin (not THAT Ronald Dworkin) on the theme of Dworkin’s new book--ARTIFICIAL HAPPINESS. The biotechnological or psychotropic promise is that we can feel good without being good. But the truth is that the secret of happiness is renouncing our right to be happy and living well or responsibly or virtuously as human beings with what we really know. Projects to socially or chemically engineer artificial happiness are always built on the foundation of real misery. Dworkin’s book, Neuhaus complains, could be better, because it’s not clear enough in affirming that we’re STUCK WITH VIRTUE.

Third Awakening again

GWB vindicates Knippenberg:

I was just speculating that the culture might be changing, and I was talking about when you’re involved with making decisions of historic nature, you won’t be around to see the effects of your decisions. And I said that when I work the ropelines, a lot of people come and say, Mr. President, I’m praying for you -- a lot. As a matter of fact, it seems like a lot more now than when I was working ropelines in 1994. And I asked them -- I was asking their opinion about whether or not there was a Third Awakening, I called it.

I’d just read a book on Abraham Lincoln, and his presidency was right around the time of what they called the Second Awakening, and I was curious to know whether or not these smart people felt like there was any historical parallels. I also said that I had run for office the first time to change a culture -- Herman and Hutch remember me saying, you know, the culture that said, if it feels good, do it, and, if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else -- to helping to work change a culture in which each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life. In other words, ushering in a responsibility era. And I reminded people that responsibility means if you’re a father, love your child; if you’re corporate America, be honest with the taxpayers; if you’re a citizen of this country, love your neighbor.

I called attention to his previously stated intentions here.

Bob Casey on the common good

Here’s the text of Bob Casey’s big speech on faith and the common good. Barack Obama he isn’t.

Let me pick at a couple of the speech’s facets. First, the 900-pound gorilla, abortion. Here’s what BC, Jr. had to say:

As many of you know, I am a pro-life Democrat. I believe that life begins at conception and ends when we draw our last breath. And I believe that the role of government is to protect, enrich, and value life for everyone, at every moment, from beginning to end.

We must unite as a country, Democrats and Republicans, behind the understanding that the common good requires us to value all life. For 33 years, this issue has been used mostly as a way to divide people, even as the number of abortions continues to rise. We have to find a better way.

There have been times when members of my party have vigorously opposed me because of my position on abortion. And those of you with long memories can recall a dark night in 1992 when the national Democratic Party insulted the most courageous pro-life public official in our party who simply asked that those who believed in the right to life be accorded the right to speak. But things have changed over the ensuing 14 years. I have been encouraged to see Democrats in this new century becoming more open to people who are pro-life. The common good can be advanced by working towards common ground.

For example, pro-life Democrats in the House are on the verge of introducing legislation that would work toward real solutions to our abortion problem by targeting the underlying factors that often lead women to choose abortion. As a public official, I will continue to work within the party to ensure that Democrats are welcoming and open to such initiatives.

Abortion is clearly an important life issue, and as a Catholic, I understand that life extends beyond the womb. In my view, neither party has gotten it right when it comes to life issues. We can’t realistically expect to tackle the difficult question of abortion without embracing the "radical solidarity" with women who face a pregnancy that Pope John Paul II spoke of many years ago.

If we are going to be pro-life, we cannot say we are against abortion of unborn children and then let our children suffer in degraded inner-city schools and broken homes. We can’t claim to be pro-life at the same time as we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start, and the Women, Infants, and Children’s program. I believe we need policies that provide maximum feasible legal protection for the unborn and maximum feasible care and support for pregnant women, mothers, and children. The right to life must mean the right to a life with dignity.

Note how he wants to consign the hostility to pro-life Democrats to his Party’s past, and how quickly he moves from abortion to social welfare policy. There’s no talk whatsoever about reasonable restrictions on abortion (parental consent or partial-birth abortion, for example).

And then there’s his contestable analysis of the causes and cures of poverty:

The common good must first be based upon a solid foundation of justice. As Saint Augustine taught us: "Without justice, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?" Justice cannot abide 34 million people in poverty and 8.3 million children without health care. Justice cannot ignore the suffering of millions of parents in this country who have to face the soul-crushing thought that they might have to tell their child to go to bed hungry...or who realize that they simply cannot afford the medical treatment their child needs. Justice demands our understanding that the hungry, the impoverished, and the uninsured in this country are not statistics, they are children of God. They are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.

We see poverty on the rise and middle-income families struggling to make ends meet not because they lack the drive to make a better life for themselves and their families. Rather, the problem stems from mistaken priorities and failed leadership. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated so wisely, "It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach." And that is exactly what we’ve seen. At a time when the number of working poor in this country keeps increasing year after year, tax cuts for the wealthy should not be the price we are asked to pay for an increase in the minimum wage.

There is, for example, no acknowledgement that there is any personal responsibility for one’s distressing circumstances; they’re the result of "mistaken priorities and failed leadership," not bad choices or flawed character. I don’t mean to say that every poor person is wholly and solely responsible for his or her plight, just that some of the problems might stem from the soul or the character, not the failures of government. Indeed, treating people with dignity requires that they be treated as responsible individuals. In addition, one thing that it is fair to say that Saint Augustine is not is an absolutist when it comes to the possibility of justice in this life. Justice is a feature of the City of God, not, strictly speaking, of the City of Man, which can at best achieve a simulacrum of justice. How in this fallen world we can achieve, within our limited means, this simulacrum is a question about which reasonable people of good will can disagree. But Bob Casey will have none of it: in his world, there’s no room for disagreement, no consideration of the notion that the water that comprises the tide that life all boats has to come from somewhere.

I don’t for a moment doubt Casey’s sincerity, but let’s not kid ourselves: this was a highly partisan speech in which religion was deployed to trump his opponents. Looks to me like a "faithful Democrat" is doing what Democrats constantly accuse Republicans of doing.

By the way, I can’t wait for E.J. Dionne. Jr. to gush all over this speech.

When GWB speaks, does anyone listen?

Peggy Noonan doesn’t think so:

People don’t say as often as they used to, "You watch Bush’s speech last night?" Or they don’t ask it with the same anticipation and interest.

I think that Americans have pretty much stopped listening to him. One reason is that you don’t have to listen to get a sense of what’s going on. He does not appear to rethink things based on new data. You don’t have to tune in to see how he’s shifting emphasis to address a trend, or tacking to accommodate new winds. For him there is no new data, only determination.

He repeats old arguments because he believes they are right, because he has no choice--in for a penny, in for a pound--and because his people believe in the dogma of the magic of repetition: Say it, say it, to break through the clutter.

There’s another reason people don’t listen to Mr. Bush as much as they did. It is that in some fundamental way they know they have already fully absorbed him. He’s burned his brand into the American hide.

I agree with some of this. What’s impressive about the President is often not what he says or the way he says it (no Churchill, he), but the conviction with which he says it. Of that conviction we’re already convinced. Some of us like it a lot, some a little, some not at all. (Rasmussen has lately pretty consistently had the "strongly disapproves" of the Bush presidency at 38%. There’s likely nothing other that "I’m resigning" that could win any plaudits from that group.)

Far be it from me to dissaude President Bush from speaking. I’m in love with, perhaps overly so, with words, which is an occupational hazard of the business I’m in. But I don’t think too many people will pay close attention until some big event makes them do so. Then words matter, as they did in the days immediately after 9/11.

I’d like to put two propositions out there for NLT’s master logicians to chop up into tiny bits. First, because events don’t speak for themselves but must be set in a coherent and meaningful framework, speeches are important. But speeches themselves rarely (not never, just rarely) set the events in motion. Speeches depend upon deeds (our’s, or the other guys’), which in turn demand both an active and verbal response. But without actions, speech degenerates into mere talk, to which we pretty quickly cease to pay attention. (Bill Clinton might have been entertaining, but we knew he wasn’t too serious.)

Second, despite their ultimate importance, the relative weakness of speeches tempts us to discount them and to rely on deeds alone. Presidents sometimes act without trying to explain themselves. Of this approach, Richard Nixon was the champion, but George Bush also falls prey to the temptation, which is especially powerful when so many people refuse to listen, or willfully misunderstand what they’re hearing.

In the end, you have to talk and act (d’oh!), but the actions have to be intended to provoke a rational response. Thus when GWB served the ball into Congress’ court last week, he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the response he seems to have elicited involves just plain talk.

The Euston Manifesto

There are a growing number of signatories to the Euston Manifesto, a document first drafted in Great Britain last year. It calls for a new political alignment of "democrats and progressives" committed to global democracy. While the manifesto’s sponsors and signers are certainly not uncritical Bush supporters, they praise the invasion of Iraq as "a liberation of the Iraqi people" by eliminating Saddam’s "reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous" regime. They reject the notion that we should "indulgently ’understand’ reactionary regimes and movements for whom democracy is a hated enemy," and they further denounce the "anti-Americanism now infecting so much left liberal (and some conservative) thinking." They identify themselves with Franklin Roosevent and Harry Truman, "who battled dictatorships of the
right as well as the left respectively."

Looking through the manifesto immediately brought to mind this 1949 book by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Might we be looking at the development of a new "vital center"?

Rat Choice Theory--Part 5

Here’s a remarkably perceptive analysis of the pope’s speech from TIME. Clearly, its focus is the rational pursuit of the truth human beings can share in common. Is it possible for people of different faiths really to talk about God and the good?

Rat Choice Theory--Part 4

The pope’s Tuesday speech is getting more controversial. And it is possible to wonder whether he made a diplomatic error. But also attend to the wisdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury quoted in this BBC link. I have to admit that I didn’t study the Rat words mainly with Muslim sensibilities in mind, but it’s still clear that his intention was to encourage rational dialogue among the world’s great religions.

Wild Voters?

Larry Sabato offers his analysis of the considerable place of anger in the 2006 elections. He goes on to give a race-by-race analysis that shows that both the House and the Senate could go either way. My own study of his study shows that there’s more hope for the House than some say, but the Senate appears more vulnerable than we’ve thought.

That’ll Show ’Em!

House Democrats unveiled a new slogan yesterday: "A New Direction for America." How very cool. How edgy. How very avant-garde. How . . . persuasive. It replaces their previous slogan, "Together, America Can Do Better," which had replaced "Together, We Can Do Better." Wow. Think they worked overtime on these? These are the hardest slogans to come up with since "Oklahoma is OK." Shrum must be on vacation or something.

Dana Milbank is not impressed. He thinks the implicit Republican slogan, "Vote Democrat and Die," is better.

The 1978 elections

Andy Busch writes on the elections of 1978, the ones that set the stage for the ascent of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. This is the ninth in his series on mid-term elections in America. You are making a mistake if you do not read them! Here are the other eight. I assume you have looked at his book on mid-term elections. Some of his related books aren’t bad either, see this and this.

Hayward on the elections

Is there really a tidal wave against Republicans? You already know something of my opinion on this matter (and I will have more, my opinions are plentiful like blackberries) but here is

Steve Hayward’s, on a Podacst I did with him today. It’s very good.

If Ponnuru wasn’t enough for you...

Read these pieces, which I don’t for a moment endorse, since I have to run to class and talk politics with my kids. For one response, go here.

I’ll probably have a few things to say later on. But in the meantime, have at it in the comments section.

Rat Choice Theory--Part 3

Mr. Crunchy Con Rod Dreher notes that for the NEW YORK TIMES and the French that the pope’s speech was mainly Islam bashing. That odd approach to content analysis may get more of you interested in it, for one reason or another.
In any case, going to the link will give you a refresher course in the strengths and weaknesses of Crunchies or even cause you to acquire a new worry--about the urbanization of the intelligent. We who live in Ashland or Floyd County Georgia aren’t that worried.

Rat Choice Theory--Part 2

Peter Robinson, at the Corner of NRO says that the pope’s deep and provocative speech on Tuesday echoes Leo Strauss on the interplay between reason and revelation. But that’s not qutite so. Strauss says that the tension between reason and revelation is the secret to the West’s vitality. But Ratzinger/Benedict writes, in the passage Peter quotes (and a great passage it is), of "the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek philosophy."

Making the Rounds. . .

. . . on the internet:

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats, and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." Londoners have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940, when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

In addition, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France’s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.

It’s not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

Apologies to all Euroweenies Europeans who may find this offensive.

A Third Awakening?

This WaPo article picks up on the religious aspect of a conversation GWB had with conservative journalists, written up by NR’s Rich Lowry here. Get Religion’s David Pulliam offers some perspective here, while the WaPo’s Dan Froomkin tries to stoke the fires of reaction here.

I’ve always thought that GWB was some kind of culture warrior, but not in the most obvious sense. Here’s how I put it a couple of years ago:

Of course, freedom can be abused and must be used responsibly. Thus the Bush presidency’s major domestic theme, first articulated when Bush was Governor of Texas. As he put it, "My dream is to usher in what I call the ’responsibility era’—an era in which each and every Texan understands that we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life; that each of us is responsible for making sure our families come first; that we’re responsible for loving our neighbors as we’d like to be loved ourselves; and that we’re responsible for the communities in which we live." He used virtually identical language in a May 2004 interview, adding that while "[g]overnments cannot change culture, …I can be a voice of cultural change." This ambitious cultural agenda—often expressed in the language of "compassionate conservatism" —is at bottom an effort to roll back the 1960s....

The challenge that the President has faced is how to press his domestic cultural agenda--which he is perfectly capable of articulating in a "merely religious" (and indeed "merely moral"), rather than sectarian way--in the face of the civilizational struggle in which we’re engaged. For some time, it looked as if the focus on national security would put everything else on the back burner. But I think the President is correct in noting, at least implicitly, that understanding our international circumstances in existential terms (as rightly we should) makes us more serious about ourselves as individuals and as a people. The responsibility era (of which he has spoken domestically in some contexts as the "ownership society") can come as a consequence of our long-term struggle with the radical Islamists. That said, there are some things I wish he’d said and done more frequently to encourage us to think in these terms.

Republicans and evangelicals

This article offers a comprehensive and nuanced view of the relationship, said by some to be unraveling. It’s probably correct that the next Republican nominee won’t get 78% of the white evangelical vote, but it would take a series of unfortunate events for a Democrat to get out of the low 30s.

The Republican big tent

After a guest speaker I hosted yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with students today. My guest, a Republican state representative who on more than one occasion described himself as a "dinosaur," spoke rather forthrightly (and at the same time self-deprecatingly) about what he did and didn’t like about the actions of his colleagues. (I blogged about his talk here.)

I’d describe him as a classic suburban or business-oriented Republican, with little patience for some of the symbolic elements of the social conservative agenda.

Well, one of my students (a freshman) thought he sounded like a Democrat! Her tone wasn’t critical, as if she were a true believer criticizing someone she took to be a RINO. Instead, she seemed simply to think that the Republican Party consisted only of social conservatives, which is certainly the way it’s often portrayed in the media, and sometimes even by religious conservatives themselves. I think that it’s healthy for kids in reddish states like my own to see that there’s more than one kind of Republican, that the GOP can tolerate differences of opinion and even rather tart internal criticism, and that Republicans are capable even of reaching across party lines and forming friendships with their political opponents, all of which was out there for my students to see, courtesy of the dinosaur, who happens to be my state rep.

Fran Millar wouldn’t be mistaken for a Democrat by anyone who pays close attention to Georgia politics, and I’m glad he was there to disabuse some of my students of what they thought they knew about Republicans.

It’s academic: liberal education at West Point and the Citadel

Mark Bauerlein writes sympathetically about the education experiences of cadets at the USMA and at Pat Conroy’s alma mater. Here’s a snippet:

Lieutenant General Lennox at West Point believes that the humanities are necessitated in the curriculum by the current geopolitical situation. After cadets graduate, they soon depart for "the edge of our ethical world," he says, meaning not just life-or-death situations, but cultural, religious, and ethical traditions deeply foreign to our own. To "face those challenges with understanding," he insists, they need imagination and wisdom to comprehend the values and motives of uncertain friends and enemies. They need to defend themselves verbally as well as physically. Those skills and knowledge come from humanistic study and critical self- analysis: "You don’t want your army to be mindlessly patriotic."

It has always seemed to me that the best incentive to take one’s own education seriously and to invest oneself in it is the sense that something significant is at stake. Bauerlein seems to think the students he encountered have such a sense. Do students at our (other) elite institutions?

Losing the House in 2006?

Ramesh Ponnuru almost has me convinced. The risk lies in how Republicans would interpret such a defeat. Of course, it also lies in how Republicans would respond to a narrow victory.

Linker links

Rick Garnett calls our attention to these two reviews of Damon Linker’s The Theocons, one from the left, the other from the right. (The latter is only available in full to subscribers, so you’ll have to rely on the chunk Garnett provides.) Neither reviewer much likes the book.

I’ve just started it, and share some of Paul Baumann’s qualms about DL’s framework:

Linker sees inordinate peril in Neuhaus’s insistence that democracy be grounded in metaphysical, and ultimately religious, claims about the transcendent nature of the human person. The “liberal bargain” Linker extols, on the other hand, explicitly rejects the need for democratic societies to come to any comprehensive agreement about first principles. In the liberal bargain, we can disagree about the ultimate good, about “first things,” and still order our political life in a fair and peaceful way.

The theocons reject this conception of liberalism, insisting that only a political order based on absolute moral “truth” can protect human dignity and freedom. Such an insistence appears hard to square with our society’s inability to agree on the moral truth about such issues as abortion or same-sex marriage. Emphasizing such shortcomings, Linker is too quick to dismiss the appeal of the theocon position. (Neuhaus would argue, for example, that the law’s failure to protect unborn life is a far greater threat to democratic values than his protests against Roe v. Wade.) In a time when science presents excruciating dilemmas about when human life begins or ends—and about who should make such determinations—it is not just conservatives who balk at the idea that individual autonomy trumps all other moral values. Nor can Linker’s strictly secular “liberal bargain” account for the role religious convictions have played, for example, in the triumph of democracy in Poland’s Solidarity movement or America’s own abolitionist and civil-rights struggles.

Suffice it to say that while some on the religious right are anti-democratic, the arguments Neuhaus and company make about the religious origins of our ideas about human dignity and the intrinsic value of each life are hardly a recipe for theocratic tyranny. Liberal religious thinkers embrace similar premises yet come to very different political conclusions. As Galston and Edsall note, while Americans want a firm separation of church and state, they don’t want a purely secular public square, and there is no moral or constitutional reason why they should accept one. Yet Linker thinks the explicit disavowal of religious-based moral claims should be a prerequisite for entering into the political debate. He’s wrong, both philosophically and historically.

I wouldn’t endorse everything in these three paragraphs, but would certainly agree that DL’s account of the necessity of the liberal bargain is unpersuasively thin gruel.

I should note that our very own Peter Lawler has a bit part in the book, as a follower of the notorious theocon Leon Kass and associate of the other notorious theocon (?) Diana Schaub.

I’ll render a fuller (though perhaps still half-baked) judgment later, but my first reaction is that Linker ought to have been able to do better than this.

Greek Philosophy and Christian Faith: Rat Choice Theory

Here is Pope Benedict XVI’s (Joseph Ratzinger’s) account of the integral place of Greek philosophy in Christian faith, including an account of the disastrous effects "the process of dehellenization" has had on that faith. His conclusion: "The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur--this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time....It is to this great ’logos,’ to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

Blair vs. Clinton?

Alex Massie of The Scotsman reflects on the decline and delated fall of Tony Blair, concluding that "Blair’s political gifts, to be sure, allowed him to skate past his critics for years, but, after so much time in office and so many fewer achievements than he promised, there are few buyers for the proposition that Labour is throwing away a pearl richer than all its tribe."

Blair is thought to be Britain’s Clinton, but unlike Clinton, he never got any significant policy reforms out of Parliament. Of course, some of Clinton’s reforms (especially welfare reform and the balanced budget) are reflections of our different political system: the Republican opposition made it possible as well as necessary that Clinton sign off on welfare reform whereas Blair, in Massie’s words, "never convinced Labour to drink his own Kool-Aid--a failure that ensures his legacy is less than it could have been."  

What is Judicial Activism?

My view, as you know, is that we conservatives need to devote more energy to campaigning against judicial activism. But first we have to figure out what judicial activism is. Matt Franck--taking on the formidable NEW YORK TIMES--helps out a lot. If you want a refresher on my view, look at my article in the July/August SOCIETY, which can’t be found on-line yet. There I say, to make a long story short, that I’m more of a Scalia man than a Thomas man (although I great personal and theoretical admiration for them both). I’m opposed to both "social" and "economic" libertarian judicial activism, and so my position is in many ways the opposite of that of libertarian Randy Barnett. His thoughtful RESTORING THE LOST CONSTITUTION--which embraces Kennedy’s opinion in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS much more consistently than Kennedy himself does--can be found on amazon.

Can We Call Him "Mr. Y"?

Turns out a defense intelligence specialist predicted the rise of Islamic radicalism. In 1946. It was classified then. Perhaps we should regard its author as "Mr. Y" to go with Kennan’s "Mr. X."

Hat tip: Michael Rubin, who sensibly suggests we posthumously award this anonymous analyst a medal.   

Mansfield on 9/11

Harvey Mansfield offers his typically succinct but piercing reflections on the cluelessness of academic liberalism in the wake of 9/11. 

Defending Scooter Libby

Here is TNR’s Martin Peretz on the (now) Valeria Plame non-case:

"No one is interested in the case of the ’outed spook’ and her ’outer’ any longer. And that is because we now know who exposed the lady to Robert Novak, and he isn’t and never was part of the Cheney White House. He was part of the anti-Cheney State Department, liberal heroes, sort of. That man is Richard Armitage, latterly deputy secretary of state and multi-lateralist par excellence. He has now expressed his soulful contrition for the leak. One thing everybody in Washington knows about Armitage is that he doesn’t take another kind of a leak without asking Colin Powell first. So there is now added to this weird case the question of what were Armitage’s--and Powell’s--motives in this exposure. And they should also be asking about Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff at State, and his possible role in this affair. None of these men were especially taken with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. So they are, so to speak, off the hook with the anti-war folk with regard to the leak. The fact is that neither Armitage nor his associates ever told the president who was responsible for the leak. If I were George W. Bush, I’d be ripshit. And, since Armitage two weeks ago unambiguously admitted to being the culprit, should he not now face charges? Now, there is one person who has been indicted--not for violating the Intelligence Identification Protection Act, the law which Armitage has actually confessed to breaking--but for obstructing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation. (Read Jeffrey Rosen’s TNR article "Overcharged," November 14, 2005, here.) The indicted man is Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and he has become MoveOn’s designated scapegoat for the entire war. Folk who wouldn’t have thought Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs or Philip Agee guilty of treason have been calling him a traitor. This is laughable."

"Let me concede: I am a friend of Scooter Libby. But I do not like his boss. And I do not like his boss’s wife. I know this gets me no credit with the all-or-nothing crowd. Still, I like Scooter, who is quite brilliant, very honest, and brave. Also funny. I’ve contributed to The Libby Legal Defense Fund and have joined the fund’s advisory committee, which is not large because in Washington old pals dessert when even their college roommate gets into trouble. In a time when self-styled civil libertarians are giving money to defend Muslim terrorists, I am happy to help defend an American patriot, some of whose politics I do not share and some of whose politics I do, from a cynical onslaught of the special prosecutor who put journalists into jail for not telling him what he already knew.

The campaign of wrath and virtue against Libby was mostly fueled by simulated outrage. Now that everybody knows who committed the offense, such as it was, the charges against Libby should go into the trash."

Here is the Libby Legal Defense Trust

More crunchy numbers on religion

This WaPo story describes this Baylor University study (long pdf alert). The authors include two very prominent sociologists of religion,they acknowledge other big guns in the field, and the Gallup Organization conducted the survey, so it has a good bit of professional credibility. In addition, the authors promise that this is merely the first of many future surveys. The Pew Forum/Pew Center folks have some major, high-powered competition.

There’s all sorts of interesting demographic data, such as these tidbits: a significantly higher proportion of females than males identify with black Protestant churches, while a higher proportion of men than women identify with Roman Catholicism; and young people (18-30) are most likely to declare no religious affiliation, largely at the expense of the Catholic church, which seems significantly underrepresented in that cohort (10.1%, as opposed to 20% or more in other cohorts).

The study also found that the attributes most closely connected with political conservatism are relative biblical literalism and church attendance: it turns out that relatively "biblically literalist" Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants are more or less indistinguishable in their political views.

There are all sorts of other interesting findings in the survey, but you’re going to have to see them for yourself.

Update: This article chews over the data reasonably well. Hat tip: Get Religion.

Going to hell in a shopping basket?

Tom Cerber calls our attention to this article describing this study. Turns out that the repeal of Sunday closing laws has a negative impact, not only on church attendance and giving, but on certain forms of destructive youth behavior.

And while I’m at it, one of the co-authors also has this paper, whose results are summarized here.

To be sure, these considerations should affect the behavior of public policy makers, not the attitudes of believers, who have other reasons for behaving as they ought.

No Democrat wave

I said to someone this morning (again) that I did not think the Democrats would take back the House. Once again, I was looked at as if I were a martian. This will continue for maybe another three or four weeks, and then the clouds will lift and people will begin to see that it is extremely unlikely that Nancy Pelosi will become speaker. This New York Times already points to the fog lifting in New York state. And note this bad news for Dems coming out of Georgia.

A Volunteer

Here’s an inspirational story for 9/11--a "professional" conservative who actually volunteered to defend his country. My opinion, all along, is that the president should have asked for more of this kind of real citizenship.


It’s been five years. We awoke as if from a deep dream. The post-Cold War petty issues of the Clinton years turned into dust, as did many human bones in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Life became serious again when we realized that there were people out there willing to attack and kill us because of who we are. Perhaps we should have realized that earlier, perhaps we should have even noted it after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Never mind that for now. We do know it now and we know it because of what happened on September 11, 2001. The horror, the blood and dust, and death. And then the heroism and then the calculated response. Do not let the current politics, the current disgareement over means in the war against terror, allow this massive fact to be made less clear. Let us dispute how we make war on our enemies tomorrow. Today let us remember the event, and let our proper anger be channelled into trying mightily to prevent its recurrence. Let us renew our faith that right makes might and rededicate ourselves to the great task before us, that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. And may the honored dead rest in peace.

In Some Ways We Are Better Off...

On 9/11, let’s consider this reminder of all that’s gone right for our country over the last five years. Save your "yes, buts" until tomorrow.

Just Because You’re Paranoid. . .

Mickey Kaus on the silliness of the left-wing paranoia that the right is taking over Hollywood:

[A]re you worried about an "emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian politican and religious agendas"? Maybe I’m complacent about the threat, but isn’t that a little like worrying about the growing anti-Zionist foothold at The New Republic? If you put Hollywoods’s entire network of right wing people in David Horowitz’s living room, you wouldn’t have much trouble getting to the hors d’oeuvre tray. If you tried to put Hollywood’s network of left wing people in the Los Angeles Convention Center, the fire marshal would close it down.

Thoughts on "Path to 9/11"

I watched the whole commercial-free broadcast last night, in part for general reasons, and in particular because I’m a big fan of it’s up-and-coming young director, David Cunningham, mostly because of his great work on this extraordinary movie. But I have to say I am getting tired of the jerky, tight-shot, hand-held camera technique that was used almost exclusively in "Path." Can we put this away now? Or at least tone it down a bit? I really don’t need to count the nose hairs on the various actors in the film.

Even with the edits, which were conspicuous (you can see the unedited scenes at Red State), the movie was still hard on the Clintonistas. I expect Night 2 will be hard on Bush. The asymmetry of outcry about the film between the two camps is therefore telling.

9/11 and teaching

I wrote this back in 2001, and will be thinking about it when I teach the same course tomorrow (though I’ll be on Herodotus, rather than Thucydides).

I continue to remind my students, both of the day and of the way in which reading old books can offer us some perspective on our current prospects.

For more along these lines, go here, here, and here (much more sophisticated than my halting efforts, and coming to a different conclusion).

Knippenblog exclusives, 2nd ed.

A longish piece on Democrats and religion, prompted by this Hayward post.

A quickie reference to Hunter Baker’s musings about the musings of William Underwood, past Baylor prez and current Mercer prez.

Some thoughts on issues of local governance here in the Atlanta metro area.

A brief rant about Randall Balmer’s post over at Faithful Democrats, to which our worthy Kate boldly responded on the site.

Lastly, I’ve got a post on a forthcoming book on conservative compassion (or, if you will, charity), which argues that conservatives are truly "liberal" in the Aristotelian sense or charitable in the Christian sense. It’s sure to provoke quite a discussion when it’s released.

Hunting dogs

Bill Clinton speaks in St. Louis--referencing Republicans’ use of national security--as he supports the Democrat running against Sen. Jim Talent:
"They’ve trotted that dog out for the last three elections - and it’s got mange all over it." Maybe.

Anxious Reading at B and N--But Maybe It’s Just the Caffeine

I just finished my Sunday morning, after church ritual of checking out, for free, the various magazines of opinion at the Starbucks section of our local Barnes and Noble. I perused THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, to find, once again, that it’s full of imprudent and otherwise self-indulgent culural or promiscuously anticapitalist literary politics. But the lead article, by the distinguished student of international relations James Kurth of Swarthmore, I found harder to dismiss. He seems to echo the right-wing populism of Buchanan about the growing gap between rich and poor both in our country and across the globe. But Kurth’s analysis was more pointed--focusing on the burgeoning class of rich homeowners who eschew manual labor as the faction most supportive of illegal immigration, Bush’s "regressive" tax reforms, and Islamic radicalism as most basically fueled by egalitarian resentment. I didn’t agree with most of the article, although it would be unfair to take time to refute it until it shows up on-line. But there was enough said well there that I walked away convinced that there’s something, at least, to worry about--either that some of Kurth’s facts and analysis are right or that an increasing number of smart conservatives with some political astuteness believe that they are.

I also read the symposium on Iraq by various hawkish and very astute authors in THE NATIONAL REVIEW (also not available right now on-line). I found some agreement with Mark Steyn’s conclusion that our present policy, considered as a powerful example of our aggressive resolve to deter our enemies, is "a flop." But then there was a disconcerting amount of disagreement about what we should do now. I stink at matters relating to military strategy, and so I’m not offering an opinion. But I’m still bothered that experts I respect are so divided themselves.

Finally, I read that Republicans should campaign on this issue: Democrats hate Wal-Mart. It’s true enough that they at least pretend to, and most Americans appreciate the savings and convenience of a superstore.
But it’s also true, as I suggested above, that more and more conservatives--Crunchy and otherwise--are becoming anti-Wal-Mart. I rarely go to Wal-Mart, but am always amazed when I do. There are costs and benefits when the store comes to town, but I differ from the Crunchies and the Buchananites in thinking that the benefits for most people outweigh the costs. (And so the anti-WM position really is elitist.) Here’s hoping that our country doesn’t really divide into Wal-Mart and anti-Wal-Mart parties (and I say that while thinking that we should unite against some of the more creepy features of the creeping libertarianism of our time--I’m pro-choice on WM but not on everything).

Lieberman vs. Lamont

This is amusing. The New York Times a story page A15 this way: "Ned Lamont, who this week chastised Senator Joseph I. Lieberman for his public rebuke of President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, wrote to Mr. Lieberman at the time praising the eloquence of his speech on the Senate floor." Read it all.

The front page story on Lieberman tries to focus on the "tricky path" the Senator is walking because (it seems) no one is on his side, no party organization, no labor support, no field workers, etc. The voters seem to be siding with Lieberman, and I think the tricky path is being taken by both local and national Democrats.

Democratic Assessment

The silly U.S. NEWS ranking of colleges and universities is challenged by the new ranking by THE WASHINGTON MONTHLY. There the standards are community service (including military service), production of Ph.D.s and so useful research, and contribution to students’ social mobility. Following Tocqueville, we can call these standards the characteristically democratic ones. We lovers of liberal education might fault the neglect of the Great Books, knowledge for its own sake, or, more generally, cultivation of the soul. But still, the anti-elitst standards do, to some extent, correct the empty snobbery of our politically correct enemies. At the very least, this survey reminds us of the heroic work sometimes done at our historically African-American institutions.

Senate Intel Committee Report

Here’s the report, and here’s the WaPo article on it, the most relevant portion of which reads:

Republican attempts to paint the findings as a partisan rehash were undercut by intelligence committee members from the GOP. The committee report’s conclusions are based on the Democrats’ findings because two Republicans -- Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) -- supported those findings.

Read that again: the "report’s conclusions are based on the Democrats’ findings," with "bipartisan" cover provided by Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe.

The stuff on WMD is basically old news, which will be resuscitated by the issuance of this report. Of course, bad intelligence (believed by everyone, including President Clinton and most western intelligence agencies) is different from lying, but that distinction is lost on the Bush-haters.

The discussion of ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is more nuanced in the report than in the news coverage I’ve seen and, again, is nothing new: everyone agrees that there were contacts and that there might be (or have been) cooperation where the anti-American interests of the two parties coincided.

Brangelina Barf Bag . . .

Can you believe this stuff is called "news"? But as long as it is, I can’t resist a comment. Brad Pitt won’t marry Angelina Jolie until "everyone" can marry. Gee, Brad . . . that’s a very convenient and socially forward thinking excuse. Except for one thing . . . everyone already CAN get married in America IF they get married to someone of the opposite sex. Angelina must be really gullible if she’s buying that one; particularly since it’s coming from a guy who once commented (just after marrying Jennifer Aniston) that he thought monogamy was "unnatural." But I guess a girl who once thought it was o.k. to wear Billy Bob Thorton’s blood around her neck in a vile is probably open to lots of stupid ideas.

A Word Fitly Written . . .

Tarzana Joe, the official poet of the Hugh Hewitt show, should have the final word on the continuing saga concerning ABCs willingness (or not) to air the much discussed "docu-drama" The Path to 9/11. His poem "Yes, Virginia" says it all and much more. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a poem like that is worth at least 10,000.

What Would We Do Without Studies?

Thank God we live in an age when cutting edge scientific discoveries like this one are at our disposal.

High Sierra Hi-Jinks

The long national nightmare that was our three-week camping trip to the High Sierras is finally over! Despite minor injuries to every member of our family (fish hooks, rocks falling on heads, falls into rivers, and agenda-driven picnic tables) somehow we survived!

The funniest of the injuries happened to my husband in Yosemite. As per the ADA, the campgrounds have equipped all the sites with wheelchair accessible picnic tables. Unfortunately for the able-bodied, this means that the table part sticks out a good three feet further from the seat. Late at night and in the dark, one can only see the top of the table and it is easy to forget things like that. While we were all sitting around the campfire, my husband backed up to sit down and found the reminder quite painful. As our campground host laughed knowingly about this accident, I am sure it is nothing unique to our experience. I am also reasonably sure that the number of people who have actually used the wheelchair feature of this table are fewer than the number of people injured in the way I described! But this was nothing compared to what happened to my in-laws on the way home.

Somehow my father-in-law lost control of his vehicle and jack-knifed his 5th wheel trailer along the I-5! It, and the truck, rolled over at least twice, pinning them inside and destroying everything. It is a miracle that they survived the crash without serious injury. But if you’ve never seen anything like this, it is difficult to describe. Think of an alien ship sucking everything up into the sky and then dropping it from several thousand feet! Then consider that trailers are made out of thin sheet metal, styrofoam, staples and the cheap pressed board they use for the backing of a cheap bookcase. It was quite a terrible scene.

But let me also say that if you know anyone who has one of these things and allows people to ride inside of it (or for that matter, in the non-vehicle part of a motorhome) please tell them to reconsider. Not only would no one have survived if he had been riding inside of it--neither would he be in one piece! The highway patrol officer called his wife from the scene to tell her that their plans for getting a 5th wheel so the kids could ride in the back were now off!

But, there was some good news. The fishing was fantastic, the scenery spectacular, and above all . . . the kids thought it was all one big adventure.

Now we are back to our more pedestrian existence, school has started, and the adventures must wait--at least until next summer.

What Grutter hath Wrought

The NY Times reports that about a dozen advertising firms in New York "have promised to set numerical goals for increasing black representation on their creative and managerial staffs and to report on their progress each year." Meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, the chairwoman of NYC’s Human Rights Commission, Patricia Gatling, said, "In a city where African-Americans make up one-quarter of the population, with billions of dollars in purchase power, the lack of representation in the advertising industry is completely unacceptable."

Just a week ago the Survivor tv series was criticized for grouping their tribes by race. The show’s producers claimed it wasn’t a stunt but a response to the criticism that the show was "not ethnically diverse enough." So they decided to make their fake tribes, well, more like real tribes--imagine that!

"Representation" and "diversity" no longer reflect the outcome of the equal protection of everyone’s individual choices. Instead of treating each person as an individual, with unique qualities, a multi-faceted identity, and a will of his or her own, the proponents of modern-day diversity insist that justice cannot be served for racial minorities unless they are sprinkled in sufficient quantities throughout the American landscape. I for one prefer to make America "the land of the free and the home of the brave": namely, a people free from government recognition of their race, and brave enough to insist they be treated equally before the law. If only lawmakers had agreed with the request of freedmen after the Civil War to be treated without reference to race, we might have avoided much of the mess that government use of race has produced thus far.

Update: I forgot to add yet another sign of how bad we Americans misunderstand what it means to be an individual. Anyone catch the NY Times brief feature entitled Questions for Gloria Steinem? When asked, "Is Condoleezza Rice an ally of women?" Here’s what Steinem replied: "I wish someone would write an article called ’How Did Condoleezza Rice Get That Way?’ She’s so separate from the welfare of the majority of Americans and especially the female and African-American communities to which she belongs." Wow, someone ought to tell Secretary Rice that Gloria Steinem knows better than she does exactly who Rice is and to whom she belongs. Last I checked, slavery was abolished in 1865.

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:

Sharon Howard

John Edens

Wade Sikes

Christopher VandeLinde

Ellie Lewis

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.

Different Kind of Geekfest

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek. Oh happy day for us geeks! This article says the show was about "liberal imperialism", though it does take note of the Federation’s mindlessly relativistic "prime directive" (thank God the British rulers in India didn’t repair behind the prime directive when they saw suttee about to be practiced).

The best analysis of Star Trek remains Paul Cantor’s invaluable Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization.

P.S. Comedy Central recently held a William Shatner roast. It wasn’t very good--too much crude humor--but there were a couple of good lines, such as the comic, noting Shatner’s now-full figure, who said, "Bill--you have let yourself boldly go! You know Bill, they make 1 percent milk now.)

Lifestyles of the rich and famous Republicans; Or, What’s the Matter with McLean?

TNR writes about McLean, Virginia, with the none too subtle argument that Republicans are more vulgar than the Democrats they replaced in this posh suburb (which, by the way, was regarded as posh when I first arrived in the D.C. metro area in 1973).

Stated another way, Democrat elites wear their wealth with the gentility to which they were apparently bred, while Republican arrivistes can’t help but reveal their middle (or lower middle) class background by the excesses they practice.

According to TNR, apparently, we need a gen-yoo-wine ruling class, not the wealthy rednecks the Reagan Revolution and its successors brought to Washington. Democrats I guess know in their bones that "democracy" really can’t be run by common people.

What does Lawler, the native northern Virginian (I’m right about that, aren’t I?), think?

Another good GWB speech (or two)

I don’t have much time to blog on this right now, but yesterday the President delivered another strong speech, detailing how intelligence efforts have paid off in the apprehension of terrorists and outlining a proposal for the organization and conduct of military commissions to try those who are allegedly attempting to kill as many of us as possible.

Today, he was up the road from me delivering this speech on lessons learned from 9/11 and calling for Congress to update FISA. Here’s the conclusion of today’s speech:

In the early days after 9/11, I told the American people that this would be a long war -- a war that would look different from others we have fought, with difficulties and setbacks along the way. The past five years have proven that to be true. The past five years have also shown what we can achieve when our nation acts with confidence and resolve and clear purpose. We’ve learned the lessons of 9/11, and we have addressed the gaps in our defenses exposed by that attack. We’ve gone on the offense against our enemies, and transformed former adversaries into allies. We have put in place the institutions needed to win this war. Five years after September the 11th, 2001, America is safer -- and America is winning the war on terror. With vigilance, determination, courage, we will defeat the enemies of freedom, and we will leave behind a more peaceful world for our children and our grandchildren.

The White House also released this White Paper, offering its view of the successes and challenges in the five years since 9/11.

Here’s the Democrats’ alternative.

For coverage, you can go here, here, and here. A useful passage:

By challenging Congress to immediately give the administration authority to try notorious al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed by military commissions, he shifted the argument with Democratic critics of national security policies and competence. As Bush framed the choice, anyone against his proposal would be denying him necessary tools to protect American security.

His success in catching much of Washington by surprise showed that a president who polls show has his political back to the wall still has formidable tools: the ability to make well-timed course corrections on policy, dominate the news and shape the capital’s agenda in the weeks before Election Day.

Here’s the nub of the Democratic response:

As the president was speaking, Senate Democrats were holding a news conference on Capitol Hill to denounce his anti-terrorism policies as “tough but empty rhetoric” and offer a package of proposals of their own.

“Republicans have ignored the lessons of 9/11 and failed to make America as safe as we can and should be,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader. “They want to ‘stay the course’ in the face of failure. We won’t.”

Unless I miss my guess, Harry Reid has walked into the trap, accepting the identification of the was on terror with the war in Iraq by using the Democratic characterization of the latter and applying it to the former. And however one describes "the facts on the ground" in Iraq, it’s hard to redescribe the fact that there haven’t been any terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. If I had to bet, I’d bet that GWB will be seen to have won this round politically.

And it’s important that he win it politically because his continued poltiical success is essential for our security.

If you want to see what really exercises President Bush’s predecessors, read this and this.


Sen. Chuck Schumer, who controls a $35 million Democratic election fund, didn’t give a dime to help Sen. Joe Lieberman fight back against anti-war challenger Ned Lamont, federal records show. Schumer will not be the only red-faced Democrat when Lieberman is re-elected. Lamont will be lucky to get about 40% of the vote.

Latest Podcast

I talked with John Moser about acting and teaching. John is a professor of history and a wonderful teacher, and, a pretty fair actor. So we talked mostly about his hobby, acting, and some about how it relates to teaching. He has a play—a comedy—coming up this weekend and the next, and if you are nearby Mansfield, Ohio, you should attend. After all, as the Poet says in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, "How shall we beguile the lazy time, if not with some delight?"

Japan and normality

Japan’s Princess Kiko gave birth Wednesday to a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, ending a potential crisis of succession in the world’s oldest continuous monarchy. George Will notes that the famous pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution will end up (read, already has) bowing to normality (reality): Japan will become (is) a military power, with a military budget already larger than Britain’s or Germany’s. Will North Korea provoke it to become nuclear? Congratulations to Princess Kiko.

Five years after 9/11

A Zogby Poll shows that about 58% majority says the Iraq War has not been worth the loss of American lives, while 36% say it has. Here is the partisan breakdown: Among Republicans, 58% say the war has been worth the cost in lives, while among Democrats, just 20% hold this view.

Martin Gilbert (the official Churchill historian) has a new book out: The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War. The battle lasted four months. While by the end of the four month long battle it was fair to say--as a German general did--that the Somme became "the muddy grave of the German field army," (German casualties were over a half a million men) it is also worth noting that the British lost

nineteen thousand (19,000) soldiers on the first day. For the rest of the story see
this and this.

GWB’s Sunni/Shia terror speech

Here’s the speech.

A snippet:

Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say? America and our coalition partners have made our choice. We’re taking the words of the enemy seriously. We’re on the offensive, and we will not rest, we will not retreat, and we will not withdraw from the fight, until this threat to civilization has been removed.


As we continue to fight al Qaeda and these Sunni extremists inspired by their radical ideology, we also face the threat posed by Shia extremists, who are learning from al Qaeda, increasing their assertiveness, and stepping up their threats. Like the vast majority of Sunnis, the vast majority of Shia across the world reject the vision of extremists -- and in Iraq, millions of Shia have defied terrorist threats to vote in free elections, and have shown their desire to live in freedom. The Shia extremists want to deny them this right. This Shia strain of Islamic radicalism is just as dangerous, and just as hostile to America, and just as determined to establish its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East. And the Shia extremists have achieved something that al Qaeda has so far failed to do: In 1979, they took control of a major power, the nation of Iran, subjugating its proud people to a regime of tyranny, and using that nation’s resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue their radical agenda.

Like al Qaeda and the Sunni extremists, the Iranian regime has clear aims: They want to drive America out of the region, to destroy Israel, and to dominate the broader Middle East. To achieve these aims, they are funding and arming terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which allow them to attack Israel and America by proxy. Hezbollah, the source of the current instability in Lebanon, has killed more Americans than any terrorist organization except al Qaeda. Unlike al Qaeda, they’ve not yet attacked the American homeland. Yet they’re directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans abroad. It was Hezbollah that was behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. And Saudi Hezbollah was behind the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, an attack conducted by terrorists who we believe were working with Iranian officials.

Just as we must take the words of the Sunni extremists seriously, we must take the words of the Shia extremists seriously. Listen to the words of Hezbollah’s leader, the terrorist Nasrallah, who has declared his hatred of America. He says, "Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan [America] is absolute… Regardless of how the world has changed after 11 September, Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan: Death to America."

And yet another:

Imagine a world in which they were able to control governments, a world awash with oil and they would use oil resources to punish industrialized nations. And they would use those resources to fuel their radical agenda, and pursue and purchase weapons of mass murder. And armed with nuclear weapons, they would blackmail the free world, and spread their ideologies of hate, and raise a mortal threat to the American people. If we allow them to do this, if we retreat from Iraq, if we don’t uphold our duty to support those who are desirous to live in liberty, 50 years from now history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity, and demand to know why we did not act.

This is the sort of speech he should have been giving at least once a month. Great stuff!

Here, if you care to read them, are the WaPo and NYT stories, which bury the speech in partisan context.

I’ll dig up analyses when they’re posted tomorrow.

Democrats and religion yet again again again

This AP story tells us of this new website, representing "an online community of Christian Democrats." Among the folks who will be opining on this site are the ubiquitous Amy Sullivan, Mara Vanderslice (who had a very brief stint as John Kerry’s first Director of Religious Outreach), Randall Balmer (an evangelical so liberal he has become an Episcopalian), and Lauren Winner, who is a frequent presence on the pages of Books & Culture.

While it at the moment seems to be impossible to link to a particular post on the site (note to the site administrators: if you want to have a conversation with folks, make it possible!), Amy Sullivan did have a few interesting things to say on one post. And I quote:

A popular line of attack against Republicans has been the argument that Bush and his administration are in the thrall of religious fundamentalists and that our country is on the verge of becoming a theocracy. Books like Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy and Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming have promoted this thesis by exposing the extreme theologies subscribed to by some of Bush’s religious supporters.

It’s true that there are some disturbing theological views out there that need to be critically examined, and that Bush has been guilty of playing on those beliefs in order to mobilize his most right-wing followers. But aside from the troubling of area of public health -- in which religious views, and not science, have dictated policy -- there is no evidence that Bush’s actions have been influenced by religious conservatives. Is it hard to believe that he would have invaded Iraq anyway if fundamentalists didn’t have apocalyptic theories about the Middle East? Or that he would continue to oppose environmental regulation even if some folks didn’t believe that global warming was an essential part of the End Times? (For more on this, read Peter Steinfels’ excellent book review in this month’s American Prospect.)

The damning criticism of Bush is not that he is too religious, but that he is not religious enough. He used the faith-based initiative to reel in religious supporters and then slashed the funds available for faith-based and other service providers. He spent the campaign talking tough about protecting children from wireless porn and then backed down when cellular companies protested. And for all Bush’s talk about the culture of life, religious conservatives are starting to realize that the Republican Party doesn’t want to see Roe overturned. That’s what has damaged the GOP’s religion-friendly image -- not the idea that the party is made up of a bunch of theocrats.

She also calls attention to this rather measured review essay by the NYT’s Peter Steinfels.

There’s also some pablum served up by Bob Casey, Jr., with links to more detailed documents (unfortunately unlinkable from the site), as well as the promise of a major address on "Restoring America’s Moral Compass: Leadership and the Common Good," to be delivered at Catholic University of America on September 14th.

All in all, a worthwhile site.

Studies Show That Marxism Is Still Bad

Here’s a remarkably sympathetic and subtle review of the profoundly critical and exhaustively detailed criticisms of Marxism and its history in the work of the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. And it’s located in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS! The reviewer means to counter the two main Western intellectual fantasies of our time: 1. That our present well-managed liberal or libertarian democracies are immune to radical challenge AND 2. Marx liberated from Marxism and communism might provide the foundation for such challenges.

My thanks to Ryan Rakness for calling this review to my attention. His hope is that the temptation to comment on its excellences and its deficiencies will draw the legendary DAN MAHONEY into our discussion.

Judicial abstraction from the war on terror

David Marion suggests that judges (as well as executives and legislators) drink deeply from the well of Madisonian and Lincolnian wisdom before absolutizing rights and abstracting them from the historical and political contexts in which they’re exercised.

It’s after Labor Day

Polls show that races are getting tighter. This WaPo article argues that economic woes will hurt incumbents (read: Republicans), though the issue cut the same way in 2004, and look how that came out. (Of course, without the President on the ballot, national security won’t likely be as big an issue.)

E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks the North will rise again to help Democrats.

Stay tuned.

A quick note about Philadelphia

My wife and kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and I was pleased by the tourist segments in which I participated. Philadelphia’s historic district is impressive, with all sorts of interesting and entertaining programming, thanks in large part to this organization. I liked the National Constitution Center well enough, as did the younger Knippenbergs, though dad and kids presumably had different interests and capacities for appreciating the exhibits.

One last point: in the historic district, ordinary Philadelphians were consistently friendly and helpful, one of them explaining to my wife that he tries harder because his city all too often gets overlooked as a tourist destination because of New York, Washington, and even Boston. I don’t know how widespread the attitude is ("the plural of anecdote is not data"), but we’d go back and recommend the experience to others.

APSA wrap-up

The Friar has a few things to say about the panels he attended. I made it to part of this one, in addition to the two on which I served. The part I saw was all about how Democrats could become more religion-friendly and, not surprisingly, Bill Galston’s list was comprehensive. Whether it’s achieveable is a different story. (Hint: Catholics are the key.)

I had some interesting conversations, learning, for example, about this program, which shows what an entrepreneurial professor can do if he encounters an administration that is willing to countenance "intellectual diversity."

I also bought a bunch of books, about which more later.

Patrick Henry College update

If you still care about Patrick Henry College, this relatively soft WaTi story has some information.

As for the fate of one of last year’s principal protagonists, you can go here.

Is Divided Government the Ticket?

As the discerning Kate has pointed out in a thread, the classic Cato (or libertarian policy wonk) case for divided government as the best or even only way to slow the growth in federal spending has been revived in many quarters of late. Friends of genuinely limited government, the argument today goes, should welcome and even help in the likely Democratic takeover of Congress as the most effective way to begin to deal with the fiscal damage done by our utterly undisciplined Republicans, both the president and in Congress. Here’s the most recent and pretty powerful if not finally persuasive (to me) version of the case for a calculated choice for the Democrats this time. (Actually, I might be persuaded if I thought fiscal policy is the main thing or the most important thing.) It’s certainly an argument the Republicans must begin to address to win in November. They have to start talking and acting as if fiscal competence and discpline, not to mention the idea of rigorously limited government, genuinely mattered to them.

Free Beer! (Or Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 3)

I just got back from the political science convention. For those of you who missed me, I’ll be in DC Wed. thru Fri. at the Bioethics Council Meeting. Wednesday night I will be speaking at that gourmet’s dream, a Thai-Italian restaurant, to conservatives young enough to be carded. Here’s your invitation. Just say you read about this on NLT, and you will qualify for the free beer.

GOP is tense

The lead article in yeterday’s USA Today is called GOP lags in key races for Senate. It is full of all the ordinary gloom-and-doom: How the GOP will probably lose the House, but probably not the Senate, etc. And then there are a few nuggets. Nine out of ten black voters are backing Rendell in PA over Lynn Swann, but only six out ten are backing Strickland over Ken Blackwell. Note that Joe Hallett claims that Blackwell never got more than 24% of the black vote (the figure generally used has been 32%; while, according to Hallett, Blackwell claims he got 50% in the last election). Blacks make up about 8% of the voters in Ohio. Strickland is not known in the black community, but he is starting to advertise. You can do the math as well as I can. Strickland can’t win. Also note the follwoing line in another USA Today article in the same issue: "Party loyalty was stronger among Democrats than Republicans in every state but Ohio." I do not think that the Dems will take the House (or the Senate), for what it’s worth. But more on this later. I have to run to the grocery store.

Spain needs help

Spain is asking Europe for help to stop the surge in illegal immigrants from Africa. "In August alone more migrants have arrived than in all of 2005, the government said."

More geekfest scenes

A sighting of Hayward.... A sighting of Lawler.... A sighting of the Friar.... A sighting of von Heyking.... Snatches of conversation with various and sundry folks, including (gasp!) Damon Linker.

I had planned to attend the Claremont reception, but my kids insisted that I join them at a different kind of geekfest, a highly campy interactive viewing of 1776, the Musical (sort of like a Rocky Horror Picture Show for home-schoolers, at least those who can stand the PG-13 language and mild innuendo).

The family spent the day "in history," listening to thirteen different storytellers, encountering role-players and funny park rangers. They also crossed paths at least once with another political science widow and her orphans.

Podcast with Larry Obhof

As you know the Ohio Supreme Court decision in Norwood v. Horney was a very significant decision, indeed the first decision on a state level to confront the unfortunate Kelo decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. While the discussion gets technical, the crux of the matter is whether private property is a fundamental right or not. In my latest podcast, Larry Obhof discusses with lawyerly-like precision the ins and outs of the case.

Leonard Levy, RIP

On a more somber note, the New York Times obituary page brings the sad news that the great constitutional historian Leonard Levy has died at the age of 83. Levy was one of the towering figures at Claremont in the 1970s and 1980s when many us were doing our degrees there. As the Times explains him:

He was also an active participant in Reagan-era debates over a mode of constitutional interpretation known as originalism, popularized by Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated in 1987. Originalism looks to the text and original understanding of the Constitution as the only sure guide to its meaning.

Professor Levy called that approach a disservice to the grand, open-textured phrases in the Constitution, formulations that he said required fresh interpretation by each new generation. “The framers,” he wrote, “had a genius for studied imprecision.”

There was much more to the story than that. Although a New Deal liberal, he admitted to having voted for Reagan in 1980 (though not in 1984). He was also very friendly to conservatives at the graduate school, and took our side in academic battles against political correctness and academic trendiness, because he came to see that his very best students were the conservatives who came to Claremont to study political philosophy, but who saw that there was much from political philosophy to be applied and dilated in his rigorous courses on constitutional questions. A Levy seminar or one-on-one tutorial (I did both) was an experience that must be much like military boot camp--painful, demanding, terrifying, exhausting, and something that afterward you would never have wanted to miss. In a Levy course, you weren’t just questioned; you were cross-examined. It was often not a pretty sight. But it made everyone better thinkers, writers, and scholars.

In the aftermath of his book attacking the Bork view of "original intent,", Levy revised his views to some extent, becoming more friendly toward our view that constitutional originalism is not matter of textual exegesis (as it is for Scalia), but is a matter or absorbing, as Lincoln showed, the philosophical understanding of the principles of the Founding. He also developed some libertarian leanings on property rights, which led to A License to Steal, a ringing attack on the dubious and often corrupt practice of civil asset forfeiture.

There are only a few geuninely great teachers like Levy. Now there is sadly one fewer among us.

Scenes from the Geekfest

"Geekfest" is my term of endearment for the APSA, where several of your humble NLT bloggers are now camped out. True, political scientists not as geeky, as, say, a gathering of English professors or economists, but still rate a solid 8 on the 1 - 10 Geekiness Scale (with 10 being physicists).

We moved up a solid notch last night during dinner at the Capital Grille, where the Claremont Institute had graciously invited about 25 of us pasty-faced fellow travellers to overindulge red meat. (I thought you had a tan from the beach in California?--Ed. Yes, but it’s fading quickly, and the lighting was very dark.) About midway through the festivities, a totally hot babe from a nearby table wandered over to inquire who the heck we were.

Now here was an opportunity to deploy Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche to their highest and best uses. But no. What does the fearless leader of our table do? He tells her the truth--that we’re all political scientists attending a convention. You could almost see her next thought--back away veeerrry slowly from this table. I wanted to intervene about us really being talent scouts for the next Bond girl, or investment bankers just closed on a billion dollar deal, or spies, or something, but it was too late.