Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Reviews of Sullivan

The WaPo review of Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul is an embarrassment. The less said about it, the better.

The NYT, to its credit, commissioned David Brooks to write the review, and it’s a good one. A snippet or two:

The Conservative Soul” is imbued with Sullivan’s characteristic passion and clarity. And yet I must confess, if I hadn’t been reviewing this book, I wouldn’t have finished it. I have a rule, which has never failed me, that when a writer uses quotations from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and the Left Behind series to capture the religious and political currents in modern America, then I know I can put that piece of writing down because the author either doesn’t know what he is talking about or is arguing in bad faith.


As for Sullivan’s conservatism of doubt, I’m sympathetic. I know only two self-confessed Oakeshottians in Washington — Sullivan and me. And yet Oakeshott’s modesty can never be the main strain in one’s thinking, though it should always be the warning voice in the back of your mind.

Sullivan notes that Oakeshott “couldn’t care less about politics as such, who wins and loses, what is now vulgarly called ‘the battle of ideas.’ ” His thought was poetic, not programmatic.

Well, if you want to sit in a cottage and bet on horses, fine. But if you actually want to govern, such thinking is of limited use. It doesn’t make sense to ask how an Oakeshottian would govern because an Oakeshottian could never get elected in a democracy and could never use the levers of power if somehow he did. Doubt is not a political platform. Hope is.

Oakeshott was wise, but Oakeshottian conservatism can never prevail in America because the United States was not founded on the basis of custom, but by the assertion of a universal truth — that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain rights. The United States is a creedal nation, and almost every significant movement in American history has been led by people calling upon us to live up to our creed. In many cases, the people making those calls were religious leaders. From Jonathan Edwards to the abolitionists to the civil rights leaders to the people fighting AIDS and genocide in Africa today, religiously motivated people have been active in public life. They have been, in their certainty and their willingness to apply divine truths, fundamentalists — if we want to use Sullivan’s categories. You take those people out of American politics and you don’t have a country left.

Read Brooks and ignore the WaPo review. And try to finish Sullivan’s book. It’s on my nightstand.

Update: As Steve Thomas helpfully notes in the comments, Sullivan has responded to Brooks here and here. On the basis of what he says here, I’m not convinced that the Constitution is a "Burkean" document, or that his version of conservatism is genuinely conservative. Let me cite one statement as an illustration: "To paraphrase Oakeshott, I am a conservative in politics so I - and anyone else - can be a radical in every other activity, if we so choose." This might explain a certain kind of Straussian, but even most (or at least many) Straussians would profess a greater respect for traditional (gentlemanly) morality than this statement implies, not to mention be more attentive to the interactions between regime and morality than Sullivan seems to be. In this mode, Sullivan seems to be more a product of a certain kind of Enlightenment than of any sort of conservatism, more of a libertarian/Hayekian than a pure Burkean. I’ll grant him some Oakeshottian tendencies, but Oakeshott was not the relentless popularizer, polemicist, and propagandist that he is.

Gerson on conservatism

The WSJ’s Naomi Schaefer Riley chats with Michael Gerson, who is apparently writing a book on the future of conservatism. What he has to say won’t please our libertarian readers.

Studies Show More: The Emerging Science of Evolutionary Species Futurology

The good news, in a way, is that, over the next thousand years, we will become uniformly better looking, with prominent body parts improving in both size and shape. But around 3000 overdependence on technology will cause our species to peak out. Then we may lose all our social skills and emotions, not to mention our chins. Eventually we may well divide into two sub-species.

Jim Ceaser’s Neo-Neo-Neoconservatism

The Georgetown Tocqueville Forum conference (hosted by the dyanmic Pat Deneen) was very classy in every way. A sell-out crowd of about 1000 heard Scalia. Here was asked plenty of moderately hostile (bu always polite) questions, and Scalia handled them all with killer expertise, wit, and spirit. It’s hard to figure out why people that good at explaining what our Constitution means in a partisan setting aren’t recruited to run for high office.

A good reporter would go over some of the other many conference highlights, but I’m going to limit myself to one. Jim Ceaser seems to have at least tweaked his view of the basic American political division today. It’s still the foundationalists vs. the non-foundationalists. Both factions are all for civic education, but of different kinds.

The non-foundationalists claim they want to purge our political life of foundational concerns (everything from the Bible to Marxism to natural right) in the name of peace and freedom. But their true goal is utterly secularize or trivialize all of American life.

The truth is, Jim explained, that liberal democracy is the incomplete regime. Our written Constitution that protects our natural rights points beyond itself to an "unwritten constitution" that is essentially religious in some sense or another. And the nonfoundationalists’ main concern is to transform our unwritten constitution to conform with their view that human life would be better off if deep thoughts about common responsibilities were replaced by Rortian private fantasies.

Reflections on the incompleteness of liberal democracy and the unwritten constitution are characteristic of a neoconservatism that eludes the criticism I gave below. They may reflect Jim’s study of either Pierre Manent or Orestes Brownson or both, although I’m not sure.

Ninth Inning Rally?

Dan Riehl thinks Democrats are slipping. Interesting take.

Hat tip: The Inimitable Glenn.

Another Podcast

Steven Hayward wanted to do another podcast because he thinks there is, dare I say, good news for Republicans. We had a brief but useful conversation about the rays of hope that are emerging for the GOP. Numbers are improving in the Senate races and the candidates that the Democrats have recruited in many of the key House races look an awful lot like Republicans. Interesting stuff.

Japanese Nukes?

Charles Krauthammer thinks it is not an unreasonable suggestion. I don’t know if he is right but, it does seem to me that the objections to it--if they are as he describes in this article--are pretty silly and outdated. It probably is a good time to take stock of who, exactly, our friends are in this world. It is also a good time to make a mental note of those in whom our trust is misplaced. The old alliances of post-WWII America may need some re-sorting, dusting off, additions and subtractions. This piece is a good device for starting that discussion.

Thoughts on Peter’s Post Below

It comes down to this: There are people who regularly lie to themselves about bad news in order to make themselves feel better and call themselves "optimists." These people are not very useful and ought to be taken as lightly as they think.

On the flip side, there are people who are constitutionally dyspeptic and can’t help but always see the only the negative. These people occasionally get it right--a broken clock is right twice a day, right? So they serve as a check to genuine optimism and can be helpful on occasion. But generally speaking, they are not to be trusted.

A third type are the people who are just poison--the kind like the pollster Hewitt interviewed. These folks delight in drumming up bad news in order to advance their own interests. For them, the perfect will ever be the enemy of the good. The sky will always be falling and, of course, only they have the answers and (therefore deserve the funding and the fame) to save us. They are always too clever by half. And you should be able to smell them from a mile away. These people should not only be disregarded; they should be exposed as frauds. And I think Hewitt did a huge service by exposing that man as he did yesterday. (One frequent guest of Hewitt wrote in to tell him that this was the first time he’d heard of someone having his pants pulled down on radio! But he also admonished Hewitt for not learning anything from fishing--in other words, Hewitt winched the pollster in too quick! Hewitt shot back that the guy wasn’t a keeper.)

Finally, there are people who take bad news as a challenge. They see danger as opportunity. These people have a bounce in their step and a gleam in their eye. They are not easily moved by the winds of politics. Politics is a rough game and its not meant for the feint of heart. There’s no crying in baseball (although I’m very unhappy about my Mets losing!) or politics. These people know that if you have to go down, you don’t go down with dishonor! You must keep fighting and, at a minimum, deserve victory.

Which one of these types will you be today?

What should Republicans do?

Because the Democrats have tried to "nationalize" the campaign Andy Busch suggests that Republicans "counter-nationalize" it. This may be their only chance. NRO’s Scorecard (mostly based on Zogby) has the GOP losing three Senate seats, by the way. In the meantime Hugh Hewitt (he’s been visiting battleground states) claims this about conservative voter turnout:

"There is simply no data to support the idea of significant if any turnout diminishment. There is grousing. There is posing. There is much struggle to claim Spenglerian cred." No data. Nada.

Grown-ups wanted/needed

How would grown-ups deal with this? Hat tip: Get Religion.

Touchy, touchy

I’ll follow Steve Dillard’s example and post this without further comment.

The Highest and Best Use of Tony Blair?

Another out of control YouTube production. (With apologies to The Clash.)

Impeachment on the table?

The Nation is beating the bushes (so to speak) for impeachment referenda around the country.

MacIntyre on liberal education

Our friend John von Heyking sent me this essay by Alasdair MacIntyre, which offers an excellent critique of contemporary higher education and a well-articulated proposal for reform. Here’s a snippet:

First, what students learn in their major, whatever the discipline, has more and more become what they need to learn, if they are to become specialists in that particular discipline. The major has too often become a prologue to graduate school and the undergraduates most praised are those most open to being transformed into the likeness of their professors, an outcome that would be comic, if it were not tragic. Second, students are compelled to make more or less irrevocable choices at a stage when, even if they already know what they want to learn-and many do not-they do not as yet know what they need to learn. What they do know is that their career prospects will be harmed if their grade point average is not high and therefore they have a strong motive not to take courses in which, at least at first, they may not do well. As a result, risk taking is out, for them as for their teachers, and those who most need, for example, to learn certain parts of mathematics and science, are likely to avoid taking just the courses that they most need. Moreover, their teachers depend on them for their teaching evaluations, and teachers who insist on giving students what they need rather than what they want are apt to be penalized in those evaluations. So it becomes inevitable that many students’ needs go unmet, even while their desire for As is gratified.

Third, whatever pattern of courses is taken by an individual, it is unlikely to be more than a collection of bits and pieces, a specialist’s grasp of this, a semispecialist’s partial understanding of that, an introductory survey of something else. The question of how these bits and pieces might be related to one another, of whether they are or are not parts that contribute to some whole, of what, if anything, it all adds up to, not merely commonly goes unanswered, it almost always goes unasked. And how indeed could it be otherwise when every course, even when introductory, is a course in a specialized discipline taught by a teacher who may be vastly ignorant of everything outside her or his own discipline? Each part of the curriculum is someone’s responsibility, but no one has a responsibility for making the connections between the parts. To whom should this matter?

It should matter to anyone who thinks it important what conception of human nature and the human condition students have arrived at by the time they enter the adult workplace....

Read the whole thing.    

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve written a very long piece, entitled "The Fate of the Earth in the Balance: The Metaphysics of Climate Change," discussing the startling similarities between Al Gore and Martin Heidegger. You can read or download it here.

Bull Market for Donkey Shares Indeed

Shortly after the 2004 election I wrote A Bull Market for Donkey Shares? for TechCentralStation, in which I argue "if the Democratic Party were a publicly-listed company, I think I might be tempted to buy a few shares. It is great fun watching the torment and back-biting going inside the Democratic Party right now. But as Benjamin Graham and John Templeton taught, the best time to buy a stock is at the moment of maximum pessimism, and that moment is right now for the Democratic Party."

The piece re-reads pretty good right now: "Like a depressed blue-chip stock, the Democratic Party still has a high ’book value,’ or tangible political assets such as labor union and other interest group organizations, a historic brand name, Hollywood money, and media sympathy. The political equivalent of the business cycle -- the problems and stumbles of the incumbent majority party -- will usually create opportunities for a comeback."

It’s not all rosy for the Dems. I caution that

A few Dems understand that it is their product line that stinks. If the two parties were burger franchises locked in mortal competition like Burger King and McDonald’s, one might suggest the Dems have decided to compete while staying closed for lunch, and refusing to offer hamburgers for dinner. Democrats are not seriously competitive on national security ("closed for lunch") in the way they were under Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. (Or if they are open at all, they only offer chicken strips.) And their disdain for religion would be like McDonald’s refusing to offer hamburgers to customers at dinner. Among Franklin Roosevelt’s many religious utterances was, "Freedom of religion has no meaning to a man who has lost his God." A prominent Democrat who talks this way today risks being shunned; verily, we are seeing that freedom of religion has no meaning to a party that has lost its God.

Despite some refinements in the "values" area, it is not clear the Dems have really changed deep down.

P.S. My stock picks in that piece look pretty good, too. Maybe I should start doing more of that.

A Useful Top Ten List

The ten dumbest members of Congress. I’m sure we’ll have some new contenders for this honor after the election. That’s the great thing about elections. . .

Bill Clinton on the common good

Contributing to an incipient Democratic effort to articulate a politics of the common good, Bill Clinton spoke at Georgetown University yesterday. I was reading along, remembering why I liked a good bit of what he had to say (but never believing he actually meant it) when I came to this howler:

You have to oppose people who do things that are wrong, but it is very hard to say there’s going to be one set of rules for me and another set for everyone else.

I think the "common good" approach on national security worked. It was a combination of carrots and sticks. We did have military encounters. We didn’t succeed at everything we tried to do, but I think on balance, the world was safer when we stopped than when we started.

Read that last sentence again. The world in which al Qaeda, checked only symbolically by the Clinton Administration and emboldened by its feeble efforts, was well into preparations for 9-11 was safer than the world in 1992. What’s more, the context of this comment is suggestive: he’s talking about nuclear proliferation. If we have nuclear weapons, we can’t really tell the Iranians and North Koreans that they can’t have them too.

Much of the speech is a defense of the Clinton Administration’s record and an attack on what Republicans have done the past six years, framed by a wish that we can have deep and respectful philosophical arguments about politics and policy. That last part is the Clinton I remember liking, but not believing. The rest is the real Clinton, so to speak. In the course of this extremely long (is there ever any other description of a Clinton speech?) attack on the Bush Administration, he blames Republicans for the hyperpartisanship and name-calling that now marks Washington. Not a good way to open up a respectful airing of our philosophical differences.

Or as he put it at one point in the speech, "it is very hard to succeed in politics when you’re telling people they’re ugly all the time." In Bill Clinton’s world, it’s a bad idea to criticize the North Koreans but O.K. to heap opprobrium upon Republicans. But wait, the Republicans have nukes....

What’s the matter with Kansas?

According to this WaPo article, a number of prominent (ex-)Republicans think they have something to gain politically by running as Democrats. Rarely a good sign for the party they left.

Crunchy Kuo

That’s the title of my TAS Online piece on David Kuo’s book promotion campaign.

He says that his principal motive is to get Christians to rethink their priorities, which is probably good advice for those who think that they can find "salvation" in politics. But he can’t be so naive as to think that the timing of his book launch--and his ubiquity in the media--is occasioned by anything other than politics and his publisher’s (and his) interest in making money.

Update: In his blog, David Kuo points to this TNR piece by Amy Sullivan and says that she "gets it right." Sullivan spends most of her piece urging liberals to exploit Kuo’s book for political gain. Is that what she gets right, according to Kuo?

Blackwell: On Point, Right Principles, Too Late?

Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager are on a whilwind tour of crucial election battlegrounds this week and today that had them in Ohio. Ken Blackwell, of course, was featured prominently and--though I’ve been following this from some distance--it was striking to me how clear and powerful his points were and, yet, how deflated he is sounding.

Strickland recently made something of a minor gaffe (minor only because it was conspicuously under-reported) when he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that business is suffering in Ohio because people don’t want to come to a state that is "backwards" in its thinking. Ohio is backwards, in his judgment, because it is unfriendly to the notions of unlimited abortion and government funding for stem cell research. In that same forum (before Strickland’s gaffe) Blackwell argued that businesses weren’t flocking to Ohio because of over-regulation and high taxes. Today on Hewitt’s show, Ken made the cogent point that the difference between him and Ted Strickland is rather simple: Strickland thinks your taxes are fine and your values are wrong. Blackwell thinks your taxes are wrong and your values are right.

That is very clear, and very good. I think Blackwell should say that at every opportunity between now and November 7 but, he needs to say it with greater energy if he wants it to get through. It is time for Blackwell to take off the gloves with Strickland. This guy may not be Sherrod Brown--but he is every bit as dangerous for the future of Ohio. And I, for one, cannot get over how insulting it is for a candidate for governor to say the kind of things Strickland said about the citizens he expects to govern! He thinks you’re backwards?! Really!! Isn’t that interesting? A little anger and indignation would be appropriate here--no matter what the polls say. In fact, in my opinion, the polls would read alot differently if we were seeing more indignation from the real, raw, and un-groomed Ken Blackwell.

Speaking of Ohio’s values . . . it is at least interesting, is it not, that Mr. Strickland (who calls Ohioans backwards for their non-scientific approach to values) has provided us with a taste of exactly where his scientific approach to values might lead. In a July 27, 1999 speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Strickland refused to condemn a study of the American Psychological Association that suggested adult-child sex might not be very harmful to the child if the sex were "consentual." The APA later withdrew this study. But Strickland (who is also under scrutiny for refusing to investigate a staffer accused of exposing himself to children) did not withdraw his comments. Is this the kind of scientific research that should inform the moral judgment of Ohioans?

It is late--but not too late--for Blackwell to make significant gains in this race. I think the polls over-estimate the lead Strickland has, but Blackwell, clearly, is not in a good place right now. Still, there is enough time to come out swinging and sway enough undecideds (and perhaps some decideds) to support the only serious candidate in this crucial election.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking this Friday morning at Georegtown at the conference Joe mentioned below on Civil Theology and Liberal Education. Here’s my projected last sentence: "That’s why our civic education has nothing to do with civil theology, and everything to do with liberal in the sense of liberating education, which includes, of course, theological education."

I will be speaking on Thursday the 26th at Kent State University at 4 pm on "Stuck-with-Virtue Conservatism." The lecture will be in Room 317 of the Student Center (thanks, Kate) and is sponsored by the Library. I hear Kent St. is near Cleveland, and Cleveland, I also hear, is near Ashland in some way.

And I will speaking on Saturday the 29th as part of a public program on Tocqueville at Rochester Institute of Technology. Mark Lilla and Bruce Frohnen will also be part of this program.

If I weren’t both shameless and lazy, I’d be posting links to these fine events.

Is Neoconservatism Dead?

Not according to Peter Berkowitz. It will live on as the position between traditional conservatism and progressivism that best reflects the tensions that must be managed or minimized to perpetuate our liberal democracy, with its dedication to individual liberty. But don’t the neos err insofar as they tend to reduce the purpose of political life to the protection of individual liberty, and so by regarding tradition, virtue, religion, and perhaps even the family and political participation as merely instrumental for the individual and not as goods in themselves? I don’t see myself as either a traditional conservative or a neoconservative or even a faith-bsed conservative.

Latest Podcast

My podcast this week is with the always knowledgeable Andy Busch. Anyd and I discuss the midterms again and the fading hopes for the GOP, yet some hope remains and it may be that the media is writing what it hopes to be true.

Hopeless in Ohio

This page A16 article in the New York Times on Ohio brings nothing but bad news for the GOP (the NYTimes/CBS Poll finds Ohioans "overwhelmingly favoring Democrats"). If the elections were held today, the GOP would lose. The only note contrary to this opinion is this paragraph that may indicate that the GOP voters are not yet fully engaged.

"One bright spot for the president and Republicans was that while about 60 percent said they had made up their minds about this year’s elections, 4 in 10 said it was too early to say how they would vote." If three out of those four would end up voting Republican, we would end having an interesting election.

A corporate faith-based initiative?

Acton’s Jordan Ballor reminds us that the arguments for encouraging faith-based social services apply regardless of who’s funding them. Whatever political or constitutional objections there are to government funding, they shouldn’t apply to corporate giving, yet many corporations also have policies that forbid contributions to fbos.

Find out if your employer has such restrictive policies, and encourage it to focus on the good that these groups do. One of the benefits of the faith-based initiative is that it has encouraged greater organization and accounting sophistication in fbos, which makes it easier for contributors to direct their money to the elements of the program not directly connected with proselytizing (if that’s the issue).

Poli sci election prediction models

A couple from this year. I can’t recall a time when they’ve ever been right. Perhaps others can correct that impression, if they’ve paid closer attention.

Be there or be square

Pomocon James Poulos hypes the conference we promoted here. We’ll expect full reports from presenters and attendees afterward.

Poulos also throws a little love our way.

Fresh Pew transcript

Featuring John C. Green, Amy Sullivan, and Ross Douthat talking about religion, politics, and the 2006/2008 elections. It’s a relatively quick read and offers some interesting, though not profound, analyses. Near the end, Sullivan and Douthat offer examples of Democratic and Republican politicians who "get it" regarding religion.

Christianity for and against the culture

Jea Bethke Elshtain offers a wonderfully nuanced model of Christian social/political engagement "for the children." Here’s a chunk:

our cultural milieu is one in which the norm is both parents working outside the home, exhausted and busy. It values success and drivenness, measuring success through monetary reward. It glamorizes celebrity and ignores the hard work people do every day to raise children and sustain neighborhoods, to make life less brutal and more decent and kind. It is a milieu of pervasive family fragmentation if not outright breakdown, to which many children respond with anger and "acting out." In this milieu every personal question, and many public questions, are medicalized and psychologized; new drugs are touted not only to the public but to the medical profession via lavish marketing stratagems and budgets.

Christians begin their reflections on this cultural setting with the gift and integrity of the bodies and beings of children. They go on to consider the gift of time and how precious it is. They consider the concreteness of the Christian message—do unto others here and now, not in the distant future, not in an abstract way. Do not ignore the person before you. This, in turn, invites critical reflection on whether we are rushing to diagnose children as "troubled" or "hyperactive" in part because parents no longer spend concentrated time with their children and prefer them to be pacified when they are with them. Such reflection suggests that radical and uncontrolled experimentation on America’s children, by way of powerful drugs, many with known, deleterious side-effects, absent knowledge of long-range effects, may be undertaken at least as much for the convenience of adults as it is for the benefit of children.

Any assault on the integrity of the human body should be of heightened concern to the Christian because Christianity is an exquisitely embodied religion. We recall sobering moments from the past when children—and adults—were quickly labeled "antisocial" or "incorrigible," institutionalized and forgotten. Now we think we are humane in rushing to medicalize, often against the advice of cautious voices within the medical community as to the alleged benefits and the many known dangers of massive drug use. One doctor cited in the Times spoke of children put on "three or four different drugs," each of which created new symptoms and side effects, before going on to ask: "How do you even know who the kid is anymore?"

That is a frightening sentence: how do you even know who this child is? If we believe every child is claimed by his or her Creator, we should be alarmed by a social milieu where children are treated instrumentally, where pacification of children rather than care and attention to each child in his and her particularity becomes a social norm. We are against this. What are we for? Minimally, we are for taking a hard look at how children are faring in our society. That, in turn, can spur transformation, especially in what I have called "the politics of time." Good, old-fashioned time is what so many children need. How can a society that pretends to be child-centered justify culturally approved neglect? It goes without saying that neglect comes in many forms: tens of thousands of privileged children are neglected in the way I am noting here.

What’s a child- or family-friendly policy in this context?

Democrats and religion for the umpteenth time

Here’s a softball story from Religion News Service that affords a kind of who’s who of folks helping Democrats "get religion," so to speak. They all deserve closer, more critical scrutiny, but not simple hit jobs.

Be Not Afraid!

Lest anyone suppose from my previous post that I am defeatest about the election, check out Jeffery Lord at The American Prowler on the serenity of Ronald Reagan after the drubbing in the 1986 election. Politics has deeper tides than single elections, as Reagan understood. Who looks more prescient now: Reagan and his understudies such as Gingrich, or Anthony Lewis, who wrote that the 1986 election proved that the "The End Begins: Radical Right Movement Has Crested"?

As the previous Pope liked to say, "Be not afraid!"

Tuesday Thoughts

As news arrives of yet another potential Republican disgrace in the House (Homes Raided in Rep. Weldon Influence Probe, at least we can find some solace from P.J. O’Rourke in What’s That Smell? GOP Stinking Up the Joint.

Meanwhile, the often surprising Post columnist Richard Cohen notes the oddity of the Foley scandal: "To change anything at all about the Foley matter would be to trifle with its essential vacuity, its reliance on bigotry and ignorance, its resplendent Beaver Cleaver qualities (congressional pages, for crying out loud!) and, not the least, the fact that so far this is the ultimate Washington sex scandal: There is no sex."

The other interesting news concerns the Norks. Did you see the squib yesterday that China is building a hefty fence along its border with the Norks (Memo to Bush and Frist: At least someone believes in border fencing!). Perhaps China knows something big may be about to happen.

More Conservative Praise for FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

This most thoughtful and very entertaining show portrays the languid hedonism of today’s high-school life (even or especially in small football-crazed Texas towns) with unflinching realism but without overt moralizing. That means, of course, that the life of the winning coach is portrayed as the very opposite of languid and hedonistic. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is on tonight at 8 on NBC. Be watching or at least say that you are when the ratings people call.

An English Study Shows Who Watches Frat-Boy Gross-Out Movies

Here’s the demographic: American males under 25! We also learn, of course, that most of these movies are disgusting and not really very funny. But the top five, to tell the truth, are at least pretty funny and have moments of classic psychological insight and astute social commentary, while still not morally sound works of art. So they are guilty pleasures of us sinners: NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, DAZED AND CONFUSED, AMERICAN PIE, and HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE. (The last title is mangled in the article.) Actually, REVENGE OF THE NERDS is rather eddifying. And don’t forget the Platonic motto of ANIMAL HOUSE’s Faber College: "Knowledge is good." So it is. Fat, drunk, and stupid really is no way to go through life. (It’s the combination that’s deadly, not the qualities considered in isolation.)

Conservatism and the Rhetoric of Democracy

Here is Dan Mahoney’s friendly criticism of the more innovative features of neoconservatism and the president’s rhetoric as political reflection. One sample sentence: "President Bush is not wrong when he argues that despotism violates the moral law and mutilates the wellsprings of the human spirit. But he is too quick to identify human nature with a single overarching impulse or desire, and he goes too far in conflating the ways of Providence with the empire of human liberty." Notice Dan’s use of Manent’s thought to question the prudence of the idea of UNMEDIATED rights or liberty.

Democrats and the common good

Here’s an AP story about "the common good" as a Democratic campaign theme. A couple of snippets:

"We really feel that it speaks to the central moral challenge of our time," said Alexia Kelly, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, an advocacy group that formed two years ago.

"Our religious traditions call us to that deeper vision of caring for all, being in it together, not a go-it-alone culture," said Kelly, who has worked for the U.S. bishops and served briefly as a religious adviser to 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. "I think it’s important that it crosses faith traditions."

Tom Perriello, a co-founder of the Catholic Alliance, said the approach would help end what he sees as a self-defeating practice among liberals -- treating religious Americans as a constituency that needs special handling, instead of crafting a message meaningful to all voters.

But he acknowledged that the strength of the "common good" as a unifying theme also is a weakness. The term is so broad it’s hard to define and can be misinterpreted as a call for "big government," Perriello said. "The question right now is who is going to define it."


Under Roman Catholic teaching, promoting the "common good" would include opposing abortion -- a position both Santorum and Casey embrace -- and opposing gay marriage to protect human dignity and the family. "Common good" Democrats are generally changing how they talk about abortion, calling it a tragedy to avoid -- rather than a private issue. But most have not come out against the procedure.

"I would argue that the conservative evangelical and traditional Catholic stands on same-sex marriage and abortion are stances in favor of the common good," said Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and a supporter of President Bush.

We learn in passing that Mara Vanderslice, who worked ever so briefly for the Kerry campaign on religious issues, has a consulting firm, whose mission is to:

[provide] Democratic elected officials, candidates and state parties with the expertise, understanding, and resources that will allow them to authentically engage and connect with America’s diverse religious communities. We strive to help candidates better understand the complex American religious landscape and create opportunities to build relationships on the local and national level. By rediscovering how to communicate Democratic values, CGS is working to help Democrats reframe the national religious debate and focus attention back on the common good and social justice issues that are central to American faith traditions and Democratic strengths.

Bob Casey is one of her clients.

Perpetuating the Ford Political Machine

Control of the Senate, at this point, is centering on Tennessee. And that’s because the Democrats have an unusually attractive candidate who has, with considerable media success, reinvented himself as a moderate. HAROLD FORD certainly is iintelligent, rather charismatic, and all that. But, people of Tennessee, check him out more closely. These’s a controversy over his claim that he’s a lawyer. He did graduate from the University of Michigan Law School, but he also flunked the bar the one time he took it. He probably didn’t bother to study because he didn’t need to pass it. He didn’t need to work! Immediately afer graduation, at the age of 26, he assumed, almost by hereditary right, his dad’s seat in Congress, perpetuating the Ford political machine in Memphis.

The best case against Ford is that he’s never held a real job! He’s a political hack! His oppponent, by contrast, has achieved great success as a very entrepreneurial contractor and volunteer civic leader. Check out the BOB CORKER story. In this key case, Republicans need to shout that our candidate is the one with the admirable record of real accomplishment.

Kuo and the faith-based initiative revisited

Stanley Carlson-Thies, about whom I’ve written here and here, has written a response to David Kuo’s allegations. It’s a thoughtful attempt to put Kuo’s claims in perspective. Here’s the conclusion:

Kuo is right to question whether everyone in the White House fully shared the President’s commitment to the faith-based initiative and to point to some abandoned goals, poor implementation, and insufficient spending on some programs. Still, groups that oppose the faith-based initiative for alleged violations of the Constitution, as well as constitutional law scholars busy assessing how the regulatory reforms fit with Supreme Court developments, surely aren’t merely chasing political phantoms. Nonprofits scholars and doctoral students who have dedicated years of analysis to understanding how the array of the government’s social-service partners is changing and how to measure the relative effectiveness of secular and religious providers surely aren’t mere dupes taken in by empty speeches. Democratic governors who have joined Republican governors in establishing their own state-level faith-based offices probably aren’t dancing to Ken Mehlman’s or Karl Rove’s tune, and neither is the US Conference of Mayors, with its Mayors Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. And all those faith-based and grassroots organizations that are finally finding a welcome when they approach government won’t be persuaded by Kuo that nothing really has happened. If David Kuo saw political shenanigans from his perch in the faith-based office, they were just a small, and by far the least important, part of the faith-based initiative. The effort to improve government collaboration with faith-based and small organizations began before the Bush years and will continue after it. It has congressional supporters on both sides of the aisle and it has been endorsed by presidential candidates of both parties. It is integral to America’s long experiment to ensure freedom both to organizations shaped by faith and to people seeking help. Kuo’s glimpse into the politics that is part of governmental action should tempt no one to ignore the vital and hopeful changes that are taking place through the faith-based initiative.

As Carlson-Thies says at another point, "I’m not surprised that politicians think politically about policy change and eagerly seek to win new supporters." Neither am I. And if Kuo were a "policy purist" (which is hard to imagine, given the career sketched here), he might be entitled to his dismay, as well as to a benefit of a doubt about the timing of his revelations.

But I’ll leave it at this: I’m not surprised that someone who wants to sell some books (and has done so in the past by "telling all" about former associates) would calculate when he could make the biggest splash.

Update: My thoughts on Kuo’s Sixty Minutes interview are here.

Update #2: Jonah Goldberg has more.

My Day as JFK

Yesterday Ashland University hosted a session of the National Security Decision Making Game, a simulation of international politics and warfare. I first learned of NSDM last summer at Origins, a game convention held annually in Columbus. After seeing it played there, my colleague Chris Burkett and I decided that it would be a great experience for students, and with financial support from the Ashbrook Center we made it happen.

The scenario we played was called "Cold War-1960s," beginning in 1960 and continuing until the players triggered a nuclear holocaust, or time ran out--whichever came first. I am glad to say that we managed to avoid the former (although there were some tactical nukes thrown around in Korea toward the end of the day).

The participants (mostly students, but with a few faculty as well) were divided into three teams, or "cells": the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China. In addition, each player was assigned a particular role to play, and with each role came a specific set of objectives (which, by the way, were kept secret from the other players). Ultimately each participant was judged on the basis of his or her ability to meet those objectives.

I was assigned the role of John F. Kennedy--perhaps based on my ability to imitate his voice, although I think I sounded more like Mayor Joe Quimby from The Simpsons. The game began in the midst of the 1960 election campaign, which I won handily--again probably due to the fact that my teammates were amused by my Kennedy/Quimby impersonation. Immediately we encountered a host of crises--Che Guevara sponsored a coup in Belize, the president of the NAACP was assassinated (followed by urban riots in which the rioters were oddly armed with AK-47s--which, it turned out later, the Chinese had smuggled into the country), and my feeble attempt at a space program fizzled when a Mercury rocket blew up on the launchpad, killing John Glenn. When it came time for the next presidential election, I found myself challenged by, of all people, my own Secretary of State (damn that Dean Rusk). I lost, thanks (as the Russians tried to warn me about, but I only later learned it was true) to Rusk’s having arranged for the PRC to endorse my election to a second term.

It was probably good that I got out when I did. The Chinese sponsored a North Korean invasion of the South, and before we knew it the peninsula was overrun with a million screaming ChiComs. The world came within a whisper of nuclear war until a last-minute deal between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a solution to the crisis.

All in all, it was a memorable experience for everyone involved, and one I hope we can repeat. However, I’ll try to avoid being JFK in the future. I’ll pass on having to cope with all of the pressures of presidential leadership without the historical benefit of muscle relaxants, pain killers, and Marilyn Monroe.