Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A query

Is this what happens after Hurricane Schramm passes through?

Iran’s Iraq strategy

This piece presents it as almost entirely defensive, which doesn’t account for Iran’s activities elsewhere in the Middle East. And it says nothing about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In those respects, it reminds me of the efforts to explain post World War II Soviet moves in terms of its "legitimate" defensive concerns.

Saturday Soundings

NLT readers living in regions with insulation requirements above R-19 are probably, like me, still chipped out from under six inches of ice covering everything. In the midst of this, today’s Washington Post offers this profoundly insightful bit of news analysis: "The storm’s effects were compounded by high winds that ripped off tree branches and brought down ice-coated power lines. Authorities are unable to stop this. . ." What? "Authorities are unable to stop this"?? What do we pay our taxes for?

Did you know that Eric Clapton owns a rehab center? In Antigua? Supply your own punch lines.

Finally, MKM Partners, a Greenwich investment firm, notes in a recent newsletter that federal tax receipts are currently growing much faster than federal spending, so much so that if the current rate keeps up, the federal budget will come into balance by May 2008. Just in time for a tax increase.

The Senate vote

Here’s the WaPo story on the 56-34 vote in the Senate, which failed to invoke cloture in order to proceed to a vote on the House measure. Seven Republicans voted to invoke cloture, despite the refusal of Senate Democrats to permit a vote on another measure pledging not to cut off funding for the troops:

The seven Republican senators who broke ranks with their colleagues and voted in favor of the cloture motion were John W. Warner (Va.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Olympia Snowe (Me.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Susan M. Collins (Me.).

No surprises there. I couldn’t find out how Lieberman voted.

Update: The NYT story contains this nugget:

Republicans continued to try to make the case that it was Democrats who were shutting down a full-fledged Senate review of Mr. Bush’s Iraq strategy by refusing the Republicans a chance to offer an alternative that would place the Senate on record against cutting off money for armed forces in the field.

“This is the United States Senate,” said Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, defending his party’s stance as senators squared off at noon. “The majority cannot tell the minority what we are going to have one vote on, take it or leave it.”

Democrats were leery of the Republican plan, written by Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, because of its potential to attract the most Senate votes and to overshadow Senate action criticizing the troop increase. Some lawmakers also believed that Congress might be asked to restrict military spending, and they did not want their hands tied by an earlier vote on a more symbolic resolution.

Update #2: Power Line informs us the Lieberman voted against cloture.

The House vote

Here’s a list of Congressmen who, for better or worse (mostly for worse) broke ranks with their parties on the non-binding resolution. I’d like to single out Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Jim Marshall (D-GA) for applause, and to note that Ron Paul (R?-TX) has the courage of his profoundly misguided convictions.

Edwards’ ex-bloggers for the last time

NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez calls our attention to and comments on this self-indulgent and self-pitying Salon piece by Amanda Marcotte. Here’s a bit:

Whether or not it was the intention of the right-wing noise machine to throw more obstacles in the way of Democrats who want to play to their pro-choice, pro-gay rights feminist constituents -- it’s also plausible that the right-wing noise machine was working on pure misogynist emotion -- the episode has had a chilling effect on the future of Democratic outreach to feminist communities, particularly the younger ones that flock to computers for political information as earlier generations flocked to television sets and newspapers.

Equally alarming is the possibility that this episode was something of a test case for the right-wing noise machine. The right blogosphere is mostly a sideshow act for the Republican Party, providing a cheap source of noise and noncontroversies to help professional shills like the Catholic League and the Heritage Foundation degrade the political discourse in this country, throwing culture war bombs to cover up unpopular Republican policies like starting a war in Iraq.

I think the left blogosphere has a lot more substance to it. First of all, the liberal blogs are slowly but surely building a fundraising structure that is already beginning to have substantial influence on elections. They helped Jim Webb become a senator and Joe Lieberman become an Independent. Blogs also provide a method of disseminating progressive ideas to people, while the mainstream cable news channels carry on for weeks at a time on topics such as Anna Nicole Smith’s untimely demise. Liberal blogs are issue-oriented and good at parsing out complex ideas that don’t fit well into the sound-bite-driven mainstream discourse. They are a good fit for wonky Democrats. It’s therefore unsurprising that conservatives might want to dissuade Democrats from hiring them.

There are smart and thoughtful folks in the left blogosphere, but Marcotte doesn’t seem to me to belong in their ranks. And I don’t see why partisan Republicans would want to do Democrats the favor of dissuading them from hiring folks like her. Better the Democrats should go with their inclinations, so that everyone can see what all too often passes for "normal" or "acceptable" discourse in their precincts.

In the end, Marcotte is unrepentant, insisting that her’s is the authentic democratic face of the left blogosphere:

As a general rule, blogs are raucous and common, as would be expected in any political environment that is truly democratic, where you don’t have to brandish a pedigree to get in the door. What this means is that even the more even-keeled bloggers are likely to have something in their archives that could be taken out of context and bandied about on the cable news networks. And even if the blogger herself never says a word that could be misconstrued, members of the right-wing noise machine are perfectly willing to dig through comment threads to find quotes that fit their purposes, as the bloggers at Feministing found out when Wendy McElroy was on Fox News quoting comments left by readers and implying that those statements had been made by the bloggers.

In response to what happened to Melissa and me, Garance Franke-Ruta has written a post on the American Prospect’s Tapped blog wagging her finger at liberal bloggers and warning us that unless we are willing to ape the language and habits of the D.C. insider crowd, we can expect never to be allowed through the gates. She probably has a point that bloggers can expect this sort of pushback from the establishment. Blogs are popular because they provide space for everyday citizens to engage in politics, in the language and manner that is comfortable for us, if not for the establishment. To my mind, however, it would be a terrible thing if bloggers did heed the advice to mind our manners and ape our betters if we want in, since this is supposed to be a democratic system that respects the right of everyday, common people to participate in politics. While there’s a chance that the crusade to separate McEwan and me from the Edwards campaign was just a singular happening, the possibility lingers that this was just the first sign that the established media and political circles will not be letting the blog-writing rabble into the circle without a fight.

Here, by the way, is the Garance Franke-Ruta post to which McEwan refers. McEwan can’t even tell who her friends are, preferring to regard anyone who doesn’t actually applaud her vulgarity and defend to the death her right not to be held accountable in any way, shape, or form for it as one of the enemy.

The evangelical primary

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman writes about what he takes to be the dynamics of the Republican nomination race going into next week’s meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. Focusing--much too narrowly, to my mind--on the usual suspects (Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson), he tries to handicap (perhaps in both senses of the word?) the race. Falwell, he says, favors McCain (kiss of death!); Robertson likes Romney (another kiss of death); Dobson seems to be leaning toward Huckabee (say what?).

I’m dubious of a lot of this analysis, especially of his presentation of the relationship between Falwell and the Bushes pere et fils. Having read three "spiritual" biographies of GWB (the results are here), I don’t recall much about Falwell’s role in them. And I certainly would like to see a textured analysis that looks beyond the usual (and now tired) suspects.

Bottum vs. Novak on Bush

This month’s First Things freebie is a debate between Joseph Bottum and Michael Novak on the Bush presidency. Here are a couple of snippets, first from Bottum:

Again and again, he has done the right thing in the wrong way, until, at last, his wrongness has overwhelmed his rightness. How can conservatives continue to support this man in much of anything he tries to do? Iraq is not America’s failure, and it is not conservatism’s failure. We are where we are because of George W. Bush’s failure.

All the 2008 Republican presidential candidates should understand the task they face over the next two years. George Bush’s ideals have gotten him elected president twice, and his incompetence has finally delivered the Congress to his domestic opponents and empowered his nation’s enemies abroad. Iraq needs an American president who embraces Bush’s principles-and rejects his policies. The United States needs much the same thing.

And now Novak:

Joseph Bottum’s criticisms are to be taken seriously, even if they set criteria for angels, not flawed humans, and seem to overlook some stirring initiatives by this much-attacked president-such as his work on AIDS, for the poor in Africa, and against human trafficking. However deficient you think his judgment may have been about what was possible, no president has ever been more openly pro-life.

At the very least, in the face of passionate hostility at home and abroad, George Bush has proved himself a brave and determined man who has staked his presidency on getting democratic momentum underway in the Middle East. Even if in the short run he fails-which many of us are not yet ready to concede-some Muslims in the future will be able to remember that in a difficult time an American president, at heavy cost, cared about their sufferings, their natural rights, and the better angels beckoning in their dreams. He held before them a democratic standard by which they will forever measure other political movements and other leaders.

These are not inconsiderable accomplishments.

Bottum’s is one of the more forceful and less hysterical conservative criticisms of GWB that I have seen, but I share Novak’s view that in some cases JB has held the President to an impossibly high standard. Take, for example, social security. Bottum puts it this way:

President Bush was absolutely right that social security is a looming disaster, and as a result of his efforts, social-security reform is now dead for a generation.

As I recall, the Congressional Republicans didn’t exactly leap to the support of a President who had just won reelection by means of an unprecedented expansion of the Republican electorate (the first popular majority since 1988). I suppose that one could blame Bush for not anticipating that, well, betrayal, especially since one clearly couldn’t have gone wrong overestimating the short-sightedness and fecklessness of Congressional Republicans.

Of course, Iraq overshadows everything, and it doesn’t look good, though, as Novak points out, things could well change (as we must hope they do). Bottum emphasizes the importance of perceptions and the President’s responsibility for shaping them:

And the fact we must face is this: We have already been defeated in Iraq. Perhaps not in literal truth; a better policy, better implemented, might yet bring about a stable, democratic country. And certainly not in historical terms; Iraq is only an early chapter in what must be a long struggle against global Jihadism. But, at the very least, the battle for perception of the Iraq War has gone entirely against the United States. In the eyes of both the American public and the Islamic world, we have lost-and lost badly.

The reason is President Bush. His administration has mishandled the logistics of the war and the politics of its perception in nearly equal measure, from Abu Ghraib to the execution of Saddam Hussein. Conservatives voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because they expected him to be the opposite of Bill Clinton-and so, unfortunately, he has proved. Where Clinton seemed a man of enormous political competence and no principle, Bush has been a man of principle and very little political competence.

Bottum chooses to compare Bush to Clinton, but we might also consider a Reagan comparison: would RWR have fared any better had he had to commit the American military to a long-term conflict in Iraq? Or would he have eschewed the risk and tried "containment"? Would Reagan have been able to navigate these treacherous waters, both on the ground in the Middle East and in the court of domestic and world public opinion, any better than Bush?


Learning and a Long Life

This study makes what seems to be a sensible claim: keeping the mind engaged in learning promotes a long life and one that more readily keeps dementia at bay. I can’t speak at all to the science of it, but because it makes sense I’ll buy it. But I do wonder how they adjust for the counter-claim that a sedentary life is unhealthy. I’m just guessing, but I’d venture to say that the more a person engages the mind the less they tend to engage the body.

Forget about Iraq and everything else

This is the really important stuff, especially when you consider these rankings, and these, and these (though you have to look a little harder here).

Voucher politics

This post, from a voucher critic, at least has the virtue of airing a number of the issues, canvassed on the pro-voucher side by this article and on the anti- side by this one. I can understand why teachers’ unions oppose school choice, and why secularists do. Are there other reasons that folks find compelling?

A Fwill a minute

George F. Will on Duncan Hunter, perhaps indirectly paying penance for last week’s Reagan heresy:

One-third of new businesses fail within two years; 50 to 70 percent of new products that make it to market fail. Hunter, a burly, rumpled political product seeking a market niche, probably will fail. But as Goldwater said when he entered politics in Phoenix in 1949, "It ain’t for life, and it may be fun."

A whole lotta lotteries

One of my first ever journalistic ventures involved inveighing against the lottery proposed by Georgia’s then-governor Zell Miller. I haven’t ridden that hobby horse much since then, but I remain of the opinion that lotteries are craven and counterproductive means of funding allegedly worthy public purposes. They’re craven because they enable politicians to evade having to make the case for raising taxes to pay for some government program. And they’re counterproductive in at least this sense: a lottery that, for example, funds public education or scholarships implicitly teaches the lesson that financial success depends upon chance, rather than upon hard work and education. What’s more, of course, because the folks who are likeliest to play a lottery tend to be less likely to take full advantage of the educational programs the lottery funds, the lottery tends to redistribute from the less wealthy to the wealthy.

All of this is a long-winded way of recommending Jordan Ballor’s
blog post and op-ed on the latest lottery craze--privatization, which basically involves trying to sell the things off before they cease being profitable. I feel curiously vindicated.

Strickland speaks

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland "had a message for President Bush: any plan to relocate thousands of refugees uprooted by the Iraq war to the United States shouldn’t include Ohio."

Cigars and politics

The Hill reports: "Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) believes it is his right as a Muslim to be sworn into Congress with the Quran. But apparently, the freshman lawmaker doesn’t believe it’s Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) right to smoke a cigar in his congressional office.

Ellison’s office called the Capitol Hill Police on Tancredo last Wednesday night as Tancredo was in his office smoking a cigar. The lawmakers have neighboring offices on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building."

We had a couple days of heavy snow. I ended up at the local Starbucks again this morning, perhaps not as early as normal, since classes were cancelled; the whole town seemed shut down. I park, get my grande latte (no additional squirts of taste, whadda ya think I’m a wimp?), go back to my car, light up a stick and read. Lately, it’s been a Carlos Torano--Casa Torano, a fine morning cigar; it’s a soft, almost sweet, creamy smoke, with a nutty touch at the end. I was reading Mansfield’s "Manliness" (I am offering a seminar on it twice a week)--the book nicely balanced on the steering wheel--when a neighbor noticed me. I invited him in, as long as he didn’t mind me smoking. I didn’t think he would since the Torano smells good, even in a tight space. Mind you, the engine is running, roof slightly open--notepad and Yeats and Hemingway on the dashboard (I told you I’m teaching a class on manliness!)--and it’s all kind of cozy, almost like my study, which it is, but this is my car. Cowboys have their horse, smoking professors their car. The guest noticed the, let’s say, informal character of it all and asked me what the hell I was doing. Was I homeless? I told him I’m reading. The short of it is that this is the only place I can smoke now that the people of Ohio in their wisdom have spoken. They have chosen both a Democratic governor and a smoke free state. I shame the devil by speaking the truth, and he allows the foolishness of both choices. I confess to him quietly--in case the engine hum and the snow swirling aren’t enough to drown out my bitching--that he’s right, especially about the latter, a more signficant and lasting act, I assert. We talk a while, I read a few lines from Yeats about how things fall apart and Plato’s ghost and end up with Ann Gregory and why we should love her yellow hair. As he leaves, I turn back to consider why male atheletes spit and women don’t and--as I chew into the sweet end of the stogie--I think about the sea and the old man and what beat him and why sometimes the people nod.

More evangelicalism and intellectual life

The Friar notes, but doesn’t really discuss, Alan Wolfe’s update of the article I cited just below. I have some factual quibbles--he gets Michael Farris’s name wrong, refers to the Christian Reform Church instead of the Christian Reformed Church, and I don’t think Patrick Henry College could be rightly described as "emphasiz[ing] a Great Books education." They give me some cause for pause about the extent to which he actually has control of the material with which he’s dealing. For example, he makes much of the brouhaha at Calvin College when George W. Bush gave his commencement address there (something about which I blogged, perhaps too often. Wolfe’s summary description is that "the event made clear that not all faith-based colleges in the United States are filled with loyal Republicans pleased by America’s recent turn to the political right." No one who has paid any attention to evangelicalism in higher education and politics could have thought anything else: across the country, somewhere between 25% and 35% of evangelicals didn’t vote Republican in the last couple of elections. And, as I noted in one of my Calvin posts, that "only" 1/3 of the faculty signed a letter protesting the visit suggests a massive difference between Calvin and any equally "good" secular liberal arts college. So Wolfe’s lead-in is a little misleading.

And then we get to the thrust of his argument, which is that academic excellence and religious fidelity are inconsistent with one another. He particularly objects to statements of faith:

Faculty and administrators at these schools defend faith statements on the grounds that they protect and nurture community; because we have a shared mission, they like to point out, one will not find among us the groundless anomie and lack of direction associated with more secular institutions. That may be true, but community and diversity represent different values, and frequently one must choose between them. All too often, evangelical colleges prize the former over the latter. By their very nature, statements of faith are designed to defend against religious diversity. That is one reason I object to them; they smack of religious bigotry and suggest a lack of appreciation for academic freedom. But there is something else wrong with statements of faith: they manifest a defensiveness that is one of conservative Christianity’s less attractive features.

What this amounts to saying is that adherence in an academic setting to anything remotely resembling the confessions and creeds of traditional Christianity is "bigotry." Belonging to a creedal or confessional church is "bigotry." A college sponsored by a creedal or confessional church would have to engage in "bigotry" if it wanted to be faithful to its denomination. If this is what Wolfe thinks is necessary for the "evangelical mind" to be "opened," then I hope that my colleagues in such institutions don’t take his advice. It’s possible to have a serious intellectual life taking as one’s point of departure certain "presuppositions." Most "scientific" disciplines do this all the time (consider this particularly colorful recent example). And, as Bruce Kimball has shown, there’s a perfectly distinguished conception of liberal education that has at its roots a notion of religious formation.

But that’s enough for now.

Update: Another quibble: my friends at the University of Tulsa would be shocked to learn that they’re teaching at a public institution. But (once again) seriously: Wolfe is on the strongest ground when he raises questions about the pursuit of a political agenda allegedly following from a religious mission. One of the things upon which I would insist (both to folks on the left and on the right) is that there is a role to be played by prudence whenever we engage in politics or other "practical" enterprises. Prudence can be cultivated in an educational setting, but not if we don’t leave room for its (varied) formation, hence not if we’re committed to a particular practical agenda. In other words, it’s not just intellectual life that suffers if "everything" is dictated by politics, but even moral formation (and hence ultimately citizenship and politics).

Update #2: Touchstone’s David Mills has some characteristically thoughtful Mere Comments.

The atrophying (or is it vulgarization?) of the evangelical mind

Almost seven years ago, Alan Wolfe published "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind", which described for the readers of the Atlantic Monthly the resurgence or renaissance (more precisely, the "surgence" or "naissance") of evangelical intellectual life. Here’s a characteristic passage:

In its own way, campus life at Wheaton College resembles that of the 1960s, when students and a few professors, convinced that they had embarked on a mission of eternal importance, debated ideas as if life really depended on the answers they came up with. Students at Wheaton, moreover, are as outstanding as any students in America. Wheaton’s rejection rate last year was higher than the University of Chicago’s. Its class of 2003 includes sixty-one National Merit Scholars. The average SAT score of last year’s entering class was 1,310, putting Wheaton in the same range as Oberlin College and the University of Virginia. One political-science major I met had just been accepted for the doctoral program at Yale, another for the one at the University of California at San Diego. Wheaton does even better in the hard sciences than in the social sciences, ranking among the nation’s leading colleges in the percentage of its graduates who go on to earn doctorates. Surprisingly, for a college deriving from a religious tradition that was hostile to Darwinism, Wheaton managed to recruit the chairman of its biology department--the first place where conservative alumni are likely to look for insistence on the Bible’s inerrancy--from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Wolfe, of course, isn’t the only one to have noted this. Consider, for example,
Naomi Schaefer Riley and, much more authoritatively, George Marsden.

But despite some bright spots, there’s plenty to make one blanch. I haven’t seen Alexandra Pelosi’s new documentary, but Michael Linton’s commentary rings too true of at least a portion of evangelicalism:

Yes, we can see ourselves in Pelosi’s film, but a lot of what we see should make us wince. We’ve forgotten the Scriptures and allowed ignorance to characterize our preaching, and delirium our worship. In our confidence in God’s grace, we have become presumptuous in our salvation. And we’ve too often confused salvation in heaven with right voting on earth. We need to change. We need to repent.

I don’t know that evangelicals have to follow this all the way to David Kuo, but I think there has to be more to it than we get from Rick Warren (whose book I couldn’t bear even to skim), Joel Osteen, or (shudder) Ted Haggard, who comes off pretty badly in the film, even without the retrospective glasses.

Stated another way, I worry that the basically decent folks who populate the evangelical megachurches are much closer to the market-driven life than even to the purpose-driven life, and not, in any event, "nearer, my God, to Thee."

Hat tip: Wheat and Weeds.

Edwards’ (ex-)bloggers and the religious left

Is the tent big enough for everyone? You have to read at least these two posts.

On a different note, I should let the folks at MOJ speak for themselves, but any blog that includes Stephen Bainbridge and Rick Garnett among its posters probably shouldn’t be described as "leftish."

Update: Here, via Get Religion, is a post by someone on the religious left who seems to think that any response to the vitriol of the religious right is fair game, and essentially without a political cost:

I am also suspicious of the lasting effect of this drama. In August, will anyone still be talking about ’bloggergate" outside of the far-right blogosphere and the Catholic Al Sharpton, Bill Donohue? I doubt it. And are voters REALLY going to abandon Edwards over this? My sense is the ones voicing the most outrage were people who were never that committed to Edwards (or Democrats) to begin with.

As far as reaching out to religious voters, I am also unconvinced about the lasting impact. Democrats are not reaching out to attract National Review readers, the folks at Amy Welborn’s website, or the likes of Rod Dreher. Those are people who can’t be reached by Democrats because they are so dogmatic or ideological, they can’t really be swayed.

Well, I think Dreher might be gettable, but not so long as people think they can indulge in extravagantly anti-religious language. But more seriously, Catholics have been the swing voters in the last few electoral cycles. While it’s true that conservative Catholics--or conservative folks of any religious (well, "Judaeo-Christian") flavor--are unlikely to vote for any potential Democratic nominee in 2008, there are moderates who could well be put off by the behavior that this blogger countenances. Let’s hope the short-sightedness continues.

Saletan on Strange Science

I’m off the bioethics council meeting in a couple of hours. So I thought I’d leave you with Saletan’s latest laundry list. It turns out, for example, that hybrid cars, by not making enough noise, may endanger the blind. And stem cells are being used for customized breast implants. The trouble with heart-healthy naps is that they won’t work for those who most need them: The health-paranoid type-A personalities, even or especially after reading the latest studies, won’t be able to relax enough to sleep anyway.

The issues before the bioethics council remain organ markets, newborn screening, and dignity. Is there such a thing as human dignity? Does it have anything to do with the formulation of public policy? etc.

Property rights and poverty in Niger

For a long time Niger has been regarded by Western governments and aid groups as a basket case, one of the absolute poorest countries in the world and the epitome of Third World problems of disease, poverty, and environmental decay. But according to The New York Times, something surprising is happening in one very poor region of the country: the population is growing but the economic and environmental situation is improving (contrary to the conventional wisdom). In one previously hard-hit village, not a single child has died from malnutrition since 2005.

How is this happening? Trees are returning in great numbers. Why? Rainfall has increased, and farmers are no longer ploughing trees under when they plant crops but are keeping and cultivating them, which has a tremendous effect on soil conservation. What has caused this change in behavior? Surprise, surprise:

Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been regarded as the property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them. Trees were chopped for firewood or construction without regard to the environmental costs. Government foresters were supposed to make sure the trees were properly managed, but there were not enough of them to police a country nearly twice the size of Texas.But over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years the government has recognized the benefits of that outlook by allowing individuals to own trees. Farmers make money from the trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Because those sales are more lucrative over time than simply chopping down the tree for firewood, the farmers preserve them.

It bears repeating: economic growth is the best weapon against problems of poverty and the environment in poor countries, and property rights are the key to economic growth. How long will it take for securing property rights to be high on the agenda for international aid groups?

Lincoln, Obama and the State of the Black Union

At Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union Conference this weekend in Virginia, Lerone Bennett (of Ebony magazine) denounced Barack Obama for announcing his presidential run in Springfield, IL--the home of that known racist, Abraham Lincoln. Smiley asked for clarification on that charge since Lincoln is best known for the Emancipation Proclamation and Bennett gave a pathetic but predictable response that was met with loud cheers and nodding approval by his host. You can hear Laura Ingraham discuss it here with appropriate excerpts from the actual conference. And here is some reaction from across the pond, where Obama is greeted with an equal disdain. This, of course, is all very sad and even disturbing. But it is interesting to note that the tone and substance of this argument against Lincoln--now advanced by a radical sub-section of black liberals--is eerily similiar to that of a certain sub-section of would-be "conservatives" who lately have found it amusing to entertain us in the comment section here. Politics and history certainly do make some strange bed-fellows. But when you agree that the real principle at work in politics is nothing more than will or power, it sometimes turns out that your enemies have more in common with you even than your friends.

Casus belli 2.0?

C’mon guys, can we at least invade Austria?

Update: Wenn sie Deutsch lesen koennen, hier gibt es mehr. Uebersetzung: what this article adds is that the Austrian manufacturer wants to know what the serial numbers are, since the rifles could be knock-offs. But there’s a good bit of back-and-forth going on in Vienna.

There’s more here (in English) and here (auf Deutsch). My favorite line (loosely translated, since I’m being lazy):

Rudolf Gollia, Interior Ministry spokesman, wouldn’t concede that the government was careless in approving the deal with Iran. "Before the deal, we got an end use certificate, and our embassy in Tehran checked with the Iranian foreign and internal affairs ministries that the weapons really were intended to be used in the war on drug [dealers]." In addition, we clarified whether there were conflicts or violations of human rights in which the weapons could be used.

I guess they hadn’t heard that we were involved in a conflict in Iraq and couldn’t imagine that Iran would have any interest in what was going on next door, apart perhaps from the general humanitarianism of the mullahs, who only wanted armor-piercing sniper rifles to help us control the opium trade, concededly a problem, but not one that’s solved by firing at American officers sitting in humvees.

Hat tip (for the first German article): my dad, who makes a nuisance of himself in several languages on European press sites that permit comments.

More On Guiliani’s Appeal

. . . can be found here. Brendan Miniter makes a strong case supporting the idea that social conservatives will find it easy to come around to Guiliani in the end. He is especially impressed with Rudy’s ability to make the issue of school choice work for him in wooing this block of voters. According to Miniter, it’s been working for him in South Carolina where Christian Conservatives make up the core of the school choice movement. After attending a meeting of one of these groups where Guiliani spoke, Miniter reports: "One woman who attended told me she wonders whether electing a president who successfully took on the mob in New York is what it will take to finally break through the entrenched education political culture." Maybe that’s exactly what is needed. In any event I think it is a fair argument to value action on the school choice front over inaction and platitudes on the abortion front . . . particularly if Guiliani is inclined to select judges in the mold of Roberts and Alito as he claims.

Blogging and presidential politics

No, not unpresidential politics, but rather this, which, according to Scott Johnson, will be videotaped for broadcast on C-SPAN.

Voting representation for D.C.

This WaPo article describes this report on the constitutionality of giving voting representation to the District of Columbia in the House. Apparently, Kenneth Starr and Viet Dinh think the proposal passes constitutional muster. I’m dubious. My proposal (not altogether tongue-in-cheek): give the District back to Maryland, and handle the representation of its residents that way. I don’t favor the constitutional novelty of a city that’s not quite a state, and would rather return to the status quo ante, if we’re no longer going to have special federal district.

School Choice in India

In this months issue of the Atlantic, Clive Crook finds evidence in India for one of Milton Friedman’s most controversial claims--that a privately-funded system of education would especially benefit the least well-off. In spite of official government discrimination against private schools, small for-profit schools have been popping up in many of the poorest parts of India. Crook writes:

On the whole, dime-a-day for-profit schools are doing a better job of teaching the poorest children than the far more expensive state schools. In many localities, private schools operate alongside a free, government-run alternative. Many parents, poor as they may be, have chosen to reject it and to pay perhaps a tenth of their meager incomes to educate their children privately. They would hardly do that unless they expected better results.

Based on test scores, these expectations have so far been met. However, this is not a success story we’re likely to hear from India’s education officials, or from those who work for international aid agencies--these remain wedded to the old model of public education, and continue to claim (in spite of all evidence to the contrary) that all that is needed is more money.

Roll Over, Lincoln

...for many (well, not that many) Americans, today is Darwin Day. Here you can read about some of the traditional festivities, including the singing of the haunting "Randomness is Good Enough for Me." Anyone who has been to my office knows that randomness is, in fact, good enough for me.

Heart Healthy Naps

The latest studies show that we should be asking candidates some tough questions about whether or not they are regularly napping.

Steve Hayward, call your office

Courtesy of NLT commenter Andrew, a European leader wanders off the plantation on global warming. Let’s check his bank records!

Allan Bloom’s big book 20 years later

Our friend Patrick Deneen has been busy, organizing (among other things) this March event (scroll down). You can also read a few things about Bloom’s book here.

Kudos to our friends at ISI for putting this on-line. Now they just have to make it easier to find on their site.

The Lincoln Penny

David Margolick writes an op-ed on the Lincoln Penny in yesterday’s NY Times. I don’t have an opinion about the future of the penny, but the piece is useful background on its origin, reception, and value.

What percentage was that again?

About a month ago, this front-page NYT article, trumpeting that in 2005 51% of women were living without a husband caused quite a stir. It’s a remarkable celebration of how liberating it is for women not to have to deal with husbands. (Tell that to the elderly widows in my church.)

Now we learn a little something about the editorial process that led to the article. Did you notice the age range under consideration? It’s 51% of women 15 and older. Roughly 90% of high-school age girls live at home with their parents. Subtracting them from the figures gets us back under 50%, and as the NYT’s public editor concedes, probably off the front page.

This was not news analysis, but advocacy, with almost no attempt at balancein either the presentation or the assessment of the evidence. Michael Medved cites census data about the normality of marriage.

Here’s the data from which the NYT reporter was working. Here’s some data that provide a somewhat different picture, suggesting (for example) that marriage is still the overwhelming statistical norm for most people.

Hat tip: MOJ’s Rob Vischer.

Update: As Kate comments below, I missed Peter’s original post here. Bad blogger!

Is God a Delusion?

If your stomach is feeling strong, you can actually hear and see me say a few words...

Old Abe

Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Happy day. Here is the Fragment on the Constitution and the Union showing his understanding of the whole in a few tight sentences. Also remind yourself of the great Gettysburg Address and note the wonderful Anglo-Saxon simplicity of it. And the rhythm, don’t forget the rhythm. Then read this Fragment on Slavery, and then this

Fragment on Slavery, then Meditation on the Divine Will. And now go to the Second Inaugural. All this should be enough not only remind you of his fine mind and his great heart and his character, it should also lift your heart in gratitude that you are living in a country that bred him and one that he defined. Let the other nations have their magnanimous men and their poets and their statesmen and their warriors. I wish them all well. But we are the land of Lincoln and this is our day.

Obama vs. Howard

Power Line tells us of Barack Obama’s response to Australian PM John Howard’s criticism, about which you can find more here. Since Democrats constantly tell us how much the world disdains us because of our Iraq policy, you’d think Howard would be entitled to praise it and blame its critics. But as the piece in The Australian notes, there’s a double standard: only Bush and his policies [and, I would add, allies who support it] are eligible for criticism.

Obama probably should have just shrugged it off, defending his policy rather than attacking a loyal American ally. This is evidence that he’s not quite ready for prime-time, as is his telling remark, quickly retracted, about the American lives "wasted" in Iraq.

Update: More Howard:

He said the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq early next year would be seen as a U.S. defeat that would “encourage and give succor” to terrorists in the Middle East and Asia and be “catastrophic for the West.”

“I hold the strongest possible view that it is contrary to the security interests of this country for America to be defeated in Iraq,” Howard said.

“Let me make it perfectly clear, if I hear a policy being advocated that is contrary to Australia’s security interests, I will criticize it.”

Please note that the AP story says that Howard is "lagging badly" behind his rival in the electoral race. Last I checked, being down 48-43 isn’t "lagging badly."

Update #2: I missed this the first time, but Obama refers to Howard as "one of George W. Bush’s allies," not one of America’s. That’s a very political and very undiplomatic way of stating it. I can’t say that I’m impressed by his level-headed grace and savoir faire under fire. Power Line’s Scott Johnson calls these slips Obamanations, which I wish I’d thought of first.

Giuliani Ain’t No Hamlet

But, according to this journalist, that’s not altogether a good thing. His hyper-manliness gives him exaggerated, unrealistic confidence in the rightness of his judgments; the record shows that his administration would be less about the preservation of limited government and more about the reckless abuse of executive authority. (Of course, I far from completely agree with this, but now that Rudy is so clearly ahead it’s time to consider his weaknesses.)

Obama, Iraq, and the Election

Here’s a short article that makes the single point that if the contest for the Democratic nomination turns on the Iraq war, Obama wins. That’s becuase his opposition to the war was unambiguous from the beginning, and his comments concerning the weakness of Saddam’s regime and our inability to control post-invasion developments were prescient. And he even added the nice phrase about being only against dumb wars, not all wars. I wonder whether the same might also be true in November, 2008: If the situation in Iraq hasn’t improved, what would the Republicans have to do to keep the campaign against Obama from being a referendum over the current administration’s unpopular policy? Of course I say this not in praise of Obama or to indict current policy, but to make clear the challenge he poses, given the undeniable facts of the war’s and the president’s very weak polling numbers.

Casus belli?

Would this be one?

Hayward on Churchill in Atlanta

Too late for anyone to sign up for this, but inquiring minds want to know what Hayward’s schedule in Atlanta is. Might he be persuaded to present another talk, or at least to have a drink?

For the record, someone I know from church is eagerly looking forward to the seminar.

Climate Crime Update

I’m still way behind on everything, and have just lost a whole week of work to this silly l’affaire Guardian, but I want to pass along the news that the (London) Independent today printed the following retraction:

In Editorial and Opinion on Saturday (3 February) we wrote that ‘ExxonMobil is attempting to bribe scientists to pick holes in the IPPC’s assessment (on climate change).’ We now recognise that this statement is incorrect and we withdraw it.

Indeed the original story has been removed from their website. And on Saturday, New York Times business columnist Joseph Nocera called the charge "ridiculous." (Unfortunately his article is behind the annoying TimesSelect firewall.) You know things are out of hand when your help comes from the New York Times. I’ll await Al Gore’s retraction now.