Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Reagan first

Maybe a real conversation about Lincoln is a good idea. Maybe. Maybe it is a good idea to relive the political fights between Jefferson and Hamilton, between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, the Northwest Ordinance, the difference between the American and French revolutions, the politics of the 1790’s, the meaning of the election of 1800, the constitutionality of the Lousiana Purchase, the value of the Missouri Compromise, the debate between Andy Jackson and Henry Clay, the nullification crisis, as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. Maybe.

In the meantime, on perhaps a smaller point, I think some who are so especially concerned with defining conservatism (that is, try to articulate its nature, if it has one) may want to listen to a few of Reagan’s speeches to see how conservatism manifested itself politically victorious for the first time since Progressivism’s political victory was revealed in the New Deal and the Great Society. There are 14 speeches between 1964 and 1989. Enjoy!

I have an idea...let’s talk about Lincoln!

I’m not going to be the first one on NLT to respond to dain’s call for a positive defense of Lincoln, or an explanation of why conservatives should appreciate him. That, I think, belongs in the realm of normative political theory, and I’m but a simple historian.

What I will do is offer the historian’s perspective, which is that the question of whether or not Lincoln violated the Constitution in using force to keep the South in the Union is ultimately irrelevant. Show me the president who, when faced with the choice between the Constitution and political survival, chose the former over the latter. Jefferson ignored the Constitution in making the Louisiana Purchase; Jackson ignored it whenever he felt like he had to; Teddy Roosevelt ignored it in seizing Colombian territory to build the Panama Canal; FDR ignored it in implementing the New Deal. As I’ve written elsewhere, the overwhelming sentiment--in Congress and in the public at large--was that the Union had to be preserved at all costs. Had Lincoln refused to coerce the South he would have been impeached. It would have been the same had he tried to surrender Fort Sumter. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, was a lot more radical than Lincoln was--imagine what would have happened if he had ended up in the White House.

Lincoln did what he had to do--what any rational politician would have done in similar circumstances. He did it in the face of an independent-minded Congress, a defiant Cabinet, and a public that was screaming for blood--and in the end he did it rather well. That’s what I admire about him.

Now excuse me, I’m off to write a biography of Howard Cosell.

Iraqi "Arab Idol"

...unites her country in celebration, at least for a moment.

Fred Barnes on THE Question About McCain

Why is the most conservative candidate most dislked by conservatives? Fred’s answer: He’s unable to resist "the maverick temptation." In my opinion, he’s tempted too often to project the impression that he’s too smart and/or too moral to be consistently conservative, and the technique that gets him good press loses him conservative votes. The genuine maverick wouldn’t be as image-conscious as McCain seems to be. Fred encourages us to remember that John best embodies the combination of conservatism and electability.

Final Four Ethics: The Moral Imperative to Root for Georgetown

The other three schools are anonymous, government-run, techno-industrial warehouses with massive athletic budgets. Georgetown is a relatively small private school with a tiny gym. If you value educational diversity and/or the little guy, you won’t root for the uttlerly indistinguishable Florida, UCLA, or Ohio State.

The Political Theory of AMERICAN IDOL

Will the masterful strategy of Sanjaya’s hair-based campaign rob the show of its illusion of meritocratic innocence? Has the show become all about winning votes and building coalitions for reasons having nothing to do with actual singing? (I truly don’t care about this, but I thought it would divert us from re-fighting the Civil War.)

Students Talking

As the students were talking I became more aware of them. This was their second larger than life guest within the week. The ancient mind Jaffa first, then the ram-rod straight Bunting. Each speaker had both the age and the authority to make the young think twice before trying to question anything being said. Yet they questioned, opined, talked, even pushed. They were at home with it, the authority, the power, the subjects all. The guests at first are always surprised , and then come to know this great fact and they like it. They feel at home among those that trust the mind.

Such students are dangerous. Ordinary professors are afraid of them because, well, they can’t just talk at them. The lecture they prefer is closed and time bound. They approach all topics as if they know them and if they just had enough time they could explain them to everyone who is listening. They talk to fill in time, as if they are paid by the word. But they don’t know that real students aren’t note-takers and ciphers, but participants and friends in the conversation. The students insist on knowing, and discovering, and they want to be thinking in public. If a professor is not courageous enough to think aloud, they come to ignore him. If he is merely ignorant, they make a great attempt to help him. If he can’t do any better, they leave him and do something serious.

I had a class yesterday in which we considered a heavy thought. How is ruling reason affected by the thing it is trying to govern? My always limited—and then especially tired—mind was sinking in deep waters. I couldn’t get anywhere with any word. I couldn’t breathe. I perceived my inability, the weight pulling me down. And then someone to my left said a few words that were unclear to me. I asked him to repeat. He did and things became clearer. And then a yellow haired woman spoke with more clarity, and then the shy man came into it, then another. Then a new student was born, one who had yet said nothing in public during the whole term. Although his voice was hesitant, the thought was clear. I asked for repetition and clarity and kept getting it. An hour later I realized that I was no longer sinking. My mind was fresh and I was thinking with my students. We were back in the breathing world.

I have been a teacher for almost thirty years and I have had some very good students. I have seen some fine students. Many have become friends and we stay students together. I am lucky. Yet I have to say the students here at Ashbrook and Ashland are the best students I have ever encountered, anywhere. They are always interesting, thoughtful and mature. Even when I know they approach a thought not for the first time, they talk as if they do. They speak in fresh and enlivened terms and tones and are always surprised by their discoveries. Yet they keep their balance, and if one of us sinks he is pulled up by their reason and their generosity. Their eyes sparkle and their laugh is deep and honest. And everyone with them and around them is made into something better and finer. And even old authorities visiting who remain teachers know this. I am also aware of this and am deeply in their debt and am grateful to them all. I am happy in their company and their conversation.


It is too bad that some who comment on NLT are uncivil and rude. While I call for civility (as has Joe), I am inclined to think that my call will not be heeded. I believe the reason for that is clear: It is the purpose of such people to make war, rather than talk. Well, that is not our purpose on this blog. Our purpose is to have a conversation and that is what we will have. In that conversation, even if we disagree, we provide a great boon to one another, and I am grateful for it. Over this weekend I will be in touch with my patient friends who take the time to blog on NLT and we will decide what we should do. My guess is that we will end the "Comments" section as it has existed for all these years. Either we will have no comments, or we will allow only those to comment (through magic codes and such) who are willing to be civil. In the meantime I suggest that Joe, Julie, Peter, Steve, John, et al, do not respond to any comments. In fact, don’t even bother to read them. Give the shouters no satisfaction. We will act by Monday. In the meantime I ask everyone to accept my apologies, my sincere apologies. Thank you.

Update: Thanks for your comments on this issues (yes, I do read them). The issue is not a "spirited exchange" It is civility. It is certainly not wanting to end conversation or disagreement. After all, none of the contributors at NLT are made of cotton candy. I am interested in moderating my own passions, as well as those of others, for the sake of a good conversation. As some on the thread say, we do learn from disagreements. Of course. But "spirited exchange" is different from rude, corse, intentionally ill mannered statements whose design, by definition, is not to encourage conversation over disagreements, but rather to make others angry. Let us all moderate our own passions, please. That has to do with civility, citizenship. That is what we are asking. I am still open on all this, decisions have not yet been made. Again, I thank you kindly.

A very minimalist definition of conservatism


Which hasn’t been displayed by some of the self-professed "conservatives" who have been calling folks names and accusing them of treason in the comments section here in recent days.

Thompson v. Obama = Reagan v. RFK?

So says William Kristol in this sweeping and thought-provoking essay. If his comparison of the featured players holds, it would make for a more engaging and a "let’s-get-to-the-heart-of-our-differences" campaign. I am increasingly persuaded that his narrative of what will happen with Obama is correct. I do think that he will hold more appeal, in the end, than Hillary for the Dems. But I’m not so settled in an opinion about what the GOP will do. If I’ve learned anything about the GOP from watching politics all these years it’s this: the GOP almost never does the thing that is most likely to make life easier on itself! Still, a large part of me hopes that Kristol knows more about this than I do.


Mac Owens’ thesis about the current Democratic Party resembling Copperheads appears in today’s Christian Science Monitor.

More Hugh Hewitt

Is ROMNEY really as smart and as conservative as Hugh thinks he is? I hope so, and we’ll soon find out. Hugh also explains why McCain is his least favorite candidate.

Did McCain Flirt with Swtching Parties in 2001?

Is this alleged revelation startling or even new? Will it, as Hugh Hewitt claims, bury John’s candidacy?

Another Rant from Ponzi

Put this in the category of "Over My Dead Body!" Satellite T.V. in your car? My kids are going to have a long list of reasons to feel deprived if people keep insisting on these kinds of "innovations." I admit to the portable mini-DVD--but only for VERY long trips. Seriously, what ever happened to "talking" to your kids while in the car? Must we be entertained to death?

Podcast with Gordon Lloyd

I talked with Gordon Lloyd about his new book, The Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover Roosevelt Debate Shapes the 21st Century. The podcast is about thirty minutes. I hope you enjoy Gordon, one of the great teachers in our Master of American History and Government program.

Higher ed regulation again

Here’s a useful rundown of the issues the DoE has been raising with the accreditors. My fear is that what will follow is something like "No College Student Left Behind" or, perhaps, college rankings no more helpful or revealing than those provided annually by U.S. News and World Report.

Our friend Jeff Martineau, who I’ll be seeing, perhaps in a little more than an hour, offers a pointed analysis with reference to the DoE’s shabby treatment of his employer. His wise words are worth taking to heart:

Many believe that the attack on AALE is primarily a means to other ends, the most important of which is to “send a message” to the powerful regional agencies about how serious the secretary is about this. This, they say, is why AALE is being singled out for lacking benchmarks, even though no other accreditor of undergraduate colleges has them.

The great irony is that few, if any, of the substantive concerns of conservatives will be addressed by the substitution of “outcomes” for judgment. Replacing qualitative measurements of academic excellence with quantitative ones will, in fact make it even more difficult to engage higher education in a long overdue national discussion of what educated graduates should know beyond the requirements of their careers. It will do nothing to revive the idea that there is an educational “core” or help in curbing intellectual bias or hiring practices. None of these affect the “outcomes” upon which the institution will be judged.

If this new scheme goes forward, we will, no doubt, be provided with lots and lots of data. One might ask, however, whether this will provide sufficient recompense for the loss of the one accrediting organization that promotes the traditional view of higher education? Is the secretary’s devotion to quantitative results so critical that accreditation based on judgment and subjective evaluation must go by the boards? Many of AALE’s supporters do not think so and hope yet to persuade the Department of Education that its approach is beneficial and legitimate.

Anyone around Williamsburg should drop in on
the panel (p. 4 of the pdf) Jeff is chairing tomorrow. I’d be there, but I’m chairing another panel.

My thoughts on Jeff’s subject are here.

Comment Sections on Blogs

Peter Beinhart from The New Republic and Jonah Goldberg at National Review discuss the relative usefulness of comment sections on blogs as well as the usefulness of blogs in general here.

A Poll and a Plea

First, a plea (and pardon my catharsis): Please--I beg of all you GOP candidates--no respectable Republican candidate for President should ever sign on to make or sell or send out these. I have no reason other than the arbitrary one that I am so sick of looking at these stupid rubber bracelets--and that the sight of them reminds me of John Kerry skiing. They can be found now in every color under the sun, promoting every imaginable mindless idiocy that man can invent--so please, stop already! I simply can’t take any more. Also, I’m tired of tripping over these dumb things every time my kids’ school has a fund-raiser. This is not a prize, it’s a curse. Stop sending these home! Further, this is not effective advertising. If you wear one of these things you are in need of mental scrutiny--not to mention fashion advice. In fact, I am so violently opposed to rubber bracelets, that I vow to burn any said items that come within my possession--take that, Al Gore. O.k., now I feel better! What can I say . . . I had to drive to Glendale in LA traffic this morning. I’m just a little tense!

Now the poll which offers a bit of good news--and further evidence that these stupid bracelets don’t help your cause.

Lincoln-Douglas debates

Harry V. Jaffa’s Colloquium last Friday is now available for your listening pleasure. It is an hour and a half of conversation with the Ashbrook Scholars. I remind you that these are undergraduate students; I think they are impressive. Although Jaffa, now eighty eight years old, stuck mostly to the Debates, he did make some interesting digressions worth hearing, for example, what Caesar’s conquest of the ancient world has to do with religious freedom.    

Gonzales should resign

National Review calls for Attorney General Gonzales to resign. The concluding paragraph:

"What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. All that now keeps him in office, save the friendship of the president, is the conviction of many Republicans that removing him would embolden the Democrats. It is an overblown fear. The Democrats will pursue scandals, real or invented, whether or not Gonzales stays. But they have an especially inviting target in Gonzales. He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start."

A query for Dan Phillips...

and other apparent Ron Paul supporters: do you generally vote Republican at the Congressional level or not?

Once I have some answers, I’ll explain why I’m curious about this.

Men, Women and Islam

The 60 Minutes interview with Hassan Butt--a former terrorist recruiter in Britain who, apparently, is now going straight--was very interesting. Hassan Butt claims that one of the best recruiting tools for guys like him is that the Imams would give them permission to marry whomever they liked (provided she was Muslim) if they joined the cause. Otherwise, as is still customary among more traditional elements of Islam, they might be forced into an arranged marriage.

At the same time that this came out I was reading this review of Mark Steyn’s America Alone by Theodore Dalrymple in the latest CRB. In it, Dalrymple argues that one thing Steyn misses or--at any rate does not convey as fully as Dalrymple might like--is how attractive radical Islam is to young Muslim men in the west who wish to dominate women:

The principal immediate attraction of Islam to young Muslims brought up in the West is actually the control and oppression of women. After all, if you can be sultan of your own home, you need hardly look elsewhere for a sense of achievement or importance; this is hard luck on the women, of course, but it does give a clue as to what les jeunes were fighting for during France’s riots in autumn 2005. They wanted extra-territoriality, as it were, free from the incursions of the French state, so that in their slums they could continue their one economic activity, drug-dealing, and their domination of women without interruption.

Now, both of these arguments, taken by themselves, seem to make a great deal of sense. I’m not sure how or if they fit together, but I am inclined to think that they do. Another part of Dalrymple’s review alludes to Steyn’s thesis that the worst bits of Islamic and of Western culture have come together among certain elements of radical Islam--particularly in the West. Dalrymple (perhaps quoting Steyn) calls it the "multiculturalist equivalent of the Black Mass." That may be. But I wonder if it might more aptly be described as the Jihad equivalent of LA street gang culture. In all thuggish sub-cultures, there is this element of dominating and using women. Perhaps the western recruits Mr. Butt was after had only been westernized enough to want to choose their own B****?

I am not prepared to offer a fully digested thesis about this--but all of this begs a host of other questions on the subject of relations between the sexes in the West. I would not head down the path of D’Souza and suggest that they hate us because of our feminism--but I might suggest that feminism has made it more difficult for the West to assimilate these young men. The parallels between the activities and motivations of these young radical Muslims and the activities of young disaffected black and Latino men in street gangs are striking. One should be careful of overdoing the comparison--but failing to notice the similarities is intellectually dishonest.

The war that the West is engaged in is at least as much about persuasion and conversion as it is about battles and national security. If we are facing a situation--and I think it is fair to say that we are--where there is a significant number of young men born and raised in the West who, having not been sufficiently convinced of Western culture’s superiority in all those years of western education, have flocked to the closest radical Mosque in search of answers . . . it may be fair to ask if we’ve done something wrong. That is not to say that we deserve what we’re getting, but rather to suggest that we need to re-think our defense of ourselves. Perhaps we could use a surge here too.

Fixed comments

We have fixed the problems some have had with posting comments. Sorry about that. It should be OK now; fire away.

A Surge by Ron Paul?

The results of a new Zogby Poll suggest that the campaign of former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul is showing signs of life. According to the poll, 3 percent of the Republicans surveyed identified him as their preferred candidate, putting him ahead of fellow conservative dark horses Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter. Even more interesting is how well Paul seems to be doing among women--a full 6 percent of Republican women claim to be supporting his candidacy, which is the same percentage that are backing Fred Thompson.

Tony Snow’s health

I am truly sorry to hear that, apparently, the small growth removed from Tony Snow was cancerous. And the cancer has spread to the liver. I am truly sorry about this. He is a very good fellow.

Does Huckabee have heart?

I don’t think Mike Huckabee serves his interests well in this RCP interview. He overuses the notion of terror, and at most offers lukewarm support for the surge, though he doesn’t exactly distinguish himself from anyone else in the GOP there.

I don’t find any real evidence of an effort to appeal to social conservatives either.

A national party once more?

Brendan Miniter thinks Republicans should listen to ex-gov Bob Ehrlich of Maryland. Else "Hillary Clinton could win the presidency by losing both Ohio and Florida and carrying instead Colorado, Iowa and Missouri."

Since Ehrlich has endorsed Giuliani, is that what Miniter is suggesting?

Not enough big men on campus?

According to this WaTi article, there’s a growing gap between the numbers of men and women receiving bachelor’s degrees. Female degree recipients outnumber their male counterparts by about 200,000 now, increasing to 300,000 in less than a decade.

Law-and-Order Fred Surging

...largely, Gallup’s study shows, at the expense of law-and-order Rudy. McCain’s support remains stable, and Romney has dropped to fourth. I have to say that Rudy REALLY WAS an aggressive prosecutor and crime-busting mayor of the major American city.

Overkilling Linker

Michael Uhlmann, self-confessed theocon fellow traveler, pounds a few more nails into Damon Linker’s coffin. I mean this all figuratively, of course.

I don’t think I’m recommending

this book, but for reasons that are obvious from the description, I’ll probably read it.

Anyone read any of this guy’s stuff?

For the record, here’s more backstory than you’d ever want to know.

Final Four hopes

As a Washingtonian during the first Thompson-Ewing era (also the Reagan era), I can’t help but hope that Georgetown goes all the way (a sentiment not necessarily popular in Ohio, I’m well aware).

As a long-standing Georgian, I’m for any team that can beat a team from Florida.

As a San Francisco native (and one-time northern Californian), I hate to have to support UCLA, but I will against Florida. My only consolation is that John Wooden (may he continue not to rest in peace) once coached UCLA.

As a Michigan State alum (during the Woody Hayes era), I’ll reluctantly support Ohio State, should it make the finals against either Florida or UCLA.

Summary, in case you can’t (be bothered to) figure out my place-based considerations: Georgetown, then OSU, then UCLA, then (shudder, groan) Florida. Note that none of these considerations has anything to do with basketball excellence.

Update: If you need another reason to root against Florida, there’s always this.

Tribe and Obama on Constitutonal Interpretation as Weird Science

...The Constitution is much more complicated--not to mention "physical"--than we thought. (Thanks again to Ivan the K.)

Meet the new boss...again

John Fund writes that the Congressional Research Service has decided not to identify earmarks. Three cheers for Sen. Tom Coburn, who

says he will attach an amendment to every appropriations bill demanding CRS prepare a full report on the earmarks in it. "Let senators vote for secrecy and prove they don’t want a transparent process or let them deliver what they promised," he says. "The choice will be theirs and the American people will be watching."

Happy Birthday Flannery!

Because we managed to utterly ignore St. Patrick’s Day, it’s no surprise that Flannery O’Connor’s birthday almost passed without a mention here. But Flannery is surely the outstanding literary and philosophical figure in the history of the South, surpassing even Faulkner on the level of insight and at least his rival on the level of artistry. Walker Percy, great as he was, made it clear that he didn’t think of himself as in her league. She’s the most impressive example of homegrown American Thomism, a part of our intellectual history that we’ve neglected at NLT.

Translator beaten?

This translator (female) of the Koran seems to have had a problem with a passage (Ch. 4, Verse 34). It took her a while, but she solved it.

George Will vs. Our Spectacular Anger

George takes on the "look-at-me" self-indulgence of "anger chic," which he sees, in his fair-and-balanced way, in the outrage so many claim to feel about either or both President Clinton and the current President Bush. He prefers the old-fashioned and more genuinely political "reluctant anger," which is directed against real evildoers and is actually employed by reason to change minds. Required reading for all bloggers!

Sweet Sixteen LIsts... The Best TV Shows Ever

In spirit of March Madness and all that: Here are several "best of" lists.
I expect nobody much cares about the 16 best songs about Georgia. I was really impressed by the TV list, though. I don’t have the comprehensive programmatic knowledge required to know whether the list is accurate, but I do know that I really enjoy these shows. Two exceptions: LAW AND ORDER (tedious) and FRIENDS (too stupid even for me). I nominate as replacements: the first BOB NEWHART SHOW (psychologist Bob) and KING OF THE HILL. And I would add the qualification only the first couple of seasons of ROSEANNE, which I would probably replace with THE WONDER YEARS or the early years of SCRUBS. Because I appreciate the aggressively middlebrow character of the list, I’ll resist the temptation to nominate CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.