Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy Birthday Brigham Young, Marillyn Monroe, and Walt Whitman (June 1)!

Each of these strange and wonderful Americans dsplayed a distinctive feature of our nation’s liberty and could not have been from anywhere else. I would even say that Brigham and Walt are the most impressive representatives of the two most influential forms of religion that originated on our soil. Is there an American poet with a heart large enough to love them both? I could say something now about Marilyn’s heart, but I won’t.

Darwin and Traditional Conservatism

Our friend Larry writes that Mark Henrie’s liberal conservatism fuses the best Burkean elements of Kirk and Hayek to do justice to the natural (evolutionary?) limits of our individual liberty. Liberal conservatism aims to "keep Locke in the Locke box" to conserve what makes life worth living. Question for discussion: What are the key differences between liberal conservatism (Henrie) and conservative liberalism (Berkowitz)?

Evangelicals, Mormons, and wise Turks

Aside from reminding us of a very clever Lutherism, this piece on Mitt and the evangelicals doesn’t cover much new ground. But it ought to lead conservative Christians to the conclusion that there might actually be less theological distance between them and the Mormons than between them and certain sorts of liberal Christians. In other words, the closeness in moral stance and social policy isn’t the only sort of closeness between conservative or theologically orthodox Christians and Mormons.

George Will joins the party

In his characteristically elegant and incisive way, Will limns the differences between liberals and conservatives. Here’s the core of his argument:

Steadily enlarging dependence on government accords with liberalism’s ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party’s interest in pleasing its most powerful faction -- public employees and their unions. Conservatism’s rejoinder should be that the argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over. Today’s proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered. Modalities matter, because some encourage and others discourage attributes and attitudes -- a future orientation, self-reliance, individual responsibility for healthy living -- that are essential for dignified living in an economically vibrant society that a welfare state, ravenous for revenue in an aging society, requires.

Social issues, he says, should be left to "moral federalism," and in international affairs, conservatives should [eschew]... the fatal conceit that has been liberalism’s undoing domestically -- hubris about controlling what cannot, and should not, be controlled."

One question I would pose to him concerns whether he thinks we have a "civil society" sufficiently healthy to cultivate and sustain the attitudes necessary for "dignified living in an economically vibrant society." Connected with that is another question: to what degree does the "economically vibrant society" undermine some of the attitudes necessary for its own sustenance? Some conservatives aren’t necessarily as willing to embrace and celebrate the market as GFW is.

Mad as Hell

But not funny as hell. And praise (scroll down) for our brilliant threadpersons. They’ve also been discussing the conservative "big three" issue on NRO’s Corner, but not with our class or depth. We manage to do more justice to both Strauss and Kirk, for example.

The Sad Spectacle of Cindy Sheehan

I have read her letter of resignation and listened to the much of the commentary about America not being the country that she loves . . . fine, but this is no shock, is it? I am more struck by something in her remarks that I think is illustrative about the left and of the kind of people that such thinking attracts. Cindy said that she is abandoning her protest more because of the criticism she is getting from those within her world than from those outside of it. In her words, "The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. . . . However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used."

That is a fair enough point. It is a point that many on the right have been wondering she would absorb for a long time . . . the blowback from the mainstream Dems was inevitable. But this, in itself, is not what I find so interesting about Sheehan’s statement.

After a dissertation about her views on the nature and future of representative democracy and the merits of the two party system, she offers us this: I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

That, it seems, is the nub of the matter. Cindy does not like human nature. She actually thought that she and her friends could change it because they understand the way things ought to be better than anybody else. She is angry because she is learning that even on the left she so naively admired before she began this campaign, people are the same all around. Egos have to be massaged, money has to be made and spent, decisions have to be made, and--in the words of the Rolling Stones--you can’t always get what you want. Even if you really, really want them and even if you know you’re smarter than everybody else in the room. So Cindy has decided that the best the left has to offer in the realm of practical politics is nothing more than a warmed-over Republican. They can’t achieve the true aims of the peace movement or the real left.

We on the right, have our share of those who make similar charges about our Republican leaders--they’re sacrificing conservative ideals and so forth . . . but even among the most angry of these responses there is usually something different in the critique. There is still (usually) a recognition, somewhere, of the human problem underneath the surface of the charge and there is usually still some determination on the part of the critic to continue on and accept his lumps. But Cindy has had enough and she, like Rosie, is packing it in for a more "normal" life. At least for now. God bless her . . . I hope she gets what she needs.

Mark Henrie on Traditionalist Conservatism

Here’s the essay that has been discussed and linked in the thread below. Carl correctly calls it "simply authoritative," and it is beautifully written. So let’s let Mark focus our thoughts on "the conservative mind" today.

The Future of Conservatism

I just received my copy of Charles W. Dunn’s edited volume, The Future of Conservatism, with essays by, among others, George Nash, Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., James W. Ceaser, Michael Barone, Dan Mahoney, someone named Lawler, and Bill Kristol. I promise a formal review, somewhere, sometime soon. It’s on top of my pile.

Thucydides and thymos

Here’s some stream of consciousness rambling from Maureen Dowd, the first fruit of my excursion behind the TimesSelect firewall. A snippet:

With cold realism, Thucydides captured the Athenian philosophy in the 27-year war that led to its downfall as a golden democracy: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

What message can we take away from Thucydides for modern times?

“To me,” Professor Kagan said, “the deepest message, the most tragic, is his picture of civilization as a very thin veneer. When you punch a hole in it, what you find underneath is hollow, the precivilized characteristics of the human race — animalistic in the worst possible way.”

Compared to Iraq, the Peloponnesian War was a cakewalk[!?!].

Dowd gets a critique of "hubris and imperial overreaching" from Thucydides. I wrote in a somewhat different vein

All the news that’s fit....

If you have a .edu email address, click here for access to TimesSelect material.

Just a Thought . . .

Now that Jack Kevorkian is set to be free and Rosie O’Donnell is leaving the View . . . the natural question is this: Why not have old Jack replace her and finally give that show the medicine it deserves?

Happy Birthday G.K. Chesterton!

One of the very best 20th century Thomists and an exceptionally penetrating and entertaining writer. From an NLT perspective, readers should begin with ORTHODOXY and WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA (which is the second best book written by a foreign observer about our country and is actually much closer to Harry Jaffa in letter and spirit than Tocqueville is).

You ask, we respond

Here’s a link to Jim Ceaser’s essay from May, 2006, and to a transcript of the discussion it provoked. Here are two previous posts. My TAE Online essay should be here, but the site is currently down and may be down for the count. For what it’s worth, here’s the Google cache of my essay.

Another commencement address

This one, by Leon Kass at St. John’s College, Annapolis. It is very much worth reading as it canvasses our biotechnological challenges in a manner that Johnnies would find congenial.    

Hat tip: Our friend, RC2.

Are Most People too Dumb to Think Like Economists?

That’s what one study shows, and what Pat Deneen denies. (Click on Pat’s NYT link for the study.) Actually, Pat doesn’t deny the inability of most people to think like economists. It’s just that economists aren’t as smart as they think they are. Once again, Dr. Pat is somewhat too promiscuous in his anti-capitalist moralism, but he’s always worth our attention.

The Conspiracy IS Unraveling

Two items in the press today are worth noting for their confluence near the heart of the grand strategy of the VRWC: Peter Berkowitz muses in the Wall Street Journal about why the Left doesn’t exhibit much debate about fundamental political ideas any more, while the Right is constantly engaged in internal debate between its various factions. This is not a new theme--Jonah Goldberg has been reflecting on this for some time now--but Peter offers some hypotheses worth considering, namely, that Bush has, quite simply, driven the Left out of its mind. (In passing, I note that while Berkowitz discusses Russell Kirk, F.A.Hayek and Leo Strauss as providing the core teachings for the three mains strains of conservatism, the Wall Street Journal only includes a photo of Hayek with the article. Is this a not-so-subtle sign of where the WSJ editorial page aligns itself??)

Meanwhile, the WaPo’s Richard Cohen calls Bush a "neoliberal," noting that the apparent failure of the Iraq war "will be cited to smother any liberal impulse in American foreign policy" for years to come. Hmmm. Cohen is getting dangerously close to the heart of the matter, which is that Bush is secretly a liberal double-agent, designed to discredit what remains of liberalism by adopting some of its historical themes, while driving liberals out of their minds at the same time. Reagan got liberals to abhor deficit spending, which bequesthed us the relatively sensible economic policy of Clinton. Now Bush is killing Wilson-FDR-JFK liberal internationalism. And liberals don’t see it. Intellectual liberalism is unreflective, and in the post-Bush era political liberalism will likely be incoherent. Time for Cheney’s goons to. . .

Reforming the University

Here’s a new website from the Manhattan Institute that promises to be a good place to wage war against assessment excesses, Spellings, and various other outrages.

A Dutch Kidney Game

Here’s the scoop on the the Big Donor show, which highlights desperate competition over a scarce human resource. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Berkowitz on the Conservative Mind Today

Peter explains that all Amrican conservatives love liberty and want to defend what’s best about liberal democracy as a form of government. But they’re divided on not only how best to preserve liberty, but on what human liberty is and what it is for. Peter presents the thought of three conservative giants--Hayek, Kirk, and Strauss--as sources of our three most important conservative intellectual factions. But here are a few problems among many: Hayek denied that he was a conservative; Kirk presented his conservatism as going against the American grain, and for Strauss the relationship between his devotion to classical natural right (living according to nature) and anti-Aristotelian or modern natural rights (based on the conquest or mastery of nature) is far from clear. And the Kirkians object to the Straussian jump from the classics to the moderns without any sustained account of the contributions of Roman law and Christian insight to our complex understanding of human liberty as unfaithful to our historical experience. The Straussians, meanwhile, respond that the Kirkians take refuge in tradition and piety to escape a real confrontation with the quite untraditional crisis of our time. More generally: Is it really true that Hayek, Kirk, and Strauss are our "big three" when it comes to our conservative thought?

Was it really thirty years ago?

Since Peter’s out today, I thought I’d take the liberty of calling your attention to something I wrote over the weekend about the immense positive impact that Star Wars had on my childhood.

Last night the History Channel ran a program called "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed", which detailed the mythical imagery that made the films so powerful. It was far from perfect; it spent entirely too much time on the vastly-inferior second trilogy, and never even mentioned how profoundly George Lucas was influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. Still, it was well worth viewing, particularly when Steven Colbert recalled how difficult it was at school the next day to describe the movie to his classmates.

A Bush Secretary of Education criticizes a Bush Secretary of Education

Last Friday, Lamar Alexander gave a speech in which he criticized the Spellings Commission. Here’s the core of his argument:

Instead of debating how many more regulations we need, if we really are serious about excellence and opportunity, we should be debating which regulations we can get rid of.

The question is whether you believe that excellence in higher education comes from institutional autonomy, markets, competition, choice for students, federalism and limited federal regulation or whether you don’t.

I believe it does. In fact, I have spent most of my public career arguing that we should borrow these principles from higher education where we have excellence and try them in k-12 where we too often don’t.

The other important point he made is that the changes proposed by the Spellings Commission are so sweeping that they should be initiated (if at all) legislatively, not administratively, as the DoE is attempting.

I’m giving him a quiet little standing ovation at my keyboard.


Andrew Ferguson lionizes a real amateur historian, James O. Hall. I am now, by the way, some seventy pages into Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln and I like it, although wish there would be more grit and sap to it.

Swiss minarets

Some prominent members of the Swiss People’s Party, the largest party in the country, want a national referendum on whether more minarets may be built. Just over 4% of the Swiss population is Muslim. Only two mosques have minarets (Zurich and Geneva), but the call to prayer is not made from these minarets. This, by Algis Valiunas, is related.

Computer War

I mentioned the Russia-Estonia computer war a week ago, now there is a bit more in today’s International Herald Tribune.

Saletan’s Period Piece

Here’s our most astute scientific commentator on the bloodless revolution. The feminists contend that menstruation can hardly be called the the natural condition of women, and Saletan reminds us of the most natural way to avoid regular periods. Arguably the new pill is technological liberation from a chronic condition that was also a social, technological construction. William also observes that the main reason women may find for liberating themselves from cylical tyranny is pleasing men by not inconveniencing them with their particularly female troubles.

Death and Politics

According to Jody Bottum the Hobbesian-Heideggerian focus on fear or anxiety in the face of one’s own death as the source of political life is a misinterpretation of human experience. The grief that comes with the death of others and "shared dead" are the true foundatons of human community, as well as the source of much of our killling. I actually don’t quite buy much of the article, but it is well worth discussing--maybe especially on Memorial Day.

AALE update

Thanks to our friend the Friar, here’s the latest on the American Academy for Liberal Education. Since the article in The Chronicle is only available temporarily, I’m quoting the principal paragraphs directly:

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has agreed to revoke the key accreditation authority of the American Academy for Liberal Education, upholding the recommendation of a federal advisory body that criticized the academy’s enforcement of academic standards.

The decision bars the academy from accrediting any new institutions or programs, effective July 10. Colleges need accreditation from organizations like the academy for their students to remain eligible for federally guaranteed student loans.


Ms. Spellings, in a letter dated April 30 but released by the department only on Thursday, said she agreed with the department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity that the American Academy for Liberal Education had repeatedly failed to meet federal operating guidelines established in 1965.

"The AALE has been cited consistently for either not having clear expectations or standards with respect to measuring student outcomes, or not collecting and reviewing data on how institutions it accredits measure student outcomes according to these policies," the secretary wrote in the letter.

The academy, however, has complained that it is being punished for failing to meet new standards for measuring student outcomes that the department has not yet enshrined in policy.


[An AALE representative said that] the penalty stems from the department’s efforts to begin imposing new requirements on the assessment of student outcomes without having finished the process of drafting them and establishing regulations for carrying them out.

The academy has an especially difficult challenge because the institutions it accredits require more-subjective measures of college success, [George Mason University Professor and AAALE Board member Lee] Fritschler said.

That factor, combined with the organization’s small size, made the academy an easy target for Ms. Spellings and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, he said.

To cite an organization for not enforcing standards the Department itself hasn’t yet developed is, of course, absolutely ridiculous. If I had to speculate on what’s really behind it (and having read the tedious transcript of a contentious meeting of the NACIQI at which AAL’s case came up), I’d say that relations between the illiberal educators and educrats on NACIQI and the AALE have not been good for quite some time. This is a twofer, as far as the former are concerned: they send a message to the accreditors they can’t afford to get rid of, and get rid of one they don’t much like.

To be sure, AALE could be reinstated, and I think they are trying to figure out what what satisfy the DoE (as, of course, is the DoE). What is necessary, I think, is pressure on the Department and on the Bush Administration from folks who support the mission of the AALE, which is to uphold something like the traditional liberal arts curriculum, and to do so with a rigor that isn’t readily susceptible to quantification.

Religion and nationhood on Memorial Day

President Bush’s Memorial Day Proclamation notes, as he has in the past, that today is supposed to be a day of prayer and remembrance.

Lest you regard this as further evidence of theocracy in the White House, consider these examples of past proclamations. The first such proclamation I can find in the most complete record of proclamations with which I’m familiar is JFK’s in 1961. There seems to be an unbroken tradition of proclamations since 1975.

General Logan’s Orders

Carolyn Garris reminds us of the origins and meaning of this day and that we should cherish "tenderly the memory of the heroic dead, who made their hearts a barricade between our country and our foes." Also, please read this by Peter Collier. Now I’m going to ride Isabella to a distant plot and befriend a brave stranger by placing some "choicest flowers of spring-time" on his resting place.

The Gore-Gingrich Comparison

Al and Newt are indignant that the preachy moralism of policy wonks can’t overcome the weight of their "personality traits" and "historical baggage," not to mention to the general public’s TV-driven preoccupation with the insignificant fates of prettier people. Still, Gore’s and Gingrich’s partisan presentation of real knowledge about weighty issues makes them both popular with their party’s base and easy targets for attack by the other party’s media. Fox amd NPR loves them both.

Immigrants and terrorism

The WaPo’s Sebastian Mallaby argues that national security concerns don’t belong in the immigration debate. Aside from the fact that the evidence he adduces isn’t to the point, the logic of his argument could also be used to abandon all concern with airline security. After all, only an extremely small proportion of airline passengers actually want to use the jets as weapons.

Update: This WaPo article might be cited as evidence for Mallaby’s contention, but only if you ignore the "broken windows" theory of dealing with crime. Here’s the report on which the article is based, and here’s a description of the agency that’s supposed to administer whatever program comes out of Congress.

I’m willing to draw four conclusions. First, the federal immigration bureaucracy is not currently up to the ask of dealing with the enormous paperwork flow comprehensive immigration reform will generate. Second, rhetoric to the contrary, it’s unlikely that the culture of the immigration bureaucracy has changed all that much since 9/11. Bureaucratic cultures are notoriously resistant to change, so this isn’t surprising. Third, nevertheless, anyting that makes the agency better and enables it to identify potential or actual security risks more efficiently and effectively helps make the country safer. We’ll catch a few and deter a few more, which is, needless to say, a good thing. Finally, and most importantly, all this suggests that turning the terror threat into a "law enforcement" problem and going on the defensive is folly. By all means, enforce the law, but that can be only a part of what we do.

Memorial Day hymn

I posted a link to this version last year. Here’s another.

Roberts commencement address

While I’m on a Supreme Court commencement tear, here’s a story about John Roberts’s commencement address (available soon) at Holy Cross this past weekend. He did answer questions posed by a couple of Holy Cross seniors. Here’s a sample of the Q&A:

Q: Are there any previous Chief Justices that serve as exemplars for your style of leadership in the court?

A: If you’re going into competitive cycling, you want to be like Lance Armstrong. If you play basketball, the model is Michael Jordan. Golf? Tiger Woods. If you’re going to be Chief Justice, you want to be like John Marshall. Now, I hasten to add that I am not saying I ever could be, any more than anyone who bikes, plays ball, or golfs thinks they could be like Armstrong, Jordan, or Woods. But Marshall is certainly the model to emulate, in his analytic rigor, coherent vision, collegial leadership, and dedication to both his country and the law. I also admire William Rehnquist because I had the opportunity to observe first hand his skill as a jurist and administrator.

Happy Birthday Walker Percy!

The philosopher-novelist is one of the founders of postmodern rightly understood (or American Thomistic realism). For those who have not read Percy, let me suggest that you begin with THE LAST GENTLEMAN and LOST IN THE COSMOS: THE LAST SELF-HELP BOOK.

Alito commencement addresses

At the Seton Hall Law School commencement on Friday, he spoke about religious tests (a covert Romney endorsement?) and at St. Mary’s College on Saturday the 19th he alluded to something like natural law.

Alito went on to say that the framers of the Constitution had a strong set of fundamental values and rights in mind, and that these rights were given to us by God.

“They believed that there are certain moral principles that are true and immutable, and that these principles of right and wrong are not relative or circumstantial. They’re not of our making, and it is not within our power to change them, even though we might find that very convenient.”

A couple of weeks ago, he apparently gave roughly the same address to the graduates of Hampden-Sydney, citing, among others Rodney Dangerfield.

If anyone can point me to transcripts of any of the addresses, I’d be grateful.

Update: To be clear, I suspect that the reference in the Seton Hall speech to religious tests has more to do with all the talk about the Catholicism of the two most recent nominees and about the Catholic majority on the Court, though I’d have to see the context to be surer than I am about that. This article is somewhat helpful in providing that context.

Not exactly quasi-religious

The WaPo’s Hanna Rosin, who has a forthcoming book on Patrick Henry College, describes the rising evangelical generation for which Monica Goodling, for better or worse, has become a poster child. There’s no doubt (should I emphasize that word?) that they work hard.

Other doubtless (should I emphasize that word?) hard workers include the militant atheists now topping the best seller lists (would that be fiction or non-fiction?). Of course, it would be worth comparing the "mainstream" and "Christian" best seller lists to see who’s really selling the most books, but that would too much to ask of an AP reporter.

Hat tip: our friend, the Friar.

The American

It is the centenary of The Duke today. Here is Ronald Reagan on The Duke (from 1979), and there is plenty more on the page. As Marion Morrison he had an Airdale named "Little Duke" and they were inseperable. Pretty soon everyone started called him "Big Duke" and then "Duke". The name stuck. Ronald Reagan said of John Wayne: "There’s right and there’s wrong," Duke said in The Alamo. "You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you may be walking around but in reality you’re dead." That’s exactly right. It is also the thing for which Wayne was always

criticized as an actor, lack of nuance. Come to think it, Europeans have always criticized Americans for lack of nuance. Perfect.

This is Why I Love Peggy Noonan

Read her here on immigration. Thanks to Richard Reeb at The Remedy for reminding me to read her today. Whatever you may think about some of her specific policy recommendations (and I have, on occasion, thought that some of them were pretty bad) there is always this about her: she never forgets to at least try and blend the perfect mixture of hard truth with sweet, American grace. When it works, there is a kind of womanly magic in it that is difficult to resist. There is a touch of magic in this piece, I think. Whatever the real truth about what ought to be done regarding immigration is, it ought to include a healthy portion of this ingredient in it.


Quasi-conservative David Brooks writes about the worldly success of the quasi-religious. He’s probably right that, so long as people live on their accumulated moral and communal capital, they’ll be relatively successful in this world. But he doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that, over time, they’ll fritter it away. And he also seems to overlook the possibility that sincere, orthodox, and thoughtful folks can also do quite well in this world, even if it’s not their principal aim.

You can find an abstract of the paper on which he bases some of his conclusions here. I have questions about whether his two principal "data points" actually describe the same people:

First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don’t. As Margarita Mooney, a Princeton sociologist, has demonstrated in her research, they work harder and are more engaged with campus life. Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don’t.

Both are plausible as observations, but I wonder whether the causality works the same way in both cases. Students from "denominations that encourage dissent," for example, may also come from educated families that encourage hard work for purely secular or worldly reasons.

I’ve contacted Dr. Mooney to ask for a copy of the paper from which Brooks draws his evidence. I’ll let you know what I think if and when I receive it.

Good Memorial Day Reading

For Memorial Day, I’ve been reading this wonderful book by Stephen Ambrose about the American soldiers in WWII. It offers a wonderful and descriptive account of the battles in Europe and of the character of the men who fought in them. What I love, especially, about the book is the suggestions (which they tend to be more than conclusions) about how the nature and character of the American fighting man lent itself more toward victory than did that of the Axis men--or even the other allies. The descriptions of the initiative taken by men in the field are truly inspiring and breathtaking.

As a companion to this volume--if you’re more in a Civil War mode--examine this volume by James M. McPherson. This book is wonderful for all kinds of reasons but--especially if, like me, you’re inclined toward a more Yankee view of the conflict. It is good to be reminded of what was good and noble--and American--on both sides. If read before you read the Ambrose volume, you can see a continuum and parallels between the soldiers (on both sides) of that time and those of WWII. Such a book should be written about the soldiers of our current war . . . or perhaps one has already been written and I just don’t know about it. If so, do let me know.

Greatness of Soul

Here’s a comment I got on the thread below:

A quick and obvious point in light of the discussion on No Left
Turns: Aristotle’s treatment of the magnanimous man in the Ethics for
the most part oscillates between a report of what he thinks of himself
and what other non-magnanimous men say about him. Unlike the discussion
of Socrates’ magnanimity in the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle here
largely treats magnanimity from the perspective of the city and hence
political life. I agree with you that as Aristotle tends to present him
in the Ethics, the magnanimous man is the paradigmatic example of the
overly stuffed shirt-he thinks (and others think he thinks) that nothing
is greater than himself and that no one can perform the great deeds he
can. For this reason, he is "slow to act and procrastinates, except
when some great honor is at stake; his actions are few but they are
great and distinguished"-interestingly in this last statement Aristotle
speaks in his own name. As you point out, the magnanimous man tends to
think about himself in abstraction from everyone else; this explains his
belief in his own self-sufficiency. And as you also note, this is most
obviously the case in his indifference or unwillingness to wonder and
our related need for love and friendship. Yet, to me, Aristotle
presents the magnanimous man as being aware of a chink in his armor; in
particular he seems to have nagging doubts and perhaps a begrudging
recognition of his greatness resting on others. To the extent that he
thinks in terms of great political actions, the magnanimous man must on
some level recognize that he is dependent on the city and its
citizens-at least in terms of it providing opportunities-for his
actions. His estimation of himself rests in part on his, to be sure,
unstated recognition that he must live with other men in order to act
magnanimously and in order to be honored as magnanimous. One cannot
really think of himself as a magnanimous man if he lives alone or among
a small group of human beings. Rather, he needs the venue on which his
"great and distinguished" actions can be performed and put on display.
This also raises the related problem of potential frustrations that
would nag a man who thinks he may be magnanimous: what if one lives at a
time when "great and distinguished" actions are not needed or called
for-this obviously gets expressed in your criticism of the end of
history thesis. But apart from the fictive and undesirable nature of an
end of history, it may well be the case that the greatest external
impediment to magnanimity is the failure of a human being to live in
truly interesting-hence humanly fertile-times.

Culture of (not investigating allegations of) corruption?

This morning, after this story in The, the Atlanta paper finally "investigated" the tangled web of Rep David Scott’s (D-GA) campaign finances. The AJC story consists largely in uncritically reporting the Scott camp’s explanations of documentary evidence that, according to the paper, "has been anonymously circulated among news organizations, including the Journal-Constitution, in recent months."

Scott is moderate and well-connected (his brother-in-law is Hank Aaron). The latter fact by itself may explain why no one locally bothered to look into these documents. But I can’t help thinking that the AJC and the national press would have been all over similar allegations about any Republican. In this case, it took a national story by an up-and-coming political website to provoke my somnolent local paper to file even a cursory report.

Where’s the pushback?

Kimberley A. Strassel asks whether any GOP Senators other than Arlen Specter (!?!) are paying attention to Chuck Schumer.

Bad rhetoric

Michael Gerson writes a clever op-ed against those who oppose the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. In a poker game his argument would be called a four-flush, if I remember correctly (never having used it myself!). It is not a choice between rage and national chauvinism vs. our common humanity; or Tancredo vs. Kennedy. (Never mind Christian faith and common humanity). I need a strong cigar.

Will on immigration

I don’t know how you answer this argument--at least not cogently--without asserting a universal right to American citizenship.

If you want to try to adjudicate the central dispute, here are the Heritage Foundation study and the WSJ editorial reply.

And while you’re at it, you might as well read this Heritage piece about Z visas.

Update: Heritage’s Robert Rector responds to the WSJ.

Finger Length and SAT scores?

The study referenced in this story claims that the length of your index finger relative to your ring finger is a good predictor for how one will do on the SAT. If your ring finger is longer than your index finger, they say, one is likely to do better in math than in language; and vice versa. For the record: my index finger is longer, and I my old SAT scores attest to the fact that I am allergic to math.

York on Romney’s Surge in Iowa and New Hampshire

Byron acknowledges Mitt’s clear and expanding leads in these two early-primary/caucus states, while adding that he’s lagging behind in the national polls. York’s opinion is that with the new mega-primary of February 5, which features some big states, the early primary results will be less important this time. That observation ignores most of the recent historical experience about primaries: The momentum gained by early victories in relatively tiny states can quickly turn those national polls around. But part of momentum is doing better than expected, and that’s why (as ol’ Howard Dean remembers) it may not be so great to be dominating Iowa at this point. Mitt conceivably may be peaking too soon, as John Edwards probably also is in Iowa. In New Hampshire, though, studies show that the famous independent vote that carried McCain to victory in 2000 will vote Democratic this time, and that will surely be to Mitt’s (and not, say, McCain’s or Giuliani’s) advantage.

The Real Threat on Our Borders

Forget Mexifornia . . . for a minute anyway. The real threat or--to be more precise--the more imminent threat, is that posed by the kind of illegal immigration discussed in this series of articles by Todd Bensman in the San Antonio Express News. It is a four-part series--all of it enlightening and frightening. It should be referenced whenever confronting any senator or congressman who thinks building the fence is just "window dressing."

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Bensman yesterday on his program and the links to the rest of the series are within the link to him above. You can read the transcript of the interview here.

Hewitt only heard about the series because a listener in San Antonio emailed him the link. He was immediately intrigued and broadcast the interview yesterday. Today, I am sure, it will be picked up by bloggers all over the place. Isn’t it an amazing world we live in?

Whatever happened to...?

Our old Southern Appeal friend, Steve Dillard? Read this. His site isn’t active yet.

Edwin Arlington Robinson bio

Robinson said "poetry is a language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that cannot be said." Not bad. I’m reading Scott Donaldson’s new biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson. I like it. He seems to understand that while most great artists are great only in their art (this is why it’s good we know next to nothing about Shakespeare’s life), yet EAR was also a good man. I like Reuben Bright, Calverly’s, and The Unforgiven.

A New Drug Allows Women to Be Pro-Choice on Periods

Do we know enough--physically or psychologically--to use this power to abolish the menstrual cyle for the real benefit of women? (Thanks again to Rob Jeffrey.)

Pope Al excommunicates religious conservatives

In the course of a conversation with Larry King (hat tip: my favorite liberal Baptist), Al Gore says this in the context of a discussion of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism:

GORE: ...I don’t think it’s a fair issue. I really don’t. I would like to think we are past that. People say, well, this is a special case. I don’t think it’s a special case. I think that he’s entitled to his own beliefs. And incidentally, Larry, in "The Assault on Reason" there is a very long hard-hitting section on this that goes back to our founding fathers, goes back to the debates that we had more than 200 years ago about why religion should be kept out of the way in which our decisions are made.

Except to the extent that individuals, of course, who are motivated by their religious faith, as I am, as so many people are, are going to make that a part of their decisions. But here’s the critical distinction. When America was founded, they -- our founders said, OK look, we are not going to pretend that whoever is elected to office has been ordained by the almighty to be the decision maker. The person who is elected is elected by us, the people of this country. And the divine right of kings was rejected by the founders of the United States.

And what replaced that, the divine right of individuals in this sense, we believe that we are all created equal. And that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. So the relationship that our founders believed was appropriate for -- between America and God was their belief that every individual has certain rights and has dignity because that person is a child of God.

Now, for those who don’t believe in God, I’m not proselytizing. I’m just telling you what I believe and what our founders believed. But what -- but this has been twisted around in recent times by some people who want to convey the impression that God belongs, if not to a particular political party, that God has a particular political ideology and that those who disagree with a right-wing approach to this or that are against God.

That is an anti-American view. That is completely contrary to the spirit of America. It is an American heresy and people in both parties ought to reject that and fight against it.

As I was reading the penultimate paragraph, I was thinking--why, he’s going to condemn the religious Left! But of course not, in Gore’s book, only folks on the religious right can be guilty of drawing a straight line from religious precepts to policy prescriptions. And then note the orthodoxy he establishes: those folks on the religious right are "anti-American," engaging in "an American heresy." What would he say if conservatives said that liberals were "anti-American" and engaging in "an American heresy"? Would he be willing to say that any Muslim who called for the application of sharia law in the U.S. was "anti-American" and engaging in "an American heresy"?

Gerson on Giuliani

Rudy’s abortion stand, Michael claims, is muddled. I’m not sure the evidence Gerson presents supports that conclusion: He actually shows the principled difference between Giuliani and Stephen Douglas. Douglas said that the Constitution "don’t care" about slavery, and so each state and territory can decide for itself. Rudy might but doesn’t follow Scalia in saying something similar about abortion. Instead, he makes it clear that abortion is an individual right, and so that states may not legislate--or at least legislate much--to restrict it. People can disagree on abortion--and Rudy is personally against it--but they can’t use the law to impose their opinion on others. Douglas clearly thought that the voters in Kansas and Nebraska and every other state and territory could use the law to impose their opinion on slavery--allowing it or outlawing it--on a dissenting minority. For Douglas, "pro-choice" meant let the people (the majority) decide one way or another. For Rudy, "pro-choice" means each woman has the right to decide on this controversial issue for herself. Rudy has become clear enough, and social conservatives who just want a competent guy who can win have to face up to that fact. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

Liberal education seminar update

I’ve got a brief post on my seminar experiences at Knippenblog. Comments, thoughts, and prayers are welcome.

Muslims in the U.S.: Pew Survey

I’ve only begun to read this Pew survey of U.S. Muslims, but the bits that I have read suggest relatively successful economic assimilation and somewhat less successful (though better, on the whole, than Europe) cultural adjustment. I’d be interested in the comments of others who can plow through it more quickly than I can.

Update: There is a potential problem with Muslim youth:

In addition, the survey finds that younger Muslim
Americans – those under age 30 – are both much more religiously observant and more accepting of Islamic extremism than are older Muslim Americans. Younger Muslim Americans report attending services at a mosque more frequently than do older Muslims. And a greater percentage of younger Muslims in the U.S. think of themselves first as Muslims, rather than
primarily as Americans (60% vs. 41% among Muslim Americans ages 30 and older). Moreover, more than twice as many Muslim Americans under age 30 as older Muslims believe that suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified in the defense of Islam (15% vs. 6%).

A pattern of greater acceptance of suicide bombing among young Muslim Americans corresponds with the Pew
Global Attitude Project’s findings among Muslims in Great Britain, France, Germany and Spain. In contrast, surveys among
Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world do not show greater tolerance of suicide bombing among young people.

Are these theoretical jihadis, sort of like those who still romanticize Che Guevara, or are we talking about potential al Qaeda recruits or imitators?

Catholic things

As an interested non-Catholic observer, I note the incisive USCCB response to the "unfortunate" Catholic lawmakers’ statement I reported here. I think the bishops get the better of the exchange, both on the religious merits, as I understand them, and on the constitutional/political merits (where I am on more solid ground).

The other piece to which I wish to call attention doesn’t begin in an especially Catholic way, celebrating (as it does) Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is what amounts to a kind of commencement address by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, speaking, as he says, "as a private Catholic citizen." This passage in particular is powerful:

People who take the question of human truth, freedom and meaning seriously will never remain silent about it. They can’t. They’ll always act on what they believe, even at the cost of their reputations and lives. That’s the way it should be. Religious faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has social consequences, or it isn’t real. And this is why any definition of “tolerance” that tries to turn religious faith into a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of personal opinions that we can have at home but that we need to be quiet about in public, is doomed to fail.

The mentality of suspicion toward religion is becoming its own form of intolerance. I have seen a kind of secular intolerance develop in our own country over the past two decades. The modern secular view of the world assumes that religion is superstitious and false; that it creates division and conflict; and that real freedom can only be ensured by keeping God out of the public square.

But if we remove God from public discourse, we also remove the only authority higher than political authority, and the only authority that guarantees the sanctity of the individual. If the twentieth century taught us anything, it’s that modern states tend to eat their own people, and the only thing stopping this is a resistance based in the human spirit but anchored in a higher authority—which almost always means religious witness.

But wait, there’s more:

The word religion comes from the Latin word religare—to bind. Religious believers bind themselves to a set of beliefs. They submit themselves to a community of faith with shared convictions and hopes. A community of believers has a common history. It also has a shared purpose and future that are much bigger than any political authority. And that has implications. Individuals pose no threat to any state. They can be lied to, bullied, arrested, or killed. But communities of faith do pose a threat. Religious witness does have power, and communities of faith are much harder to silence or kill.

This is why active religious faith has always been so distrusted and feared by every one of the big modern ideologies—whether it’s Marxism, or fascism, or the cult of selfishness and comfortable atheism that we see in Europe and the United States today. What we believe about God shapes what we believe about the human person. And what we believe about the human person has consequences—social, economic, and political consequences.

He goes on to speak about the serious limits of toleration as a hallmark for the interaction between religious believers, believers in the true religion, and non-believers. Toleration, he says, is "not a Christian virtue." To understand his alternative, you’ll have to read the whole thing.    

Greatness of Soul: Its Limitations

I’m trying quickly to finish up a chapter on Tocqueville and magnanimity, and I’m opening with Aristotle. Here’s my summary of the implicit Aristotelian criticism of that the magnanimous man. Let me know what you think, and I apologize for the writing. It’s a rough draft yadda yadda:

The genuine experience of greatness comes through the cooperation of the rational and spirited parts of the soul. Aristotle shows that it reaches its peak through its abstraction or diversion from the erotic part of the soul, the part that reveals to us our dependence on and gratitude to others, our need for love and friendship, our limitations and incompleteness as solitary beings, the perverse futility of all our striving for self-sufficiency, and our wondrous openness to the truth about all things. The great-soul man unreasonably refuses to understand himself as a being who is born and will die, and he is, in some measure, in willful rebellion against what he really knows about the contingency of his own existence—especially on his own.

Just How Smart Are Fifth Graders?

A number of my friends have told me about this television show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? In the program, grown-up contestants are asked perfectly ordinary questions from elementary school textbooks in subjects like math, geography, science, and history. Adding to the spectacle, the host commends the contestant’s courage when they choose to answer a question typically asked of a nine-year-old, rather than tackling one of the questions ordinarily asked of seven-year-olds. To give you an example of the difficulty of the game, in a recent episode the $500,000 question was: “What Revolutionary leader wrote the influential pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ in 1776?” A half-a-million dollars to know Thomas Paine? You Americans!

While it is entertaining enough to watch adults try to remember what it is that they inevitably learned when they were in grade school, it is not amusing to discover that many current students don’t know the basics of American history. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued its National Assessment of Educational Progress. The results are disheartening. 73% of twelfth-graders scored below the proficient level in civics, 78% of eighth-graders scored below the proficient level, and 76% of fourth-graders scored below that level. To put this into perspective, 72% of eighth graders could not explain the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. This is a national tragedy.

We Americans—unlike citizens of other countries—need teachers to teach us what it means to be an American. We need to be reminded that this country was founded on the principles of liberty and right, on a solemn declaration that we ordinary human beings are capable of governing ourselves. And this is what the Ashbrook Center does. We teach undergraduates and high school teachers what it means to be an American, and uniquely enable school teachers to pass on this knowledge to their students. But we can’t do it without your help. Your gift will help us to preserve this nation’s heritage, so please make a tax-deductible contribution today to help us in this vital mission. After that, you can match your wits against fifth graders by playing the trivia game here.

Nativism, Anti-Catholicism, and Strict Separationism

Here’s a pithy and penetrating summary of the classic Hamburger argument concerning the true history of religious liberty in our country so far.

In my unwavering effort to be perfectly fair and balanced, I’m adding, at Paul Seaton’s suggestion, Tom West’s positive but critical review of Hamburger--he’s sort of a Hamburger helper. I’m not as sure as Tom is that Hamburger is too hard on Jefferson, because I think Tom puts too much weight on the single ambiguous quotation that talks about our liberties being the gift of the wrathful God from NOTES ON VIRGINIA. I do like the image of Jefferson being caught between manly Lockeanisn and the trendy atheism of the French Enlightenment, although I think Tom underplays Locke’s effort to subvert the creaturely self-undestanding central to Christian faith. No doubt the truth on Jefferson is somewhere in between West and Hamburger.

Barone Says the Immigration Compromise Is Progress

To be fair and balanced, we should take notice when the astute Michael attempts to correct common conservative opinion. (Thanks again to Ivan the K.)

Confessions of a Secular Pro-Lifer

If we really don’t know when life begins, as the Supreme Court says, then the logical conclusion is that we should err on the side of caution. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Allan Bloom’s Nietzschean Nihilism

Here’s our friend Darwinian conservative Larry on Allan’s nihilism and the nihilists who love him.

Generational change among evangelicals and their leaders

This NYT article uses the occasion of Jerry Falwell’s death to take stock of the rising generation of evangelical leaders (and followers). We learn that they’re not as political and that they have a broader agenda, not restricted to the culture war issues of their predecessors. But the culture war issues are still there and still, in the words of the unreadable Rick Warren, "nonnegotiable" (at least for the most part: there seems to be some question about gay marriage among some younger evangelicals).

It seems to me that President Bush and Senator Brownback have, on the broader agenda, tried to show how Republicans and conservatives can respond. If Republicans and conservatives don’t pay attention, they may find themselves losing the allegiance of these folks, without comparable replacements from elsewhere in the electorate; libertarians aren’t going to do it. I’m far from suggesting that Republicans and conservatives uncritically adopt the proposals that evangelicals have themselves uncritically adopted. But they can reach out and educate, offering analyses and solutions that reflect conservative judgments about the way the world works. The, for example, a well-worked out version of Bush’s "Opportunity Society," which focuses on opportunity and personal responsibility, and on the role of civil society in addressing human needs, is a plausible, and indeed powerful, alternative to the nanny-statism offered by Democrats and liberals.

In a nutshell, Republicans and conservatives can’t assume that noises--and even some action--about the conservative evangelical social agenda will be sufficient to keep those folks happily touchng the screens in the right places. They should aggessively develop and articulate market-oriented responses to evangelical concerns about poverty, the environment, and so on.

The Spellings Commission again

When a card-carrying member of the academic establishment goes after the Spellings Commission Report, the contrarian in me is tempted to defend it.

But he’s right:

Last fall the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education—the so-called “Spellings Commission”—released its report, meant to be a bold outline for how higher education in America should be reformed to meet the needs of students and the nation in the 21st century. Instead, it is in its major thrusts in my view a national embarrassment.


The medicines proposed for curing the problems will in most cases only make things worse. I focus here on the Commission’s total failure to provide any guidance on what a high-quality, 21st century higher education should in fact be. There are only brief suggestions in the report that reading, writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, mathematical and scientific literacy should be important learning outcomes from higher education. In contrast, much more space is devoted to the need the Commission sees to reduce barriers students might encounter as they seek to transfer credits from one institution to another or from for-profit institutions to traditional colleges and universities even as institutions are criticized for rates of retention to graduation that are too low. The vision of higher education suggested in the report is a cafeteria, “grab and go” system about as far removed from intentional, serious, dedicated, and demanding study as one can get. And in the entire document, the word “faculty” is used only once, in an aside, as if the future strength and vitality of the nation’s professoriate were somehow irrelevant to creating and sustaining excellent higher education in the 21st century.

I doubt he’d want to see an updated, higher education version of "A Nation at Risk,", but he’s surely correct that the Spellings Commission ultimately has little to say about what’s most important in American higher education--its intellectual and cultural content.

Update: Here, by way of contrast, is a Bush appointee who has a clue about higher education, and education generally.

A Liberal View of Why Most Artists Are Liberal

Unlike conservatives, they see that the people on both sides of any conflict are equally human. The more human the characters, the better the story. To which the southern conservative characteristically responds: Liberals are in love either with humanity in general or with equally abstracted or contentless individuals; it’s particular people they can’t stand. But we’re still left with the fact that most artists--even excellent ones--pride themselves in being in some sense on the left.

Carter’s careless remarks

Jimmy Carter offers the "blogger’s excuse" for his irresponsible remarks about the Bush Administration. Here’s a little more on the Bush Administration’s response and on Carter’s graceless criticism of Tony Blair (which puts GWB in some good company).

As White House press officer Tony Fratto said today, "I think it just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words." We bloggers sometimes engage our fingers before putting our minds in gear, and have the luxury of doing so because we’re basically pretty obscure. We can apologize and revise as part of a larger conversation. (See this magnanimous example, for instance.) But as a more public figure, Jimmy Carter doesn’t have that luxury. His initial sensationally irresponsible words were reported worldwide, but his partial retraction (weaselly, if you ask me) won’t get the same coverage.

If you want to watch the video of Carter’s clarification, go here, and note how, in the accompanying story, HRC stops short of actually criticizing Carter’s remarks:

"I’ve had a lot of criticism of the Bush administration as well, and have used some strong descriptions," Clinton said. "I am going to continue to criticize the President. I think it is the duty of every American to speak out when you feel strongly that your president is heading in the wrong direction. I think we need a debate in this country, and I think that’s what is going on ... I welcome everyone for that."

Selective Reductions and the Truth about Abortion

Yesterday’s Washington Post Magazine article Too Much to Carry? is astounding for its straightforward account of "selective reduction," where modern technology enables doctors to help women get pregnant with a monumental catch: if in vitro fertilization (IVF) produces more embryos than the mother wants, the doctor improves the chances of a successful delivery of the wanted babies "by sacrificing [the unwanted] fetus in utero." By showing the mother a sonogram of the 12-week-old fetuses, the doctor and mother determine which fetuses live and which are "sacrificed" so that the others have a greater chance of survival. Most telling is the reaction of the mothers who see and recognize exactly what is entailed in this procedure:

Greenbaum turned the screen toward the patient. "That’s the little heartbeat," she said, pointing to the area where a tiny organ was clearly pulsing. "And there are the little hands. There’s the head. The body."

"Oh, my God, I can really see it!" the patient cried. "Oh, my God! I can see the fingers!"

"Okay!" she said, abruptly, gesturing for the screen to be turned away. She began sobbing. There were no tissues in the room, so her husband gave her a paper towel, which she crumpled to her face. The patient spent the rest of the procedure with her hospital gown over her face, so she would not see any more of what was happening.

WHAT WAS HAPPENING WAS DAY ONE OF A TWO-DAY PROCESS, in which one of the woman’s three fetuses would be eliminated through an injection of potassium chloride, which stops the fetal heart.

Here’s what the article goes on to describe in the procedure:

Destroying a fetus requires three hands: one to hold the ultrasound transducer on the patient’s belly; one to inject the needle and maneuver it into a position near the fetal heart; another to draw out the metal rod at the core of the needle and replace it with the vial of potassium chloride. . . . [Dr.] Evans worked for a while trying to get the needle into the right spot.

"I’m not in," he said at one point, tensely. Then he pinned [Fetus] C with the needle, and pushed the plunger to release the chemical. The fetus, which had been undulating and waving, went still. It would remain in the womb, while the other fetuses grew and developed.

"Let’s check the other two," Evans said, and they moved the transducer to see the other two fetuses, still there, still waving, two hearts beating, unaware of what had just happened to the sibling they would never have. "Do you want to see your twins?" he asked the patient.

"I don’t want to see the other one," the woman said quickly.

Here’s what the doctor’s assistant said:

Still, she says: "It’s a very hard procedure, because the baby is moving, and you are chasing it. That is what is very emotional--when the baby is moving and you are chasing it.

"Do you still feel emotional?" she asked [Dr.] Evans.

"I’ve come to look at it as: The finished product has a much better chance of surviving," replied Evans, who had been following the conversation intently. "Look, you never want to dehumanize it, because then you get cavalier. You have to keep the big picture in mind. We’re not losing one. We’re saving some."

Dr. Evans justifies this procedure as follows:

Evans has written articles arguing that it is ethical to reduce a twin pregnancy. After all, he said, if it’s okay to reduce from one to none--that is, if you support abortion rights--then two to one should be okay, too. The idea is still controversial. "Twenty years ago, the ethical debate was with triplets. But now, as far as I’m concerned, there is no doubt about triplets, and the ethical debate has moved to twins."

Doctor Evans is no fool; he knows exactly what he is doing, consulting with a bioethicist early on to consider the moral ramifications of a procedure he originated. He basically considers selective reduction a form of triage: since he can help some of the embryos come to term better than getting all of them to term, he does not consider the act an abortion, as abortion terminates a pregnancy while what he does continues the pregnancy. As I say, Evans is no fool. Here’s what he calls the fetus they decide to kill:

Evans plunged the second needle into Emma’s belly. "See the tip?" he said, showing the women where the tip of the needle was visible on the ultrasound screen. Even I could see it: a white spot hovering near the heart. [Fetus] D was moving. Evans started injecting. He went very slowly. "If you inject too fast, you blow the kid off your needle," he explained.

After reading Hadley Arkes’s excellent letter to the Wall St. Journal editor (5/17/07) entitled "We See Real Human Beings Killed" (which commented inter alia on embryology and humanity), then reading this piece above on selective reductions(excepted from Liza Mundy’s new book, Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Men, Women, and the World), I thought it timely, more than timely, to bring this affecting, must-read essay to our attention.

UPDATE: Checkout this link, which provides the on-line discussion the author had with readers about her article on Monday.

Romney Boring at Hillsdale

Mitt had problems with content, continuity, and delivery. He’s the opposite of the current president: Good at ad libbing but deadwood with a prepared text.
The remedy: Practice and a punchy, pithy writer. Tall and handsome, to tell the truth, isn’t enough.

Dr. Pat on Our Irresponsibility and Self-Indulgence

Deneen explains that it’s more and more common for all sorts of Americans to be easy marks for easy credit rip-offs. This time, he predicts, we won’t be able to "grow" our way our of our indebtedness, and we’re probably heading for a fall.

It’s the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love!

According to this author, one view favored by intellectuals is that everything was childish and narcissistic about the hippies but their political activism. Such philistines know nothing of art and culture. It’s true enough that it’s tough to engage in political life while on LSD (I hear). But there really is a lot to be said for the music of the late sixties, except when it got (overtly and immediately) political. The most childish and narcissistic part of the late sixties was the new leftist political activism. (That’s not true, of course, of the early sixties.)

Mitt Continues to Surge in Iowa

Romney has opened up a 12 point lead over McCain. Don’t tell me that his height and good looks have nothing to do with it. Brownback, by the way, is clearly tanking in a state that should be favorable to him.

And on the Democratic side, the "preening weenie" (Edwards) now has a significant lead over both Obama and Clinton, with Richardson hitting double digits for the first time. Again, we see more evidence for members of our species’ hardwired preferences for good looks and expensive haircuts.

Immigrants on immigration

Some "John" (not Moser or von Heyking or any other John I know) wants us to read this Mark Steyn column, which is quite good.

And while you’re at it, read David Frum. Now we know what immigrants from the Anglosphere think.

Kaus on Bush’s Remarkable Achievement

Jimmy Carter is certainly wrong that President Bush is anywhere near the worst president of all time. But now he is probably the most unpopular. Kaus explains how he used the immigration semi-amnesty compromise (including an amnesty for back taxes!) to decimate most of his few remaining pockets of support. As Joe observes below, there’s no position more unpopular now than McCain’s combination of stay-the-course toughness in Iraq and softness on immigration. Note that I’m not talking about the merits of either position, and I have some admiration for the senator’s and the president’s courage. My thoughts are only about the effects on Republican chances in 2008.

Fred Thompson on Immigration

About the new "comprehensive" immigration bill in the Senate Fred Thompson says, "No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig, it’s not going to win any beauty contests." That’s a great line but it also effectively encapsulates his point: the bill is too "comprehensive" and unwieldy to be good. If 1000+ pages are needed to satisfy everyone here, you can bet that no one is going to be satisfied--except, perhaps, those who don’t really want anything done.

Thompson also makes the very sensible point that Congress really ought to focus entirely on regaining control of the border. It can worry about what to do about those who are already here later. But getting control of our border is both a matter of national security and of regaining the trust of the American people.

There is nothing in this piece that is groundbreaking or astonishing--except that it is coming from a potential presidential candidate. It is, it seems to me, exactly what a presidential candidate ought to say about immigration at this moment.

As for the running commentary on the Darwinian aspects of a Romney candidacy, I would say that while Thompson may not be as attractive as Romney I wonder if Romney might not be suffer, in the end, from looking just a little too handsome. Unless you are an intern with self-esteem issues, a president is not--after all--a potential mate. You are choosing him not to father your off-spring but to be something like (and I mean this very loosely) a father-figure to you. A handsome man like Romney may strike some as a bit too much; too polished and too put together. Can he roll with the punches? Will he be willing to get dirty or will he need to take a moment to slick down his hair? This is why I think John Edwards will never, ever be president. He’s the stereotypical preening weenie forever now--whether he actually is one or not. That reputation is going to stick and it is the kiss of death. Romney should do something to counter any perception of something like that now--but he can’t look phony doing it (a la John Kerry hunting).

Most ungracious ex-president ever

Does Jimmy Carter have any competition for this title?

Georgia Republicans and the presidential race

I know that straw polls are virtually meaningless, but this one, from Georgia’s GOP convention is interesting, as the top two vote-getters aren’t officially in the race. John McCain is at 2% (same as Ron Paul), which says something about the unpopularity of the great immigration compromise among Georgia GOP activists, despite the fact that both of Georgia’s Republican Senators tentatively support the bill, for what I regard as sound (if not necessarily airtight) political reasons. In this connection, see also this Corner post.

Senators Chambliss and Isakson say they’re making the most of their minority position, but that assumes that something worse would otherwise be inevitable. The two worse alternatives I can think of are the status quo and a bill without any real border security provisions. Of course, the status quo is only worse if you think you can’t effectively take advantage of the politics of the immigration issue in 2008. I’ve seen the polls (thanks, John and the non-vituperative commenters), but I haven’t yet seen a poll that suggests that, push comes to shove, immigration is one of the most salient issues. Consider, for example, these results, from a poll conducted about two weeks ago: illegal immigration comes in tenth in a list of seventeen issues that people might consider "extremely important" to their vote in 2008; if you add "very important" to that, it falls to twelfth. Perhaps the current brouhaha will change that and raise the salience of immigration, but I don’t at the moment think you can wage a successful presidential/national congressional campaign on that issue in 2008. (The Georgia GOP activists know that too: only 1% supported Tancredo.)

Returning for a moment to my reconstruction of the Chambliss/Isakson calculations: they clearly think that this is the best bill they can get in the foreseeable future, presumably because, right now, they have a hard time imagining that 2008 will be a good year for Republicans. A bill passed in 2009 and signed into law by President Clinton, Obama, or Edwards would likely be much worse. They’ve got that right, I’m sure. But how can they be certain that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President would pay any signficant attention to the triggers in this legislation (assuming it passes, which I still regard as highly unlikely)? They’d have to bet that a lot of effective border enforcement could be accomplished before the end of the Bush Administration, which is a pretty shaky proposition.

In a nutshell, 2006 made it next to impossible that anything the Republican base could be happy about, or even really live with, would become law. The questions folks should be asking have to do with why nothing could be accomplished in the 2005/6 legislative cycle. And there’s plenty of room for finger-pointing there.

Russians attack?

This Computer war between Russia and Estonia (or, rather, attack by Russia) started over the dismantling of a Soviet statue. NATO has been notified. "Events of this nature make a lot of people sit up," a NATO spokesman, Robert Pszczel, said in a telephone interview. "Today Estonia, tomorrow it could be somebody else."

Barnard Kouchner

This New York Times note on Sarkozy’s choice to be France’s new foreign minister is worth a read. Kouchner is a man of the left, but thrown out of the Socialist Party on Friday when he accepted Sarkozy’s appointment. A founder of Doctors Without Borders, he is also pro-American is some essential respects (I think). I will let John Zvesper say more about Kouchner and explain the intricacies of Sarkozy’s other cabinet appointments (and what they may have to do with the upcoming legislative elections).

Lincoln and today’s medicine

Could Lincoln have survived if today’s medical technology existed in 1865? The question was posed by
University of Maryland conference. Unsurprising conclusion.

Some comments on the Boot article

“Philippines and South Africa in the early 1900s to Malaya in the 1950s, El Salvador in the 1980s, and Northern Ireland in the 1990s.”

Boot mentions five cases. In four of them, the outside power was also the government. This meant that the outside, European or western power ran the politics. This is not the case in Iraq. The fundamental problem in Iraq is political.

“Sectarian murders are down two-thirds since January, though deaths from spectacular suicide bombings remain high.”

This is likely the result not of the surge but of a political decision by Shia leaders to curtail killing. Did the surge affect this political decision? If so, how? Can we sustain that effect?

“The army is the most effective and nonsectarian institution in Iraq. Although it has its share of woes, its combat performance has been improving, and it is less corrupt than the police.”

The historical evidence suggests that an Army can be good at dealing either with external enemies or internal enemies but not both. If the Army in fact substitutes for the police, then it will cease to be an Army. Is there any evidence that the U.S. military can train an effective police force?

“American advisers may unwittingly hold back the Iraqis in some instances by insisting they conform to the extraordinarily stringent standards of the U.S. armed forces--rules that, in terms of ethical conduct, are probably a good deal stricter than those previously employed by any army sent to quell any major insurgency in the long history of warfare.”

The abused prisoner in the case that Boot mentions apparently was a terrorist. How did the Iraqis know that before they abused him? Will they know that in all cases? If not, then abusing people to discover who the terrorists are is unlikely to build support for the new government. Will the abuse be handed out fairly or on a sectarian basis?

More Assessment of Assessment

Pardon me for being completely unmoved by the studies that constitute the alleged "National Assessment of Educational Progress" described below by Joe. I’m just too prejudiced against national assessment and national reports cards and tests of this sort proving anything at all. If the immigration civic education trigger has any kind of bureaucratic component, I’m completely against it. Consider what will happen to nationalized assessment when Hillary becomes president; it’ll be civic engagement run amok. (As soon as I develop a stable opinion on what to do about illegal immigration, I will be sure to express it. But back in the good old days of assimilation through hard work without a safety net, insensitive public education, and intrusive political parties the federal educational/assessment bureaucracy was inconspicuous by its absence.) (I’m posting this as a new entry rather than as a comment because I can’t get the site to accept a comment right now.)

What I’ll be doing next week

Co-leading a faculty seminar on liberal education. The point is to find a ground for collegiality and universality in something other than our contingent solidarity (as Rorty would put it).

History and civics testing

In 2006, students did marginally better in history and civics on the tests administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Here are the history and civics results, which are both rather unimpressive, to say the least. Consider, for example, this sequence of results in American history, in which no more than 2% of the students ever score at the advanced level and, by 12th grade, more than half score below basic. The results in civics are a little less disheartening, but, still, almost 30% or more of the students fall below basic.

Commentators in the NYT article want to talk about the emphasis in NCLB on reading and math. I’d love to have a conversation about the ability of public schools, relative to private and parental alternatives, to fulfill the civic mission that is offered as one of the principal arguments against school choice and vouchers.

Another conversation worth having would be based on the capacity of the schools to serve that civic mission for our legal, illegal, and legalized immigrant populations. Let’s talk about putting a civic education trigger in any "comprehensive" immigration reform.

What We Need to Do in Iraq

I’m posting this article by Max Boot, because my best source in Bagdad says it’s accurate in every important way. You’ve probably already seen it, but it’s still worth discussing.

The Darwinian Conservative Romney

Our friend Larry praises Mitt for his Arnhart-influenced embrace of "theistic evolution." (Ivan the K--who sent me this link--wonders whether theistic evolution can be understood as the natural scientific component of American Thomism. That’s certainly worth discussing. I’d certainly agree that the evolutionary facts that we actually know don’t rule out God, even the personal Creator described in the Bible. But Larry himself needs to be clearer on whether he thinks evolution is compatible with what the theologians call "particular providence.") Larry adds that sociobiological studies show that Romney--as the tallest and best-looking candidate--should be regarded as the favorite for the nomination.

Christian libertarianism?

W. James Antle III reviews Andy Olree’s The Choice Principle, which purports to make the Biblical case for the night watchman state. The thrust of Olree’s argument, as presented by Antle, seems to be that not only that we can’t eliminate all the stumbling blocks to decency, but that we shouldn’t, else our faith wouldn’t be a choice. It seems to me, stated this way, the argument proves too much. Does it mean, for example, that I should let my kids have unlimited access to the internet and cable tv, else their victory over temptation not be their own? Must everyone’s faith and character be tested in a literal charnel house?

I would certainly agree that not every vice can effectively be prohibited and punished by government, but cannot some virtues be encouraged and cultivated?

In general, it seems to me that Antle’s Olree (I’m going to order the book, and so can’t yet speak of without the qualifier) relies on an anthropology that is extremely voluntaristic, which is congenial to some evangelicals (especially those who folks in the Reformed tradition would characterize as Arminian), but not necessarily to Catholics or Calvinists.

Hat tip: The Corner.

Happy Birthday Karl Jozef Wojtyla

...or Pope John Paul II and one of the very, very few great men of our time.

What the polls say about immigration

Will immigration be the hot issue of 2008? Joe questioned whether that’s actually the case, and encountered the predictable maelstrom of the anti-immigration forces (including the equally predictable nastiness). But what does the public really think about the subject? Of course, most everyone likes buzzwords like "securing the border," and they generally don’t like terms like "amnesty," but what specific policies do Americans favor? Some useful figures are available here. A few highlights from the latest CNN poll:

Only 45 percent of Americans surveyed favor constructing a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border; 53 percent oppose it.

Forty-eight percent of those polled support some sort of "guest worker" program, while 50 percent oppose it.

A whopping 80 percent of those polled favor a program "that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay in this country and apply for U.S. citizenship if they had a job and paid back taxes"--which sounds a lot like amnesty to me. Only 19 percent oppose such a measure.

Now, none of this is to say that stronger enforcement measures aren’t needed, or that amnesty is necessarily sound policy. It’s just hard to argue that this is any sort of slam-dunk issue for the Republicans in 2008.

Social conservatives and Republicans

This dust-up between Ramesh Ponnuru and Thomas B. Edsall, prompted by the latter’s article on Giuliani, is illuminating. Needless to say, I agree more with Ponnuru. At the moment, national security ought to overshadow social issues. In addition, electability during an unpopular war ought to be a consideration, even for social conservatives. I’m not sold on anyone yet, but I am convinced that a Clinton or an Obama Administration would be bad for all the causes I hold dear.

Update: E.J. Dionne, Jr. calls a big tent and some creativity a crack-up, repeating his earlier insistence that only purity on abortion can define the Republican Party.

Abortion and mental health

This WaTi op-ed argues that there ought to be questions about any statement made by the American Psychological Association about the mental health consequences of abortion (or of carrying the child to term). Among other things, he offers these two tidbits:

Rewinding to 1969, the APA became an early player in the public debate with the following resolution:

WHEREAS, termination of unwanted pregnancies is clearly a mental health and child welfare issue, and a legitimate concern of APA; be it resolved, that termination of pregnancy be considered a civil right of the pregnant woman, to be handled as other medical and surgical procedures in consultation with her physician...


just over a year ago, a New Zealand based pro-choice researcher, David Fergusson, released a study that re-ignited the debate over the mental-health effects of abortion.

In a well-designed longitudinal study, Dr. Fergusson found abortion was associated with depression and other negative mental-health outcomes. Dr. Fergusson’s team criticized the APA’s position statement on abortion consequences, which stated, "Well-designed studies of psychological responses following abortion have consistently shown that risk of psychological harm is low. Some women experience psychological dysfunction following abortion, but post-abortion rates of distress and dysfunction are lower than pre-abortion rates."

Dr. Fergusson believed the APA position ignored results of studies such as his which found contradictory results.

For a 2006 article, I interviewed Dr. Nancy Russo, long-time APA luminary and defender of abortion rights, about Dr. Fergusson’s criticism of the APA position. Dr. Russo first asserted the evidence on mental-health outcomes was of clinical interest but had no bearing on abortion as a civil right. In other words, no matter what the consequences, abortion should be legal.

You might also consider these pieces by the same author.

Spirited liberal internationalism

Michael Gerson likes Tony Blair, in part because he says things like this:

"They [the terrorists] are prepared to play a long game," he told me, "and they believe that we are not."


"The reason why the stance of a lot of public opinion is quite defeatist in my view is because we are still saying, ’Well, they’ve got a point, we understand their grievance, maybe it is our fault.’ . . . We get rid of two of the most brutal and terrible dictatorships, who’ve killed hundreds of thousands of their people, we then say you can have a United Nations-backed process of democracy -- and you say that provoked them to terrorism. I mean, explain that one for me."


"If those two external elements [al Qaeda and Iran] were not there, this thing [Iraq] would be very nearly manageable," Blair told me. "Sometimes you have to come to a very simple conclusion, which is that your enemies decided to fight you."

Gerson closes by citing something that probably comes from Harvey C. Mansfield’s The Spirit of Liberalism:

Thirty years ago, Harvard political theorist Harvey Mansfield mockingly asked, "Who today is called a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?" By this high standard, Tony Blair is a liberal.

Gerson’s evident admiration for this side of Blair says a lot about him, and about his former employer as well. If my other choices are crabbed isolationism, heartless realism, and internationalist pacifism, then I choose this.

Immigration reform?

Some people are deeply unhappy with the bipartisan immigration deal announced yesterday.

Given its complexity, and the multiple issues about which one constituency or another is unhappy, I would be very surprised if anything like it made its way through the legislative labyrinth. It’s perhaps likelier that Democrats will use their power in Congress to make changes that, I expect (or is it hope?), will make the bill unpalatable to its current Republican supporters. Consider, in that connection, this apparently representative Democratic sentiment:

"We need to find a system that values and honors the work of all," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (Ill.), who is one of the Democrats entrusted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with developing a House bill. "The landscaper is just as important as the computer scientist."

I honor and respect the landscaper, as a human being, as much as I do the computer scientist, but to the degree that immigration reform is about economics, I value the work of the computer scientist more than that of the landscaper. I would expect (hope?) that Republicans would walk away from a reform bill that isn’t hard-nosed at its core (with hospitable and humanitarian provisions, to be sure, but at the margins, else we adopt a measure that in principle swallows our national identity).

One last point and, for the moment, I’m done. In 2006, immigration activists didn’t do well at the polls (see, for example, J.D. Hayworth). Is there any evidence that a hard line has more political traction in 2007 and 2008 than it did a year ago? Yes, I know there are people who say they’ll never vote for anyone who supports this bill. How many of them are there? We’ll know, I suppose, if John McCain’s poll numbers drop appreciably, though I can’t imagine that many people who cared deeply about this issue supported him in first place.

Update: Can the Bush Administration round up 70 Republican votes in the House to hand the Democrats a victory? I doubt it.

A New Study Shows That 2006 Was All About Bush, Coruption, and Iraq

Of course, I already knew and said that. But now lots of evidence is in on what really mobilized voters last time. The good news is that Bush and Republican corruption shouldn’t be issues next time; the president is leaving office and the Democrats now control Congress. And it’s pretty good news that there’s precious little evidence of any ideological shift in the Democratic direction. But voters may still want to repudiate presidential incompetence and choose someone who promises to get Iraq behind us. All in all the news is not that good, although no one at this point should predict with confidence how the war will affect the election. (If you think about it, 2008 seems something like 1952. Although the Democrats don’t have an Eishenhower, the Republicans seem stuck with what appears to be an unwinnable and badly run war.)

Barone on the Young

They’re contented, optimistic about the future, revel in their unprecedented freedom, not that irresponsible, not worried about Social Security, and think that our foreign policy problems will be solved if we get rid of Bush and get out of Iraq. If Michael is right, it’s hard to see why they’d vote Republican. He’s employing his journalistic license to exaggerate, but there is something to his description.

Brown v. Board of Education

The unanimous ruling was announced on May 17, 1954.

Random Observations

On Falwell: I enjoyed all the comments in his support. Not only that, I take credit for them. I returned to my computer after being away for a couple of days shocked that his death had produced no posts. So I started things off by just saying what I really think about Jerry, which is basically he wasn’t to my taste but he had told some truth and done some good. I should add--against Christopher Hitchens and others--that there is no doubt in my mind about the authenticity and responsibility of his Christian faith. I will perversely disagree with Steve Hayward by saying I found Jimmy Swaggart’s show more interesting than Jerry’s, precisely because it was just about impossible to tell whether or not that master showman was a fraud. Despite his big-time sinning, I tend to think not. I could ramble on about the part of Christian truth that the Pentecostals highlight in neon letters, but I will spare you (see the Robert Duvall’s THE APOSTLE).

On Huckabee: He’s done well enough in the debates to merit our attention. If he were in Europe, he’d probably be a Christian Democrat (except on guns)--more in favor of government-sponsored charity than most of our conservatives. On abortion, he’s clear that life begins at conception and all that. But he still needs to articulate clearly a judicial doctrine, one that leaves abortion policy to our legislatures. Life begins at conception can’t be the foundation of judicial review, although it can inform the policy choices of voters and legislators.

On Giuliani, it’s clearer than ever that he regards abortion as a right to protected by courts as they think best.

On Romney, I’m too lazy to find the link, but according to Zogby he’s surging in Iowa.
Does anyone know why?

On Law-and-Order Fred, his op-eds continue to be excellent. (See Joe’s post below.)

Teach and study military history

Fred Thompson has a sensible suggestion for colleges and universities. It works both as a contribution to civic education and as part of a business plan.

Catholic lawmakers and abortion

The invaluable Professor Friedman calls our attention to this story about this statement from a group of Catholic Democrats, led by Rosa DeLauro, about whom more here. It seems to me that the Catholic Democrats want their church to be functionally Protestant, and then of the looser sort. It seems to me that part of a church’s witness consists in holding its members to account, in ways that serve to instruct and correct them. Anything wrong with that?

Update: RC2 has more.

Alt on Giuliani

Someone in the comments asked about our friend Robert Alt’s NRO piece on Giuliani. Here it is. I’m not ready to make the leap from his performance as a U.S. attorney in New York to an assessment of the kinds of judges he’d appoint, though I have to confess that, like Alt, I’m not impressed when I hear him talk about things constitutional.

High Energy

George Will gets it right on "energy independence," as usual, but in this case he’s especially on the right track because he cites . . ., well, me.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for April

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

Martha Keates

Lynn Sadler

Janet Ledford

Jason Mart

Andrea Kushner

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter May’s drawing.

Giuliani and birthright citizenship

There were a lot of immigration questions today, and Giuliani didn’t satisfy the hardcore border security first people with his answers. He did try--rather cleverly, I thought--to turn their concern with security against them, arguing that encouraging people to come forward would make it easier to go after those who wanted to remain in the shadows.

Someone asked him about "anchor babies" and he offered the conventional "birthright citizenship" answer, based on something other than a simply "strict construction" of the 14th Amendment. For a stricter construction, you can go here and here.

I would say that his deferral here to a simplistic reading of the Constitution also does him no credit.

Giuliani and abortion

There is, he says, no litmus test, which is reassuring, though his people need to get him to say it on something other than Fox Sunday Morning, when the people who most need to be reassured are likely to be in church.

But there is at least one other problem with his position, noted in part by Ed Whelan this morning. Giuliani seems to regard abortion as largely a judicial problem, with political qualifications and limitations only as permitted by the courts. I agree with this simply as a characterization of the current judicially-imposed status quo, not as a "natural" or necessary state of affairs. To the extent that Giuliani has nothing more to say, he’s dodging and hiding behind the robes, which is not a becoming position for someone of his stature to take.

But I wonder also about the relationship in his mind between choice and strict construction. Does he think that there’s a right to choose? Has he used precisely that language? If so, where does that right come from? I take it as given that no one thinks that such a right can be strictly construed from the Constitution. Is he then speaking of a "natural right" (or something like Ginsburg’s autonomy), or of a positive right that can be identified and enshrined in the law or the constitution by normal political processes (something like Scalia’s position). I could live with the latter position (which is a version of strict constructionism), but not the former (which is not).

Here’s then what I would have Rudy Giuliani say. First, he recognizes that, at the moment, only the courts can get us out of the mess that the courts have created. Second, he’s committed to appointing judges who are modest about their roles and strict constructionist (meaning faithful to the Constitution) in their methods, so that in due course, the courts will help us out of the mess that they’ve created. And third, that once we’re out of this mess, regardless of his personal preferences or his respect for the preferences of others, any "right" to choose would have to be the result of a legislative process, either in the states or at the federal level. He and I might not fully agree on what such a law would say, but we could well agree on almost everything up to that point.

That’s how, I submit, Giuliani could reconcile his respect for choice and his affinity for strict constructionism.

More Giuliani at Oglethorpe

The formal newspaper reports aren’t yet available on the web, but two veteran AJC reporters blogged on the visit here, here, here, and here. There’s video from local TV here (featuring a distinguished local political analyst) and stills on the Oglethorpe website.

As the AJC reporters note, nothing was said about abortion. But my takeaway from the event wouldn’t be that people don’t care; lots of questions, including mine, remained unasked. But, as I’ve said before, I’m not a single-issue voter and I recognize that our political choices are never optimal. Giuliani is a strong campaigner, comfortable thinking on his feet, and with a visceral appeal to people that goes back to 9/11. That last asset shouldn’t be underestimated in a general election campaign. If we need to recover the spirit and passion of those days (and there’s a case to be made that we should), he’s our man, because that’s his strong suit.

Later in the day, I had a talk with my favorite crusty Oglethorpe staffer, a New Yorker who worked for John Brademas at NYU before relocating to Atlanta. Her story goes something like this: she gave up a scholarship at Columbia in the early 60s because Morningside Heights was unliveable. When she lived in NYC before and during the Giuliani years, the city was transformed. And she has absolutely compelling and vivid memories of his performance on 9/11. And although she concedes that life in Atlanta the past five years has made her a little less liberal (she claims that her car radio only gets the local Salem affiliate), she’s not exactly the typical Republican voter, in Georgia or elsewhere. But I’d bet she’d vote for Giuliani in a heartbeat, as would a lot of folks in New York, as well as ex-New Yorkers across the country.

This tempts me sorely, but I’ve got to think through RG’s position on abortion first (which will require another post).

A Death in Iraq

The Washington Post regularly publishes a list of American soldiers killed in Iraq. As I scanned the list yesterday I was startled to see the following notice: “1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died May 13 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq.”

I was startled because Professor Andy Bacevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War vet, was a colleague of mine for a time at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He has since moved on to Boston University. Given the name, I assumed this must have been his son, which a quick search confirmed. The story is particularly notable because Andy has been a sharp and influential critic of the Iraq War – and of the direction of American foreign policy since at least World War II, which Andy sees (in a conservative neo-Beardian analysis) as aggressively imperialistic. He and I did not agree on the latter point but I found him to be a gentleman, a serious scholar, and a sincere patriot. A Professor at BU is quoted in the story: “I think young Bacevich joined because of what he saw in his father. I think he felt as his father did, that regardless of what you think of the particular politics of the administration, that service to the country is a pretty high value.”

I would also note that the son of another former colleague at SAIS, Eliot Cohen (now Counsellor to the Secretary of State) is likewise serving in Iraq. Eliot is on the other side of the issue from Andy. He was an advocate of Operation Iraqi Freedom (although he developed serious reservations about the way in which the war has been conducted). But the same ethic is at work.

Something to think about as you enjoy tonight’s San Antonio-Phoenix game and grouse about the injustice of the player suspensions.

Giuliani in Atlanta: a quick first take

I’ll have more tonight, once I’ve had a little time to gather my wits and my links, but for now, I’ll say a few things.

Giuliani spoke to a packed room of 250, most of whom responded well to what he had to say, both in his stock remarks and in his off-the-cuff responses to questions. He led with (what he and I regard as) his strengths--national security and domestic economic policy--and avoided (what I at least regard as) his weaknesses--social policy, like abortion. (The closest he came to that was in response to an off-the-wall question about killing unwanted animals: he’s against it, would promote adoption, and doesn’t regard it as a federal issue. Should we read something into this?)

I’ll basically stand and cheer his general approach to foreign policy any day: if we stand up to "bullies, tyrants, and terrorists" (more or less a direct quote), they’ll back off. If we show weakness, we’ll be attacked again and again. He buttressed this with discussions of Hitler, communism (with favorable references to Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II), the treatment of the Palestinian terrorists apprehended after the Munich Olympics attack on the Israeli atheletes, the treatment of those responsible for the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, and, finally, the response to the first WTC attack.

On domestic policy, he understands and can articulate well the difference between Republicans who believe that markets promote the common good and Democrats who appear not to (my weasel words, not his).

If I were a single-issue voter, he would have won me with his opening remarks--a favorable reference to liberal arts colleges that betrayed a certain understanding of what goes on (or can go on) in them. Surely a DoE in the Giuliani Administration wouldn’t be engaging in the regulatory overreach that the Bush DoE is.

But I’m not a single-issue voter....

As I said, more later (with a few words on the topic that wasn’t mentioned on my fair campus).

Jerry Falwell, RIP

I have to disagree a bit with Peter’s contention below that Falwell was not a master of nuance or theology. I have a soft spot for Falwell for a couple of particular reasons. True, he said some stupid things from time to time (and I rap him for it in my forthcoming book on the Reagan preidential years), but it is also true that he never got a fair shake from the media. On one point he was quite sound: He usually insisted that the Moral Majority was a political and not a religious movement. This distinction was lost on the media, and also on too many of his comrades in arms such as Pat Robertson, and I think Falwell’s deciding to fold up the Moral Majority in the late 1980s was shrwed and points to a substantive difference between him and Robertson--a nuance, if you like.

There was one of other thing about Falwell I liked. In LA in the 1980s, Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour was broadcast at the same time as Jimmy Swaggert. I would tell people to toggle back and forth between Swaggert, who was leaping around the stage, crying, singing (after the style of his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis), and making absolutely no sense at all, and Falwell, who would be fixed behind the pulpit, usually saying something like "This week’s Bible verse comes from Ephesians, chapter 2, where Paul instructs us on. . ." Then there would follow a typical, calmly presented Baptist exegesis on the text. The contrast between Falwell and Swaggert couldn’t have been more dramatic and, I think, meaningful. To the contrary of Peter, Falwell was the only one of the TV preachers I could stand to watch.

Remembering Jerry Falwell

I have to admit that I couldn’t bear watching Jerry on TV, and there’s probably too little liberty at Liberty University. He was not a master of nuance and no theologian. But he was an important political figure, with plenty of successes and failures. It’s appropriate today to remember when he told the truth and the good he did, as well as to praise a country that gave him liberty to speak his mind and his faith and to achieve what influence he could. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Feminist triumphalism

This WaTi article, the last of a series noted here, discusses the "gender gap" in 2006 and beyond. Feminists like to think that they’re on the cutting edge of history; I’d say it looks a whole lot more like the Iraq War widened the gap a bit.

As for family friendliness--an issue about which we’re likely to see a lot--note that married women still narrowly preferred Republicans. Note also that the Democratic family agenda is heavily statist, compelling all employers--except for public schools, where unions don’t want to hear about family preferences--to subsidize and support family choices.

This "pro-family" agenda is problematical for Democrats, at least to the extent that it’s articulated in a family-oriented way, and to the extent that its benefits aren’t extended to everyone, including single people as well as those in relationships not recognized by the state. My guess is that it’s really a pro-labor policy, not a pro-family policy, and its cost in terms of competitiveness, if enacted, would be substantial.

Bernard Lewis on the lesson of history

Ron Paul needs to read this. Here’s a snippet:

the Muslim perception there has been, since the time of the Prophet, an ongoing struggle between the two world religions, Christendom and Islam, for the privilege and opportunity to bring salvation to the rest of humankind, removing whatever obstacles there might be in their path. For a long time, the main enemy was seen, with some plausibility, as being the West, and some Muslims were, naturally enough, willing to accept what help they could get against that enemy. This explains the widespread support in the Arab countries and in some other places first for the Third Reich and, after its collapse, for the Soviet Union. These were the main enemies of the West, and therefore natural allies.

Now the situation had changed. The more immediate, more dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union, already ruling a number of Muslim countries, and daily increasing its influence and presence in others. It was therefore natural to seek and accept American help. As Osama bin Laden explained, in this final phase of the millennial struggle, the world of the unbelievers was divided between two superpowers. The first task was to deal with the more deadly and more dangerous of the two, the Soviet Union. After that, dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans would be easy.


From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks--on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000--all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two--to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.

More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view.

Read the whole thing.

Debate #2

Here are pieces from the NYT, the WaTi, the WaPo, the LAT, The State (the Columbia, S.C. paper, which offers a transcript of the debate here), and, finally, NRO. The Fox News story is also worth reading.

It sounds like Rudy Giuliani seized the moment in his rebuke of Ron Paul’s claim that our Middle East policies produced 9/11, but the position he took really distinguishes him only from Paul, and not from the others. His abortion answer does distinguish him from the Republican field (and brings him very close to the modal Democratic answer--"safe, legal, and rare"). I’m still waiting for an explanation of how that position squares with "strict constructionism."

Update: NRO panelists grade the debate. Giuliani is the consensus winner. Huckabee helped himself, both with the crack about John Edwards (vice presciential, perhaps?) and with his rejoinder to Giuliani on abortion:

GOLER: You have said that you personally hate abortion but support a woman’s right to choose. Governor Huckabee says that’s like saying,
"I hate slavery, but people can go ahead and practice it."

Tell me why he’s wrong.

GIULIANI: There is no circumstances under which I could possibly imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery. There are people, millions and millions of Americans, who are of as good conscience as we are, who make a different choice about abortion.

And I think in a country where you want to keep government out of
people’s lives, or government out of people’s lives from the point of view of coercion, you have to respect that.

There are things that you can oppose, things you can be against, and then you can come to the conclusion, in the kind of democracy we have, the kind of society that we have, and the kind of society we have
where we want to keep government out of people’s personal lives, that you can respect other people’s view on this.

And I think everyone on this stage, including most Democrats, could probably very, very usefully spend a lot of time figuring out how we can reduce abortion.

GIULIANI: It’s going to take a while for the courts to figure out what to do about this. And while we’re looking at that, we should do what I did in New York, which is to try and reduce abortions as much as
you can, try to increase adoptions.

GOLER: Governor, has the mayor persuaded you?

HUCKABEE: He has not. I have great respect for the mayor, and let me tell you why I have great respect. He’s been honest about his opinion. He’s been honest about his position. And I think that’s a healthy thing for our party and for this debate.

But I’m pro-life because I believe life begins at conception. And I believe that we should do everything possible to protect that life, because it is the centerpiece of what makes us unique as an American people. We value the life of one as if it’s the life of all.

And that’s why we go out for the 12-year-old Boy Scout in North Carolina when he’s lost. That’s why we look for the 13 miners in Sago, West Virginia, when the mine explodes. That’s why we go looking for the
hikers on Mount Hood. Because we value life.

And it’s what separates us from the Islamic jihadists who are out to kill us.

HUCAKBEE: They celebrate death. They have a culture of death. Ours is a culture of life.

Now, if something is morally wrong, let’s oppose it. The honest argument is, I don’t think it’s morally wrong, and someone could take that position and then justify abortion. But if it’s wrong, then we ought to be opposed to it, and we ought to find ways to find better ways to deal with our respect for human life.

If you’re within driving distance of Atlanta

Rudy Giuliani will be speaking at Oglethorpe University tomorrow (Wednesday, May 16th). What questions would you like to hear him answer? (I know what I’ll ask, given the opportunity.)

Rule of law vs. rule by law

Here’s a too-clever-by-half lawyerly attempt to criticize the Bush Administration’s DoJ. The author leaves out both politics (elections) and constitutionalism (with the tensions noted so well here). Stated another way, he assumes (either simplistically or politically) that the rule of law is merely mechanical, not also human and prudential (as both Hobbes and Aquinas, cited by the author, recognized). The example I give my students, and one that they immediately understand, is that even police officers make judgments about how to enforce the posted speed limit, subject as well to directives from their higher-ups, who occasionally call for stricter or looser enforcement.

Hat tip: MOJ’s Rob Vischer.

Why the GOP Field Is Like Star Trek: TNG

Last night over martinis someone asked me who I liked in the GOP presidential field. Like most conservatives I’m not very enthusiastic about any of the three front-runners. Maybe it was the martinis, but the thought popped into my head: “The problem with this field is that it is too much like the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

You’ll have to bear with me here, and follow the story line. The major premise is that Ronald Reagan was Captain Kirk. I know, I know, Kirk’s character was said to have been loosely modeled on JFK, but don’t forget that Reagan inherited the mantle of JFK’s Cold Warriorism (as well as JFK’s income tax cuts). Having grown up with Kirk (and Governor Reagan), I hated—hatedStar Trek: TNG when it came on in the 1980s. The first of many reasons for hating TNG was that they actually obeyed the stupid Prime Directive, which is the epitome of cultural relativism. Half the plot lines of the original Star Trek involved Kirk wantonly violating the Prime Directive in what constituted acts of democratic statesmanship. Let’s recall, for example, the episode called “The Apple,” where Kirk revels in destroying the planet’s oppressive false god Vaal, and then explains to the stupefied inhabitants that their lives are going to change: “That’s what we call freedom. You’ll like it a lot. . . You’ll learn something about men and women—the way they’re supposed to be.” (The best analysis of this topic remains Paul Cantor’s wonderful book Gilligan Unbound, especially chapter 2, “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon.”)

TNG, on the other hand, was wholly bureaucratic—Star Trek as imagined by the UN General Assembly—and Captain Jean-Luc Piccard seemed more like the UN Secretary General than a commander. More to the point—and here we get back to the main thread—the problem with TNG was that it split Kirk’s character into three people: Piccard the authoritative but rule-abiding commander; First Officer Will Riker as the impetuous and womanizing swashbuckler, and Counselor Deanna Troi representing analytical reason and intuition. No one of them alone could effectively lead the Enterprise. The result was unwatchable. (How many times did Piccard surrender the Enterprise in that first season? Kirk would never have done that.)

Well, this describes the GOP front-runners. The parallels are not exact, of course, but generally break out something like this: Giuliani is Piccard, with his brusque, “make-it-so” personality; McCain is the impetuous and volatile Riker; and Romney is clearly an analytical Betazoid. Each by themselves has obvious limitations and defects. Combine them and you’d have something about right.

So forget this Fred Thompson boomlet. I have a better idea: William Shatner for President.

Dionne on the Giuliani problem

E.J. Dionne, Jr. wants abortion opponents to be utterly unpolitical in their inveterate opposition to Giuliani, whose position, he says, is practically indistinguishable from that of John Kerry.

Well, aside from Giuliani’s noises about strict constructionism, his administrative experience, his record in New York, and his general solidity on national security matters.... Opposition to Kerry wasn’t based on a single issue; opposition to or support for Giuliani won’t be either. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the small matter of the Democratic nominee, whose Supreme Court nominations will surely be less acceptable than those of any nominee the Republican could conceivably put up.

I’m not yet saying that I can or can’t vote for Giuliani in either the primary or general election, but my vote will be "political" in that electability will matter.

Update: Our friends at South Dakota Politics and Power Line have some smart thoughts.

EPPC abortion poll

Some might call this a push poll, but the results suggest that a sustained campaign of public education could move public opinion in a direction of which pro-life folks would approve. The question is how you get people’s attention focused on what "choice" means to pro-choice folks. In that connection, it’s worth reconsidering this NYT article.

Ted Olsen on Gonzales v. Carhart

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Taking Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent as an indication that Griswoldian privacy doesn’t satisfy anyone, he concludes:

Ginsburg’s dissent shows that Roe has few supporters left. The question is: What will replace it? Absolute personal autonomy? Or justice and mercy?

Read the whole thing.

And I had to settle for wearing a monocle at my wedding

Apparently at this site you can arrange for a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers to show up at a wedding, birthday party, bar mitzvah, or other event.

This OSU student (Facebook registration required) made a deal with his bride-to-be--if he could get 10,000 members to join his Facebook group he could have stormtroopers at his wedding. He made that goal within two weeks. Now he’s shooting for another 20,000; if he gets there he’s allowed to have the Imperial March played at the wedding as well.

Is it just me, or is it a heck of a lot easier to be a geek these days than it was when I was in college?

Another Sign of Cultural Conservative Trends

Nudist colonies are having trouble recruiting younger members. I can’t get out of my head the image of the median age of one nudist colony at 55.

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Eye.

Manliness in Iraq

Michael Yon calls it professionalism, but this is how General Petraeus articulates it in a letter to those under his command:

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect.

The electoral future of social conservatives

This article, which inaugurates a three-part series, goes over a lot of ground quite well. The big question is whether social conservatives can handle the generational change, in its leadership and in the electorate. For social conservatives, that means seriously considering whether and how to broaden their agenda. For Republicans, it means remembering that social conservatives aren’t necessarily economic conservatives or (this isn’t the same thing) business conservatives.

Update: A number of social conservatives (anonymously) say they’re just waiting for Fred Thompson to announce. The stakes, they think, are high:

"It’s the moment of truth for conservatives," says one of the Christian conservative activists. "Either social conservatives rally to stop a Giuliani nomination and victory for him in November 2008 or our issues -- abortion, same-sex marriage, the preservation of the family -- are permanently off the Republican Party agenda."

I’m not sure I’d be quite that apocalyptic, though I think there is a case to be made for that position, if one assumes that generational changes are diminishing the prospect that, even in the not too distant future, it wlll be much harder to assemble electoral and legislative majorities in support of "traditional family values." There is, of course, also the propensity of politicians and their consultants to be tempted by the strategy and stances that won the last time, so that a Giuliani victory in the primaries and (most importantly) the general election would spawn all sorts of sincere flatterers.

Update #2: The WaTi article I just cited may have been the fallout from
this event.

Update #3: Here’s the second part of the series.

Buckley on Romney’s and His Own Conscientious Thought About Abortion

Bill asks us not to be quick to dismiss those who confess that they have doubts and even changes of mind on great moral questions. The truly damning charge against the Democrats is that they want to stifle moral deliberation on issues over which the country is, quite understandably, divided. And that’s the same charge that was rightly brought against the Democrats in the years prior to the Civil War.

Fred’s 1994 Positions

Back then, candidate Thompson wasn’t altogether pro-life, but he was for leaving decisions concerning abortion policy to the states. So it appears he didn’t think in terms of abortion rights. But in that same year, he did make a rather unambiguously "pro-choice" statement to a libertarian Republican newsletter. He now regards himself as solidly pro-life and anti-ROE, and he had pro-life voting record in the Senate. We can say that Fred’s own opinion on abortion policy has either evolved or is unclear, but he probably could be trusted on the appointment of judges. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Commencement season commences

While graduation went off with nary a hitch at my institution today (though I miss having a senior class president with the thoughtful eloquence of one I heard a couple of years ago), other institutions aren’t so fortunate.

Take St. Vincent College, for example. Having invited President Bush to speak, Jim Towey (now "Mr. President" to his former boss) received a public rebuke from one of his predecessors (who, as Towey pointed out in his response, hadn’t been so fastidious about inviting Herbert Aptheker, chairman of the CPUSA, to campus during his tenure). There was some consternation on campus, but it was mild in comparison to what might have occurred on a campus less informed by a tradition of hospitality.

The President’s speech--a model of commencement oratory, in my unfortunately all too well-informed opinion--showed great respect for the occasion and the audience, more than a good many of my colleagues across the country (and their students) would show for the office and the man.

Sam Brownback

(Cheese) toast in Wisconsin.


The turmoil in Pakistan is worth watching. Also see this.

The bridges of Peru

A New York Times article from a few days ago was brought to my attention over lunch by a couple of mathematicians (and engineers). It concerns the bridges made of fiber ropes that the Incas built. It led to a good (non-political) conversation about human inventiveness.

We had graduation ceremonies today; a perfect day for it. Had a nice meeting with the 32 graduating Ashbrooks and family and faculty last night. A great group. I will miss them. Had a nice surprise when former Ashbrook Dr. Kevin Portteus dropped by with a nice gift, a copy of his PhD thesis (Dallas) titled, "Administration and the Amnerican Regime". He now teaches at Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina. Am back in the office for an hour or so to honor James Kresge as he becomes an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Then I meet with Isabella. Not a bad day.

Giuliani’s Houston speech

You can watch the video here.

The Last Great Australian Band

Well, I’m sick of Rudy v. Wade, can’t jump on the Law-and-Order Fred bandwagon, think that McCain is both too self-induglently moralistic and too old, only have a glimmer of hope that Romney can establish authenticity and/or stature, and don’t heart Huckabee. So now it’s time to turn to the tough question of why BeeGees night on American Idol was a disaster. One explanation concerns the BeeGees’ singular pop greatness: Their beautifully melodic songs (which would have been at home in the tuneful 1930s) are deceptively hard for ordinary and unimaginative talents to sing.

More Giuliani

Concerning Rudy’s residual confusion discussed so eloquently in the thread below: He needs to be asked straight out how it’s possible to be pro-Scalia and pro-abortion rights. If abortion is a right, then states couldn’t possibly have the right to pass restrictive laws based, say, on Rudy’s personal opinion that abortion is morally wrong. Rudy’s new honesty has to culminate in a new coherence, one that will make clear that Krauthammer’s attempt to save him for the judicial restraint fans was misguided and futile.

The linked article also quotes from a speech by Romney where he acknowledges his past error and affirms his devotion to the sanctity of life. Is his confession just an exploitation of Rudy’s new honesty? Or have Rudy and Mitt both decided to stop waffling and stake their futures on the clear presentations of real convictions? We shall see.

Giuliani’s Speech at Houston Baptist

Here’s the NYT summary that Lucas Morel linked in the thread below. Although he apparently didn’t make the point unambiguously, Giuliani’s granting that a woman has a right to an abortion probably means he’s endorsing the essential holding of ROE v. WADE. How could a right not merit judicial protection? (He does add that he’s open to ways to limit abortion, and he doesn’t explore the problem that the Court still reallly isn’t, except for one rare procedure.) Rudy is to be admired for basing his campaign on what he really thinks; he’s apparently given up on the project of waffling to appease those who favor judicial restraint. I guess that means that the social conservatives who undertook the project of being encouraged by said waffling in order to be happy enough with perhaps the only guy who can win in November now have to move on. Rudy thinks his honesty is the best policy in pursuit of the nomination, and I’m not certain he’s wrong. But this strategy, I’m more sure, ensures that he won’t get the nomination in a way that will lead to his victory in the general election.

Studies Show That Being Thin Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re Not Fat

Some people who look thin and even have low BMIs are actually fat inside. And some people, like Sumo wrestlers, have obesity that’s only skin-deep. It turns out that what you are inside is what counts, although not in the way previously supposed.

Krauthammer and York on Giuliani on abortion

Charles Krauthammer offers an attractive gloss on the position Rudy Giuliani inarticulated at the Reagan Library. Here’s a snippet:

Democrats are pro-choice and have an abortion litmus test for judges they would nominate to the Supreme Court. Giuliani is pro-choice but has no such litmus test. The key phrase in his answer is “strict constructionist judge.” On judicial issues in general he believes in “strict constructionism,” the common conservative view that we don’t want judges citing penumbral emanations and other constitutional vapors to justify inventing new rights they fancy the country needs.

However, one strict constructionist might look at Roe v. Wade as the constitutional travesty it is and decide to repeal it. Another strict constructionist judge could, with equal conviction, decide that after 35 years the habits and mores shaped by Roe v. Wade are so ingrained in society that it should not be overturned.

The question is whether, for Giuliani, strict constructionism is more or less important than the right to choose. Byron York is right: Giuliani has to level with the voters. Which comes first--choice or strict construction? If he can seriously and consistently give the latter answer, I might still be able to vote for him in the general election (which I’m sure matters to him immensely).

The Which Blair Project

I have to confess to having a soft spot for Tony Blair, if only out of admiration for a high level politician who can speak in complete sentences on his feet; one complete sentence after another, in fact. One of Letterman’s better gags in recent years is that watching George W. Bush and Tony Blair in one of those side-by-side press conferences is like watching a before and after commercial for Hooked on Phonics. Ouch! But too true.

But if I lived in the UK I am sure I would dislike Blair for all the right reasons on domestic policy grounds. Our pals at Conservative Home offer this music video about what can be expected under Blair’s likely successor Gordon Brown. Too bad the Tory Party is still, in the words of John O’Sullivan, suffering a nervous breakdown.

Got to catch a plane now to head back to DC from California.

American character transcript

The transcript I promised here is available here (with essays) and here (without essays).

There are many interesting thoughts here--Yuval Levin’s distinction between the conservatism of continuity and the conservatism of (loss and) despair; a discussion of what happened to the Spirit of ’01 (Ross Douthat suggests that Southern evangelicals weirded everyone out; David Blankenhorn thinks we’re weren’t asked to do enough--a version of ann argument I made here); and lots of other stuff you’ll have to read for yourselves.

Here’s a provocative (almost) closing thought from Ross Douthat:

I think that one
of the things that conservatives need to recognize about the post-9/11 era is that there was a moment when conservatism had a change to essentially become the governing elite of the United States. I think that we’ve failed that test, and I think one of the reasons we’ve failed that test is
because we exist still in parallel institutions that have failed to become plausible as the dominant institutions of American life. And while Harvard University is less important than it was perhaps
thirty years ago, and the major national networks are less important than they were thirty years ago, they are still important. They are still close to dominant. And insofar as philanthropic dollars can change them rather than creating alternative paths, I’d like to see that path explored.

Paul Wolfowitz’s travails

I have been remiss in not blogging about the European efforts to drive Paul Wolfowitz from his post at the World Bank. For links to the relevant articles and tart commentary, please visit Wheat and Weeds, and keep scrolling. RC2 has been all over the matter, and has guilted me into calling attention to her posts.

Update: Almost all the relevant posts, save for this one, have been gathered here. I can’t improve on RC2’s efforts.

World War II Victory Complicated in Eastern Europe

Andy Busch, who is currently teaching in Ukraine on a Fulbright grant, writes an interesting piece on the complicated nature of the victory over the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Unlike in the West where the victory is remembered as a simple example of good defeating tremendous evil, Eastern Europe remembers it as choosing the lesser of two evils, defeating Nazism by supporting Stalinism. His article is well written and thoughtful and the photo he includes at the end is priceless.    

What a Difference a Year Makes

Mac Owens is writing a series of essays about
the battles and campaigns of the Civil War for the Ashbrook site. The first of these essays looks at two battles that occurred in almost the same place exactly one year apart during the month of May: Chancellorsville in 1863 and The Wilderness in 1864. This is a great start to the series and I look forward to reading the rest.    

Website worth exploring

In preparing to lead a faculty seminar on liberal education the week after next, I came across this site, worth some exploration by those who care about liberal education and religion, as well as by those who care about liberal education simply. There’s even a whole collection of papers from a conference on assessment and the liberal arts (be still, my beating heart!).

IVCF at Georgetown

The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, banished from Georgetown University last fall, is back. Hat tip: Rick Garnett.

Professionalism and statements of faith

A colleague sent along this post from Brian Leiter’s blog. It will be interesting to see how the American Philosophical Association deals with institutions whose statements of faith explicitly or implicitly include moral disapproval of homosexual conduct. It looks like the APA has been finessing the question in the past, but there are some, er, philosophers, who don’t regard this question as open to further debate.

Chimps Still Don’t Name Themselves

Our friend Darwinian conservative Larry has a reasonable response to Mansfield’s manly political philosophy. He’s right to call attention to certain continuities between Aristotelian and Darwinian science on status-seeking animals. And he explains that today’s leading scientists have no problem naming their chimps. But he still sidesteps the "chimps naming themselves" issue. In his books, Larry, following Darwin in some measure, does acknowledge that our species is the only religious one. But he doesn’t explain religion either in terms of establishing the importance of a particular man and men in general (Mansfield), or in terms of love of particular beings (Deneen, the doctor of love).

The Latest from the Religion of Peace

The AP is reporting that, according to the Palestinian information minister, "Hamas militants have suspended a TV program that featured a Mickey Mouse lookalike urging Palestinian children to fight Israel and work for global Islamic domination." Apparently Farfour the Mouse was beloved for his gentle manner toward children, particularly his prediction that "We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers."

No word yet on when a Farfour theme park might be built, presumably in "liberated" Jerusalem.

Rudy prepares to embrace his inner Sandra Day O’Connor

So says the NYT. Will there be a litmus test in the Giuliani Administration?

Deneen Asks Mansfield about the Love

Dr. Pat takes the philosopher of manliness to task for his pernicious exaggerations. It’s not enough for Harvey to say that he’s skipping love for now and just concentrating on pride or anger or self-importance. We, in truth, live in a time that’s short on both pride and love, and we don’t know how to talk about either of the two sources of our transcendence. Certainly Pat is right that the Christian view is that each particular person is both significant and lovable--but most of all lovable, and maybe even that Harvey’s abstraction from love distorts the human soul by making it seem too much about self-assertion. Most of all particular persons are significant because they’re capable of knowing and loving other particular persons, and their admirable confidence in getting things done should be guided by who and what they can really know and love. (Thanks to Ivan the K, who must be on a 24-hr. Deneen watch.)

NEWS UPDATE! Paul Seaton manfully defends Mansfield against Deneen.

Chimps Don’t Name Themsleves

From Mansfield’s Jefferson lecture:

Hardly a day passes without a breathless science article in the press delivering to our waiting ears a fresh resemblance of chimp to man. But the discovery of chimapanzee religion has not yet been reported. Chimps receive names from human beings with equanimity, but do not give themselves names....Their greatest triumph, however, will be the achievement of science. For science, according to science, ought to be the most important attribute of human beings...[C]ollectively, science is the assertion of man over non-man, surely an unembarassed claim to importance and rule. Yet as individuals, scientists are anonymous factors in the scientific enterprise, each one substitutable for another. For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named. We in the humanities will summon up the generosity to give them names.

Love is a further complication

Here’s Harvey Mansfield’s thumotic Jefferson lecture.

Suing the president?

This is a generally fair news story about Democratic attempts to compel the President to accept their view of his responsibilities in Iraq. Let me emphasize that federal courts are unlikely to intervene unless and until Congress has exhausted all political means of resolving its dispute with the President. In this case, it likely means that Congress would have to cut off funding, and take the political heat that came with that measure.

Mansfield’s Jefferson Lecture

The WaPo’s Philip Kennicott writes with some appreciation about Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s Jefferson Lecture (text available soon), but in the end he can’t help himself:

Mansfield’s speech might be seen as a quaint little academic exercise -- hark back to the Greeks, take a few gibes at complaining minorities, work in an obscure and cryptic reference to pop culture, and end with a suggestion of even bigger questions unanswered ("Have I left out love? The answer is yes, I have"). But there is something rumbling beneath it that needs to be taken desperately seriously.

Not quite a week ago, Mansfield wrote an astonishing defense of executive power for the Wall Street Journal, a defense that went way beyond the standard argument that sometimes, when in peril, a republic needs a strong leader who may suspend some traditional liberties.

"The case for a strong executive begins from urgent necessity," he wrote, "and extends to necessity in the sense of efficacy and even greatness." Unpack that and you have an argument for suspending civil liberties not just in the sense of martial law, but pretty much any time a strong, impetuous leader -- stoked to the gills with thumos -- deems it efficient and, more frightening, conducive to enlarging his historical reputation.

So thumos is no quaint philosophical idea borrowed from Plato and dusted off for the humanities crowd at the Jefferson Lecture. It is the underlying sense behind an almost nihilistic view of politics as the plaything of great men, a form of play that is more exhilarating and interesting and compelling to scholars such as Mansfield than the rusty old rule of law that might constrain greatness.


But even though his argument was made with his trademark unflappable intellectual calm, it also had a hint of desperation -- an argument showing signs of strain as the evidence arrayed against it mounts to crushing proportions. Plato once compared thumos to a dog that defends its master, a metaphor that suggests the passion of a cornered animal. Call it whatever you like, manliness, thumos, Straussianism, the worldview of boyish battle and braggadocio is looking awfully dangerous in light of recent events. It takes a lot of thumos to keep arguing for thumos these days.

He was set off by the WSJ’s version of the Claremont Review piece I cited yesterday. Read it, and decide whether you think that it’s nihilistic. Consider, for example, this paragraph:

Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his Politics where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws." The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton’s term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force. The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason—one man. One man, or to use Machiavelli’s expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli’s prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.

What sets Kennicott off is the same thing Abraham Lincoln recongized here. Are we to deny the existence of the spirited love of fame? Does recognizing that it is in tension with the rule of law mean that we can’t distinguish between good and evil? As Mansfield notes, even justice and mercy are in tension with the rule of law. Doesn’t Kennicott understand this?

Update: Inside Higher Ed offers a less polemical account of "Mr. Mansfield Goes to Washington," including a podcast interview.

Sarkozy as Chirac?

Our man in France, John Zvesper briefly reflects on the French man Sarkozy and John wonders if he will assert himself, as Chirac did not. John will keep his eye on French politics for us, including the upcoming legislative elections. I hope Sarkozy is no Chirac.  


Former faith-based czar John DiIulio offers us a taste of his forthcoming book, Godly Republic, blurbed by everyone and his brother from both sides of the spectrum. In this excerpt, he emphasizes the role religion can play in foreign affairs, especially in the provision of foreign aid (both governmental and non-governmental). He mentions the explosive growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, but could also have mentioned the increasingly signficant presence of Christians in China. On that subject, see this book and this interview.

Should Conservatives Support HIllary?

According to Bruce Bartlett, that’s simply the prudent thing to do. After all, the Republicans barely won the last two elections under much more favorable conditions, and the chnce of the GOP being anywhere near united in 2008 is less than zero. None of the leading Democratic candidates is anywhere near as lame as Kerry. So to have some influence on political life, some conservative big money is already headed in Senator Clinton’s direction. Bartlett’s compromises his appeal to conservatives, though, with his suggestion that she couldn’t do much worse than the incumbent anyway.

The Novelist of Manliness

This is a manly week. The philosopher of manliness, Harvey Mansfield, is about to use the Jefferson lecture to rehabilitate the manly part of the soul against all forms of reductionism (not only Darwin’s). And thanks to Ivan the K, we’re reminded of the excellent judgment of the novelist of manliness and last year’s Jefferson lecturer, Tom Wolfe. Wolfe gives us some astute historical perspective on the Iraq war, testimony that our president is more literate than many self-proclaimed experts on literature, and tells the truth about true joy of writing.

Mansfield chestnuts

No, I don’t mean this play featuring John Moser.

Rather, in honor of Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s Jefferson Lecture, The Weekly Standard is featuring a number of his essays, thereby doing us a great public service.

For those who can’t get enough of HCM, here’s his latest from the Claremont Review of Books.

Looking for Something to do in Mansfield?

If so, you might check out Noel Coward’s classic farce Blithe Spirit, which is opening this Friday evening (May 11) at the Mansfield Playhouse.

Demography in America

Michael Barone does what he does best.

Don’t be too thankful

A professor is being fired for forwarding George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation to his colleagues on a faculty email list.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. His email provides a link to the source (Pat Buchanan’s website) and closes with this ironic statement: "I apologize if I preempted the Diversity Office in posting this." He knew he was tweaking someone’s nose, and the tweakees responded, with five colleagues filing complaints about harassment because of the link to Buchanan’s site (which, of course, presents his views about immigration, albeit not on the page to which the good professor linked). The letter he received indicating that the administration was recommending his firing cited his violation of harassment and email use policies. The former charge, as FIRE’s response argues, would withstand legal scrutiny, at least as related to this particular event. He is apparently not a first-time violator of the college’s email use policies and has been subjected to "intermediate sanctions" in the past.

A little googling gives us more background, including this, this, and this, as well as this and this. It’s pretty clear that FIRE doesn’t provide us with the context, which includes all sorts of previous legal action stemming from the professor’s strong opinions about immigration and his conflict with Hispanic activists. His adversaries were primed to find offense in something apparently innocent, and his supervisors were clearly fed up with defending him. That said, forwarding the Thanksgiving Proclamation can’t be a firing offense. It’s not harassment, and, even if it is a violation of email policy, it’s the kind of thing people do all the time and which administrators typically do not punish. My reading of the situation is that the professor found a way to needle his adversaries that should have been unassailable. His adversaries of course won’t be embarrassed by their overreaction to this. His employers ought to be pilloried for succumbing to their pressure. And they deserve to lose the inevitable lawsuit.

Medicare, the Environment, and Life Expectancy

Capital University economist (and vintage baseball aficionado) Robert Lawson recently had the misfortune of having to sit through a commencement speech by Ohio’s new junior senator. Lawson was particularly unhappy when Senator Brown claimed that the rapid increase in life expectancy that Americans have enjoyed since the start of the 20th century was the result of Medicare and Medicaid. Well, as it turns out, average life expectancy increased considerably faster during the forty years before the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid (it stood at roughly 58 in 1925, and had reached about 70 by 1965) than it has in the forty years since (it stands at around 77 today).

To this I’d add another observation. What has been the impact of environmental regulations, supposedly aimed at improving our health and well-being through cleaner air and water? If average life expectancy could increase more rapidly during a time when no such laws existed, but still during a period in which the country was heavily industrialized, shouldn’t we be curious as to why life expectancy has grown comparatively slowly during an age of environmental awareness and deindustrialization?

Update: Apparently Lawson has more clout than I realized, because his post merited a call from Senator Brown himself. Apparently he didn’t much like what Bob had to say about his speech.

Fund on France

John Fund argues that those opposed to the spirit of ’68 won in France. Might their kindred spirits win in the U.S. in 2008?

It’s more insidious than that

I’ve posted a couple of times in recent days on the debate over the efforts to preserve the religious freedom of groups that accept government money. If you’re one of the three people who read my posts, you know that on an essentially party-line vote, Democrats succeeded in keeping the co-religionist exemption out of the Head Start reauthorization bill.

That’s bad enough, but, as Gregory Baylor points out, the newest version of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act is even worse, permitting mission-sensitive hiring (when it comes to the moral disapproval of homosexuality) only for "employers that ’ha[ve] as [their] primary purpose religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.’" Let me translate: only churches and church-like organizations can act on their religious and moral principles in hiring. It’s plausible that religiously-affiliated colleges and universities won’t be able to, nor will faith-based social service organizations. Let me be clear: this has nothing to do with strings attached to government funding and everything to do with government coercion. If something like it passes (and survives a free exercise challenge, which unfortunately isn’t out of the question), morally and theologically conservative denominations will be able to care for the proverbial widows and orphans only at the price of acquiescing in the gay rights agenda.

Fukuyama on our options in Iraq

Francis Fukuyama thinks our options in Iraq are somewhat worse than in South Vietnam. The operative phrase, however, is this one: "politically meaningful future." There is no evidence, in his view, that anyone in the U.S. wants to do what it takes to succeed in Iraq, so that our options amount to finding the least problematical form of failure:

Do we have any other choice than to withdraw? We could stick it out, and I suspect that we could avoid losing in Iraq for another five, 10 or 15 years, as long as we’re willing to maintain high troop levels, continue to spend large amounts of money and suffer more casualties. But even the most conservative Republican candidates are unlikely to campaign on a platform of staying in Iraq indefinitely when the primary season starts next winter and the war enters its sixth year.

This means that we will have to engage in a very different debate from the one we have been having up to now, a debate not about surging and not about withdrawing with our goals accomplished but about how to draw down our forces in a way that minimizes the costs that will inevitably accompany our loss of control.

I can’t tell from this whether FF thinks that, absent our loss of heart, we could shore up an Iraqi government for long enough to have an acceptable outcome or (more likely) that our defeat is "inevitable."

I ask: in what sense inevitable? Is it inevitable because we simply can’t assure a decent outcome or because we won’t?

See the thread begun by Victor Davis Hanson
here for a "realistic" discussion of what FF’s realism really means.

Hillsdale in the news

I wonder what our friends at Hillsdale think of this article, which I’d bet has a more self-consciously political agenda (and, it goes without saying, much less nuance) than the college has.

Hat tip: Power Line.

Faculty (or is it faulty?) religious attitudes

SDP’s Jason Heppler calls our attention to this WaPo story, which reports the findings of and reactions to this survey of faculty religious attitudes.

The survey results aren’t terribly surprising, unless you were predisposed to think that all college and university faculty ere atheistic liberals. It turns out that faculty aren’t as religious as mainstream America, but they’re still pretty gosh-darn religious. There’s also a relatively close connection between religiosity and conservatism among faculty; the more conservative you are, the more likely you are to be serious about religion, but since conservatives are a minority among faculty, there remain plenty of self-identified religious faculty who aren’t politically conservative. In all of this, it’s worth noting that the most religious faculty tend to be at the most religious colleges and universities, so that they’re quite "underrepresented" at public and high-prestige private institutions. It’s also the case that the mouthiest faculty (in the humanities and social sciences) tend to be the least religious (except for scientists and mathematicians).

As the WaPo article notes, faculty attitudes are coolest toward evangelicals. Consider these conclusions:

First, while
faculty are religiously diverse, Evangelical Christians are found in
far fewer numbers than in the general public—even less in nondenominational
public and private schools throughout the United States. What accounts for this disparity? Are Evangelical Christians
not attracted to teaching and research in most colleges and universities? Is the academic environment somehow in conflict with the religious beliefs of Evangelical Christians? Are Evangelical Christians
discriminated against when it comes to hiring and promotions? Because political ideology is so highly associated with religious beliefs and behavior on campus, are Evangelical Christians misfits because
they tend to be conservative and Republican, while the campus is
overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic?


Faculty do not feel positively about Evangelicals at all. In fact, they feel less positively about Evangelicals than about any other religious group. The
combination of responses—showing so few faculty Evangelicals on campus, showing imbalance in the support of Muslims versus
Christians advocating their religious beliefs in American politics, showing strong negative views of Evangelicals compared to tolerance for other religious groups—raises serious concerns about how
Evangelical Christian faculty and students are treated or feel they are treated on campus. The levels of faculty disapproval are high enough to raise questions about the overall climate on campus. How does this disapproval affect the intellectual, emotional, and social experiences of those who identify as Evangelicals? As it was
for Jews on campus two generations ago, maybe Evangelical Christians do not want to talk openly about their identities and beliefs. The prejudice against them stands out prominently in institutions
dedicated to liberalism, tolerance, and academic freedom.

Faculty may deny that their feelings about Evangelical Christians
affect research and teaching, or that they interact differently with colleagues and students who are Evangelical Christians. But
faculty cannot deny, at least according to these data, that they feel very negatively about Evangelicals, especially compared to the tolerance expressed for other religious groups.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in the survey, which makes the whole thing worth chewing over.

Darwinian Conservatism

I have to say I can’t believe that anyone is taking seriously Arnhart’s "Dariwnian conservatism" and "intelligent design" as the two fundamental conservative alternatives. (What are they thinking at AEI and the Philadelphia Society?) I also can’t figure out how any libertarian could be a Darwinian conservative. THE libertarian or at least classical liberal philosopher is John Locke. And didn’t Locke say something like the human being is the animal with the singular liberty to conquer nature? The human individual alone refuses to be species fodder, and so the human individual alone can wage war with great success against the nature indifferent or hostile to his particular existence, the nature out to kill him--that is, to kill ME. Can sociobiology really account for the individual’s insistent demand for personal significance? Can sociobiology really account for either the heights of human greatness or the depths of human misery? As Joe points out below, if nature really is as sociobiology describes it, why shouldn’t we knock ourselves out trying to create or invent something better for ME? The main reason Darwinian conservatism ain’t conservative is that it gives us in the biotechnological age little incentive to conserve the nature we have been given. The effectual truth of the perception of its truth is to heighten the frenzied activity to replace impersonal natural evolution with conscious and volition evolution, techno-evolution with ME in mind. Now I really do think evolution in some sense happened, but evolutionary theory has yet to even take seriously what is distinctive about members of our species alone.

Lessons from Canada for American conservatives

Our friend John von Heyking sends along this piece by Travis D. Smith, whose work was last seen here.

Smith reflects on the conflicts between conservatives and progressives in the predominantly progressive Canadian political culture, notes the role of education in creating that political culture, and offers some advice for conservatives that strikes me as equally pertinent across the border.

Here’s a snippet:

The political left enjoys a natural advantage when it comes to appealing to youth. Youth is impatient, rebellious and indignant. It enjoys fewer responsibilities and incurs lesser expenses. It loves novelty, suffers from extremes of credulity and incredulity, and likes oversimplified explanations and even simpler solutions. Conservatives cannot reckon on their ideas being favored by young Canadians so long as Canadians live so youthfully for so long. They might hope for less hostility. To that end they must continue to defy the persistent caricatures plaguing them (as angry relics, radical ideologues, loony doomsayers, merciless money-grubbers, etc.). In part, this requires cultivating a broader, historically-informed, culturally-attuned and philosophically-rich public discourse in addition to hardnosed economic analyses. This means adopting a longer view of things than an exclusive focus on immediate policy concerns allows.

It also means finding ways to encourage young Canadians to recognize, create and take better advantage of opportunities to obtain experiences in their communities or the marketplace that cultivate the qualities of character this country needs in order to remain energetic and prosperous. There are some natural conservatives among the youth in a democracy, such as those who resist the reigning prejudices of their regime and find themselves attuned to the injustices peculiar to excessive equality, admiring excellence more than fairness. Democracies need both fairness and excellence, but they invariably educate their citizens to attend primarily to the injustices derivative of inequalities. Democratic passions lead us to forget that human lives actually lived and shared are of greater significance than the comparative status between persons. For their own sake, and for the benefit of the nation, these natural conservatives need encouragement and guidance to become outstanding citizens and not simply selfish, ambitious or exploitative.


There is no reason why cultural diversity should work exclusively to the disadvantage of conservatives. In teaching the history of political thought, in contrast with home-grown open-minded Canadians whose relaxed confidence in their worldview is nearly unshakeable, I find that students who retain closer ties to various “traditional” backgrounds typically exhibit greater interest in thinking critically about the big questions, show greater concern for ethics, read texts more carefully and in a generous rather than a condescending spirit, and remain open to the possibility of learning from others. It seems to me that conservatives should in principle be more genuinely respectful of cultural diversity than secular progressives. Conservatives are practically defined by their respect for the repositories of wisdom that traditions embody. They will not, however, regard the differences among peoples as a matter of indifference. While they might not celebrate every element of every culture equally – nobody does – they show more appreciation for what makes different cultures different by taking the grounds and consequences of those differences seriously.

Read the whole thing.

Darwinism and conservatism

This NYT article, to which Steve Thomas refers in the comments below, makes reference to this event, chaired by Steve Hayward. (You can watch a video of it at the site.) I’m not in a position to adjudicate the dispute between John West and Larry Arnhart (whose website is here). (Arnhart, by the way, tells us the NYT article gets the debate pretty much right.)

It strikes me that Arnhart’s Darwinian "realism," which he proposes as a basis for a new fusion between (an apparently non-religious) traditionalism and libertarianism, isn’t the only possible conclusion one can draw from the "facts" at hand. Why should a modest or humble respect for natural limits follow necessarily from an understanding of evolution? Why couldn’t there also be a Promethean impulse toward overcoming all limits that follows from it? While I recognize that there are some modest and humble libertarians, the dominant note in that movement isn’t modesty and humility. And while I recognize that there are equally immodest and arrogant so-called "compassionate conservatives" (from whom Arnhart proposes to save us), it seems to me that on the practical grounds of modesty and humility, he has as many potential allies among religious traditionalists as among secular traditionalists and libertarians. Why he eschews that "fusion" isn’t yet clear to me, though I expect to learn more once I watch the whole webcast.

Needless to say, others should feel free to chime in.

A preachy action movie

My son and I saw Spiderman 3 this afternoon, and I think that this review gets it about right. The preaching is a little heavy-handed, but the target audience (boys around my son’s age) aren’t for the most part going to get subtlety.

Americanizing Shelley

I heard the woman who wrote and starred in this terrific sounding film, Namrata Singh Gujral, interviewed today on Michael Medved and I was quite intrigued by her understanding of herself and of her work. She works with this studio which sets out to make movies that are unabashedly "pro-American"--though they claim no affinity to either right or left. First and foremost, however, Gujral insists that a film must be entertaining--particularly if she expects people to spend the $10 it takes to see it. In this film, she wants to convey her love for America but not in a heavy-handed preachy way. It is just a love comedy, after all! But it may be a very good one. I thought her way of discussing her work was a refreshing bit of honesty and humility--particularly coming from Hollywood (or Bollywood).

The film is only in limited release, so unless that changes, you’ll probably have to wait for the DVD. But it may be worth the wait.

Overrated/Underrated Films

The Evangelical Outpost guy has given us another provocative and entertaining list. Each overrated film in a particular category is paired with another that is so underrated that it is actually objectively better than its overrated counterpart. The underrated fratnernity film PCU, for example, is judged actually to be better than the overrated ANIMAL HOUSE. Well, he’s wrong on that. But the underrated METROPOLITAN (is an Oscar nominee really so underrated?) is surely much better than the overrated RAGING BULL (category--best movies of the the 80s). Well, you decide for yourself whetehr MILLER’S CROSSING is really better than SCARFACE (it is) or ROMAN HOLIDAY is really better than BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (close call), and so forth.

Here’s the Pro-Fred WEEKLY STANDARD article

...that Carl linked in the thread below. Well, I didn’t see the debate either (because I was listening to Bernard Lewis instead at ISI), but it didn’t seem to help Romney or Giuliani or anyone else. And so eyes are increasingly turning to the smart and eloquent Thompson, who may, in truth, actually be underpolling at this point.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking at Seattle Pacific University next Monday on human dignity in America. Earlier in the day I’ll talk about literature and politics for the legendary Andrew Tadie at Seattle University.

Great Conference at Princeton (May 14-15) by the Madison Center and the new Association for the Study of Free Institutions. The first panel will include my reflections on teaching THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND last fall. For more the ASFI, go here.

More change (?) in the evangelical ranks

This article treats Rod Dreher (last I checked, not an evangelical) as a principal analyst and spokesman for evangelicals. It also holds the what I suppose for the writer is the hope that evangelicals will be "evolving" politically, presumably away from the social agenda of the older generation and the Republican Party. As I recently noted, this narrative suffers from some severe blind spots. And the evidence from 2006, with evangelicals still voting overwhelmingly for Republican candidates in a perfectly awful year, doesn’t really support the argument for evolution. (Stay tuned to this site for an article by Mark Silk and John C. Green that goes over the 2006 polling data, finding little movement among evangelicals, but lots among infrequent church attenders, as well as others; the article is available in print, but not yet on the web.)

In other words, the article is for the most part wishful thinking, driven by an agenda.

Dangerous Nation

Is the United States dangerous? Foreign policy, interest and justice, as called by Mac Owens in a review of Robert Kagan’s Dangerous Nation.

American character

Bill McClay reflects, rather "optimistically" (see also today’s NRO’s The Corner thread begun by Mona Charen here), on the unpredictable response of American character (or Americans’ characters) to the challenges we face today. Here’s his conclusion:

The lesson for Americans is clear. There may be today, just as George Kennan famously observed 60 years ago of the Cold War, a certain providential quality to the challenges that have been placed before us at this time. Certainly the challenges presented by Islamist terrorism are ones that confront us (and even more profoundly confront Europe) in the very places where we are confused and irresolute, and force us to see that we have fallen into ways of thinking and living that we cannot and should not sustain. They represent a mortal threat—but they are also an opportunity. By forcing us to defend ourselves, they force us to take to heart the question of what kind of civilization we are willing, and able, to defend. Not merely as an academic question, but a question of life and death.

Read the whole, very rich essay, which was commissioned for
the 2007 Hudson Institute Bradley Symposium.

Richard John Neuhaus’ contribution is also interesting, offering, for example, this:

Both contract and covenant are integral to American identity. We are a nation under law by constitutional contract—a contract presupposing covenantal accountability. To say that we are a nation “under God” is to speak of promise, but it is, at least as importantly, to speak of a nation under judgment. Thus is contract tied to covenantal aspiration and covenantal aspiration restrained by contractual agreement.

This dialectic, if you will, between contract and covenant is the distinctly American way of joining the particular and the universal. Contemporary multiculturalisms that would embrace every culture but our own dissolve the dialectic, reaching for an inclusiveness that, were they to have their way, would result in the exclusion of American identity. Like Esperanto, the supposedly universal language spoken only by a small band of sectaries, multiculturalism as conventionally promoted rejects the particular for the sake of the universal and ends up betraying both. Multiculturalism, like Esperanto, ends up as the monoculturalism of a very small culture.

John McWhorter is much more downbeat.

The transcript of the ensuing discussion should be available on the Hudson site within about a week.

Missed Opportunity

I didn’t watch the debat either, but I understand Chris Matthews stumped Romney (or someone) with the question, "What do you like least about America?"

I’d like to think I would have responded: "Preening journalists like you, Chris." Next question?

The debate

I didn’t watch it (bad blogger!), but I’ve read a good bit about it, including Peggy Noonan, Byron York, the Power Line guys, James Robbins, the NRO symposiasts, and will get to others later.

Of course, "the people" aren’t really paying attention yet, so their view of the field will be filtered by what they read, which means, I suppose, that Romney will be marginally helped by his performance and Giuliani marginally hurt. None of the second-tier candidates is likely to profit greatly by accounts of his performance, though I expect that cherry-picked clips will find their way to their websites, just as other cherry-picked clips will show up on YouTube.

Giuliani has gotten a lot of grief for his abortion answer. Here’s Byron York’s account:

It started when host Matthews asked a simple question. “Would the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for America?” The other candidates made quick work of the answer.

“Absolutely,” said Romney.

“A glorious day of human liberty and freedom,” said Sen. Sam Brownback.

“Yes, it was wrongly decided,” said former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

“Most certainly,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“Yes,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter.

Then the question came to Giuliani. “It would be O.K.,” he said.

“O.K. to repeal?” asked Matthews.

“It would be O.K. to repeal,” Giuliani said. “It would be also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent and I think a judge has to make that decision.”

“Would it be O.K. if they didn’t repeal it?” Matthews pressed.

“I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it. We’re a federalist system of government and states can make their own decisions.”

That exchange boiled down to Giuliani saying, It’s O.K. if Roe is overturned, and it’s O.K. if it’s not. Later, in the Spin Room, Giuliani adviser Bill Simon was asked if that constituted a solid position on the issue.

“I think what he was saying was that the fact that Roe v. Wade was overruled or not overruled, it could happen either way,” Simon answered. “What he’s in favor of is appointing strict constructionist judges.” Such judges, Simon explained, might overturn Roe, or they might not.

But is that a position on the issue?

“I don’t think he was wishy-washy at all,” Simon continued. “In fact, he has a very well thought-through position. It’s very nuanced. It’s not something that you can say in one sound bite in 15 seconds.”

I’m sure it looked pretty bad on television, but, properly explained and framed, it’s not a bad answer. It is, rather, an inarticulate version of the "no litmus test" position that Republicans always offer when Democrats accuse them of vetting judicial candidates solely on the grounds of whether they’d overturn Roe (which is a case of the pot calling the kettle black). What Giuliani should have said is that he would love to see Roe overturned and the issue returned to the states, but that he can’t impose any sort of single-case litmus test in the judicial selection process. If it’s improper for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask about overturning Roe, it’s equally improper for the President to do more than get a good understanding of how potential nominees would approach cases. Instead of communicating this appreciation of the judicial nomination process, Giuliani seems to have communicated a kind of indifference, which is what I fear he feels. He deserves to have been hurt by his performance, though there’s still time for him to recover.

How complicated the narrative

Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly comments on this NYT article describing a number of new books on Southern history that in some ways (quite unevenly, to my mind) complicate our picture of the post-Civil Rights era south. I reviewed one of the books discussed in the article here.

I’d add, just for the sake of a clarifying anecdote, that the "classical and Christian school" attached to my theologically conservative church has a student body that is very diverse (50/50 or 60/40, but which way, I’m not sure) and that our South Carolina born and bred pastor welcomed to the pulpit this past Sunday a Haitian--Jean Paul Baptiste--who’s building a conservative Presbyterian church in his home country. And did I mention that we have an ESL outreach ministry to local Hispanics? Yeah, it’s a complicated narrative. From where I sit, it looks like the religion is squashing the racism.

Update: Lest you think that my story is too metropolitan, consider this: a former student, who pastors a Methodist church in a small southeast Georgia town (known largely for this sweet delight), popped his head in my office about a month ago. He had lots of interesting stories to tell as we caught up. Some of the most interesting were about his many trips to east Africa, where his congregation sponsors a school.

Oh, and I should mention that when I said that Jean Paul Baptiste is building a church, I meant it. Right now, his congregation of 600 meets outdoors. If you want to help, drop me a line and I’ll tell you where to send the check.

Campus Psychiatry

Julie Ponzi reviews Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student written by an Anonymous M.D. I don’t know if the books is worth reading (she says it is), but her review is certainly worth it. Last paragraph:

"The problem is that college campus health and counseling centers assiduously avoid giving out that kind of information. Students are counseled to eat right, exercise, make time for themselves, and to use condoms. As one of Anonymous’s patients said to her, "Why, Doctor, why do they tell you how to protect your body—from herpes and pregnancy—but they don’t tell you how to protect your heart." Of course, to do this would run counter to the notion taught in most academic departments that women are just like men. And that...well, that just wouldn’t be politically correct."

Post-Partisanship Arnie Style?

The San Diego Union Tribune argues in this unsigned editorial that it is an idea whose time has come. Of course, the party that is the focus of this call for "post-partisanship" is not the Democrats, but the GOP with good ’ole Arnie leading the charge to the middle. As the guest of Nancy Reagan at tonight’s GOP 2008 Presidential candidate debate, he plans to inspire the crowd with his mushy middling message.

There is much to criticize in this article and about Arnie’s politics in general--and it would not be hard to do it. The harder thing to do is to consider whether there is anything worthy of serious consideration in this message. I don’t like to admit it, but I think there is.

I think it is certainly true that a great number of people are fed up with the partisan bickering of Republicans and Democrats--both between them and amongst themselves. And, because this is absolutely nothing new, I have a theory about why people seem to think that it is something different. I think it appears to be something different because of the way it is presented in the media. The discord of back-room politics is now front and center on blogs, in the 24 hr. news cycle on TV. Every gaffe a politician makes is subjected to public dissection on talk radio and on the internet and, when he is left for dead, we get to view the autopsy too.

Politics is, and always has been, something of a grueling and dirty business. It may be that a weariness with politics itself is to blame. In the piece by Victor Davis Hanson that I cited below, he makes the case that we absorb ourselves in trivialities like Anna Nicole because they are easier to understand than the difficulties of world affairs. I think that is probably true in domestic politics as well. We have immersed ourselves in the bickering between and amongst Republicans and Democrats because actually understanding and dealing with issues of constitutional import is too difficult. It is much easier to get into the fight between Harry Reid and the President--until, at last, like Anna Nicole--it makes us want to throw up.

Thinking is Hard

Victor Davis Hanson asks why our Spring news cycle has been assaulted with an onslaught of trivial and titillating stories. His answer: it beats hearing and dealing with the truth. I am sure that is true but it doesn’t make the ugly truth about world events any less true or ugly. As he notes: The ghost of Anna Nicole, foul-mouthed Rosie and trash-talking Imus turn out to be the best friends Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin have.

Head Start update

On a basically party-line vote (the ayes included Democrats Heath Shuler, Jim Marshall, Lincoln Davis, and Mike McIntyre; the nays, Republicans Chris Shays and Mark Kirk), the House turned back Republican efforts to protect the hiring rights of faith-based groups that participate in the federal Head Start program. The measure then passed overwhelmingly, including only an anodyne amendment offered by Heath Shuler that would affirm that faith-based organizations continue to be eligible for participation in the Head Start program. For more background, see this portion of the committee report on the bill.

Barry Lynn and his allies are happy.

Update: There’s more here and here. If you read the debates roughly transcribed here, you’ll note how easy it is to slip from opposing federally-funded "discrimination" to "discrimination" tout court, as if churches and faith-based organizations that hire only co-religionists are doing something wrong rather than exercising the right to be true to their missions. Note also the rewriting of history, as if the Clinton Administration never acquiesced in such co-religionist hiring exemptions. Bobby Scott (D-VA), a long-time enemy of the faith-based initiative, is perhaps the most unpleasant of the speakers whose comments are transcribed (and I’m being restrained in my characterization). (I never thought I’d long for the good old days of Bill Clinton as President, but he was in some respects friendlier to genuine religious diversity than are the Democrats in Congress. Don’t forget that he signed both RFRA and RLUIPA.)

A note on Obama

John C. Chalberg thinks about the Virginia Tech horror, and the "Obama boom."


The president of Hillsdale College has an opinion relating to colleges and the feds! 

Obama the Cosby candidate?

This WaPo article points to facets of the Obama campaign that at the very least represent an effort on Obama’s part ot appeal to an older generation of African-American voters. It sounds a bit more like what Bill Cosby once said than like pandering. (Indeed, it might get Obama in trouble with some of the same people who went after Cosby.)

By contrast, as the article points out, HRC offers nothing of substance that isn’t at the same time statist.

Of course, there remains plenty of statism in Obama’s approach, as this LAT article shows. Contrast this:

"All of us know little shorties, and we see them when they are young. Something is happening to them around age 4 or 5. A darkness comes over them, and you can see the loss of hope in them," Obama said [in response to a 2006 shooting]. He added: "There is a reason they shoot each other, because they don’t love themselves, and the reason they don’t love themselves is we are not loving them, we’re not paying attention to them, we’re not guiding them, we’re not disciplining them. We’ve got work to do."

With this:

"We have now spent half a trillion dollars on a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged," Obama said. "We could have invested that money in SouthCentral Los Angeles, or the South Side of Chicago, in jobs and infrastructure and hospitals and schools. Why is it we can find the money in a second for a war that doesn’t make any sense?"


"There’s a little bit of money that folks piece together to send it into the community to make sure that folks are quiet and go back to the status quo, but we never take the bullet out of the arm," Obama said. "We don’t need panels and reports and commissions. We need some surgery on the indifference to poverty in this country."

The question that Obama needs to address is whether he thinks government can be an instrument of love. As someone once said,
"Government is law and justice; government isn’t love". Does he agree or disagree?

Evangelical orphan care?

Because adoption has become politicized and because the abortion debate is so polarized, this is news. Of course, the article doesn’t mention Bethany Christian Services, an evangelical adoption agency that has been at it since 1944, or Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and his wife, who provided foster care without any fanfare long before he sought statewide office. In other words, the article makes it seem as if this initiative is almost purely the result of the culture war politics of abortion, marriage, and adoption. It isn’t.

Is Cheney Betting on Bad Economic News?

According to Pat Deneen Dick is putting his money on the prediction that the global assets bubble is about to burst. I’ll be the first to say that Pat’s "limits to growth" analysis here is probably too dismal and dramatic to really be science, but there’s a huge difference between exaggerating and being completely wrong. Is there something to Pat’s warning?

Deep Thoughts on Romney’s Favorite Novel

...are found on Slate. Actually, they’re pretty good. Hubbard’s novel isn’t evil; it’s just really long and really bad. And, of course, liking it doesn’t necessarily imply an enorsement of Scientology or Tom Cruise. Mitt’s genuinely quirky and clearly unscripted preference reveals his geeky "inner goofball." Maybe it makes him more charming by making him less smooth and boring. Maybe it actually frees him from one Mormon stereotype. In some ways, the problem with Mormons is that they (despite their admittedly strange beliefs and rituals) seem overly wholesome.

Let’s Play "Guess the News Source"

Pop quiz time:

Q. Where would you find a headline reading "Venezuela Pulls Control from Big Oil"?

a) An organ of the Venezuelan Propaganda Ministry.

b) An organ of the Cuban Propaganda Ministry.

c) CNN.

To find the answer, go HERE.

Am I Really Providing a Link to THE NATION?

And Alexander Cockburn? It may be the first, last and only time this happens--but I guess it had to happen once. Here he compares the selling of "carbon credits" with the selling of indulgences in the medieval Catholic Church. A taste:

The modern trade is as fantastical as the medieval one. There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely on unverified, crudely oversimplified models to finger mankind’s sinful contribution--and carbon trafficking, just like the old indulgences, is powered by guilt, credulity, cynicism and greed.

Bourgeois Porn Moguls Mark the End of Illicit Sex?

Maggie Gallagher has an interesting lament at the end of this article detailing the rise of the so-called "perfectly respectable" bourgeois porn industry: Doesn’t anybody want illicit sex anymore?

NLT in D.C.?

I’ll be in northern Virginia for roughly the first week of June, attending a seminar at the George Mason University School of Law. I’m assured there will be a little free time, and have already begun to schedule the wasting of it with old friends. Anyone who wants in on the fun should send me an email.

More good news from Anbar

I saw this USA Today piece at the gym today. Seems like Gen. Petraeus isn’t the only smart guy in the Army, and that there are a few other folks to whom the strategists are paying attention. Too bad the Democrats know better....

McCain Surging and/or Rudy Fading the key states with the early primaries. (By the way, I too am stunned by Romney’s shamelss appeal to the Scientology vote, although I don’t agree with Steve that the gaffe was anytning near fatal.)

The Secret to Fred’s Timing

It turns out that Thompson would cause HBO insurmountable "equal time" problems if he were to announce his candidacy before the movie/miniseries in which he plays President Grant airs. Another issue: Lost residual payments for his fellow Law-and-Order actors.

Romney Lost the Nomination Today

Political junkies all recall how Mitt Romney’s father, Michigan Governor George Romney, self-destructed in a single instance in his quest for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. Here’s my account of it in The Age of Reagan:

Had [Romney] changed his mind about that trip [to Vietnam]?, he was asked on a Detroit television show. Romney replied: “I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone can get when you go over to Vietnam, not only by the generals but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job.”

Romney’s plausibility as a presidential candidate imploded instantaneously. “In a matter of hours,” James Jackson Kilpatrick wrote, “commentators across the country were remarking acidulously that it certainly took a long time for George to get his brain back from the laundry.” Goldwater, whom Romney had pointedly refused to endorse even after Goldwater had captured the nomination in 1964, now got his revenge: “When you admit that you can be brainwashed, you’re in trouble.” Democrats piled on, too. Eugene McCarthy displayed the wit that was shortly to become more widely known to Americans: “There was no need to brainwash the Governor. All he required was a light rinse.” Romney lamely tried to reverse the damage: “I wasn’t talking about Russian-type brainwashing; I was talking about LBJ brainwashing.” But it didn’t wash. He dropped ten points in the polls, and never recovered. The Detroit News, which had long supported Romney, urged him to get out of the presidential race with a brutal editorial. Taking note of Romney’s “inexplicable blurt-and-retreat habit,” the Detroit News said the brainwashing comment illustrated Romney’s “unfortunate incapacity to achieve stability and constancy in Presidential politics.”

It seemed inconcevable that MItt Romney was capable of a commensurate gaffe. Surely he had learned from his father’s classic blunder. Apparently not.

Today, when asked by Fox News to name his favorite novel, Romney replied: L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. OMG! OMG! Did the candidate whose Mormonmism is dogging him really pick the ur-text novel of the founder of the whacko cult of Scientology? Romney added that he doesn’t endorse scientology, but likes the novel. Serious sci-fi readers will be appalled. Evangelical Christians will be appalled. It is doubtful he’ll even get the Scientology vote (which probably ranks next to the Zoroastrian vote as a significant American voting bloc). The faact that it is such a wacky pick means that it is surely true.

Prediction. Romney will not recover from this. He is finished. I don’t care how much money he raises. Or spends. Picking Battlefield Earth will rank as one of the top ten political blunders of all time.

Geriatric rent-seeker? Moi?

Received the dreaded (and unsolicited) AARP membership card in the mail today. Plan to mail the ashes back to that socialist organization after a solemn immolation of said card next week. My daughter says she’s eager to help.

This week’s faith-based flashpoint

This week, the House will take up a bill reauthorizing the Head Start program. Some religious conservatives will propose an amendment that permits the organizations that offer the Head Start programs to engage in what some (I) would call mission-sensitive hiring or what others call religious discrimination.

I’ve got a brief post about it over at Knippenblog, but that site seems to be down as I’m writing this. When it’s up, you’ll find links to the legislation and to some of the pro-amendment statements, which I don’t want to reproduce here. I will, however, call attention to this post, which contains the text of a letter written by the usual suspects opposing the amendment, and to a piece I wrote for the Ashbrook site a couple of years ago.

The big disagreement boils down to this. Must everyone who receives government money be a standardized extension of the state or can the government exercise a bit of restraint, using its resources to invigorate rather than simply to homogenize civil society? Some of course might argue that we should dismantle the welfare state altogether. This week, that’s not the point. The Head Start reauthorization is going to pass. Will it pass in a way that augments the secularizing force of government or in one that qualifies it? I confess that I’m not sanguine about the prospects of the amendment.

Update: Here’s the Knippenblog post.