Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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).