Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Barone’s Prognostications

Michael Barone offers his analysis how the political battlefield is changing in this cover story in the National Journal.

Michael thinks the close trench warfare of the last decade or so is breaking up:

Now we seem to be entering a new period, a period of open-field politics. It seems to be a time when there are no permanent alliances, when new leaders arise with new strategies and tactics, when the voters, instead of forming themselves into two coherent and cohesive armies, wander about the field, attaching themselves to one band and then another, with no clear lines of battle and no landmarks to rally beside.

Romney’s problem

This NY Times piece has Romney’s problem just about right: he doesn’t connect with folks. What they mean by that is that he is often, indeed, perhaps always, dreary, boring. His answers--even when they are good and clear and agreeable--seem distant and disengaged and and cold. Of course, this is said by his people (and Romney himself) to be just fine because it shows that he is a serious thinker, he’s analytical and deliberates about everything. He is careful, in other words. Well, maybe. But just keep in mind that this is exactly the same justification Hillary’s supporters offer when confronted with her cold and disengaged manner. Plant Fred Thompson next to Romney, and the latter will seem to be made of wood. This is also why Bill should never campaign by Hillary’s side. The Romney’s people had better deal with this.

The Cleavage-Industrial Complex??

. . . and other cultural observations:

You can watch the trailer for "Waitress" here. James Bowman liked it. (He doesn’t like a lot of movies.)

The trailer for "Knocked Up" is here. Ross Douthat’s review is not online.

Aborting females

It seems that in India abortion is legal, "but aborting a fetus because of its sex is illegal." It seems a bit complicated: "We recovered an ultrasound machine, equipment for abortions and bones."

Father’s Day: Part III

Just in time for Father’s Day, the ever sound Kathleen Parker offers us yet another read on the barometer measuring the decline of respect for fatherhood.

Liberals, Lattes and Borders

Adbusters has an intra-left rant that conservatives will find instructive. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone works on the theme, unfresh but not uninteresting, that liberalism has become sociologically top-heavy. The New Deal coalition worked, politically, because working-class concerns were always high on the agenda. Highly educated and economically comfortable intellectuals deferred to this political reality, and often endorsed it.

Now, however, working-class concerns and sensibilities are ignored or disdained by upper-quintile liberals, who finance the Democratic party, shape its message and set its agenda. “Those interminable right-wing criticisms about liberals being ‘elitists’ are actually true,” Taibbi says. “Americans who self-identify as liberals have an average annual income of $71,000 – the highest-grossing political category in America. They’re also the best-educated class, with over one in four being post-graduates.”

This observation leads Taibbi to a conclusion whose ferocity would have been at home in the pages of Human Events: “Rich liberals protesting the establishment is absurd because they are the establishment; they’re just too embarrassed to admit it. When they start embracing their position of privilege and taking responsibility for the power they already have – striving to be the leaders of society they actually are, instead of playing at being aggrieved subjects – they’ll come across as wise and patriotic citizens, not like the terminally adolescent buffoons trapped in a corny sixties daydream they often seem to be now.”

We’ll know that Taibbi’s essay has gained some traction if John Edwards takes the advice of one of his fans on MyDD and comes out against the immigration bill. Mickey Kaus takes note of the MyDD posting: “if you really care about incomes at the bottom of the distribution – which is what I thought Edwards’ campaign was all about – then you can’t not oppose this bill.”

Happy Birthday MAGNA CARTA (June 15, 1215)!

Question for discussion: Was this document an indispensable contribution to the history of English and/or human liberty?

Erasmus in Lake Tahoe

Well, I haven’t been posting because I’ven been leading a discussion the intellectual rock star of the early 16th c. at a Liberty Fund Conference at Lake Tahoe, which is very pretty and way too hard to get to. Questions for discussion: Was the funny, practically conservative, church reforming (but not Protestant or sectarian), peace loving, Socratically ironic, and liberal- education defending Erasmus a neglected alternative to the control or certainty freaks Machiavelli and Luther? Or was he an overrated wimp who had little new or pentrating to say?

More on Father’s Day: Fathers of Men

Tony Woodlief (of whom I had not heard before today but now is on my bookmark list) writes a beautiful essay on raising boys in today’s WSJ. A snippet:

The trick is not to squash the essence of boys, but to channel their natural wildness into manliness. And this is what keeps me awake at night, because it’s going to take a miracle for someone like me, who grew up without meaningful male influence, who would be an embarrassment to Teddy Roosevelt, to raise three men. Along with learning what makes a good father, I face an added dilemma: How do I raise my sons to be better than their father? . . . As I stumble and sometimes fail, as I feign an interest in camping and construction and bugs, I become something better than I was.  


John Edwards here demonstrates either that he has not read or, apparently, that he has not heeded this (see esp. rules #5 and 12). But seriously . . . YouTube may be the undoing of us all! Poor Johnny.

Happy Father’s Day!

A plethora of studies and information for you on why Dads are important . . . in case you need further proof.

Accident and Force face Reflection, Choice and American Greatness

Chris Flannery writes an engaging review of this new collection of essays called Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy and edited by Paul Rahe. The book includes essays divided into three sections representing three epochs of Machiavelli’s influence: The English Commonwealthmen, The Moderate Enlightenment, and The American Founding. As Flannery indicates, it appears to be something very rare in the world of essay compilations--an extraordinary, ambitious and penetrating book. Look first at Flannery’s review and see if you don’t agree.

Marriage in Massachusetts

You’ve probably heard by now that the effort to place a traditional marriage amendment before Massachusetts voters has failed. It’s properly hard to amend the state constitution, and I’m loathe to complain about the process or about the lengths to which same-sex marriage proponents went to secure the necessary votes to defeat the measure. (I’m assuming that what they did was "merely" political, and not illegal.)

But there’s a lesson here for defenders of traditional marriage. Once the state courts have spoken, "finally" and authoritatively, the advantage goes to the defenders of the new status quo. Those who prefer a normally deliberative political process to constitutional amendments have to be aware that proponents of same-sex marriage aren’t about to eschew questionable judicial gains. They care about results, not process, about winning, not the consent of the governed. Stated another way, they are convinced that they have rights, which don’t depend upon anyone’s consent. Those who disagree have to contest that claim on every level, with every legitimate means at their disposal. A preference for "moral federalism" is fine, but for the proponents of same-sex marriage, federalism is merely a tactic in the service of a universalistic, rights-based goal. And their preference for federalism isn’t necessarily associated with a preference for political, as opposed to judicial, tactics, which seems to me to be the basis of traditionalist moral federalists.

More Reid on Iraq

Because Gen. Petraeus doesn’t echo what the newspapers say and looks for signs of progress, Harry Reid, who knows so well what’s going on in Iraq, thinks he’s out of touch. In other words, Reid will believe Petraeus only when he says things that confirm the judgment he uttered back in April--that the Iraq war is lost.

This WaTi article offers some perspective: Reid is pandering to his base.

Update: For more on what Reid did say, didn’t say, or may have said, and on the bloggers who did or did not hear it, go here and here.

Libby to prison

Scooter Libby will await the results of his appeal in prison. Judge Reggie Walton says that his hands are tied and, even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be fair to lock up dangerous felons and let a well-conneted white guy, who happens to be no danger to anyone, go free, pending appeal (my characterization of his reasoning). The fact that he offers a second reason gives me pause about the first, but NRO’s Andy McCarthy agrees that, unfortunately in his view, the law doesn’t leave much wiggle room here. Everything now depends upon the appellate court: if it overturns Judge Walton’s denial of bail, then it signals that there’s a good likelihood that Libby’s appeal will succeed. If it upholds his judgment, then it’s very unlikely that the conviction will be overturned on appeal.

Making sense on the fence

Charles Krauthammer wonders why we can’t build the fence first:

A barrier is a very simple thing to do. The technology is well tested. The Chinese had success with it, as did Hadrian. In our time, the barrier Israel has built has been so effective in keeping out intruders that suicide attacks are down more than 90 percent.


Comprehensive immigration reform has simply too many contentious provisions to command a majority of Congress or the country. We all agree on enforcement, don’t we? So let’s do it. Make it simple. And do it now. Once our borders come visibly under control, everything else will become doable. Including amnesty.

Actually building the fence, rather than just throwing more money in the pot would surely pave the way for a comprehensive immigration program that "people of good will" can support, isolating the nativists on the one side and the open borders transnationalists on the other.

Hamas in Gaza

The WaPo headline writer wants us to draw grandiose conclusions about GWB’s Mideast policy. To wit: every American intervention in Palestinian politics has backfired. Here’s a conclusion I’ll draw: every time a good guy leaves a power vacuum in the Middle East, Iran will fill it. I’d rewrite the headline: "Gaza shows what will happen if we withdraw precipitously from Iraq and pretend that we can exert influence without boots on the ground."

Lieberman on Iraq

The Senator reports on his latest trip:

I returned from Iraq grateful for the progress I saw and painfully aware of the difficult problems that remain ahead. But I also returned with a renewed understanding of how important it is that we not abandon Iraq to al Qaeda and Iran, so long as victory there is still possible.

And I conclude from my visit that victory is still possible in Iraq--thanks to the Iraqi majority that desperately wants a better life, and because of the courage, compassion and competence of the extraordinary soldiers and statesmen who are carrying the fight there, starting with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. The question now is, will we politicians in Washington rise to match their leadership, sacrifices and understanding of what is on the line for us in Iraq--or will we betray them, and along with them, America’s future security?

Read the whole thing.

Make your theatre reservations now

This evening, I attended the preview of Georgia Shakespeare’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters. We were falling out of our seats laughing, even though we caught only some of the jokes in this fast-paced vaudevillian show. The performances were great and (as my theatre history geek wife observed) quite faithful to the spirit of commedia dell’ arte. It ranks near the top of the many Georgia Shakespeare productions we’ve seen over the years.

I expect this to be the big theatrical hit of Atlanta’s summer, and we’ll be making our reservations soon to enjoy another performance. It was great tonight, but will only get better as the company becomes even more comfortable with their improvisational riffs.

Steve TV! On NLT!

Okay folks, here we go with a whole new concept for NLT: Videocasts. This is an experiment. Let us know if you want more of this.

Religion, secularism, and tribalism

TAP’s Paul Waldman points to some research suggesting that conservative evangelical mobilization increases as the proportion of "secularists" in the community (county or state) rises. The author of the study works from the alleged analogy between previous white racial mobilization in the face of increasing African-American populations and evangelical mobilization in the face of increasing secularists. I think there are immense problems with the analogy (how can I tell, for example, whether my neighbor is a secularist?).

The author also argues that there isn’t a reciprocal mobilization effect for seculars. Evangelicals, in other words, behave kinda like racists in the face of seculars, but seculars don’t seem to return the disfavor. I don’t doubt that conservative seculars (at least in 1996 and 2000, the years for which the author has data) wouldn’t be more likely to vote for Bill Clinton or Al Gore as a result of the presence of evangelicals (conservative or otherwise) in their neighborhoods. And liberal seculars don’t have anywhere to go; they’ve arrived, so to speak. In other words, I could cast this data in a different light: a big tent conservatism that makes room for evangelicals and seculars doesn’t push the latter toward liberalism. By contrast, the growth of secular influence in a community (and, typically, the growth of the influence of secularism within the liberal political organization in the community) will surely provoke a countermobilization of conservative evangelicals. Big tent liberalism might moderate that effect somewhat.

I could offer also another more "pessimistic" extrapolation from this data: living together doesn’t produce mutual understanding. Is that because evangelicals are close-minded and incapable of being "enlightened"? Or because seculars aren’t good at making friends in evangelical ranks? I’d bet on some mixture of the two, without at the moment being able to argue for which in recent history came first, the close-minded evangelical chicken or the boldly aggressive secularist egg.

Harry Reid’s comments

This has been making the rounds. Wonder if Harry Reid will explain how he came to the kind of knowledge that enables him to declare Gen. Peter Pace "incompetent." Wonder what he said to "disparage" Gen. Petraeus.

Kresge podcast on Federalist 10

James Kresge, now a Marine officer and a law student in the fall, wrote an Ashbrook Thesis on Federalist 10 and the progressive response to it. I did this podcast with him on his work. About twenty minutes.

Faith and learning

This article summarizes a study (no time to try to track it down now) that suggests that, by itself, college attendance isn’t as inimical to faith as some have suggested. Perhaps; but the ways in which we’d have to qualify this general conclusion are many. I’d still say that anyone studying the humanities or social sciences at a prestigious secular institution had better be prepared to meet serious challenges to his or her faith. This may not be a bad thing, as long as those who are posing the challenges are fair-minded. But I’m not convinced that they all are. (To be sure, not all the "faithful" challengers of secular humanism are fair-minded and well-informed, but such folk are much easier to avoid behind the ivy-covered walls. Not so for the ill-informed challengers of religion, especially in the aforementioned disciplinary families.)


Must-see video: "I’ve Got a Crush on Obama."

Hat Tip: K-Lo at the Corner

Tony Blair on the Media and Democracy

Tony Blair gave an important speech recently on the role of the media in shaping public opinion and creating an informed--or as the case may be--uninformed electorate. I heard a good deal of it as it was broadcast yesterday on Hugh Hewitt’s show and, the link above provides some of his commentary as well as other information about the speech.

Much of the speech focused on the changing nature of media--from centralized, "objective" clearinghouses to a decentralized, frenetic mess of partisanship that drives rather than reports on news. He remarks that the pace of news reporting--driven as it is by searching out market share--is too breathless and exaggerated. He argues that this leads to breathless and exaggerated thinking and policy-making.

It is a serious speech and it is thoughtful. This and his ability to at least recognize the enemy we face in Jihadist terror are reasons why I can’t help but love liberals like Tony Blair on some real and important level. It gives me a bit of hope when I am reminded of him and people like him. This is a serious person who reflects upon things, makes tough choices and engages with the world in a frank and thoughtful way. Good for him. He is a worthy ally and adversary.

While I find much in this speech salutary, I think ultimately there are some serious flaws in his argument as well as dangerous implications. It strikes me that he is looking to blame a lack of seriousness in the media more on technological phenomena than on a lack of seriousness on the part of the people in media. To be fair, he does emphasize that there is no one single cause. But he is quite enamored of this part of his explanation and says very little about the ideological underpinnings of many in the media who do tend to view all of life in this sort of exaggerated tone.

You will all have other thoughts and I cannot examine the whole speech right now--but I wanted to bring it to your attention in case you missed it. I am eager to read what you all think about it.

Rorty, Rawls, and all that

My Leninist neocon traitor (have I left any adjectives out?) friend Jonah Goldberg points to a controversy sparked by Damon Linker’s piece on Richard Rorty (noted here). I won’t bore you with the details, but it seems clear to me that both Matthew Yglesias and Damon Linker are too quick to assume that religious orthodoxy, privatized in a way consistent with some version of the so-called liberal bargain, can retain its spiritual vigor. The religion that Rawls (and Linker) are willing to tolerate has had its wings clipped, especially by the demand that its public speech be made in a language--"public reason"--foreign to the religious idiom.

I recognize that there’s a vague family resemblance between public reason and natural law, but the former has to eschew "foundationalist" claims in a way that the latter doesn’t and can’t. And I don’t see why anyone can’t use whatever arguments he or she wants in the public arena. We all still face the problem of persuasion in a constitutional order that exists in a religiously pluralistic society. (I vaguely recall the late Wilson Carey McWilliams making such a claim in his contribution to this book. If I’m wrong about that, someone’s sure to set me straight.)

Dr. Pat on the People

versus "the military-industrial complex." It used to be that conservative populists were against the social libertarianism of the pointy-headed intellectuals and their various liberationist "isms." And they didn’t have much against big business or a fairly bellicose foreign policy. Dr. Pat gives us the provocative thought that the pointy-headed intellectuals are now allying with the military-industrial complete--a new power elite--against the little guy. Is a new William Jennings Bryan about to emerge to lead the people against the interests? In which party? It makes sense to say that a libertarian/anti-libertarian realignment might be coming. But that might be bad news for the anti-libertarians. Bryan lost every time. I’m broadly sympathetic to the Dr. of Love’s concerns about creeping and often creeping libertarianism, but despite Dick Cheney I don’t think the military-industrial compex really exists. Not only that: The miltary only gets really unpopular when we screw up a war, and most people are ok with Wal Mart’s low prices and remarkably mediocre quality. And "the people" love their cars.

Tom West on Rorty

According to Tom, THE difference between Rorty and Plato (and the American Founders) is that Richard didn’t think we could escape from "cave" (convention, our opinions) to the light of the "sun" (or the truth about nature). For Rorty, we’re stuck in the cave and it’s pointless cruelty to try to get out.

But is that quite right? According to Socrates in the REPUBLIC, the philosopher-king completely escapes from the cave into the sun. But the philosopher-king is an idealization or purification human or flawed, mortal experience created by Socrates to convince a potential tyrant of the utter superiority of the philosophical to the tyrannical life. The so-called philosopher-king is actually presented as a wise man who knows what gives being its beingness and so has wholly transcended the limits of images and imagination or language. Socrates actually locates himself in the cave (he says the prisoners are "like us"). For Socrates the point of life might be the attempt, never wholly successful, to escape from the realm opinion into the realm of knowledge and nothing but. The wise philosopher-king is an impossible ideal, an exaggeration of what we can know and do--just as the cave is an exaggeration of the closure of real human cities or countries to the truth.

For Rorty, the inability of contingent mortals to complete any project of turning opinion into knowledge, as well as the acknowledged inability of the philosophers really to persuade most people that they, because of their wisdom, have what it takes to rule justly, means that the democracy described in the REPUBLIC--as the least cruel or most diverse regime--is the best regime. So Rorty. the philosopher, thought he was compelled to engage in a sort of an ironic betrayal of the ideals of the philosophy and truth for the sake of justice; people will be happier if they believe there’s no point in trying to become wise and if they’re free to call true what opinions they find comfortable.

The problem remains, of course, that such a democracy can’t protect itself from tyrants and psychopaths (like our dead friend Tony Soprano). And there’s also the problem of human nobility and excellence, but they’re a problem when philosophers become kings too. Finally, there’s the problem that extreme democracy is a denial of what really know about ourselves. As Socrates explains, in a democracy old people will be compelled to use all means available to look and act young (so they don’t depress people with thoughts of death). And even more amazingly: Teachers will fawn over and be evaluated by students.

Ashbrook Center

This Father's Day, Give Dad the Gift of NLT

It has always struck me that Father's Day is among the most difficult of holidays to buy for. For Mother's Day, the right gift always seems clear, doesn't it? Moms seem to enjoy getting flowers--although my mother preferred her new dog--but do dads really yearn for another fish tie? This year, instead of giving your father something to collect dust in the back of the closet, why not give him something he can use everyday? For every donation of $25 or more to the Ashbrook Center made between now and the end of June, we will send dear-old-dad a No Left Turns mug. Just make your donation online, and we'll email you to see where you would like the mug delivered for dad (or, perhaps you want one for yourself). We'll also send a confirmation email to let your father know that you have a sense of Aristotelian liberality, and that the mug is on the way. And for those of you who strive to achieve the virtue of magnificence this Father's Day, for a $500 donation, I will personally take you and your father to lunch! So give your gift today . After that, take a few minutes to peruse the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in honor of Father's Day.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Our Hero, WFB

National Review asked me for a brief personal reflection on the role of William F. Buckley in the Cold War, which you can read here.

Ralph Ellison

Joseph Epstein calls Arnold Rampersad’s biography of Ralph Ellison a "lyinching, and the coarse rope used to hang the victim is political correctness." The short of it is that Epstein is persuasive, I’m sorry to say. The review is very much worth reading. Christopehr Benfey also reviews it for the current The New Republic (not available on-line) and thinks that Rampersad "weighs the evidence with impressive impartiality." I don’t agree. Too bad, Rampersad’s could have been a great intellectual biography, but, I guess, it would have to have been in different hands. The best thing to read on Ellison is Lucas Morel’s Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope (and await his next book). In the meantime you might also want to look at John F. Callahan’s Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Casebook and also Dannielle S. Allen’s Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education for some other serious views on Ellison. But, better to stick with the tragicomic attitude toward the universe--some magic here worth conjuring--and read the novel yourself: Invisible Man.

Fred as Philosopher-King

Here’s Ivan the K’s astute interpretation of Thompson’s performance lately--on, for example, the Jay Leno show (clip available on realclearpolitics):

FT keeps focusing on the fact that he’s running out of a sense of obligation versus a burning desire to occupy the office. This might account for some of his appeal--he’s trustworthy in the way philosopher/rulers are in the Platonic account--immune to corruption and craven compromise since genuinely motivated by a civic mindedness (but ultimately more attracted by his private pursuits).

A skeptical observer might ask whether or in what way Fred has been contemplating the Good in his abundant leisure time.

Rudy’s Twelve Commitments

Well, they’re all noble goals, but some aren’t very specific. On judicial restraint, for example, he still needs to explain in what ways the Court has overstepped its constitutional bounds, not to mention what he and the justices should do to get it back where it’s supposed to be.

Bill Buckley on THE SOPRANOS

Language and thought are reduced to nothing but instruments for evil, and so evil itself (murder etc.) is trivialized. And the creator, in his devilish integrity, refused to offer us moral relief, but only the promise that what he’s given us will go on and on.

Interesting News

Antioch College, which arguably puts too much "liberal" into the liberal arts, is shutting down. The right reaction is probably "good riddance," but the more serious question is whether the marketplace is beginning to work even in the insulated world of higher ed. Will this be just the first of a string of mediocre, politicized colleges to go out of business?

A Tax Everyone Could Love

I’ve refrained from blogging much about climate change on this site (I’m posting instead on NRO’s new climate change/enviro website Planet Gore), but this proposal from Ross McKitrick in Canada is elegant and worth noting: let’s have a carbon tax that adjusts quickly with real temperature changes. If temperatures go up as fast the the alarmist models say, the tax will go up fast, too. Of course, global temperatures have been basically flat over the last decade now--the models say they should have gone up about 0.2 degrees C or more--so this tax may call the bluff of the alarmists, because I doubt they’d go for it.

Whew--Get a Load of This Guy

I don’t know this guy is, but this video wins the non-PC Award of the Year for blunt speech about Islam. Hope he lives at an undisclosed address.


Michael Gerson invites attacks from the left and the right by sticking up for the legacies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I think he’s right about Clinton, but needlessly provocative in his defense of Bush. These lines, for example, can’t be calculated to do anything other than annoy (immensely) his conservative readers:

Talk-radio conservatism assaults the most obviously Catholic elements of Bushism -- a role for government in compassion and a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. "Purity" is defined as the empathy of Tom DeLay and the racial sensitivity of Tom Tancredo.

The alternatives to "Bushism" are, he says, libertarianism and nativism.

This sort of provocative name-calling won’t persuade conservatives to consider whether there’s anything worth preserving in the rationale Gerson helped the President construct for his domestic policy. Indeed, Gerson would do well to get past his epithets on immigration (a reflex that cheapens him, by the way) and examine why so many well-meaning (former?) Bush supporters are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. He’s smart enough to know that most of them don’t simply hate furriners; rather, they don’t trust a government that has given no indication of a willingness actually to gain control of our borders. And yes, they naturally care about national identity, but not in a racist or nativist way. They’re perfectly willing to welcome immigrants who are perfectly willing to learn English, obey our laws, work hard, and love our country. They recognize that cultivating citizenship takes time and effort, and that it can be done more easily with a manageable flow of legal immigrants. And that manageable flow begins with a border that isn’t unconscionably porous.

If Gerson took his conservative opponents seriously, and actually engaged with them, he might--as the keeper of the compassionate conservatism flame--contribute constructively to a conversation about the future of conservatism, persuading his interlocutors that points like this are worth taking seriously on theoretical, as well as practical political grounds:

The abandonment of Bushism and Clintonism is also leaving many Americans ideologically homeless: Catholics who regard themselves as pro-life, pro-immigrant and pro-poor; young evangelicals more exercised by millions dying of AIDS in Africa than by the continued existence of the Education Department; liberals who do not find their liberalism inconsistent with national strength or opposition to Islamic radicalism, the most illiberal force on Earth. All this alienation may, in a saner time, be the basis of a movement that mitigates polarization instead of glorying in it.

As it is, he’s rapidly writing himself into irrelevance.

Update: Ross Douthat kinda sorta agrees with me, and makes a good point about how GWB/MG could have accommodated the base along the way. Jonah G. is grateful that MG has finally confessed that Bushism/Gersonism is just Republican Clintonism. He adds:

The Gerson column I would love to read is how he reconciles Bushism to Rovism. Rove — for good reasons and bad — based Bush’s electoral strategy, particularly his 2004 reelection strategy, on churning up the base. It seems to me that there is a profound tension between holding a "philosophy" of triangulation or the post-partisan "common good" while practicing a politics based upon pleasing only one side of the national divide. I would assume that Gerson recognized this and it caused him no small amount of frustration. But, that is merely my assumption. I’d love to hear his views on the subject.

I don’t know what Gerson would say, and don’t have time for a long answer myself, but would like to make two points. First, for a number of reasons (to name two: Florida and Iraq), any effort to make political hay of compassionate conservatism in 2004 was impossible; the Bush campaign had to respond to a polarized politics, and did so quite successfully. Indeed, even if it remains viable, compassionate conservatism can’t surface again until Iraq isn’t the overarching issue. Fortunately for the two or three remaining admitted compassionate conservatives, we the people have a short memory. Just wait ’til 2012!

Second, some argue that, whatever was (and is?) the case with Bush (and Gerson), for the most part compassionate conservatism was regarded as simply an election ploy (and hence dispensable). I think that’s right for all too many Republicans, especially the Congressional party, who took it as a license for their pork-laden version of big-government conservatism. Bush could have confronted the Congressional porkmeisters, but in the face of the hyperpartisan Democratic bitterness that followed the 2000 election, he was probably too taken with the eleventh commandment. (He and Gerson have abandoned it now, for altogether the wrong reasons, and in the wrong cause.)

Pain in the Neck

A whale that is more than 130 years old was caught off the coast of Alaska and discovered to have been carrying around a weapon fragment from a whaling hunt that probably occurred more than 100 years ago. Look at the thing that was embedded in this whale’s neck and imagine swimming around with it for more than 100 years . . . ouch! No big point here . . . I just thought it was cool.

Ben Wattenburg Interviews E.O. Wilson

It turns out that Wilson remains worried about the population explosion and species diversity, but not at all about the birth dearth in particularly prosperous countries. On the spiritual front, he’s found freedom from fear of death without religion through the sacred experience of an inner harmony with nature.
On the intellectual front, he’s opposing postmodern relativism by attempting to unify all knowledge. He’s not a "crunchy"; he’s in favor of pushing technology to its limits in an ecologically sound way.

The Conservative SOPRANOS

The real message is what our corruption does to our children.

Summer reading

Jonah Goldberg thinks that we should add Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man to our piles.

Paul Seaton reminds us of the importance of Pierre Manent’s A World Beyond Politics?

Any other recommendations?

Update: Of course, I’m going to read the new Harry Potter book, once I can pry it from my wife’s hands. And a friend has persuaded me to look into Neal Stephenson’s oeuvre. And, since I’m about 2/3 of the way through The Children of Hurin, I’m happy to recommend that as a worthy addition to the shelves of all those who love and are moved by LOTR.

THE SOPRANOS as a Teenage Nihilist’s Version of THE MOVIEGOER

Here’s another view of the last episode I got through the email, which includes a lot of smart detail and rejects the K-Lo Tony’s final moments interpretation.

On a scale of one to ten, I have to give the Sopranos finale a mediocre five. Some things were tied up; the Phil line played itself out, Janice remains Janice, Uncle Junior, like Livia, is left with almost no one, and it makes sense that apart from Tony the only other man who was made for that type of life, Paulie, is left in it. But Chase cynically left too much unresolved—where did the Russians go to after all (they were mentioned at the beginning of an episode this session). As for the ending, it was too cynical and too post-modern. AJ easily trades his grandmother’s “it’s all a big nothing” for his father’s “focus on the good things” self-imposed worldview. Tony who memorably once told his daughter that it is 1951 in his house (this by the way as she is telling him that he needs to get with the “times”) now shrugs his shoulders when he hears that she will be late for a family dinner because she first has to get her birth-control prescription switched. And we are left to wonder about a guy in the member’s only jacket and two Black guys in an Italian diner. This, of course, was egged-on by the final music. As a recovering eighth grade Journey fan, the choice of music was not lost on me. Right before the unresolved fad to black, Steve Perry sings “some will win; some will lose; some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.” Sadly, Chase left us with a teen-aged version of the Moviegoer.

UPDATE: I asked this author for some more specific wack-related comments:No whacking here. Apart from the draw of a big-money movie in which Tony must appear, the scene is not really set for a hit. Tony eye-balls the members only guy twice, including when he enters the bathroom. Egged on by Paulie, he still wonders whether Phil’s crew will really call a peace—thus he must keep his eyes’ open, especially with his family there. I doubt he would be blind-sided by someone questionable that he knows is in the bathroom off to his right (his gun hand by the way). As to the Black guys, Phil’s crew in the past frowned upon using them for hits (they can be used for other crimes but not hits—this was Junior’s unseemly move in their view).

The only response I can have is that turning to Black guys might be the post-Phil Brooklyn generation’s way of catching Tony unawares.

Individualistic cosmopolitans vs. rooted nationalists

That, according to (individualistic cosmopolitan?) David Brooks, is the new fault line in the culture war. Education, he argues, turns us into individualistic cosmopolitans (except, I guess, for when it doesn’t). Here’s the core of his argument:

Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.

This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.

He implies that "people...not so enamored of rampant individualism" are, on the whole, not as well educated as their cosmopolitan opponents, who define "the cultural mainstream" (except, of course, where they don’t). As a sheer descriptive matter, he may be right about the differences in level of education, but one can obviously worry about the excesses of individualism and have a concern for national identity and solidarity without being marginalized by one’s lack of educashun. And one can reasonably wonder whether an education that simply "liberates" from moral, communal, and national concerns (and, it goes without saying, the ways in which religion ties into these) is serving the nation’s good or, indeed, really deserves to be called an education. To the degree that the late Richard Rorty is the spokesman for the educated cosmopolitans (as Brooks anoints him), we see the end, not only of community and nation (replaced by ironic quasi-participation in contingent solidarity), but also of serious engagement with our traditions or with the great questions to which they provided answers. This isn’t education, but rather its death.

Of course, Brooks isn’t just reflecting on this new front in the cultural conflict in an abstract way, he’s framing our consideration of the immigration debate, telling those who disagree with him that the current deal is "the best compromise they will get." So says the representative of "the cultural mainstream" about a bill that, he concedes, is supported by roughly 1/3 of the country.

You will be shocked to learn

That Damon Linker ultimately prefers Isaiah Berlin and John Rawls to Richard Rorty, pluralism with a shrug to "monism" with a shrug. But can spiritless--dare I say unmanly?--liberalism of any stripe defend itself against its adversaries? Perhaps if we can teach the world to shrug in perfect harmony....

That complaint about Rorty’s spiritlessness was, by the way, the substance of my contribution to the voluminous Rorty literature, which you can find in this out-of-print collection.

The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Why professors should have "brain sex" with their students...not that there’s anything wrong with that. And why the movies have been portraying professors as losers who finally resort to having that other kind of sex with students...that’s not good.

Happy Birthday George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12)

His administration is much more popular now than it was during the last year of his presidency. Question for discussion: Is that because he was a better or worse president than his son?

Tony Soprano RIP (well, that’s unlikely)

Kathryn Jean Lopez explains that THE SOPRANOS really did reach closure for Tony and from Tony’s perspective. What a great ending! And one that Richard Rorty would have appreciated. Maybe death really is "death," insofar as nobody REALLY has any experience of it.

Excuse me for asking . . . but

. . . why is there no asking of obvious questions in this case? Like, for example, why were teenagers able to orchestrate a party at a hotel on New Year’s Eve with alcohol and marijuana and sex? Why weren’t their parents arrested for negligence? I’m glad the boy won’t go to jail, of course. But if the girl had been my daughter he would probably see worse (and she wouldn’t see much else until she were 30). Laws and trials are not suited to answer these kinds of problems. The absurdities in this story are too numerous to mention. Clearly, something was amiss here. One of the people responsible, is mentioned in the story. When parents are not up to their responsibilities and choose to ignore or cannot perform them, they should be required to compensate society for our time and efforts on behalf of their miserable brats. I’m not sure what that woman owes Georgia, but its at least an apology.

More Rorty, R.I.P.

Patrick Deneen offers his thoughts, suggesting that Rorty was in some decisive respects the culmination of his grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch’s (I didn’t know that!) social gospel project: "he was one of the late-twentieth century’s greatest and most representative men of (democratic) faith."

What the Meaning of "Name" Is

Elizabeth Kolbert reviews the two new books about Hillary Clinton in the current New Yorker, which happens to be the summer fiction issue. Her article reminds us that in the Clintonian universe no question is so simple that the answer might not present metaphysical complexities that would have left Martin Heidegger gasping. "What’s your name?" for example, sets off this five-alarm fire:

When she married Bill, at the age of twenty-seven, Clinton pointedly decided to remain Hillary Rodham. According to [Carl] Bernstein, she had resolved to do this “as a young girl, even before the practice was encouraged by a nascent women’s movement.” He quotes Clinton telling a friend that the choice was a matter of principle: it affirmed that she would continue to be “a person in my own right.” Seven years later, when Bill was in a tough campaign to regain the Arkansas governorship, Hillary changed her mind. Except, she insisted, it wasn’t a change at all.

“I don’t have to change my name,” she declared. “I’ve been Mrs. Bill Clinton. I kept the professional name Hillary Rodham in my law practice, but now I’m going to be taking a leave of absence from the law firm to campaign full-time for Bill and I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.” Hillary remained Mrs. Bill Clinton all the way up to the eve of her husband’s Inauguration as President, at which point she suddenly began introducing herself as Hillary Rodham Clinton. This change, too, she insisted, wasn’t one. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the First Lady’s name all along, since 1982,” her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, told the Times, in what was described as a tone of exasperation. “We’re at a loss as to why people think this is something that we’re just trying to change now.” A few weeks ago, the Albany Times-Union reported that Clinton has now dropped “Rodham” from her Presidential-campaign literature, though it still appears on communications from her Senate office. Even the one apparent constant in this history—Hillary—turns out to be dodgy. During a 1995 trip to Nepal, Clinton said to reporters that she had been told that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to reach the top of Mt. Everest. This is why, she explained, her name has two “l”s. But, since Clinton was born in 1947 and Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, was unknown outside his own country until his summit, in 1953, the account, as many noted, was implausible. (Questioned about the tale during the 2006 Senate campaign, a Clinton aide called it a “sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter.”)

All Will Be Revealed

The obituary for Richard Rorty, who died Friday at the age of 75, leaves open the question of whether he was a fan of "The Sopranos." It’s sad to think that he came so close to learning how things turned out for Tony.

Will on Thompson

George Will gives a pessimist’s view of the Fred Thompson candidacy. The off-the-cuff line Will cites from Thompson on immigration is disturbing and may, it seems to me, indicate what Will calls a "a mind undisciplined by steady engagement with complexities." But it may also just be a forgivable--though stupid-- gaff.

Meanwhile, I came across this somewhat interesting portrait of Thompson painted by those "who knew him when" and published in the Tennessean.

Resuscitating Reinhold Niebuhr

William Galston writes a brief for Niebuhrian humility (he calls it "moral doubt" and defines it as "the suspicion, grounded in psychology or religion, that the actual motives of individuals and nations are never pure and that the announced motives are always in some measure self-serving") and deploys it, quite compellingly, against the never humble Andrew Sullivan and the George W. Bush of the Second Inaugural, who doesn’t put his own humility in the foreground.

Of course, it doesn’t help Niebuhr’s cause that the last political leader to cite him as a big influence was Jimmy Carter.

For a very smart critique of Bush, calling more for prudence rather than humility (clearly it’s possible to be humble without being prudent, but it’s less obviously possible to be prudent without in some sense being humble), see Dan Mahoney’s contribution to this volume. Dan, if you read this, is there a web version of that chapter anywhere? Do you make a similar argument in another piece that’s available electronically?

Update: Here’s the praiseworthy Mahoney piece. A snippet:

President Bush is not wrong when he argues that despotism violates the moral law and mutilates the wellsprings of the human spirit. But he is too quick to identify human nature with a single overarching impulse or desire, and he goes too far in conflating the ways of Providence with the empire of human liberty.

Near the end of the Second Inaugural, Bush anticipates some of these criticisms.
While continuing to express “complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom” he attempts to distance himself from arguments about historical inevitability. “History” by itself determines nothing. Instead, our confidence in the universal triumph of liberty must be rooted in the fact that freedom is the “permanent hope of mankind” and the most powerful “longing of the soul.” These poetic invocations do not adequately take into account the decidedly “mixed” character of human nature. The President should not be expected, of course, to speak with the precision of a political philosopher. Still, this President
of deep Christian conviction paradoxically
shows little appreciation for the tragic dimensions of history and the pernicious and
permanent effects of original sin on individual and collective life.

It is, as Dan says in his comment, a friendly criticism.

Harry Reid Smackdown

Dennis Miller goes off on Harry Reid as only Dennis Miller can.

Europe notes

Sarkozy’s party does very well in the legislative elections, Socialists down. The left took a beating in Belgium, and Bulgaria made clear to Bush yesterday that it did not want to be left out of the Missile Defence Shield. Oh yes, one more thing: The sword Napoleon carried at the battle of Marengo sold for over $6 million. It is curved, influenced by Egyptian sword design which, Napoleon noted, made it easier to cut a head off.

Useless knowledge

I learn from SDP’s Ken Blanchard that some people think Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ. Can the End Times be far off?

Update: Our friend RC2 says that she has known for quite some time who the real Anti-Christ is.

Reverse missionaries in Europe

This article puts a human face on a growing phenomenon--missionaries from Asia, Africa, and the Americas evangelizing Europe.

Religion and the family

Mary Eberstadt argues that one cause of the decline of religion is the decline of the family, in particular, the reduction in fertility. Fewer of us are going to church because we’re having fewer children, rather than having fewer children because we’re less likely to go to church. The argument isn’t quite as implausible and reductionist as it sounds: I think she has her finger on one of the natural mechanisms that prompt both wonder and orientation toward the future. If you want to, you can say "one of the natural mechanisms that God uses to prompt both wonder and orientation toward the future.

And even if you’re not completely persuaded, the article’s notes offer quite a tour through the contemporary literature on religion and the family.

RIP Richard Rorty

The man who tried to put an end to the human experience of death by not talking about it has died. He aimed to convince us that death is "death," but now he’s dead, and we can’t help but be moved by that fact. Rorty, I think, was our most interesting and penetrating pragmatist ever, and so in his own way quite an important American thinker.

What Edwards and Romney Have in Common

According to Chapman, great hair, firm jaws, and flexibile views. They’re really two Mr. Potato Heads. This is actually an exaggeration: Eduwards seems to have embraced his leftist niche with new-found conviction and an impressive articulation of policies (health care, for example). Romney’s new fiscal conservatism is pretty suspect, and he still needs more real policies. But the truth, I think, is that he hid his conservatism in that unfriendly Massachusetts environment, and the new, distinctively conservative Mitt is probably closer to the real Mitt. But to become more trustworthy, he actually might learn something from Edwards’ message-based discipline. McCain, for example, makes two good points against Mitt on immigration: First, his position on this issue has been neither stable nor consistent. Second, he really hasn’t come up with a plausible alternative to the bill John championed, which could be called better than nothing.


This is the Washington Post’s brief report on Bush’s stop in Albania. Yesterday’s New York Times had a longer front page story on the (nowadays) extraordinarily pro-American (and even pro-Bush) sentiment everywhere in Albania, which is 70% Muslim. A couple of excerpts from the NYT story:

"Albania is for sure the most pro-American country in Europe, maybe even in the world," said Edi Rama, Tirana’s mayor and leader of the opposition Socialists. "Nowhere else can you find such respect and hospitality for the president of the United States. Even in Michigan, he wouldn’t be as welcome."

It [Albania] was one of the first countries to send troops to Afghanistan and one of the first to join the forces in Iraq. It has soldiers in both places.

"They will continue to be deployed as long as the Americans are there," Albania’s president, Alfred Moisiu, said proudly in an interview.

Most recently, the country has quietly taken several former detainees from the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, off the Bush administration’s hands when sending them to their home countries was out of the question. There are eight so far, and Mr. Moisiu said he is open to accepting more.

Mr. Rama, Tirana’s mayor, says he is offended when Albania’s pro-Americanism is cast as an expression of "provincial submission."

"It’s not about being blind," he said, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Great Seal of the United States. "The U.S. is something that is really crucial for the destiny of the world."