Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy Birthday President Carter

Tomorrow is Jimmy’s birthday. He is out with yet another book, this one more boring than controversial. We Georgians are supposed to defend our own, but I’ll leave our president in your hands.

What’s Going on in Fred’s Head

This very interesting NYT account portrays Senator Thompson as having been very thoughtful and not lazy at all. His reflections on the tough call that was his vote to convict Clinton are subtle and true to the facts. He has spun his views to make himself seem more conservative now than he was then, but all along he’s been a true friend of federalism. Thr remarkably self-examined Fred had good reasons for wanting to leave the senate. But they also suggest that he doesn’t really want to enter the White House. All in all, this article elevates my opinion of Fred the man, but maybe at the expense of Fred the candidate.

The Banality of Rand and Greenspan

Andrew Ferguson mocks tales of purpose-driven selfish and rational heroes triumphing over the parasites who always threaten to drag them down. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

A Reminder to Nashville Cats

I’ll will speaking at Belmont on October 5 and 6 (Friday evening and Saturday morning). Learn more about the event and the wonderful organization that’s sponsoring me HERE.


The WaPo’s Thomas Ricks says that, by and large, no matter who’s in the White House (well, Dennis Kucinich excepted), Iraq policy will look pretty much the same. The success of the surge seems to have taken big changes off the table.

So of course we won’t hear about Iraq in the general election, right?

Here Piggy, Piggy . . .

. . . Farmer Clinton is bringin’ the slop to the trough. I heard Larry Kudlow claim on Hugh Hewitt’s show today that this is the kind of thing that is going to ensure the Dems defeat in ’08--no matter who the GOP candidate is. His argument is that the voters saw through the out of control spending of Congress, this explains the defeat of the GOP in ’06, and if the Dems want to go down this path in such an obvious way, they’re only doing themselves a huge disservice and making things easy for us. I haven’t thought deeply about this perspective, but I want to buy it. Of course, that’s why I am suspicious of it. Still, it’s an interesting line of argument to contemplate and there may be something to it . . . But about that $5000--can we make it retro-active? Also, I wonder what Mark Steyn has to say about this? It might pump up our numbers against the jihadis.

More on the Male/Female Happiness Gap

. . . can be found here. The article begins with the observation that women report less happiness than men in being with their own parents and speculates that the reason for this is that, for women, being with parents often means work. But I must say that in my own life, my parents are one of my greatest sources of joy and I almost never feel "stress" when I’m around them. Of course, they are young and so don’t yet need my help. Indeed, when I’m with them, I work less! They take over with the kids and insist that I do other things--like shop unencumbered or read a book uninterrupted. I hope I will remember how good they have been to me when they do need my help.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Ways to Scam the Rich

Ramesh Ponnuru raises this question: If conservatives could implement their favorite Social Security remedies, such as the progressive indexing Pres. Bush endorsed in 2005, the affluent will see lower benefits while their taxes remain the same. If liberals get their favorite remedies, such as abolishing the upper limit on income subject to the payroll tax, which Sen. Obama has cautiously endorsed, the rich will pay higher taxes and receive the same benefits. Either way, Social Security becomes a worse deal for the upper quintile. If “a benefit cut would make rich people stop supporting Social Security,” he asks, “why wouldn’t a tax increase have the same effect? Is the theory that rich people can’t do math?”

There are two questions. First, why should it matter to liberals whether Social Security becomes a worse deal for the rich in the one way or the other? The rule here is, “Not one step backward.” The lesson of the 2005 liberal victory on Social Security is that they have no interest in the question raised by Mickey Kaus at the time: “Universality is extremely expensive,” he said. Devoting a large portion of our GDP to mailing “Social Security checks to rich and poor alike” can’t possibly be “the highest and best use” of it. Such arguments are of no interest whatsoever to liberals who have spent decades wresting GDP points away from the private sector for the public sector to use. Any “reforms” of the welfare state that re-privatize those points, or lead in any direction but the acquisition of additional GDP points by the public sector, are non-starters.

Secondly, why should liberals believe the rich will continue to support Social Security if it becomes a worse deal for them because of tax increases, but threaten to start looking for exit doors if it becomes a worse deal because of benefit cuts? The short answer is, yes, liberals do think the rich can’t add. The longer answer is, why should they think differently? Social Security has been a bad deal for affluent Americans for 72 years, but the defense and steady expansion of the program has never been any sort of political liability for liberals. Our social insurance system has flourished, politically, by the simple expedient of marrying conspicuous benefits to unobtrusive taxes. What incentive do liberals have to abandon a winning formula? Until 1993, the portion of the payroll tax devoted to Medicare was capped, as the larger Social Security portion still is. I don’t remember any outcry when that cap was lifted.

Just because liberals never have paid a political price for Social Security taxes doesn’t mean they never will, however. Abolishing the Social Security Wage Base would be a huge tax increase – a 12.4% surcharge on all income over $100,000. It would affect one in every six households. It would, additionally, be quite awkward, given that the liberal party line on entitlements is that Social Security is fundamentally sound, and entitlement reform really means health care cost controls to bail out Medicare and Medicaid. That’s a big tax increase to fix what we’ve been assured is a very small problem. If conservatives can’t turn such contradictions into a teaching moment, we deserve a long walk in the wilderness.

Biblical Action Figures...

I’m more and more convinced, as you know, that what we really know about human psychology points in the direction of a personal God. But I didn’t necessarily mean this. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Citizenship Test

The NY Times has a front-page article on the new test given to folks who want to be citizens. It is a new test, the first change since 1986. Note all the other articles or sites related to the issue, including this one that asks the same questions of those who are citizens already; they don’t do so well. This is the new test (pdf file).

Obviously, we can have a perfectly interesting conversation on what a citizenship test should look like, is this one good enough, etc. I’m not all that interested in any kind of multiple choice test myself, perhaps especially on something of this importance. And yet, I understand that some sort of test has to be given. And this may do. My father also had to take a multiple choice civics test in 1962 (which he probably cheated to pass, since he really couldn’t read English). But he didn’t fail on the test the judge gave him, as he stood in front of him: Dad was asked whether he would be willing to serve in the U.S. military, if needed. Yes. Where does your mother live now? Budapest. Would you be willing to serve as a bombardier, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to go to war against Hungary, if asked? Yes. Would you be willing to bomb Budapest? Pause. Yes. What would your mother think of this? She would understand. Congratulations, Mr. Schramm, you are now a citizen of the United States of America.

The Most Influential Books

We thank John Lewis once again. In the midst of a very bold and interesting "rant" below, he included this fascinating list from the Library of Congress. The most influential books seem to be "self-help" in the sense of "how in the hell am I supposed to live" books. My favorite self-help book is Walker Percy’s LOST IN THE COSMOS: THE LAST SELF-HELP BOOK.

Who will evangelicals support in the primaries?

Since we’ve already discussed how "religious voters" might respond to a Giuliani candidacy, let’s talk about Fred Thompson and the evangelicals. Perhaps one of the reasons that his campaign hasn’t gotten much of (or is it more of?) a bump since its official launch is the evangelical disenchantment described in the article to which I linked above.

I suppose that I could respect Thompson’s "federalist" opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, but it’s not like judges are uniformly letting "the people" decide this matter. (Where have we heard about this combination of "popular sovereignty and judges before?)

But I am genuinely interested in where folks think evangelicals will gravitate during the primary season. I’m inclined to think that with a field full of "flawed" candidates, the social conservative/evangelical vote will be split.

At the moment, I’m somewhat less convinced than some that a Giuliani nomination will bring a third-party so-con challenger out of the woodwork. But I wouldn’t at all be surprised if some evangelicals dribbled over to the Democratic side in a Giuliani/Clinton race and more just stayed home. All things being equal, I think Catholics are the swing vote when you cut the electorate up by religion. But a drop in evangelical numbers on the Republican side would require an unimaginably large Catholic swing toward R to keep HRC out of the White House.

More on the Alexander Hamilton Institute

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the reappearance of the Alexander Hamilton Institute. One of its founders tells the story here.

Reading al Qaeda

Our friend John von Heyking sends this along. Like Yassir Arafat, who used different rhetoric before Western and Palestinian audiences, al Qaeda says one thing in messages directed at the West and something else--something much more chilling--to its Muslim audiences.

Happiness and Equality

Ivan the K and I both saw a segment on what a recent study showed on the always authoritative TODAY SHOW. Men are happier than women, and the happiness gap is widening. That’s because in our time of offical equality women have to work harder than ever, while men are slacking off both at home and at the office. And when men and women visit the relatives, women have to actually talk to them and feel their pain, while men are permitted to grab a beer and watch the game.
I’m feeling more egalitarian all the time...

Two Views on the 100 Best Novels

Thanks to John Lewis for offering these two lists.
One is compiled by the experts and the other by ordinary readers. The experts rate Joyce’s ULYSSES first, and the people Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED. I find both those books more or less unreadable. The people confirm the controversial judgment of candidate Romney on the excellence of L. Ron Hubbard’s fiction, and so that might be grounds for hope that his tastes and habits will resonate with the voters. The experts more or less go along with the birthday assertion that Fitzgerald and Faulkner are the best among the Americans. But I never said that was my view. Let me reveal my feminist side by asserting that a powerful case could be made that the most penetrating American writers of fiction are Willa Cather and Flannery O’Connor.

Mahoney on Taylor and Secularism

Dan, with his usual eloquence, gives Charles plenty of credit for seeing the real issues and taking basically the right stand on them. Certainly Taylor is closer to the truth about our strange secularism than, say, Lilla. It does take him too many pages to tell it.

No Taxes for Fairy-Dust

Mac Owens has a biting op-ed in today’s New York Post about the Democrats and their "fairy dust" energy proposals.   

The Absence of Reserve

I don’t know why I am posting this--really, it’s pretty awful. So if you have a weak stomach, just move on and you’ll be no worse for your ignorance. But, if you’re curious, I think there is a serious point in here somewhere.

There are people who can be too reserved and justly be called "uptight" or some other--perhaps, less polite--name. On the other hand, I think it is also a truism that one doesn’t come across too many folks who deserve that appellation these days. Oh, there are plenty of people who are called "uptight" but the bar has been--shall we say--lowered (just a tad). I mean, you only have to be a Republican--and not even a particularly religious one--to get that insult hurled in your direction. If you’ve ever wondered what’s happened to our larger culture to explain this, you need only look and reflect upon what you read here.

There’s a reason why the acronym, "TMI" (too much information) is used so regularly today. James Taranto uses it to point us to this story today and he means to be funny and shock us. He is, and it does. But why do so many people today feel compelled to share these kind of lurid stories about their lives with any and all comers? Frankly, I cannot begin to understand the howling about "the right to privacy" and the invasions of it by the Patriot Act when--on the other hand--so many of these same folks seem willing to put so much of themselves and their souls (however twisted they may be) upon display. The YouTube/My Space culture of our youth seems to be at odds with the protest. What, exactly, is there left to hide? What information is left to expose? Is there such a thing as the private anymore?

Goldberg on Giuliani’s Federalism

According to Jonah, Rudy’s consistent defense of federalism is a conservative affirmation of freedom and diversity. But in order for this claim to be credible, Giuliani is going to have to do a lot more than suggest that he might be ok with the reversal of ROE. He’s going to have to explain clearly and convincingly why he thinks ROE was wrongly decided and why he would appoint justices who would work for its reversal. It may be, as I’ve said before, a tribute to his integrity that he won’t he say that, or it may be evidence that he doesn’t really understand the issue involved. Either way, we have to say that Fred, for his his faults, has been the real defender of federalism so far.

HRC’s religion

Michael Gerson argues--following Paul G. Kengor’s new book, God and Hillary Clinton--that HRC is sincere about her religion and very sincere about her support for the right to an abortion. Here’s MG’s prediction regarding 2008:

How are religious voters likely to respond to a religious believer who is also a social liberal? Roman Catholics, with their strong commitment to the poor, should be open to a Democratic message of economic justice. A majority of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, support the goals of broader health coverage and increased humanitarian aid abroad. But the most intensely religious Americans of both traditions also tend to be the most conservative on moral issues such as abortion. And it is hard to imagine that these voters will be successfully courted by the most comprehensively pro-choice presidential candidate in American history.

That might change under one circumstance: if Rudy Giuliani were the Republican nominee. Whatever Giuliani promised concerning the appointment of conservative judges, a pro-choice Republican nominee would blur the contrast between the parties on abortion. And between two pro-choice options, a larger number of religious voters might support the one with a stronger emphasis on poverty -- because, after all, Jesus did have a lot to say about how we treat the poor.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times before: there’s also an argument about how best to help the least among us, one that Republicans had better engage if they want to remain competitive in national elections, for the reasons Gerson offers.

If you want to read an interview with the exceedingly prolific Kengor (it seems like it was just yesterday that he sent me a copy of this book), go here.

Update: Yuval Levin makes a quick political point in agreement with Gerson. Patrick D. goes on at greater length about the problematical character of what he hopes will be "the corpse of the Frankenstein-like Christian-libertarian Republican coalition." He’s less confident than Gerson that a Giuliani-Clinton race will cause loads of bleeding from R to D; but he does think that those who are discontented with modernity might be persuaded to support a new William Jennings Bryan, thus handing the victory to HRC. I’ll suspend judgment until he comes up with a plausible WJB.

More on education and the big questions

Peter S. has already noted Anthony Kronman’s book, which will make its way to my nightstand soon. Here’s an interview that gives another taste of his argument about how and why colleges are failing students.

By the way, I share Peter’s hesitations about parts of the argument, which is intended to appeal to a certain sort of cosmopolitan.

It Turns Out that Harvard Is Crawling

with Evangelicals!

Happy Birthday T.S. Eliot!

He was regarded by some as the greatest poet writing in English of the 20th century. Then he fell out of fashion. Now he may be coming back. He may have been surpassed in his English mythologizing by Tolkien. Or not.

Democrats and the netroots

David Brooks argues that the netroots don’t have much influence in the Democratic nomination process; as Jonah G. points out, these numbers tend to support the Brooks thesis.

Thomas Sowell on Moral Equivalence and "Mindless Tribalism" in Jena

Thomas Sowell writes a good piece on the bad spirit animating the recent demonstrations in Jena. The stunning moral confusion that marks so much of American life this week is beginning to be more than a little depressing. I’m going to go read a good novel . . . sorry, Peter L., it’s not going to be Faulkner or Fitzgerald today!

Homer Simpson Has Some Allies

Neil Cavuto reports that some Senior Citizens from a Senior Center in New York are protesting the removal of doughnuts. "We’re Seniors, not senile," said one of the protesters. "We’re 75, not 5," said another. I may have to re-think my position on protesting in light of this demonstration. Good grief . . . let them eat cake!

Civic Literacy

Joe Knippenberg has a piece on the Ashbrook site regarding civic literacy and the new ISI report. It’s worth a read. I’ll have more to say later.    

HVJ in the Blogosphere

Harry Jaffa blogs here--this time about the nature of his opposition to our aims in Iraq. I don’t know if this will be a regular addition to The Remedy but I’d recommend it.

Health Care Can Be a Winning Issue!

Yuval Levin explains that the emerging Republican consensus on health care reform actually addresses the voters’ real concerns. Somebody needs to hire Yuval to get that word out.

Huckabee to Uplift Us All

The new man from Hope calls us to celebrate our verticality with him on a special day. I still say there’s a lot to be said for this smart and inspirational man, although a former Baptist preacher from Arkansas is probably not the ticket to victory this time.

Ahmadinejad round-up

Here’s the story from the WaPo. Here’s Dana Milbank shouting "liar, liar, pants on fire."

You can read the WaTi story here and the NYT story here.

Anne Applebaum thinks that Ahmadinejad was the big winner, and the editors at NRO weigh in here. A bit from Applebaum:

Ahmadinejad’s agenda, though, differs from that of the traditional autocrat. His goal is not merely to hold power in Iran through sheer force, or even through a standard 20th-century personality cult: His goal is to undermine the American and Western democracy rhetoric that poses an ideological threat to the Iranian regime.

The purpose of his posing, she argues, is to coopt the language, twisting it to his own purposes. And unlike his Communist predecessors who could call on very few open sympathizers in the West, Ahmadinejad has all too many people willing to applaud his evasions and prevarications.

My Space, Facebook, and the New Narcissism of Virtual Friendship

Virtual frienship, or networking, is less risky and more reliable than face-to-face friendship. Virtual pokes end up hurting less than real pokes. So what’s the problem?

America’s Greatest Novelist?

Today is the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tomorrow is William Faulkner’s.
Some say Fitzgerald is the greatest American novelist, or at least that THE GREAT GATSBY is the greatest American novel. And some say Faulkner is the greatest. What say you?

More on Hillary Care

The always delightful Mark Steyn chimes in and in pitch perfect tone. He includes some interesting and compelling statistics about who exactly constitutes this massive class of the "uninsured."

Bollinger on Ahmadinejad

I listened to Columbia’s President Bollinger "introduce" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today as a "petty tyrant" and confess to being cheered by his words and hopeful that I was wrong to question the invitation. I hoped that Bollinger was on to something and that he was much more clever than I had been led to believe by his critics. But as I continued to listen (on Dennis Prager’s radio program) I found myself agreeing with Prager that it is extremely unlikely that anyone in Iran will ever hear Bollinger’s words. Then, as I listened to Ahmadinejad’s ramblings, I became even more convinced that the invitation was more than a mistake. It was a colossal mistake. The applauding in the audience as Ahmadinejad argued that the Palestinians should "not have to pay" for Europe’s role in the "so-called" (as he would have it) holocaust, is not only shameful--it is ammunition for our enemies abroad. He further dissembled reason as he discussed the need for "free and open discussion" on the question of whether the holocaust even happened. He papered over common sense as he suggested that there should be openness on the question of whether the holocaust happened, but that in Iran freedom is at the height of its glory because of its oppression of women. There can be no absolutes, you see, except those dictated by his understanding of ALLAH.

Ahmadinejad will go home a very important man now. He will be able to puff out his already considerably puffed-up chest. He was able to make the Americans dance. He came here to make Americans look weak and foolish. He achieved his purpose. We do not look stronger for tolerating this "free speech" and this "open exchange of ideas." No ideas were exchanged. Bollinger called Ahmadinejad the names he deserves to be called, but Bollinger was chastised by Ahmadinejad, essentially told to sit down and shut up and a good number of students at his university applauded. I think perhaps I might applaud that suggestion as well--but for different reasons.

Lisa Schiffren was there and you can read her impressions by clicking on that link. She has some good insights on the character of the crowd.

UPDATE: There is a saying in politics that "perception is reality"--whether or not it is actually reality. If that is true, I have some concerns about the perceptions that seem to be emanating from this Ahmadinejad talk. The first is that--of all the outrageous and hideous things that man said--the only cut that’s getting any negative play from his speech in the mainstream press is his claim that Iran has no homosexuals. THIS is the outrage? The holocaust never happened in Ahmadinejad-land, and we’re worried that he thinks Iranians don’t produce homosexuals?! Beyond that, the media coverage I’ve seen portrays Bollinger as a hero for inviting him and petty for attacking him. I stand by what I said above. This only helped Ahmadinejad--if it stirred up anything in America, it was only more confusion.

Something significant happened

But no one is talking, and especially no one in Israel (which is very unusual). Dennis Ross has a few good thoughts about the Israeli bombing of Syria. He think Israel has handled it right.  

Sarkozy interview

This interview with President Sarkozy of France is worth reading. His first to an American paper (NY Times).

Syria and North Korea

Please note that there was a meeting
in Pyongyang with a Syrian delegation "amid growing international concerns about weapons technology cooperation between the countries."
Also, Secretary of State Rice says that the U.S. will become "more actively involved in Middle East peacemaking in its final years." Syria will also be invited to a Middle East peace conference that will be held in the United States this fall. Israel has no objections.

Hillary Fatalism

Here’s an interesting discussion about the trendy serenity being enjoyed by many sophisticated conservatives when contemplating the inevitability of the second President Clinton. Please click on the entry "New...and Now Improved" to see and put in your two cents about the showdown between passionate Berry students and the distinguished public intellectual John Coleman.

John Fund on Hillary/Arnie Care

John Fund writes a nice piece summarizing the links and similarities between Hillary’s new health care proposals and those that are now bogged down in the California legislature. Fund thinks that the Arnie measure is going to fail--or pass in a form that is completely unrecognizable--and that this does not bode well for Mrs. Clinton or her plan. Further, he argues that the discussion it generates will bring out enemies on all sides. Look at the nature of the opposition regarding Arnie’s plan. It’s not just Conservative Republicans who are irritated. It’s coming from all sides--including doctors, nurses, the left and populist anti-immigration forces. In short, it really is one giant political mess. Fixing health care may require a much stronger pill than Mrs. Clinton is inclined to swallow.

Saletan on Pinker on the Animal with Language

Here’s the always smart and fascinating Saletan’s review of of the Harvard language-obsessed sociobiologist’s new book. These two experts present all sorts of astute and subtle insights, and they’re both fine writers. Aristotle’s bad physics, we learn, is actually good psychology. But we still wonder whether Pinker can fully account for his nerdy, curious, and naughty self in terms of the nature he dscribes. Because I’ve only glanced at the book so far, I’m keeping an open mind.

Civic Literacy Report

The latest Civic Literacy Report offered up by ISI doesn�t tell us much that is new; there is a crisis in civic literacy. There are some new colleges surveyed, and the most expensive colleges still score the worst, and that is an appealing fact for those of us who are not associated with the so-called elite institutions. Whether or not all this reveals a "crisis" is another matter. The implication is that something has to be done about this now, immediately, before it�s too late. Well, some of us have been working on this for almost a generation. Furthermore, we are not satisfied with just teaching the so-called historical facts. We are most interested in teaching the principles of self-government; why the things for which we stand is a good thing, why a regime instituted to secure civil and religious liberty is a fine and noble thing, and how our Constitution is meant to secure that. So, if this study reveals that there is indeed a crisis, then it�s also an opportunity for those of us who are serious. And we are taking it.

Dr. Pat on the Limit of Free Speech on Our Top Campuses

Hint: It’s not Holocaust denial.

Dr. Pat on the Iraq War

It’s all about "the non-negotiability of the American way of life." In some sense that must be true, but some might disagree with the sense Deneen means.

It’s the Birthday of the Boss

Don’t let your right-wing political correctness spoil your enjoyment of Bruce Springsteen today.

But if you actually know something about music, perhaps you’d prefer to think of it as John Coltrane’s birthday.

And if you’re still all worried about the crisis in civic literacy, you might want to celebrate the birth of the man who did so much to bring that old-fashioned kind of literacy to our country, William H. McGuffey of the McGUFFEY READERS.

Israel’s strike into Syria

At Thursday’s press conference, President Bush declined "to discuss an Israeli airstrike in northern Syria on Sept. 6 that Israeli officials say hit a nuclear-related facility that North Korea was helping to equip."

And then this: "Mr. Bush’s remarks — a relatively rare instance of a president flatly declining to comment — also reflected the extraordinary secrecy here in Washington surrounding the raid. Most details of what was struck, where, and how remain shrouded in official silence.

A day earlier, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli opposition leader and former prime minister, became the first public figure in Israel to acknowledge that an attack even took place. Until now the only public information about the raid has been a muted and vague diplomatic protest from Syria that Israel had violated its airspace and a condemnation by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry of what it called ’a very dangerous provocation.’

In a television interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. Netanyahu said: ’When the prime minister takes action in important and necessary matters, and generally when the government is doing things for the security of Israel, I give it my endorsement. I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute, and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject.’"

"Asian dynamism"

Robert D. Kaplan opines in yesterday’s New York Times that the "ultimate strategic effect of the Iraq war has been to hasten the arrival of the Asian Century." Whether Iraq is the cause (any of the philosopher’s four) is not really the point ("hasten" may be correct). The point is that the Pacific Ocean is already a very busy place, and it will become very interesting, and dangerous, and the cause of that danger, despite Kaplan’s attempt at indirection, is China. The good news out of all this? Kaplan’s side point that we need more multilaterialism is too opaque. We have made allies with India (one of the Bush administration’s least noticed achievements) and we have very good relations with Australia and South Korea (I would also add that our good relations with Mongolia is related to the China problem). Furthermore, we have not discouraged the Japanese from rearming; and they are. But it is likely that my children’s yet unborn children will have to deal with China’s rise, in Asia, both in water and land. Save this essay.

Marriage, as Herr Kant would have it

Gabrielle Pauli, or, "Bavaria’s most glamorous politician -- a flame-haired motorcyclist", said that "she wanted marriage to expire after seven years and accused the CSU, which promotes traditional family values, of nurturing ideals of marriage which are wide of the mark." For seven different reasons, I refrain from commenting, but could not stop myself from bringing it to your attention.

The Dark Hills

Here is E.A. Robinson’s The Dark Hills. Have a good weekend. I’m going for a ride.

Iran and the others

I think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York is much less interesting than what he is up to in the Middle East, even though Bill Kristol is right and everyone should boycott his Columbia talk. What really worries me is that

Charles Krauthammer’s ruminations on Iran and Syria and North Korea (etc.) are close to the truth of things.

Disgraceful Senate Democrats

Over at Anchor Rising, a Rhode Island political blog to which I contribute, I have a few things to say about the "no" vote of our two senators against yesterday’s Senate resolution to condemn the odious NY Time ad attacking Gen. Petraeus. NLT has a link to the site. Here is what I had to say.

National Politics

Shame on You, Sen. Reed

Posted by Mac Owens

Yesterday the Senate passed a resolution condemning the disgraceful "General Betray-Us" ad in the NY Times sponsored by the despicable The resolution reads:

To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.

The resolution passed 72-25. The "no" votes were all Democrats, including both Reed and Whitehouse. I expected as much from Whitehouse, a lightweight on military and defense affairs if there ever was one. But why in the world would a West Point graduate like Reed who touts his military service take the side of an odious nest of vipers like over his fellow soldiers? Jim Webb may oppose the war but he had the decency to vote in favor of the condemnation of But Jim Webb is an honorable man. Would that Reed had an ounce of Jim’s spine. Reed on the other hand puts me in mind of Churchill’s "Boneless Wonder."

The US taxpayers wasted a great deal of money on Reed’s West Point education. They ought to demand a refund. Say, I have an idea. Why doesn’t reimburse the American taxpayers for that education? After all, if is going to buy a US Senator it should be expected to pay full price.

Am I angry? You bet I am. Reed has dishonored himself and his state. Shame on you, Senator Reed. What a disgrace!

Robert Kaplan’s Understanding of Journalism

Robert Kaplan is doing a fascinating interview on his new book, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts as I write this. Check Hugh Hewitt’s site later this evening or early tomorrow for a transcript. The book sounds terrific, of course, but I am even more interested in his description of his craft. He describes his kind of writing as more reminiscent of the old travel guide style of writing--that is, it is more descriptive than "investigative" in the style of Woodward and Bernstein. A whole generation of journalists have come up thinking that the point of their craft is to "uncover" or report on a "story;" showing the inconsistencies or discovering a problem. And, of course, there is an important place for such journalism. But it is not the only kind of journalism worth doing. There is also a need for the kind of descriptive reporting that Kaplan does. It provides the kind of context that leaves us ignorant in its absence. Journalists of the first description should be required to read more of Kaplan’s kind. Kaplan’s style is more leisurely even than that of an embed--he takes a month or more to really get into the minds and workings of his subjects. His description, for example, of the affinity between a seaman or an airman with his ship or aircraft is the kind of brilliant insight an ordinary reporter would need years to develop any kind of appreciation for without some kind of serendipity. And, as he shows, this affinity explains so much of what they do that it is hard to overstate it. It also explains a lot about the differences between those two branches of the military and the other branches. Kaplan describes what he sees, thinks about what he sees, and allows insights to develop organically rather than inserting them into the pages of a story written on a tight deadline. In short, I like him. I was interested in this book before I heard this interview. Now I’m going to buy it and his Imperial Grunts.

UPDATE: The transcript can be found here. But it is a pretty long read, so if you prefer to listen go here.

Kristol on Columbia and Ahmadinejad

Bill Kristol writes a telling commentary on the moral confusion that sadly typifies today’s American university. Would that he were inventing this story . . . it could not be more insane.

Malkin on Sally’s Field

I didn’t post about Sally Field’s embarrassing display at the Emmy awards before because I thought it was a bit unfair. I mean, she really showed herself to be in pretty much the same place she was intellectually as she was in the days of filming Gidget. Why pile on? I actually felt sorry for her.

But Michelle Malkin didn’t pull any punches in this latest--which rather proves (in itself) that Sally is a fool. I like Malkin’s take on the matter--even if it extrapolates a bit. There is something to her description of the two kinds of mothers: sheep and lions. She sees herself in the tribe of the lions and I’m sure that is true.

But I think I differ just a bit with Malkin’s neat juxtaposition in that I think some of the most vicious and nasty people I have ever met are precisely the sheepish mothers she describes. Their precious infants can do no wrong. Try to insinuate otherwise. Just try to suggest that perhaps they ought to--heaven forfend--spank their little darling for mouthing off to grown ups assisting their teachers. Believe me, you will see some fangs. If the mothers of the world actually ran the world (well, one might argue that we do run the world indirectly) . . . but if we ran it in the way Sally Field wishes we would, not only would there be just as many wars as there are now . . . they might be more vicious. Tribalism has its roots in the family. Who, in general, is a more staunch partisan of a particular family or tribe? Mothers or Fathers?

History Lessons and Civic Literacy

Recent posts by Joe about civic literacy, as well as Schramm’s mention of the lesson plans we’ve been developing for the NEH, leads me to share this anecdote.

The project is finally winding down, and we’ve been asked to have teachers test the lessons in their classrooms. The folks at the NEH helpfully provided a form for teachers to complete, most of which was reasonable. However, I reacted viscerally to one of the questions on the form: Did your students gain a broader understanding of how historians use a range of evidence to craft narratives explaining the past and its significance for the present and the future?

Well, I don’t think teachers would be able to say yes to that question for any of the lessons we’ve done. I don’t believe that history should be taught in high school for the purpose of showing what historians do; it’s only (at best) a secondary function of what I see as my role in teaching undergraduates.

Why? Because practically no high school students--and only a tiny percentage of college history majors--are going to become professional historians. Those that intend such a career will undoubtedly learn the finer points of the craft in graduate school. For me, the reason why students need to know history is to make them better citizens--there’s that "civic literacy" thing again. They will better understand their society, and their responsibility as educated citizens in it, by knowing the past--both of the United States and, more broadly, of Western Civilization. If the role of high school history is to hone their skills in "crafting narratives" based on multiple sources, then the subject matter is purely secondary. It doesn’t even have to be true--certainly one could use Tolkein’s various books to write a pretty interesting narrative about the history of Middle Earth.

If John Dewey and his acolytes are right, and education is about learning skills, rather than facts....well, let’s just say they’d be better off learning how to "frame a wall" (whatever that means) then learning to "craft narratives."

Don’t Taze Me, Bro

By now most of you probably have seen thispathetic (but still pretty funny) video of the young man from the University of Florida who rambled on and disrupted the illustrious Senator, John Kerry during a speaking engagement on Monday. Since then, the student and the video have been the butt of many a talk show host’s joke--and some say this may have been his intent all along.

Whatever may be the facts in this case--whether he planned to get on TV or whether he actually was disturbed by conspiracy theories regarding John Kerry’s membership in that "evil" organization for world domination, Skull and Bones, I don’t know. But his behavior and that of Code Pink at last week’s hearings with Petraus--aside from being great comic relief--tell us something important about the left. They point to a kind of childish petulance in them.

Forget all the arguments about "free speech"--who was denying this young gentleman the freedom to talk? He asked many questions--and in a most rude and irritating way. He was tolerated far too long. The audience is clapping in the video--not because they like him or his questions--but because someone is finally doing something to shut him up. His line of questioning was going no where and it was time for him to sit down and yield the floor to someone else. When someone has been invited to speak, as was John Kerry, the members of the audience do not have the freedom to shout him down and deprive the rest of those present the opportunity of hearing him speak. Only the left could imagine such a right. One may, of course, say whatever he likes about the speech on his own time. But the freedom of speech surely does not guarantee one the right to an audience.

But this is to be expected from a generation raised by children of the 60s. When we learned about the freedom of speech, it was always in the context of those protest marches of our parents. We were not taught anything about civil and enlightened discourse--rather it was always about marching around shouting with signs and looking menacing. That’s what I remember from every textbook I ever encountered on the "freedom of speech" question. It was either that or porn.

I remember well my freshman year in college and my first, last, and only experience with protesting. I joined the College Republicans (that’s probably shocking, I know) and a group of freshmen members were suckered, I mean recruited to go and protest outside of the local office of the district’s Democratic Congressman about proposed tax increases. Being young and inexperienced, I thought this was what politics was all about so I was eager to join the effort. The handful of us spent several hours diligently working on signs and slogans. We marched down to the office (since none of us had cars--this took awhile) and we stood outside of the office holding signs and encouraging passing cars to "honk" if they didn’t want their taxes raised. Of course, most people "honked"--but what else came of it? Eventually, a staff person for this Congressman approached our band of protesters and began peppering us with questions. He cited facts and figures, statistics, and quotes from leading politicians and so forth. We attempted to argue with him on the basis of principle, but we were too green. We were just kids and we really didn’t know anything. Our instincts were correct, but we needed ammunition. There had to be a better way of going about this thing. We knew we were beat.

When I went home that evening I had a pile of neglected homework facing me. I gulped down a hasty dinner and calculated that I had spent something like 10 hours that week on this fool’s errand when I could have been learning something instead. So I decided that at 18 years of age, I probably had to do a bit of thinking on things before I again attempted to swim among the sharks. I needed better gear and, more important, a different method. Shouting and marching were pretty ineffective when push came to shove. Our College Republicans never planned another protest (as least while I was there) and instead, we focused on inviting speakers, learning about the issues, and well--to put it bluntly--growing up. I realize that the right has its share of protester/activist types, but there is a reason why you don’t see too many "tazer boys" on our side. At some point, most of us learn that this kind of thing is a game for kids.

Education and the art of living

Anthony Kronman, a law prof at Yale, has some thoughts on how higher education understood as research is no longer able to shape souls, why higher education is spiritually impoverished. It no longer asks the big questions, it no longer addresses the students capacity to wonder at the world and themselves. It no longer seduces them to love thinking about the hardest and the most important things. While the article is imperfect in too many ways to mention (and will be obvious to any reader), yet it is worth reading. Perhaps his book will be too.  

Do you know the way to San Jose?

I’m trying to put together a roundtable on ISI’s civic literacy report for the APSA’s annual conference on teaching and learning, to be held in San Jose, CA, February 22-24, 2008. If you’re interested, please let me know ASAP, as the deadline is coming up next week. I think I might be able to entice a couple of people from ISI to join us in a conversation about the report and its implications.

Joe Klein on Drudge

Today, Joe Klein runs a blog entry entitled "Why Drudge is a Disgrace." Here is what he says:

I know this is old news, but this guy is shameless. The headline, with a photo of a three-quarters crazed Hillary, is HEALTH INSURANCE PROOF REQUIRED FOR WORK but the linked story says this:

At this point, we don’t have anything punitive that we have proposed," the presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We’re providing incentives and tax credits which we think will be very attractive to the vast majority of Americans."

She said she could envision a day when "you have to show proof to your employer that you’re insured as a part of the job interview — like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination," but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.

How stupid does he think we are? Answer: Extremely dumbolic.

Now, it is clear that the article does not say that Hillary’s plan includes these proof of insurance checks yet, and therefore the headline is a bit misleading. But it is equally clear that Hillary actually favors these kind of proof of insurance checks, and that she would be willing to try to make this part of her plan if she could work it out with Congress. So it would have been better if Drudge’s head simply said: "Hillary Supports Requiring Proof of Health Insurance to Work." That would have been more accurate, and it would have shown how, to borrow Mr. Klein’s erudite word, dumbolic Hillary’s views really are on this issue.


I don’t know how I did it but somehow, I beat Hayward to the punch in pointing out that today is "Talk Like a Pirate" day. I take my guidance from Steve the Pirate in my favorite movie, Dodgeball

The NYT Stretches the Truth Again

As a professor, I receive a free subscription to TimesSelect, which gives me access to the NYT’s subscription-only op-ed page. Today, I received this email:

Dear TimesSelect Subscriber,

We are ending TimesSelect, effective today.

The Times’s Op-Ed and news columns are now available to everyone free of charge, along with Times File and News Tracker. In addition, The New York Times online Archive is now free back to 1987 for all of our readers.

Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it. . . .

Like anything written by the NYT, a little fact-checking is in order. The NYT did not launch TimesSelect back in the early-Al-Gore-invention-days of the Internet, but rather just 2 years ago. Accordingly, it is not credible to say that the Internet has evolved to become more open in any meaningful sense since the advent of TimesSelect. Rather, as the NYT’s VP tacitly concedes here, the real reason behind the change is that the NYT made a bad business decision with TimesSelect--that is, they could make considerably more money by relying on ad revenue rather than restricting access to their op-ed content.

I don’t expect them to disclose their profit motives in an email canceling the service. But their excuse seems particularly lame and transparent, particularly given the fact that they didn’t need to give a reason at all.

Is Fred in Over His Head?

Dick Morris provides a lot of evidence that he is. Certainly Fred has looked strangely clueless so far when not relying on a prepared text. My own view is that he’s smarter than he’s sounded, and he might still get himself up to speed. He needs to work very hard and very fast, because he really, really wants to be president. According to Dick, the only plausible Republican candidates are McCain and Giuliani, because the only plausible Republican issue is being tough on terrorism. He also thinks Hillary will probably win. I agree with him on the the latter point, but not the former.

Popular, Practical Manliness

Here’s POPULAR MECHANICS’ list of 25 skills every man should know. I know about 4 of them. If Dr. Pat is right that our techno-prosperity is on the eve of destruction, I don’t have much of future.

A Study Shows

...that what scientific studies claim to show is more likely to be false than true.

Belgian National Identity Is Toast

Not that anyone really cares that much, but relations between the Flemish and the Walloons have turned uglier than ever.

Civic literacy again

Here’s a story on this report, which you can download from the site. You can also take the quiz.

There is arguably a connection between civic literacy (whether or not this quiz assesses it) and civic engagement (what I might call self-government). Many institutions, including my own, are eager to promote civic engagement. Is there a similar eagerness to promote civic literacy? Do we assume that engagement encourages literacy, or vice versa?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: Jon Schaff: what he said. I too scored 58 of 60, though my mistakes were in the economics section.

A Berry Good Blog

Here’s a blog started by some Berry College government majors on the upcoming election. You will enjoy the rather extreme Republican partisanship, as well as the attempt to broaden the ethnic appeal of "O’Bama." Please contribute!


I had a conversation with David Tucker on his book United States Special Operations Forces, just published. A good conversation, about thirty minutes. Good book on a critical topic; thanks to Tucker and his co-author, Christopher Lamb.


Liberals are apparently permitted to criticize the private lives of homosexuals who take some conservative positions, and to call the toleration of this private behavior by other conservatives hypocrisy, at least if this screed is any indication.

Is Heath Care a Winning Issue for Republicans?

According to one expert in winning, Karl Rove, it is. But only if the Republicans have a bold, market-based alternative to HillaryCare that addresses the legitimate criticisms of our present system. Opinion on this issue, in my view, is sliding in the Democratic direction, and mere "Be very afraid" criticism of Hillary will be ineffective.

What Another Study Shows...

Scientists have discovered a part of the brain that doesn’t like to be poked.

An Augustinian response to Lilla

Our friend (we have lots of them) John von Heyking sends along this Augustinian response to Lilla’s argument and commends the conference at which it was presented. The response deserves to be read.    

The Alexander Hamilton Institute

Disinvited from the campus of Hamilton College, The Alexander Hamilton Institute has reappeared nearby, with impressive plans for the future and a rather distinguished group of people associated with it. What was it that Kanye West said?

Nobody Here But Us Incrementalists

Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago law school says that John Paul Stevens: a) was at the Supreme Court’s center in 1980, with four justices more conservative than he was and four more liberal; b) is the most liberal justice on the Court in 2007; and c) this change came about not because Stevens made “any significant change in his own approach, but because of a massive shift in the Court’s center of gravity.” Sunstein deplores this massive shift: Both “the Court and the nation benefit from a range of views and approaches, and something has gone badly wrong if the Court has a strong right wing without any real left.”

Sunstein’s position on the idea of the Court reacquiring a real left wing, however, is a little difficult to pin down. On the one hand, he calls William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, the two justices farthest to the left of John Paul Stevens in 1980, “visionaries, offering a large-scale sense of where constitutional law should move. . . . They wrote in clear, bold strokes . . . [and] their opinions pressed the Court toward moderation . . . ” On the other, Sunstein’s essay has an obligatory “to-be-sure” paragraph, which says “the Court does best if it proceeds cautiously and incrementally, with respect for the elected branches of government. Marshall and Brennan, no less than Scalia and Thomas, tried to use the Constitution to impose a contestable political vision on the nation.”

It would not be hard to compile a list of cases where Marshall and Brennan disdained both caution and elected officials in order to impose their contestable vision. Roe v. Wade would be at the top of the list. Sunstein numbers himself among the liberal constitutional scholars who believe Roe was wrongly decided, if I correctly understood remarks he made at the recent American Political Science Convention. He has also, if memory serves, written of his misgivings about Missouri v. Jenkins. In that 1990 decision the Court upheld the gold-plated school reform plan imposed by a district judge, designed to achieve racial balance in the Kansas City school district by making all the schools magnet schools, irresistible to white suburban families. The Supremes also ruled that the voters of the city had no right to vote thwart the judge’s sweeping plan by voting against the 100% increase in property taxes it required .

The decisions where Marshall and Brennan didn’t get their way are as scary as the ones where they did. Had the visionary duo found one more vote, the Court would have ruled, in Milliken v. Bradley, in favor of a school busing program that would have sent children careening around the entire Detroit metropolitan area like black and white ping pong balls. Similarly, they were one vote away from a majority to rule the Hyde Amendment unconstitutional in Harris v. McRae. Their position was an extension of the logic of Roe: just as the Constitution forbids state legislators from outlawing abortion, it prohibits Congress from defunding it, as long as there’s a Medicaid program that funds lots of other surgical procedures. (The centrist John Paul Stevens was one of the dissenters who agreed with Brennan and Marshall on this point.)

I don’t know Prof. Sunstein’s position on these cases. However he might have voted, I think there is a legitimate question whether his desire for a “range of views and approaches” on the Court has more to do with convenience than principle. I don’t recall, that is, any liberal scholar or journalist worrying 30 years ago that something had gone badly wrong in a Court with a strong left wing but no real right. The sudden discovery of the benefits of a balanced Court strikes me as no less asymmetrical than the liberal position on the importance of precedent, which boils down to the position that conservatives have a moral duty to uphold past decisions that liberals like, and liberals have a moral duty to overturn past decisions conservatives like.

I’m unaware of Prof. Sunstein’s career plans, though assume that every prominent constitutional scholar believes he would be flattered by black robes. In the event that he is nominated to the federal bench by Pres. Hillary, and in the event there are any Republicans left on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make things interesting, I hope someone will ask him to elaborate on the idea that William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall are liberal heroes with whom modern liberals fundamentally disagree.

Judge Edith Jones

The Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, Edith Jones, gave our Constitution Day talk. It was very good. You should listen to it. With conversation it’s about an hour and ten minutes long.   


In addition to being Constitution Day, September 17 is the anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history. On September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac suffered combined casualties of nearly 26,000, including nearly 5500 dead. Although tactically a draw, the fact that Robert E. Lee had been turned back after a string of victories beginning in the spring permitted Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the character of the war. I wrote a piece on Antietam as part of my series on the Civil War for Ashbrook. It is here

Ashbrook Center

New Web Site on the Ratification of the Constitution

Today is Constitution Day. It is the 220th Anniversary of the day in 1787 when the United States Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and sent to the states to the ratified. Here at the Ashbrook Center, we celebrate the Constitution all year long. But on Constitution Day, we always do a few special things.

Today we are launching a new web site on the ratification of the Constitution. This great site is the result of the work of Professor Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University and of Roger Beckett. The site is by far the best Internet resource on the ratification of the Constitution.

This new site tells the story of the out of doors debates over the Constitution in pamphlets and in newspapers by the Federalists and Antifederalists. It is the story of the indoors debates in the thirteen state ratifying conventions and the formal struggle over whether the proposed Constitution should be approved.

The site contains an extensive timeline of the events related to the ratification of the Constitution and a map showing the Federalist/Antifederalist vote across the thirteen states. There are introductions and day-by-day summaries of the state ratifying conventions in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. Also available is the full five-volumes of Jonathan Elliot's Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. There are biographies of the leading founders in each state involved in ratification, and in case you ever get lost, there is an overview table with links to every major part of the site.

This is not only the most comprehensive site on the ratification, it is also the clearest, with wonderful introductions and explanations provided by Gordon Lloyd.

Like everything we do, it is useful for teachers, students, and citizens alike. I encourage you to visit the site at:

Categories > Ashbrook Center

The Constitutional Convention

On this Constitution Day, don’t forget to take a look at our web site on the Constitutional Convention. Also working with Gordon Lloyd, this web site has become known as the finest resource available on the Constitutional Convention. (It’s rather popular too. Type Constitutional Convention into Google and ours is the first site that appears.) In addition to the many other features on the site, you can see Gordon Lloyd’s summary of what happened on this day 220 years ago as well as Madison’s Notes of the Debates on September 17, 1787. And don’t miss one of the highlights of the site, the interactive painting showing the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution.

Ashbrook Center

Lesson Plans on the Constitutional Convention

For the past three years, John Moser, Associate Professor of History at Ashland University, and the Ashbrook Center have been working with the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce lesson plans for their EDSITEment web site. Today the NEH is launching three of those lesson plans on the Constitutional Convention. Written by Christopher Burkett, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, and Patricia Dillon, an AP US History teacher at Tug Valley High School in Williamson, West Virginia, the three lessons cover The Road to the Constitutional Convention, The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention, and Creating the Office of the Presidency. You can also view all of the lesson plans created by the Ashbrook Center as a part of this project.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Happy Constitution Day!

Today is Constitution Day. You can read some stories about this brand new holiday--celebrated only since 2004--here and here.

Here’s a rather depressing survey focusing on the state of high school students’ First Amendment knowlege, a companion to the survey about which I blogged here. (Here is a copy of the survey form; unfortunately I can’t at the moment get access to a full survey report.)

Last (and perhaps least), the kind folks at The American Spectator Online have generously posted a short piece I wrote formalizing some of the thoughts I posted here last week. This new survey confirms my thought that we have a long way to go in our efforts at civic education.

Berkowitz on Lilla

Peter has the first smart and penetrating review of Mark’s book so far. A book that doesn’t really come to terms with Strauss or do justice to America can’t be all good. As I said before, there’s a third, non-stillborn alternative to political theology and Hobbesian political philosophy that gives both religion and politics their due, and our Founders’ (certainly imperfect but real) illumination by that alternative elevates them and their Constitution above what Lilla admits is simplistic and humanly unsatisfying Hobbesian psychology. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Allan Bloom in the NYT

This essay in the NYT (hat tip: Stanley Kurtz) suggests both that the multiculturalists won the "canon wars" and that it was a Pyrrhic victory (although one of the results is that apparently few students would have a clue about who Pyrrhus was). Focusing on the study of literature (and not really on either core curricula or other "humanistic" disciplines), the essayist suggests that the smaller proportion of students who major in English are exposed, above all, to the idiosyncratically specialized tastes of their professors, at the expense of a larger and deeper cultural awareness. Having been educated in a similar system themselves, the professors are apparently incapable of fleshing out the horizon in which students could situate their contemporary reading.

Time out, as one of my illustrious grad school professors used to say, for an anecdote. Speaking with a group of freshmen earlier this semester, I quoted the line, "Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger." "Oh yeah, someone responded, that’s so-and-so [I can’t remember the name of the evanescent contemporary cultural icon he cited]." "Actually no," I responded, "that’s Nietzsche."

One conclusion one might draw from the NYT’s line of argument is that an effort to inculcate students in something resembling the traditional canon (not worshipfully, but thoughtfully and critically) might actually "sell" better than the alternative, the result of which is to let increasing numbers of students slip away from the humanities to more lucrative and less apparently frivolous fields of study. There is, I think, a cultural and civilizational price to be paid for this flight. I wonder if we can recover some of what we’ve lost by trying to remember how to teach what we’ve forgotten. My experience at Oglethorpe, which has had a "Great Books"-oriented Core Curriculum for quite some time, is that many students come to be quite fond of it an quite proud of what they have come, through great difficulty, to know.

The military and society

Jay Bookman, a liberal editorialist for the Atlanta paper (I almost don’t need the adjective), offers a relatively interesting piece on professional military reactions to the public distance (not exactly uninterest, but certainly not intimate involvement) from the Iraq War. He quotes from this article, which strikes me as worth reading. The passages Bookman cites about the importance of involving the populace more directly in any future commitments of military force are sertainly important (and Bookman doesn’t refer to the author’s argument that the inevitable future commitments will be even more complicatd than those in Iraq and Afghanistan).

But this one is also worth noting:

Perhaps the most decisive factor that will determine
who emerges victorious in current and future wars is which side can gain consistent advantage in the holistic information environment that plays out across the globe, near and far from the “front lines.” In short, the commander who prevails in the information war is almost certain to win the war itself. Perception has a nagging tendency of determining how our enemies, our allies, and our own societies view war, often regardless of what is actually happening on the ground. If we are unable to do a better job than our enemies of influencing the world’s perception, then even the most brilliantly conceived campaign plans will be unlikely to succeed.
I wrote about this issue some time ago, and am glad to see that people are still thinking about it.

Apocalypse tomorrow

Our friend Eduardo Velasquez, author of this book, will appear on this call-in radio program tomorrow (Monday, September 17th) at 3 p.m.

Mark Lilla’s big book

Here’s a not terribly deep or interesting Sunday NYT review of Mark Lilla’s new book by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.

I eagerly await something more penetrating.

A shift to the left?

I have to confess that I don’t find this argument convincing. I agree that a reputation for incompetence has hurt Republicans and the Bush Administration; and that may be enough substantially to harm Republican prospects in 2008. But almost everything hinges on how Iraq looks and the confidence voters have that a candidate can deal with it.

Of course, this assessment is subject to revision if there’s a substantial economic downturn associated with slowness in the real estate market.

The other shifts in public opinion that the authors identify--a modest movement back toward the welfare state and a modest uptick in secularism--don’t, I think, shift the political ground substantially, at least not on their own. I’m not convinced, for example, that young seculars will remain secular once they marry and have children. Of course, that won’t likely happen by 2008, but it’s also highly unlikely that Republicans will nominate someone as closely identified with religious conservatives as is GWB.

A concern with the fate of the least among us isn’t restricted to the political Left, and there continues to be room for debate on how best to proceed in these matters. There are certainly those in the Democratic Party who’d like to roll back (almost) everything Republicans have accomplished since the Reagan years, but I don’t think they command the kind of support necessary for such a radical change. And I think that any Democrat elected in 2008 will have her hands full with Iraq for quite some time. What’s more, I’m not convinced that Congressional Democrats will be able to muster the numbers and the political acumen to assemble a record compelling enough to confirm and solidify this modest shift in public opinion.

In sum, I think that the likeliest outcome in 2008 is a closely-fought victory for one or the other party (with the situation in Iraq determining the winner); I doubt that the Congressional split will be more than marginally different from what it is now (leaving Republicans with at least the power of obstruction). In other words, I’m no more than moderately pessimistic about 2008, and actually fairly confident that Democrats will not succeed in bringing about the kinds of long-term changes they desire.

Update: Here’s one basis for the authors’ argument.

Share and Share A Lot

The Democrats “articulate no basic philosophy to guide their decisions,” complains Linda Hirshman on the New Republic website, and their lack of “a clear and coherent message” means that even if Democrats run the table in November 2008 “they will never build a political movement.” Worst of all, this lack of coherence “is a totally self-inflicted wound. For more than 70 years, the Democrats have had a perfectly good philosophy: liberalism.”

It may surprise NLT readers to learn that Democrats have forsaken liberalism. Hirshman complains that Democrats avoid calling themselves “liberals,” a word FDR used proudly but which Democrats have locked in the attic since the Dukakis debacle of 1988. Her real complaint, however, goes beyond semantics. “For more than three centuries liberalism has meant the belief in increased sharing of social goods,” says Hirshman, and Democrats who don’t embrace this belief will squander their chance to realize “a liberalism of collective responsibility” like those in western Europe.

It’s always annoying when a tenured professor (or, in Hirshman’s case, a retired one) scorns the timidity of politicians who have to win contested elections. By the time Hirshman has completed her argument for liberalism, however, the Democrats who distance themselves from it seem more like statesmen than cautious vote-seekers. Her ideas about sharing are the heart of the problem. It’s a word that conveys a quality of volition not . . . well, entirely germane to dealings between citizens and governments that can imprison them. Hirshman’s is an old wish, that communitarian-sounding words will dispel any fears of authoritarian-sounding actions. Try skipping your Social Security “contributions” for a year, though, and see how much understanding you get from the IRS about declining to share your paycheck with the other kids in the lunchroom.

What circumstances justify the enforced generosity Hirshman calls “sharing?” The real challenge would be to imagine any that don’t. Pre-industrial liberalism was about sharing power, she says, so it worked to limit absolutist governments. The Industrial Revolution promoted a new liberalism based on a “new sharing,” one “grounded in a deep belief . . . in the significance of the human capacity for pleasure and pain and meaningful work.”

A government whose agenda is constrained by the breakthrough discovery that people prefer pleasure to pain, and meaningful work to drudgery, is a government constrained by nothing. Thus, Hirshman’s argument for national health insurance rests on the premise that a “large segment of [the] population, who can feel pain,” aren’t able to alleviate it on their own. Chances are, however, that an even larger segment of people feel they’re stuck in a crappy job. Hide your wallet before you ask Prof. Hirshman what we should do for them.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Those in or near Nashville on October 5-6 won’t want to miss these illuminating lectures.

Today’s Rat Choice Challenge

From Ratzinger, "On the Theological Basis of Prayer and Liturgy":

...there is a a God of revelation. This was already formulated in the philosophy of the ancients, but it has acquired greater force in the modern scientific and technological world. It can be put like this: a rationally constructed world is determined by rationally perceived causality. To such a scheme the notion of personal intervention is both mythical and repugnant. But if this approach is adopted, it must be followed consistently, for what applies to God applies equally to man. If there is only one kind of causality, man, too, as a person is excluded and reduced to an element in mechanical causality, in the realm of necessity; freedom, too, in this case is a mythical idea. In this sense it can be said that the personalities of God and man cannot be separated. If personality is not a possibility, that is, not present, in the "ground" of reality, it is not possible at all. Either freedom is a possibility inherent in the ground of reality or it does exist.

Nietzsche Family Circus

This site is worth bookmarking and checking every morning.

First Amendment survey

The estimable Professor Friedman (to whom I wish a happy new year) calls our attention to this survey, described in this press release. Those affiliated with the First Amendment Center wring their hands over the percentage of respondents who regard the U.S. as a Christian nation and would permit, for example, teachers to lead prayers. I’d focus on the overwhelming support for the freedom to practice one’s own religion (97% say it’s "essential" or "important") or to practice no religion (89%), though (to be sure) only 56% believe that the freedom of religion applies to all groups and 28% believe that fringe groups shouldn’t enjoy that freedom. 60% of respondents agree that "people should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to religious groups," up from 46% in the 2000 survey. Whatever the respondents mean when they say "Christian nation," it’s a far cry from a theocracy. I also suspect that the "fringe groups" that the respondents had in mind are not Buddhists or Hindus.

I’m actually more troubled by other responses. For example, while 64% of the respondents could identify freedom of speech as part of the First Amendment, less than 20% could name any other specific right listed. Furthermore, despite the focus on freedom on speech in this particular snapshot of the public mind, 62% of respondents strongly or mildly agree that the government ought to be able to restrict the amount of money a candidate contributes to his or her own campaign; and 64% agree--strongly or mildly--that the government "should be able to place restrictions on the amount of money a private individual can contribute to someone else’s election campaign." Equality trumps liberty here.

And then there’s this: while 57% of the respondents don’t think that government content regulation of television should be extended to cable and sattelite systems, slightly over 60% strongly or mildly support some version of the fairness doctrine, even applied to newspapers. I can only hope that the explanation for this willingness to support the abrogation of the freedom of the press is connected with the perception, held by roughly 60% of the respondents, that the news media are biased in their reporting of stories and that “[t]he falsifying or making up of stories in the American news media is a widespread problem.” At least then it would be a (mistaken) response to a perceived problem, rather than mere support for a kind of paternalism.

I agree with the folks at the First Amendment Center that we have a long way to go in educating people about their fundamental freedoms. One solution is for ever more people to sign up for this or this, and for other colleges and universities to emulate them.

Harry Potter and religion

Mark Shea has interesting things to say to Christian and atheist critics of J. K. Rowling. Don’t read this if you haven’t yet read the book (but plan to).

I’m proud of my students

Serendipitously today, I had contact with two former students who are both serving in the Army.

I received an email from a young man who graduated in 2000 and joined up after 9/11. He’s on his second tour in Iraq, serving this time as an advisor to the ISF. He’ll be in Atlanta next month, and I’ll share with you anything he’s willing to share with me (and the wider world).

A young woman--currently in the reserves while finishing up law school--visited with a class (after which we had lunch). She has the opportunity, while in law school, to do some work on the Hamdan case, working with this professor. I’m not fully in agreement with what I know of her views on the case, but I respect her immensely, both for her willingness to serve in the military (eventually as a reserve JAG officer) and to take serious and principled positions that might well not be popular with some of her military colleagues. She made a tough choice in school (Oglethorpe isn’t exactly overrun with ROTC students) and another one now.

Say what you want about American higher education, but that such folks come out the other end of the pipeline leaves me with some hope.

Thompson and Reagan

Is Fred Thompson somehow like Reagan, or parallel to Reagan? Andy Busch opines.  

NRO’s education week

In my current blogging funk, I’d neglected to mention that this is NRO’s education week. Pieces worth reading include Mike Deshaies on civic literacy (updating us on a topic we discussed at great length here), George Leef on why too many--not too few--people go to college, and John J. Miller on how well things are going at Hillsdale. There’s so much more that I don’t have time to read it all. You should dip in where something piques your interest.

Liberal and conservative brains

Claremont’s John J. Pitney calls our attention to a very, very widely reported study that, in the words of its authors, concludes:

Political scientists and psychologists have noted that, on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. We tested the hypothesis that these profiles relate to differences in general neurocognitive functioning using event-related potentials, and found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

In other words, self-described "liberals" (among the 43 college students tested) are more responsive to changes in stimuli than are self-described conservatives.

This will surely, and has already, led to all sorts of liberal triumphalism about how liberals are "smarter," more open to ambiguity, and more willing to change as circumstances change than are conservatives. Of course, this presumes (as the authors would have us presume) that the change in stimulus is connected with a real-world event. It could also be a change in mere appearances or a change that isn’t itself central to the phenomenon on which we’re supposed to focus. And, even if the events are "real," Aristotle long ago noted that willingness to change may be a virtue in "science" without being a virtue in politics.

Another implication of this research is that "liberal" and "conservative" dispositions may, in a sense, be "hard-wired." We’re liberal or conservative--more precisely, more or less open to change--not because we’re persuaded by argument, but because of the way our brains work. I guess we can all stop arguing.

But seriously, this line of analysis would seem to make it easier to explain how one-time conservatives become liberal (they are exposed to evidence that their brain functions predisposed them to respond to) than how one-time liberals become conservative. It also would seem to have a hard time explaining how some "liberal" politicians stuck with old policy prescriptions that had apparently been discredited by the evidence. Or might it be the case that people with "liberal brains" are "conservatives" in the face of an entrenched "liberal" orthodoxy?

One last point: one of the principal authors has spent a lot of time studying the social psychology of conservatism, attracting the attention of The New Atlantis with this piece, and defending himself here. He also summarizes some of his work here. I wasn’t shocked to learn that he’d made a modest donation to HRC in 2005; he’s just wired that way.

Update: Our friend Jonah G. poses some incisive and entertaining questions about the research and relays a note from a neuroscientist who has actually looked at the research. If you thought the number of subjects was small (43), apparently the number of conservatives was ridiculously small (7). There are other potential problems with the research that I’ll leave you to read for yourselves. And I’ll pose one further question myself: is there a difference between thinking and reacting to perceptions?

Rat Choice Theory and the Return of Reason

Plus a bit of shameless self-promotion. Everyone anywhere near Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. won’t want to miss this timely conference.

No Pictures, No News

The Israelis apparently conducted a major operation against Syria in recent days, but since there is no video, we aren’t hearing anything about it in the American press. Bears watching. Warm-up for a raid on Iranian nuke facilities?

Hat tip: Roger Simon.

Religion and politics poll

Here’s the latest Pew poll (pdf form here; the questionnaire is here), focusing on the religion of the candidates and of the respondents.

Note that the presumptive frontrunners from New York are regarded as the least religious of the major candidates (the respondents are probably correct about RG, but not about HRC, who is a garden-variety liberal Methodist). Of course, those who are more suspicious of her religiosity are disinclined to like her on any ground; they just can’t believe that she’s got faith in anything other than herself. The report’s authors note that religiosity has a positive valence: those who regard a candidate as religious tend to like that candidate. But that may get the order of causality wrong; at least for a certain proportion of the people, the affection precedes the ascription of religiosity. In other words, for many people the candidate’s religiosity isn’t the first thing they look for, and they don’t look too closely in any event.

Allow me to draw a conclusion about this for HRC: emphasizing her religiosity isn’t going to help her with the faith-based anybody-but-Hillary crowd. With others, if she can overcome the challenge of likeability, she doesn’t need to stress religion; if they come to like her, they’ll by and large think of her as "religious enough."

It’s also noteworthy that in August 2007, more people perceive the Democrats as unfriendly to religion than in August 2004, when John Kerry was displaying his incredible ineptitude at appealing to religious voters. The concerted efforts to portray the party as "faith-friendly" don’t appear to be working very well.

But I’m not convinced that they matter all that much, since Iraq and the economy are the dominant issues. And while there are distinctive "religious" voices on all sides of those issues, I don’t think that they are the loudest and most influential. As a result, religion may well "mean less" in 2008 than it has in recent elections. Whether this will be the "new norm" or an aberration remains, of course, to be seen.

No Such Thing as a Stupid Question? Not So Fast, My Friend!

Thanks to Peter for linking to my piece on 9/11 and the meaning of victory against the "new " terrorism.

I thought I would share this post to NRO’s military blog, The Tank, regarding my impression of yesterday’s Petraeus/Crocker hearing.

As I watched Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker field questions during the House hearing yesterday, I was reminded of a personal experience. As a young Marine captain, I was assigned to the US Army Field Artillery School to teach artillery tactics. My mentor there was an Army captain who remains the best teacher I have ever known. Before I actually got to teach, I observed my mentor as he took a class of brand new lieutenants through the course. During one session, a student asked him a question. I’ll never forget Howard’s reply. "Lieutenant, we all know that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I want you to know that yours is the closest to one I have ever heard."

So it was with the ambassador and the general. I don’t believe I have ever heard so many inane and repetitive questions in my life. It’s one thing to push the Democratic story line, but couldn’t these guys come up with some decent questions? How Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker kept straight faces is beyond me. One thing is apparent. There has been a precipitous drop in congressional military experience. This applies to staff as well. God help the Republic.


Today is six years after the event that, even if we will otherwise, can’t leave behind us simply as a memory. I was in class when someone ran in and told us that something was going on. We ran to a TV and started watching right after the first plane hit. I didn’t understand. I remember the confusion and the tears of students when it became, somehow, clear to everyone that this was an attack. Someone pointed to spots on the screen that seemed to be falling from the still-standing buildings. It was breath-taking when we realized that they were people jumping from the burning buildings. Hearts stopped and grown men wept. That’s when I realized that I probably would not have made a good general.

I saw some of Petreus’(and Crocker’s) testimony yesterday, and there was more today which I haven’t seen. There is no need to re-work the political jockying and the short and self-serving speeches by politicians (or the screech of the crowd). I merely want to say that I am impressed by the general’s seriousness, and am glad he is in charge of operations (and too bad he wasn’t fully in charge at the start of things). His careful articulation of the situation as it is now and the possibilities were good, and hopeful (and not utopian). Also prudent. Make some bow to getting some Marines out pretty quickly and then some soldiers, this gives everyone a little room for movement (and rhetoric) and allows him some six months to get back to work. Congress will not be able to prevent that; the withdrawal debate will be cut short. And that is all good. I do hope we don’t pretend to be Athenians and treat him as one of our generals who has displeased us. I think the American people are too sensible for that. And I am grateful.

Mac Owens on the war on terror. And the non-optimistic George Will has his say. Here are some videos from six years ago which should be shown on every TV station today, as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes it’s good to both weep and become angry. After all, we are not generals.


Cleveland, not smoking

It is bad enough that Cleveland doesn't have a football team: "In their first game in 15 years without iconic coach Bill Cowher stalking the sideline, the Steelers blitzed, battered and bullied their way to a 34-7 win over the hapless Browns, whose season opener couldn't have gone much worse." The full story is here. But, what irks me even more is the anti-smoking policy in the stadium that was built on "sin taxes" (i.e., tobacco mostly). No somiking anywhere in the stadium and if you step outside for a smoke you can't get back in! A friend who was at the game informs me that people were being fines $75 for smoking and some were handcuffed and taken away...One guy said, "give me a ticket for $225 because I plan to have three more cigarettes while I'm here." I wonder what they would do if you smoked a Cuban?
Categories > Sports

Thompson’s Critics Mirror Reagan’s

Michael Scherer of Salon writes, somewhat disapprovingly, "no one expects Thompson to run an issue-based campaign." To substantiate this claim, Scherer adds: The rest of his stump speech is conservative cliché. ’Security. Unity. Prosperity,’ reads the campaign motto on the side of the bus -- whatever that means. He talked about opposing abortion, securing the border, supporting the Second Amendment, seeking conservative judges, opposing gay marriage and favoring a strong national defense. Presumably, Scherer is irritated because Thompson would not spell out detailed policy plans for Social Security, a position on the fair tax, and Labor Department statistics on the question of an approaching recession. As a criticism, that’s fair enough--as far as it goes. But notice that the positions Thomspon articulates against abortion, securing judges for the courts, opposing gay marriage and supporting defense are described as clichés. Thompson may not be another Reagan, but the criticism of him from the other side is beginning to sound an awful lot like the criticism Reagan got. If I were Thompson I think I might consider this to be a good development.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for August

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

Ben Robinson

Ivan Kenneally

Stacy Maxey

Ken Limmer

Emilia Rose Kette

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

Osama’s Star Turn, Take Two

Quite a number of NLT discussants are incensed over my post blow, The NYT Speaks: Osama Listens. (See the comments thread.) Well, they better fire up their indignation engines for David Brooks’ comments on the New Hour the other night:

But you read this thing, and it’s like he’s been sitting around reading lefty blogs, and he’s one of these childish people posting rants at the bottom the page, you know, Noam Chomsky and all this stuff.

You can’t help read it and not laugh at it, occasionally, because it is just absurd. It’s flying this way, and that way, weird conspiracy theories, and mortgages, global warming. He throws it all in there.

The one thing that leapt out -- and Bruce Hoffman and the others mentioned this -- was how Western it is. And a friend of mine, Reuel Gerecht, points out that there’s this argument that Western ideas never permeated into the Arab world, but in fact it’s all -- I mean, a lot of the worst ideas from the West have permeated in, and he’s picked up Noam Chomsky, and he’s picked up some of the anti-globalization stuff. And that’s what infuses this.

Yet Another Reason Why I Don’t Want My MTV

Tila Tequila. What ever happened to music videos?

New Wine Rec

I’ve been neglecting my duties as NLT’s wine and food editor for months now, and the news gets worse, as I am on a diet and have given up all alcohol for a while. But I did stumble on a great new Paso Robles area winery over the summer that is worth ordering from (if your state allows shipments, as most now do): Denner Vineyards.

Robert Parker is an enthusiast. Nuf said. I especially like their Viognier, another white blend they are calling Theresa, and a red rhone-style blend called Ditch Digger.

The NYT Speaks: Osama Listens

Back during the Cold War, and especially in the 1980s, you could pick up the editorial page of the New York Times and the news/editorials of Pravda, and you couldn’t tell the difference. (Sometimes Pravda would save its own writers the bother and just quote the western press for denunciations of the United States.) And Soviets always seemed to take their talking points for summits with Reagan from the American left. Gorbachev, for instance, in his first meeting with Reagan tried out the feminist chestnut that "by law" women in the U.S. could only make 60 cents for each dollar a man earned. This should have been embarrassing to the left, but wasn’t of course.

So now we have Osama, channeling the Daily Kos, the Huffington Post, and the American left. Should be embarrassing to someone, shouldn’t it? I’m just saying. . .

"Got to Watch Now"

So says Peggy Noonan about the now not-so-distant (though seemingly endless) primary campaign. This week, she argues, belonged to the Republicans between the debate and Fred Thompson’s long-awaited entry into the race. She seems underwhelmed by both Romney and Thompson for now, however, and says Guiliani needs to start showing us that he’s thoughtful (rather than simply indignant) about foreign policy. McCain--now that he’s seen to be less dangerous--draws out some justly deserved praise and the whole field is rightly admonished to stop snickering at Ron Paul. She argues: "When a thousand Republicans are in a room and one man of the eight on the stage takes a sharply minority viewpoint on a dramatic issue and half the room seems to cheer him, something’s going on." Huckabee, alone, seems to earn her unqualified praise. She wonders why he is not top-tier and wistfully speculates, "Maybe he is and we don’t know it."

See also John Podhoretz’s take on Fred’s entry into the race. It offers a good explanation of the "strategery" involved in the many camps.

On Russian men, women loving pink, and older men

The Economist is often worth looking at and reading into. For example, this article on how Russia is becoming the neo-KGB state; and more on the siloviki. Not good news, especially for Russians.

Then there is this article, on research showing that women love shopping and were better than men at finding certain kinds of food, and they prefer reddish hues, which may have to do with gathering fruit. It also seems to be the case that women prefer older men. I didn’t say old. I said older. And, by the way, none of this has anything to do with Fred Thompson.

Body Worlds

Richard Reeb over at the Remedy writes very thoughtfully (see especially his last paragraph) about a traveling display called "Body Worlds" that exhibits actual plasticized human bodies. When my daughter was in kindergarten, her class attended this exhibit as it debuted in Los Angeles. I had deep reservations about going--to say nothing of taking my kids--but as one of the other mothers is a celebrated doctor and she was also attending in order to explain things to the children, I thought it would be an opportunity not to miss. I was right and Richard is right in his reflections about this exhibit and what it demonstrates about the connectedness between body and soul. I will not say that there was not a part of me that still felt squeamish and found it all a bit "creepy"--but in thinking about rather than in reacting to the thing, there was much to be admired and learned from it. If you have an opportunity to see it at a city near you, do take it. At the same time, if you have children consider for yourself whether or not they could handle seeing it. Mine did well (mostly because of the doctor and their excellent teacher), but I saw some children having a hard time with it.

UPDATE: Along with our very thoughtful commenters, Postmodern Conservative offers a different take on this thing with some very sensible points.

Just In Time for Back to School

Charles Sykes offers our kids a new set of old rules that--apparently--are no longer taught in school. My favorite (so far) is #17, which begins: "Your parents weren’t as boring before you were born as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, driving you around, saving for your education, cleaning up your room and listening to you telling them how idealistic you are."

Counterinsurgency Comeback

After a hiatus of several years, I am happy to report that I have returned to the pages of the Wall Street Journal with a piece today on the US Army and counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, a subscription is required so I can’t provide a link.

Here’s the gist of my argument. Citing the late Carl Builder of Rand whose book "The Masks of War," demonstrated the importance of the organizational cultures of the various military services, I observe that each service possesses a preferred way of fighting that is not easily changed. Since the 1930s, the culture of the U.S. Army has emphasized "big wars." But this has not always been the case.

Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. Army was a constabulary force that, with the exception of the Mexican and Civil Wars, specialized in irregular warfare. Most of this constabulary work was domestic, the Indian Wars representing the most important case. But the U.S. Army also successfully executed constabulary operations in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, which involved both nation-building and counterinsurgency.

Emory Upton planted the seeds of change after the Civil War, and by the 1930s, the US Army had become Upton’s Army, a force designed to fight the armies of other countries and pretty much rejecting the constbulary and "irregular war" focus of the past.

I argue that focused as it has been on state-versus-state warfare, Upton’s Army has not cared much for counterinsurgency, a point illustrated by Vietnam, especially during the tenure of Gen. William Westmoreland as commander of U.S. troops from 1965 to 1968.

Westmoreland took issue with the approach favored by the Marines in Vietnam, which was based on the Corps’ experience in the Caribbean during the early 20th century. His successor, Creighton Abrams, adopted something closer to the Marines’ approach and we almost won.

But after Vietnam, the Army decided it would avoid such conflicts and the service discarded the doctrine and lessons it had learned in Vietnam. The Army that entered Iraq in March of 2003 was still Emory Upton’s Army.

I conclude:

But Iraq proves that we don’t always get to fight the wars we want. While the Army must continue to plan to fight conventional wars, given the likelihood that future adversaries will seek to avoid our conventional advantage, it must be able to fight irregular wars as well. Gen. Petraeus’s success in Iraq so far indicates that the Army has begun the necessary transformation. Let us hope that the Army will internalize these lessons, something Emory Upton’s Army has not done in the past.

Sorry. Nothing about Lincoln or Jaffa.

National Days of Prayer and Remembrance

President Bush has issued a proclamation designating Friday through Sunday as national days of prayer and remembrance on the anniversary of 9/11. He has issued such proclamations in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Philanthropy and public purposes

The premise underlying this NYT article about tax breaks for big donors is that their money is actually public money. Viewed in this light, a tax break is a subsidy. Which means that the public is "subsidizing" all sorts of things that provide "questionable" public benefit--symphony halls, medical research, colleges and universities, foreign aid....

Aside from the fact that I wouldn’t want to live in a society where all the amenities were decided upon and financed by some level of government (the lack of genuine "diversity" would only be one of the problems), there are a number of other issues as well. What role do we give to individuality and individual initiative? What role to spontaneous communities that aren’t governmental? And so on....

Religion and the 2008 elections

Doing what he does so well, John C. Green repackages old data to offer a picture of the 2004 Bush and Kerry voting blocs based on religious affiliation and frequency of church attendance. In addition, he looks at a recent (well, January 2007) poll that allows him to cut the data the same way; if things don’t change (of course, they will), the Republican presidential coalition will be a good bit smaller.

Shame and shamelessness

I was listening to Laura Ingraham on my way into work this morning and heard a clip from Hillary Clinton’s conversation with Ellen Degeneres. None of the stories I read picked up on this aspect of the interview, nor, I think, did Ingraham get it right.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a transcript or a clip on the web, but here’s the gist of what I remember. There’s discussion of Degeneres’ sexual orientation, a reference to Larry Craig’s behavior, and then, at the end, some talk about shame. It would seem--perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think so--that the world in which Ellen Degeneres and Hillary Rodham Clinton want us to live is one in which people wouldn’t have to be ashamed of their sexual appetites and predilections, in which we would have transcended the need for shame, and in which shamelessness as a distinguishing descriptor would be impossible. Did anyone else hear what I heard?

Update: Here’s the Youtube clip: the movement is from an oblique reference to Craig’s unwillingness to admit who he is (Ellen and Hillary know him better than he knows himself) to gay marriage, "don’t ask, don’t tell" (which HRC says requires someone to lie about who he or she is), back to gay marriage (HRC: "we need to open the door for people to define their relationships"), which leads Ellen to deplore the shame that leads people to do "sad" things (HRC: "that’s exactly right"; Ellen: "It’s all about shame"; HRC: "It is.").

Update #2: For the record, HRC performed well before this friendly audience, displaying a certain warmth and informality. The charm offensive is still on.

More on Iraq

from Michael O’Hanlon, et al. There is optimism regarding military matters, and pessimism regarding the Iraqi political stalemate. The focus now shifts. Bush’s allusion (while in Iraq) to pulling some troops out now that the military situation has been made better should now force Iraqi politicians to act. We’ll see a lot of Iraq bashing and troop praising from the Congress now.

Evidence for Sober Optimism About Iraq

...from Ralph Peters. Ralph’s actually done some real work here. He’s, for example, interviewed our friend the "blade-sharp" Lt. Col. Doug Ollivant, who reports that "the counterinsurgency fight is already largely won."

Long live localism in Iraq?

In the light of President Bush’s visit to Iraq (speech here), David Brooks’s assessment of the slow sea change in thinking about that country is interesting. Brooks argues that a stable Iraq will not come from a (non-existent) non-sectarian center, but from the efforts of local tribes to impose order on their areas. As he puts it,

The crucial question now is: Do these tribes represent proto-local governments, or are they simply regional bands arming themselves in anticipation of a cataclysmic civil war?

To elaborate on this question, I’d add: Will their experience in cooperating with Americans to impose and maintain local security and stability encourage them to cooperate with their neighbors who are also interested in imposing and maintaining local security and stability?

In the course of his column, he cites this NYT Mag article, this piece on the Small Wars Journal website, and this report by Anthony Cordesman.

Update: Here’s something along similar lines in today’s WSJ. An interesting paragraph:

Gen. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, often refers to the need for "accommodation." He argues it is unrealistic to think Iraqis will reconcile any time soon. But maybe they can "accommodate" each other. Whether it’s called "accommodation," "bottom-up reconciliation" or "soft partition," U.S. officials quietly acknowledge that they are basically talking about a strategy focused on strengthening local leaders to make them more self-sufficient and less reliant on the central government. "If the central government doesn’t want to take control, maybe the locals will," said one senior U.S. commander who has played a key role in crafting the new approach. "It is too early to tell. We are riding a tiger. It may take us where we want to go."


Well, Paul demands a report on what happened in Chicago. The worst news: Instead of centering on the beautiful and historic Palmer House, most convention activity was found in hotels that are very generic, ugly, full of clip joints, and endlessly confusing--a Hyatt and a Sheraton. The book room--the social center, obviously--really was a cave beneath the cave.

The best news, from an NLT perspective, is that most of the best and most hugely attended panels were Claremont roundtables. Many APSA panels had more participants than audience in a big room. The Claremont people were often overflow crowds packed into small rooms. I reject all paranoid theories about marginalization and blame bureaucratic incompetence for this ridiculous injustice.

Because everything is finally all about me, let me say a few words about the roundtable I was on, which concerned whether social conservatism is good for conservatism. The panelists agreed that nobody knew what social conservatism was, and the phrase was vulgar and trivialized genuine political concerns shared by lots of Americans.

Hadley Arkes insisted that politics and law couldn’t be separated from the truth about morality human beings share in common, and that even the Bush administration must be criticized for doing so little to protect unborn life. Hadley was particularly hard on the libertarians, while admitting that he agreed with them about 85% of the time. His most memorable comment was something like it is better to lose honorably with Romney that sacrifice our souls for success with Giuliani.

The nice-guy head of the libertarian Cato Institute--David Boaz--said something like the problem with Republicans today is that they’re no longer led by freedom- loving men from the West like Goldwater but moralistic religious extremists from the South. They want to use big government to impose their moral views on every individual in the country, and they don’t even care that government under Republican leadership continues to bloat in all sorts of ways. He also said that same-sex marriage will soon become as uncontroversial as interracial marriage, and implicitly that those who opposed it will rightly be placed in the same boat as the racists. He admitted that the abortion controversy might be particularly tough--given the conflicting rights claims.

On the basis of that understanding of the abortion controversy, I got Mr. Boaz to admit that ROE v. WADE was probably judicial imperialism. (He should call Giuliani and explain why.) Because so many have made the point that the injustice of ROE is what brought the so-called social conservatism movement into being, we might be tempted to call even our libertarian friend a social conservative. The problem with that conclusion is that he clearly would have no trouble at all with the Court declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

More generally, Mr. Boaz contended that a genuine conservative would accept the social/cultural revolution of the Sixties and the economic/market revolution of the Eighties as part of our heritage that can’t and shouldn’t be rolled back. So a genuine conservative is a "Do your own thing" individual in every area of life.

Natural-law man Chris Wolfe, from the floor, made clear that his difference with Boaz had to do with the naturalness of marriage as an institution. A free society should be understood as much as a nation of families as a nation of individuals. Boaz made it clear enough that for all public purposes marriage could be captured by the individualistic principles of contract and consent, or is fundamentally no different from any other social relationship in his libertarian eyes.

I haven’t talked about the presentations by Heritage’s Matt Spalding and myself, but that’s because I’m out of time for now.