Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Clarence Thomas’ life and book

Bill Kristol last paragraph in praise of Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son: "Thomas’s memoir raises fundamental questions of love and responsibility, family and character. His book is a brief for the stern and vigorous virtues, but in a context of faith and love. It’s a delightful book--you really can’t put it down--but it’s also a source of moral education for young Americans. It could be almost as important a contribution to his beloved
country as Clarence Thomas’s work as a Supreme Court justice. And it suggests one more contribution he could make. Thomas in 2012!"

I have been reading it also. It is a delightful book, and is very difficult to put down. I find myself laughing and weeping in turn, but always hearing the good Justice in his own deep voice and cadence tell me the story. It’s like he’s in the room with me. The good man talking to his friends, fellow citizens, and you come to see how this American man is worthy of your entire trust. Everyone should read this book. Is it possible that it is as good as Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life or Twain Huck Finn? Read it. Buy it.

Armed Social Work again

The anthropologist who is a part of the Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan may well be part of an "armed social work" effort, but I am not yet prepared to criticize it. Unfortunately the NY Times article spends more time on the criticism the program gets from left wing anthropologists, then on explaining what the purpose of the program is and how it works. We have noted in the past that David J. Kilcullen is the mastermind behind this form of counterinsurgency strategy, and that he is a serious person (Australian). For those of you wanting to get a bit deeper into these matters, you should also see this and this and the Edward Luttwak article being criticized by some.

A Question for Paleocons

I’ve been curious for some time about paleocons’ rejection of American exceptionalism. I originally raised this question as a comment on another thread, but never received a response, so I thought I’d try it here.

My question is simply this--how can the refusal to believe that America is exceptional be squared with support for an anti-interventionist foreign policy? I understand that anti-interventionism has a long history in the United States, but it has generally gone hand in hand with the argument that the nation can avoid foreign entanglements specifically because it was exceptional. There was a strong strain of this thinking in Jefferson--that America was an "empire for liberty" that, thanks to its very nature, was able to rise above the power politics of the old world. Hence his admonition that America avoid "entangling alliances." Generations of anti-interventionists since then, from William E. Borah to Pat Buchanan, have echoed this theme.

Of course, not everyone believed this, even during Jefferson’s day. Alexander Hamilton--as well as George Washington--believed that the United States had to play by the time-honored rules of international politics. This is why Washington in his Farewell Address rejects "permanent alliances" (after all, these were inconsistent with a strategy of realpolitik) but at no point denies the need for foreign involvement in general. Similar attitudes could be found in men such as Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, who were great admirers of Hamilton. For them it was because the United States was not exceptional that it needed to form alliances with foreign powers.

It seems to me that today’s paleocons want things both ways. They claim to be Hamiltonian realists, scoffing at American exceptionalism, while at the same time endorsing Jefferson’s policy conclusions. Is that a fair estimate? If so, how does one resolve this tension?

Sputnik and loneliness

Russia celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. Charles Krauthammer asserts that the panic this caused in the U.S. turned out to be a good thing. Although it got us to the moon within a dozen years, we have decided (not for technological reasons) not to want to go back because of something called loneliness. 

The Founding

Brad Pitt on our Founding Principles

That great political thinker, Brad Pitt has some interesting things to say about American politics. In the context of endorsing George Clooney (!) for President and shoring up his own cred in "humanitarian" circles (where there is some speculation that he's only concerned because of his relationship with Angelina Jolie), he says the following: "That's idiotic! I do it because I'm a member of the human race . . . We're all cells of one body, with the same emotions and desires for our families, for a little dignity and a chance for a better life. Let's focus on that! I believe in the founding principles of America. I want to fight for that. I know most Americans feel the same way." What did Jonah Goldberg say about the "We are the World" mentality on the left?
Categories > The Founding

Michael Gerson on My Space and Facebook

Michael Gerson writes a very good and thoughtful piece on the "not so new" trend of posting anything and everything on My Space or Facebook. I think he is exactly right in his criticism of the thing. But I also like that he maintains a sense of humor about himself and begins with this great line: Conservatives, ever allergic to fashion, have a habit of encountering social trends long after millions of their fellow citizens, then pronouncing themselves unamused. You have to admit (even if begrudgingly). . . that is SO true! Even so, Gerson does admit that these networking tools can be useful and thus (as in so many things) it’s not so much the technology as it is the users of it that are the problem. As for me, I think this can all be explained by this dreadful lack of reserve in our popular culture and which I noted here. What explains this lack of reserve? That’s too complicated. I’ll leave that for you all to discuss.

Thanks to our friend Priscilla for bringing this article to my attention.

Goldberg on American Culture and Patriotism

I’m a few days late in posting it, but I keep coming back to this article from Jonah Goldberg that appeared in the LA Times on Tuesday. I like it because I think it nicely summarizes the differences between the left and the right in America--but, more interestingly, it begins to bridge the gap between different elements on the right. Goldberg nods to the idea of America as an idea but, unlike the left, he does not reject out of hand the other idea that America is a nation born out of habits and customs. In fact, both ideas are true and they are not mutually exclusive. What does that mean in a practical sense? Goldberg illustrates with the clear logic and beautiful prose of Mark Steyn:

As the host of the "Today" show in 2003, Couric said of the lost crew members of the space shuttle Columbia: "They were an airborne United Nations -- men, women, an African American, an Indian woman, an Israeli. . . ." As my National Review colleague Mark Steyn noted, they weren’t an airborne U.N., they were an airborne America. The "Indian woman" came to America in the 1980s, and, in about a decade’s time, she was an astronaut. "There’s no other country on Earth where you can do that," Steyn rightly noted.

On another thread, our friend Steve Thomas points us to this article from David Brooks. Brooks is always interesting, but I think Goldberg’s piece may be the answer to him.

Hayward Podacst

I got Steve Hayward to talk about the presidential race, such as it is. He promises that it will get more interesting. Maybe. I had an unsatisfying discussion with local Republicans last night about illegal immigration. To abbreviate, I took Gulliani’s line: end illegal immigration at the border. The rest of it is an issue that is too complicated to simply "fix" by passing the laws. It can’t yet be done for many reasons, not the least of which is that public opinion has not been formed on the issue. We saw proof of that with the Bush plan crashing. There is no crisis, in short. It was a pretty confusing discussion, proving, among other things, that the Republicans have a long way to go before they know their minds on some things. Many kept saying we don’t know what to think, tell us how to think about the issue. A kind of desperate plea for what folks call leadership. Anyway, Hayward says we’ll get it eventually.

Soldiers and respect

Robert D. Kaplan argues that soldiers are not victims, and the media (or anyone else) shouldn’t treat them as if they were.

Read the whole thing, but I like this especially:
"As one battalion commander complained to me, in words repeated by other soldiers and marines: ’Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I’m a warrior. It’s my job to fight.’ Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged."   

A High Wall of Absurdity

Marci Hamilton offers the ridiculous suggestion here that the six Supreme Court justices who attended the Red Mass may have created the appearance of impropriety, raising ethical questions. Appropriately, she retreads the tired and blatantly anti-Catholic argument of University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, who criticized the fact that the recent partial-birth abortion decision was decided by a Catholic voting block. She then praises President Kennedy, who she paraphrases as saying that he would not take his marching orders from Rome, and suggests that it would be "illuminating" if the justices were this open about the relationship between their faith and their jobs.

First, it is worth noting that six justices attended. For those of you keeping count at home, there are only five Catholic justices. Hamilton acknowledges that Breyer, who is Jewish, attended, and she can’t quite figure out why, surmising that he did so perhaps out of solidarity with his brethren. This seems likely enough to me, but it also suggests that the Red Mass is not an event where marching orders are given and received, and that any feigned perception of such is dubious at best. Indeed, aside from her argument that the Red Mass is somehow special because of its focus on the beginning of the judicial term, the criticisms that she mounts about the content of the homily, which included references to life issues, could be (and perhaps tacitly are being made) about virtually every mass conducted in the DC area. It is not just homilies at Red Mass where issues such as the sanctity of life are raised, but rather priests commonly address these issues. Priests, particularly those in the DC area, commonly pray openly at their masses admonishing those in positions of power to respect life. Does this mean that no justice should ever attend mass, lest it somehow offend the Marci Hamiltons of the world that they hear these prayers? And what of liberal denominations that overtly praise abortion rights and gay marriage in their services, and read NYTs editorials from the pulpit (I am not kidding--I have seen it done)? Should we prohibit justices from attending those services?

Moving to her retread of Stone’s arguments, and his flaccid attempt disguise his musings as something other than anti-religious sentiment, I’ll leave those claims to Ed Whelan and Jan Crawford Greenburg and Rick Garnett, who have already thoroughly refuted them.

Finally, her claim that it would be good if the Catholic justices were transparent, in the spirit of President Kennedy, makes it clear that she hasn’t done her homework. Justice Scalia is constantly asked about his Catholicism and judging (a two-minute Lexis search will confirm this), and he frequently notes that his job is to uphold the Constitution. If upholding the Constitution at some point meant that he would have to disobey a binding moral teaching of the church--the example he gives is if imposing the death penalty were determined to be a sin--then he would resign, because he would not impose his religious views on the Constitution. I only wish that liberals on the Court who use the law as a vehicle to express their own, sometimes religiously-held policy preferences, would be so transparent.

Oh, and before Marci Hamilton and Geoff Stone dismiss my statements here as mere marching orders from the Pope, I should add that I am not a Catholic.

More so-cons and RG

James C. Dobson (everyone I know calls him "Dr. Dobson") adds his two cents’ worth about the upcoming election, in the NYT, no less.

I would be hesitant to urge anyone to support a third party. After all, eight years of the first Clinton gave us Breyer, Ginsburg, and the evolution of Anthony Kennedy. Is anyone really prepared for the judicial nominees HRC will send up to the Senate and for the damage they can do for the next thirty years?

Neocon as insult

Roger Cohen has forgotten--or never knew--the orignal meaning of "neoconservative," but he certainly objects to it as an all-purpose term of abuse hurled at anyone who believes "in the bond between American power and freedom’s progress." His last line: "When Michnik and Kouchner are neocons and is the Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism, I’m with the Polish-French brigade against the right-thinking American left."

Ashbrook Center

What Universities Should Be Doing

New York Times Magazine featured an interesting article this weekend, highlighting the ever-increasing cost of higher education, and asking the more basic question of what students, their parents, and the public (who in some measure subsidize both public and private institutions) are actually getting for that money. The answer, in large measure, is much less than they should be getting. Thus, the author suggests that professors are too-often interested in their own self-promotion, and institutions focus merely on teaching classes, rather than on producing educated citizens. On this count, the article notes that:
Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, made the shocking observation that "faculties currently display scant interest in preparing undergraduates to be democratic citizens, a task once regarded as the principal purpose of a liberal education and one urgently needed at this moment in the United States." Bok was right on both counts--the neglect and the urgency--but he relegated his statement to a footnote. It should have been a headline.
I couldn't agree more. There is an urgent need for serious, liberal arts education aimed at producing good citizens. That is what the Ashbrook Center does--through our Ashbrook Scholar program, which emphasizes great books and the Western canon; through our Masters in American History and Government, which provides a substantive advanced degree for teachers, so that they will have a well-founded understanding of the events that shaped this nation; and through our public events, which encourages discussion between scholars, practitioners, students, faculty, and members of the community.

Not long ago, I had a discussion with a friend who teaches at Harvard, and he asked me whether he should include Xenophon's Education of Cyrus in a 300-level class he was offering. It is a difficult book, he told me, and he wondered whether Harvard juniors could be expected to understand it. It is a difficult book, and I wondered aloud whether his students would be up to the task. But I replied that I assign the book to one of my classes--and assign them to read it cover-to-cover. He was astonished--"Your juniors can handle that?" No, I replied, this is what I assign for our freshmen. You see, it is still possible to get a good, liberal arts education.

Appropriate to my conversation with the Harvard professor, the NYT's article ends:

As our children go through the arduous process of choosing a college and trying to persuade that college to choose them, it will be a sign of improved social health if we can get to the point of asking not about the school's ranking but whether it's a place that helps students confront hard questions in an informed way. If and when the answer is yes, that's a college worthy of support, and all the alumni gifts and tax breaks can never be enough.
The goal of the Ashbrook Center is to produce informed citizens who can answer "yes" to that question. So why don't you take the good author's advice, and make a tax-deductible contribution today to help us educate citizens.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Top Social Conservatives Talking Third Party

...if Rudy is the Republican nominee. Of course, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to agree on a candidate, and they’d be blamed for handing the election to Hillary. The issue still remains: Can Giuliani become acceptable if he remains "pro-abortion" but becomes explicitly anti-ROE? Another probing question: Can he become acceptable by choosing Huckabee as his running mate? And: Could Rudy and Huck really get along?

One to Print Out

Joshua Muravchik writes a lengthy consideration of the status of so-called "neo-conservatism" in light of the events of this new century. I’ll leave the commentary to those here who are better positioned to reflect on it--at least until I’ve finished reading it! But Muravchik is a serious person and what he has to say on these matters will inspire serious thought and not a little debate. Get a cup of coffee first.  

If You Want to See a Man . . .

. . . watch this. Peter Pace is a great American. He deserved better, but his greatness is crowned by the fact that he is not whining and he took his lumps with grace and for the good of the country he loves. This is a man.

Darwinian Larry on Chimps and Power Politics

Machiavelli would certainly agree with Larry that we can’t forget the beast within when thinking about effective political solutions. But what about the idealistic or erotic side of political ambition? Can a chimp really be either a tyrant or a philosopher-king?


The military reports that our missile defense system is ready. Russia threatens to retaliate if we put weapons in space. In the meantime, Putin implies (despite asserting the contrary for months) that he will run for Parliament, and therefore could become prime minister. David Remnick’s long essay on Garry Kasparov, the leader of the only opposition party worthy of being called that (the Other Russia) party and Russian politics (such as it is) is very much worth reading, from the current New Yorker. Oh, yes, one more thing, Gazprom is threatening to cut gas to Ukraine. Gazprom is Russia’s largest company, and the lines between it and the government are, to say the least, blurry. For more on Gazprom’s bully tactics and/or how it is representing Russia’s geopolitical interest primarily see this and this and this. But the European Commission isn’t worried about Gazprom.

Is Big Business Bailing on the Republicans?

Here’s some evidence that the oligarchs may at least be party shopping. Is it Bush’s perceived fiscal incompetence? Or is it the Republicans’ excessive concern with the "social issues"? It does appear that American concern with the social issues is declining. Is Dr. Pat right about the impending populist-libertarian realignment? Which party is more populist? Which is more libertarian? Is the whole populist-libertarian distinction of little use in really understanding what’s going on now? Certainly we’re not really being haunted by either the ghost of William Jennnings Bryan or the ghost of Tom Joad!
Is the ever-expanding "menu of choice" the narrative that explains our time? Our nation’s history? But studies also show that Americans are more concerned about income inequality than they have been in some years.

Here’s a Conference Honoring ME

At Belmont Abbey--very near Charlotte--on October 19-20. The distinguished speakers include Dan Mahoney, Mark Henrie, Pat Deneen, Thomas Hibbs, Mary Keys, Robert Preston, and me.

Anita Keeps Charging the Same Hill

The Clarence Thomas interview on "60 Minutes" seems to have smoked Anita Hill out of the woodwork--and not to her credit. She continues to stick to her ridiculous charges of some 16 years ago and to no good purpose. At the time of the charges I remember finding them ridiculous. Of course, a superior who demands favors or implies that the giving of them will advance one’s career, has something to answer for. But Hill’s testimony never amounted to more than a suggestion of crude or tawdry banter. It may say something about me to divulge that I was not particularly shocked by any of it--but if it does, I guess I’ll take the criticism. Beyond that, however, I might further suggest that a woman who is shocked by such banter will find it easy enough to avoid it or put an end to it without Senate hearings or legislation on the matter. But that’s not really my point here. All talk of "sexual harassment" is and was mere distraction and diversion. Debating "sexual harassment" was a way for those forces who had it in for Thomas to move the discussion away from the real (and uncomfortable) questions his nomination brought to the fore.

What is more important here (for purposes of this discussion) is that I do not believe--and don’t think any sane person should believe--that any of what Hill described happened as she said it did. Why? The difference in the demeanors of Hill and Thomas says everything to me. Hill says: "[Thomas’ approach] is really so typical of people accused of wrongdoing. They trash their accusers." Now, if she were accusing Bill Clinton of harassment, she may have a point. That is exactly what Clinton and any other man who was less a man than Thomas would have done. A lesser man than Thomas would not have spared her the condemnation she may deserve (and public opinion might now tolerate) when giving that interview. But Thomas did not ask himself what public opinion would tolerate about Anita Hill--either in responding to the charges initially, or in reflecting on them in this recent interview and book. Thomas rightly restrained himself; seeing--not only that she deserved some charity due to her own lack of judgment--but that the real culprit in what happened to him was not Ms. Hill, but a coarsening manipulation of partisan politics that requires a much more thoughtful and directed attack. He did not waste his bullets. The worst thing he had to say about Anita Hill in that interview was that she was a "mediocre" employee. Beyond that, he showed her pity. And that, I think, was the rub all along for Ms. Hill. Perhaps Thomas’s great sin--in Anita’s but never the Public’s eyes--was in being a better man than she deserves and her keen awareness of her own mediocrity combined with his generous pity. At least that’s what it looks like to me.

Knipp in (not readily accessible) print

I have a book review in the latest Journal of Markets and Morality, to which everyone should, of course, subscribe.

Mansfield on Bollinger on Ahmadinejad

Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. is at his sly and ironic best in skewering Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s hapless efforts. Here’s his conclusion:

By inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, President Bollinger got himself confused between the business of politics and the virtue of a university. He tried to bring his university into the political arena, and he meant well to our country, but instead of embarrassing our common enemy he embarrassed himself.

Read the whole thing.

For those of you who care about such things

Our friends Tom Pangle and Catherine Zuckert are on the ballot for the APSA Council. Vote early and often.

Three Formidable Birthdays

...tomorrow: the Catholic novelist Graham Greene, the poet Wallace Stevens, and Gandhi.

HRC Under the Microscope

Is it a case of buyer’s remorse? Whatever it is, it appears that Hillary Clinton is suddenly the subject of harsh critique NOT so much from the usual suspects, but from her "friends." She is attacked for everything from her evasiveness to her laugh. There is no doubt that a problem Mrs. Clinton is going to have in this campaign is that there are just an awful lot of people who do not and cannot like her. And now it is clear that those kinds of people populate both sides of the political aisle. There’s too much of it coming out for it to be a mere coincidence, so the question is: Why now?

There are two ways to view this, it seems to me. First, it is either an indication of something that is potentially very big and important for the general election--something Dems are gearing up to defend themselves against or vainly trying to prevent from becoming an issue by knocking her out in the homestretch. Or, second, there is a hope that by airing all this dirty laundry now it won’t smell as bad in the general. Let’s admit she’s "like Al Gore" and she’s got an annoying habit of inappropriate nervous laughter. Let’s admit that she’s got something of that "fingernails on the blackboard" quality to her. And then, let’s dare the Republicans to try and beat us with that stick.

Justice Thomas Interview

"Sixty Minutes" interviewed Justice Clarence Thomas. I didn’t see it, but I am told that it was pretty good. I bring only a few of his answers ro your attention:

How much of his life is determined by his race?

"Oh, goodness. I don’t know. I’m black. How much of your life is determined by being male? I have no idea. I’m black. That’s a fact of life. I’m 5’8 1/2" tall. I don’t know how much of my life is determined by being 5’8 1/2" tall. It’s just a part of who I am," Thomas tells Kroft.

"But you think of yourself as a black man," Kroft says.

"I’m a man. I’m a man, first and foremost. I’m a citizen of this country. And I happen to be black. I am a human being," Thomas replies.

One more:

You’ve been successful. You moved on. You don’t care about people and your race," Kroft says.

"Oh, that’s silliness," the justice replies.

"You do care," Kroft remarks.

"Oh, obviously I do," Thomas says. "Come on, you know? But it’s none of their business. How much does Justice Scalia care about Italians? Did you ask him that? Did anyone ever ask him? Give me a break. Do I help people? Absolutely. Do I help, love helping black people? Absolutely. And I do. But do I like helping all people? Yes. In particular I like helping people who are disadvantaged, people who don’t come from the best circumstances. Do white people live in homeless shelters? Do Hispanics live in homeless shelters? Is disadvantaged exclusive province of blacks? No."

His autobiography is published today. I already bought a few copies of
My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir.

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.)