Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gerson’s heroic conservatism

Just a quick post to note that this Michael Gerson column (making an argument that I’ve seen before from him) appears to be a preview of his new book. If he’s right about the two predominant strands of American conservatism, then it’s an amalgam of tho ways of thinking that aren’t, strictly speaking, "conservative." I suppose that I don’t have to argue for the essential unconservatism of libertarianism, which subjects every relationship to the acid bath of interest.

But Roman Catholic social thought isn’t quite conservative either, especially in its "catholicity." (Just ask the ancient Romans.) At the same time, I do think that its emphasis on natural law (implying a created and rationally apprehensible order) and on subsidiarity (which offers a great deal to "civil society") make it the best candidate for a conservatizing foil to the promethean individualism expressed by libertarians and the promethean collectivism (a little too strong, but I can’t think of a better expression at the spur of the moment) of contemporary liberals.

By contrast, "genuine" conservatism must be local and--I know this will provoke--polytheistic. (The Romans had that right.)

Update: Mark Krikorian reads Gerson out of the conservative movement, set off in part by this WaPo story, which, I’m betting, is at least a little misleading.

Update #2: Answering Jonah G. requires more time than I have right now (as I’m between classes--moving from Aristotle to Livy--and then have a meeting and another class--Plato’s Republic; this semster is brutal). I’ll say only this for the moment: it’s the tension between classical liberalism and Christian (especially Catholic) social thought that gives contemporary American "conservatism" its peculiar flavor. Yes, liberals can also borrow from Catholic social thought, especially regarding the social welfare-style ends, but their unlimited secular statism can’t be justified on Christian/Catholic grounds.

Update #3: There’s more piling on over at The Corner, but I think Gerson would agree with David Freddoso’s point about CST, which lines up well with the Gerson/Bush "ownership society." Our friend RC2 weighs in, using one word--"subsidiarity"--that Gerson knows but doesn’t mention and another--"federalism"--that also seems to get short shrift from MG.

One interesting effort to deal with the tensions between (classical) liberalism and "Christendom" can be found in this initiative undertaken by our friends at ISI; this book, in particular, ought to be of interest.

Stated another way, Catholic and Christian social thinking can learn a thing or two from classical liberalism, especially about the (limited) roles of choice and markets, but everyone has to remember that what we’re talking about is a political economy that is in the service of households that ought to have ends other than wealth maximization.

Georgia Republican big tent

This is just an anecdote, so make of it what you will.

Today I hosted Mike Jacobs, a Republican state legislator who recently left the Democratic Party. I’ve always found him (even in his previous political life) to be a thoughtful and animated public servant, trying faithfully to serve his district, which, Wikipedia to the contrary notwithstanding, probably leans a little Republican, albeit (like the districts surrounding it) more on fiscal and economic than on social grounds.

Jacobs’s public explanation of his party switch is interesting: as he thought about the ballot he cast on Election Day in 2006, he found himself voting more for Republican candidates statewide than Democrats. (When he last spoke at Oglethorpe as a Democrat, he remarked that he thought that the Party had a long way to go to become competitive again statewide.)

As he negotiated his party switch, he made it clear to the Republican legislative leadership that he couldn’t and wouldn’t conform his views on social issues to those of the majority of the caucus. Fair enough; I don’t agree with him, but I don’t live in his district and, if I did, my voting options wouldn’t be extensive. (He says that the Democrats are going to run someone to his left, ceding him the center and the right.)

He also noted that he’s found more tolerance of his social issue heterodoxy in the legislative Republican caucus than he found of his fiscal and economic heterodoxy among his former Democratic colleagues. If one wished to snark at Republicans, I suppose one could say that that goes to show that they, in their heart of hearts, don’t really care about the social issues, but I’d prefer to think of them as grown-ups, recognizing that political effectiveness requires all sorts of imperfect alliances.

On the other side of the aisle, I think it’s fair to say that the Georgia Democratic Party, with perhaps a couple of noteworthy exceptions (the former more so than the latter), has pretty much become a mirror image of its national counterpart. It won’t in the foreseeable future spawn many genuine blue dogs, especially to the extent that they have to be cultivated in the state legislature.

Fund on Huckabee, part 2

Hugh Hewitt links to a video of John Fund talking with Tucker Carlson about Mike Huckabee’s record in Arkansas. Their conclusion is as coastally patronizing of flyover evangelicals as anything I’ve seen: those evangelicals are socially conservative--they’re pro-life (and good for them, adds the oh-so-superior Carlson)--but not so conservative on other issues, like free trade (adds Fund), though they shop at Walmart. Yup, us’ns does shop at Walmart. (I guess Fund hasn’t met any affluent, relatively well-educated suburban evangelicals. The folks at my church are as likely to be found in Target as in Walmart.)

Here, for what it’s worth, is Huckabee’s response to Fund’s column. I’d add that what tends to distinguish governors from legislators, at least in some cases, is a certain pragmatism. You work with the legislature you have and you try to solve problems. That may well militate against conservative purism (and, by the way, also liberal purism, if you think about relatively successful red state Democratic governors).

Byron York offers a more balanced assessment of Huckabee’s gubernatorial record in a piece published last month in the print edition of National Review.

Jonah’s Buzz Kill

Jonah Goldberg (God bless him) writes about what he calls the "Conservative Buzz Kill" in today’s LA Times. Citing our own William Voegeli’s terrific essay in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Jonah writes that conservatives need to understand that public opinion--though buoyed by conservative rhetoric--is not on board with real deal conservatism in the sense of strictly limited constitutional government. Well, yea . . . (should I say, duh?) The good news is that Americans don’t like an honest accounting of what the libs are all about either. Except (more bad news . . .) the libs know this, so (brace yourself . . .) they lie. It’s not really socialized medicine--it’s expanded coverage, and so on. It’s shocking, I know, but it is the reality of the situation.

Jonah explains the variety of ways conservatives have taken to reacting to the built-in advantage of liberals with their ever-increasing dependent constituency: "compassionate conservatism" and libertarian/conservative purist retreat. Surprise! None of these genius ideas are any good. Jonah’s buzz kill is that there is only one thing that will do any good--and it’s not sexy. It’s the plodding, patient work of tearing out liberal bricks one by one where they show evidence of being loose. While this is probably all very true it seems like there should be a more inspirational way of saying it . . . maybe not.

Existentialism and the American Voter

The always thoughtful and thought-provoking, David Brooks describes what he sees as a kind of "happiness gap"--not between but within American voters. He argues that the successful candidate will address this with what he calls, "a gimlet-eyed federalism — strong government with sharply defined tasks." While I agree with his perception of cynicism in many voters, I think I still disagree with his assessment that "voters are not interested in uplift" or inspiration. People are always interested in that--even when they say they’re not. In fact, their omnipresent interest in inspiration is probably what causes them to say that they’re not interested in it. To use a psycho-babble (but I think true) term--it is a "defensive mechanism." They’ve been so disappointed in the past that they simply can’t believe they’ll get real inspiration, so they pretend they don’t really want it so as to avoid the disappointment. But Brooks is probably right to suggest that the current crop of candidates avoid playing that card as it doesn’t seem that any of them is good enough to quite pull it off. See what you think.

A Constitutional People

In recognition of Constitution Day (September 17) and in response to a challenge from a foreign student attending the Constitution Day lectures at Ashland University Peter Schramm takes us to school with a concise defense of our constitutional origins. It is a very good discussion of the difference between a democratic and a self-governing people. Perhaps it might be of use, also, in helping to form our thinking about the situation in Iraq.  

Neuhaus on the crack-up

It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: "Mr. Kirkpatrick talks with three, or maybe four, disillusioned pastors in Wichita and Mr. Rich’s political hopes are buoyed."

In the same column, RJH promises discussions of Mark Lilla’s book and of the prospects of a Giuliani nomination (by Hadley Arkes) in future issues of FT.

Huntington’s The Soldier and the State at Fifty

As some of you may know, I am at work on a history of US civil-military relations. In that regard I would note that this is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sam Huntington’s seminal book, The Soldier and the State, which is one of the most important books written on the topic. Huntington was the first to attempt a systematic theoretical analysis of what Peter Feaver has called the civil-military problématique: the paradox arising from the fact that, out of fear of others, a society creates "an institution of violence" intended to protect it, but then fears that the institution will turn on society itself. That was very much on the minds of the Founding generation, which had to strike a balance between vigilance and responsibility.

The Soldier and the State is an important but flawed book. I am a "two cheers for Huntington" guy as my retrospective look at the book here illustrates.

As I see it, there are three problems with the book. First, elegant as it may be, his theory doesn’t fit the evidence of the Cold War. Second, Huntington’s historical generalizations concerning the alleged isolation of the military during the late 19th century are at odds with the evidence. And third, the line of demarcation mandated by Huntington’s theory is not as clear as some would have it.

This last point is the subject of Mike Desch’s article in Foreign Affairs and some rejoinders, including my own in a subsequent issue.

The Soldier and the State is very popular with the uniformed military. Unfortunately, many officers have concluded, based on their reading of the book, that military autonomy means that officers should be advocates of particular policies rather than simply serving in their traditional advisory role—indeed, that they have the right to insist that their advice be heeded by civilian authorities. Such an attitude among uniformed officers is hardly a recipe for healthy, balanced civil-military relations.

Despite its flaws, The Soldier and the State continues to provide useful insights into the nature of civil-military relations, especially our own. It addresses the central problem of civil-military relations: the relation of the military as an institution to civilian society. And its best empirical insights—the civilian-military distinction, the idea of military subordination, essential to democratic theory, the importance of military professionalism—do not depend on the problematic parts of Huntington’s model.

Huck thin

Well, this post isn’t really about his weight loss; the title just popped into my head. It is about this story, which notes that Huckabee has beaten the Clintons, if not in their back yard, then at their country place.

Obama’s youthfulness

Rich Lowry, I think, nails what ails Obama. And Lowry doesn’t say so, but the incredible lightness of his being self-absorbed might also be why Obama seems to connect so well with young people. (It seems that all the politically active liberal students at Oglethorpe support Obama.) He and they are on the same wavelength.

Lessons from Blackwater USA

Think that the allegations of misconduct by employees of Blackwater USA are a classic illustration of market failure? Tyler Cowen doesn’t agree. He argues that the behavior of any contractor--even a provider of military services--is bound to reflect the priorities of those who hire him.

If Blackwater is assigned to protect a top American official, who is later assassinated, Blackwater may lose future business. A private contractor doesn’t have a financial incentive to protect Iraqi citizens, who are not paying customers. Ultimately, this reflects the priorities of the United States military itself. American casualties are carefully recorded and memorialized, but there is no count of Iraqi civilian deaths.

What is old is new again

Here’s an argument that ought to warm the cockles of Patrick D’s heart.

But seriously, if business Republicans prefer a big government Democrat (doubtless supported by trade unions) over Huckabee, then we have to wonder if their "conservatism" consists in anything more than profit-maximization by hook or by crook, from consumers or taxpayers.

I say this not to argue that Huckabee is the logical or the only choice for Republicans, but only to insist that his presence on the ticket ought not to be a deal-breaker for Republican constituencies.

How to begin to think about the alternatives

Our friend RC2 tosses off a brief exercise in thinking through the Republican options. An admirable example of the faculty of judgment, offered by someone who also recommends a movie favorably reviewed here.

This is rich

Or is it Frank? Leave it to a NYT columnist to be snide and simplistic.

Judis on Giuliani

John thinks he’s outing Rudy as an authoritarian loyalist with Catholic roots. Sometimes a hit job with numerous factual distortions can still make a candidate look pretty good. What’s wrong with a strong executive who knows that liberty depends upon authority and virtue?

Learning to Know and Love the Noble

Last spring, Professor Jeff Sikkenga offered an eloquent and thoroughly moving speech at the baccalaureate ceremony to the graduating seniors of Ashland University. It is available to read in the current issue of the Ashbrook Center’s newsletter, On Principle and on-line here. Do go read it. You won’t be sorry. It is one of the best essays of its kind that I have read and one that should be standard issue to all incoming freshmen--at Ashland or anywhere else. Sikkenga addresses it to graduating seniors--but for reasons that become apparent as you read it--it is tragic if this speech was the first acquaintance any of them had with him at Ashland. If you know a young person just starting college or getting ready to go next fall, and you have just enough influence to get that person to read only one thing . . . this essay should be that one thing.

Peripatetic Blogging . . .

. . . could soon be coming your way.

Huckabee and Republican constituencies

Mike Huckabee clearly rubs some members of the republican coalition the wrong way. Socially conservative evangelicals like him. Immigration hawks seem to loathe him. Tax crusaders are suspicious of his record in Arkansas. But in both these cases he seems to be making gestures in the direction of his critics.

But life in the Republican Party is complicated. Some business Republicans (who have allies on the editorial board of the WSJ) are "wet" on immigration. Some evangelicals are not. Most Republicans favor lower taxes, albeit for somewhat different reasons. The question is whether the lower taxes/less government foundation is sufficiently sturdy for a new house. And how many rooms will the new Republican mansion have?

Hat tip: Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly, who alos has interesting things to say about the big NYT piece I discussed here.

Bill Kristol: It’s a Five-Man Race

Bill certainly is persuasive enough to hearten the supporters of Thompson, Huckabee, and even McCain against the efforts of his colleague Mr. Barnes to count them out. Bill’s McCain scenario is probably the most fanciful or at least nostalgic, but things could break Fred’s way if Giuliani falters in the right way (and Fred gets into the full campaign swing). And of course he’s takes Huck seriously as a contender.

New Orleans

This is The Economist’s short take on the Boby Jindal victory in Louisiana; this is last paragraph or so:

"Mr Jindal’s victory is only the icing on the cake. The Republicans are expected to take five of the six elected state offices in Louisiana when the run-off votes are counted next month.

And next year the Democrats’ top officeholder, Ms Landrieu, looks like facing an uphill battle. When she was last elected, in 2002, she won in large part thanks to a landslide in her home city, heavily Democratic New Orleans. Whereas the city’s predilections haven’t changed dramatically, its size has, and its electoral significance along with it. In 2002 almost 133,000 New Orleanians voted in the Senate race. On October 20th less than 60% of that number turned up at the polls, a sign of the city’s post-Katrina shrinkage. Ms Landrieu won New Orleans by almost 80,000 votes in 2002, twice her overall margin of victory. This time, that was more votes than all the candidates got combined in the city that was once the alpha and the omega of Louisiana politics."

I was in New Orleans for a few days, left the afternoon Jindal got elected. A quick glance and a few conversations revealed that the place has changed a bit. Musicians (the old-fashioned kind) have not yet returned from gigs away, and those that stayed are making small bucks. It doesn’t seem that New Orleans is the city where there is "music all the time" as the song said. But we did eat well, did hear a few good sounds, the best came up as surprises. Heard and got a glimpse of a wedding with music marching down the street (at first hearing it seemed no different from the funeral marches I have heard, but never mind that) with the happy musicians followed by a bunch of stiff white people. The next day, an old man, with a trumpet in hand, would converse with folks standing in line to get something to eat and then take his horn--attached to hand as were his fingers--and blow sweet sounds as naturally as he talked. The music seemed part of the conversation. Lovely. And occasionally you could make out a lilting clarinet or horn, that is, when the uber-noise of the tasteless Bourbon Street died down for a moment. And, perhaps most important, Roger and I did have a nice smoke at this shop on Decatur St. And we learned something about rolling good cigars. We bought many boxes.

Fred Barnes: It’s a Two-Man Race

...for the Republican nomination. If Giuliani doesn’t put Romney away early, then Mitt will emerge as the consensus alternative. Voters don’t like the new, restrained McCain as much as the old, feisty one. I would underline "old." Fred in the flesh has been a disappointment so far. Huckabee doesn’t have the money or the plan required for what would have to be a mighty quick exploitation of a victory in Iowa. I think Barnes is PROBABLY right on McCain and Thompson. I’m not as sure about Huck. My prediction based, of course, on no real facts: Huck or Mitt will quickly emerge as the alternative to Rudy, based largely on the outcome in Iowa. If Rudy doesn’t put his rival away on Feb. 5 (this year’s super-Tuesday), then he’s in big trouble. I will also glibly speculate that Romney will prove to be a formidable adversary if he gets to focus on Giuliani alone. (If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s even-money--Rudy vs. the rest of the field.)

Designated Weirdness

As reliably as Columbus Day or Halloween, every October guarantees a bunch of sportswriters filing stories about the awful dilemma facing the manager of the American League’s World Series team: What do we do with our designated hitter in the road games, when the game is played by National League, DH-free rules? Do we sacrifice offense and put our DH on the bench? Or jeopardize our defense by letting him play in the field?

As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci points out, however, it’s hard to doubt that playing the World Series with alternating sets of rules is a serious disadvantage to the National League: “Colorado’s curious use of Ryan Spilborghs as DH in Boston (0-for-5) continued the trend in recent years of NL teams getting next to nothing out of the extra hitter. NL DHs since 1998 are hitting .149 (13-for-87) with one home run (Shawon Dunston of the 2002 Giants). Not entirely by coincidence, the NL is 4-20 in AL parks in these 10 years. What happened?”

Here’s a guess: When you play one sport under two different sets of rules, Darwinian natural selection comes to play a role in roster management. Before the American League began using the designated hitter, in 1973, there were a few good field-no hit players in the sport. In some cases their teams would put them at first base, and hope that the damage caused by their lack of mobility and general defensive skills would be tolerable and outweighed by their offensive production. Maybe they were better fielders than I remember, but I think of Frank Howard and Ted Kluszewski as this sort of player, kind of de facto designated hitters. Smokey Burgess was the alternative, a player who stayed in the league for several years solely as a pinch hitter, rarely playing in the field.

After 1973, those kinds of players became increasingly uncommon in the National League. The 14 AL teams have an obvious use for players like David Ortiz, Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas. NL teams don’t, and even if they did would be hard-pressed to keep them. The free-agency era started three years after the DH became a part of major league baseball, which means that players like Ortiz, Piazza and Thomas have no obvious use for the National League.

Thus, when a National League team plays a World Series game in an American League ballpark, it’s virtually certain that they won’t have a good hitter to add to their lineup as the DH. It’s very likely that the DH-for-a-day will be the ninth best hitter on the club. If he were a better hitter than that he would either be playing every day in the National League or, if his fielding is an intolerable liability despite his hitting, he would have moved his career to the American League and become a regular DH.

Although the DH came to the majors in 1973, it didn’t come to the World Series until 1976. That year the first National League DH was Dan Driessen for the Cincinnati Reds . . . but the 1976 Reds had one of the best lineups in baseball history: Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, Sr., Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, Johnny Bench, Cesar Geronimo and Dave Concepcion. It’s no disgrace to be the ninth-best hitter on that team. Driessen was good enough to play 15 years in the majors, and retire with a career batting average of .267.

Lineups like the Big Red Machine’s are rare, however. Now that the two league’s teams have each adapted to their different environments, we can expect that future National League DH’s in the World Series are going to be a lot more like Ryan Spilborghs than Dan Driessen.

No one has had a fresh thing to say about the designated hitter for 20 years. At this point, I don’t care whether baseball keeps it or junks it. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Baseball should be all one thing or all the other. They should flip a coin if they need to, but the entire sport needs to play by one rulebook.

Only Huck Is Surging

In the latest studies, Huck has passed Romney in the national poll and moved into a tie for second in Iowa. The other candidates, including or especially Giuliani, are stagnating. Listen, I’m not endorsing Huckabee and have, in fact, questioned the very plausibility of his candidacy. But he is smart and eloquent, and I really do think any credible outsider deserves a very close and sympathetic look in a time when the Republican establishment seems so tired and unpopular. Here’s a pretty convincing refutation of John Fund’s hit-job allegation that Huckabee was a fiscally irresponsible governor. (Of course, fiscal conservatism is still not his strength. His strength, in fact, would be his ability to reunite the Wall Street and Main
Street wings of the party.) At this point, a Huck win in Iowa must be regarded as possible, one that might knock Romney out of the race. If he were to absorb Mitt’s supporters, then... If I weren’t so lazy, I could also post articles about his fundraising picking up, largely because of his endorsement by Chuck Norris.

You gotta love NCAA D3

Oglethorpe doesn’t play football, but most of our conference mates play a crowd-pleasing version of it, as you can see here, thanks to NRO’s Rich Lowry. Me? I’m paying attention to golf, and waiting impatiently for the beginning of the basketball season.

Catholics and 2008

The NYT’s Peter Steinfels adds a bit more to the story of the Catholic bishops’ election year guidance document, which I first noted here. Those who want more might consider sending an email to the address offered in this press release.

Evangelical crack-up?

In this time of questioning the political future of American evangelicalism, that’s what the NYT’s David D. Kirkpatrick calls it in his lead story for the Sunday Magazine. He spends a lot of time in Wichita and finds a number of evangelicals who are disillusioned with Republicans and with politics. They’ve got passion fatigue when it comes to abortion (all that work with so little to show), and know that there are other social questions about which they ought to be concerned.

To the degree that they’re not finding their salvation in politics, this is, I think, a good thing. (They’re right, after all.)

But this hard-learned lesson means that they’re unlikely recruits in any Democratic political effort. The concern with social questions such as those concerning the poor (who, we’re told, will always be with us) needn’t and shouldn’t lead to support for the panoply of government programs that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have in store for us. But persuading evangelicals of that may require some effort to discuss the roles of civil society and the marketplace (as opposed to government) in dealing with poverty. And it won’t and shouldn’t evoke the same passions that have been associated with the abortion wars.

The good news for Democrats in this thus isn’t that, all of a sudden, there will be nothing the matter with Kansas. It’s that Republicans probably can’t count on quite as high a percentage of support and quite as high a turnout from evangelical voters who continue to be relatively socially conservative. As I’m not convinced that there’s another trove of votes for Republicans to find to make up for that likely fall-off, the GOP will be in for tough times.

I think that there’s "damage control" that can be done--mostly of the sort of plain, but hard, talk about how there are non-governmental solutions to problems that we should all recognize as problems. And I think that that it’s a good thing for Republcans to have to do this, rather than relying on the willingness of Democratic secularists to continue to enable their opponents to paint the party as anti-religious. In other words, if religious voters (as religious voters) are more up for grabs than they have been, then the parties (especially the GOP) will have to be more thoughtful in how they mobilize their various constituencies. Let’s hear more talk about opportunity and responsibility, and the culture and social settings that create them. This kind of talk appeals to religious folks, but not exclusively to them. And it can (or ought to) distinguish Republicans (and conservatives) from Democrats (and liberals).

Abortion: so what?

George F. Will argues that the status quo ante Roe leaves those who favor abortion rights nothing really to fear. Restoring moral federalism on abortion means only that each state will be able to establish its own laws. Things might change in morally conservative states, but are unlikely to change in others. So, he says to the anti-pro-lifers, why worry?

He’s right on the narrow merits of constitutional law, but he’s probably wrong on the soulcraft issues about which he used to care so deeply. Imagine the consequences of claiming that there isn’t a constitutionally enshrined right to choose. Imagine the admissibility of political and moral arguments about the right to life. Without the high ground of autonomy, protected by people in black robes, responsibility might make something of a comeback. And all the talk about "safe, legal, and rare" wouldn’t be a way of placating and disarming abortion opponents while protecting autonomy, but rather a real concession--with potentially real political consequences--that abortion is wrong.

Stated another way, the debate about abortion isn’t simply a political or legal or constitutional debate. It’s a moral debate. For abortion proponents, giving up the status quo for "moral federalism" is a step in the wrong direction, a step toward a new moral constellation. Moral federalism is an end-state only if it’s legitimate to have essentially any preference regarding abortion. Since that’s in effect what we have now--i.e., what the law "teaches" now--if moral federalism is something different, it’s different because it’s merely a political accommodation with "sin," that is, a step on the road to further delegitimization of abortion. A good thing, I think, but not one that folks to my left will acquiesce in.

Evangelicals adrift

Naomi Schaefer Riley says that efforts to pulls evangelicals leftward are meeting with resistance (at least of the foot-dragging sort), but that they’re also none too happy with Republicans. Her conclusion:

A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life paints the picture: "Throughout Bush’s first term, party identification among younger white evangelicals remained relatively stable, but since 2005 the group’s Republican affiliation has dropped significantly--by 15 percentage points." The study notes, however, that "the shift away from the GOP has not resulted in substantial Democratic gains." In short, evangelicals seem adrift.

This development does not bode well for Republican turnout during next fall’s presidential campaign. And who can place a value on that?

John Fund

Doesn’t heart Huckabee. He surely isn’t a business conservative.

Rod at Home with Louisiana

But she’ll still break your heart. This column is our Crunchy friend Dreher at his best, including his enthusiastic endorsement of the a very un-Cajun and un-fundamentalist Louisiana stuck-with-virtue Republican who may save his state and even our country from the evils of faction and corruption.

James Wadsworth on Social Security

I was just doing some reading this morning, and came across something interesting from 1935, during the congressional debate over the original Social Security Act. New York Republican James W. Wadsworth, after acknowledging that there was nothing that he could say or do to prevent the passage of the wildly popular legislation, offered this dire prediction:

I know the appeal this bill has to every human being, that it appeals to the humane instincts of men and women everywhere. We will not deny, however, that it constitutes an immense, immense departure from the traditional functions of the Federal Government for it to be projected into the field of pensioning the individual citizens of the several States. It launches the Federal Government into an immense undertaking which in the aggregate will reach dimensions none of us can really visualize and which in the last analysis, you will admit, affects millions and millions of individuals. Remember, once we pay pensions and supervise annuities, we cannot withdraw from the undertaking no matter how demoralizing and subversive it may become. Pensions and annuities are never abandoned; nor are they ever reduced. The recipients ever clamor for more. To gain their ends they organize politically. They may not constitute a majority of the electorate, but their power will be immense. On more than one occasion we have witnessed the political achievements of organized minorities. This bill opens the door and invites the entrance into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of our institutions and so pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.

Hmmm, I wonder if I can write in James Wadsworth on the ballot in the Republican primary....

Can’t we all just get along?

Renowned classicist Mary Lefkowitz has a new solution for our culture wars: bring back the Greek gods.

The polytheistic Greeks didn’t advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.

There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity, even if we can agree that the practices of animal sacrifice, deification of leaders and divining the future through animal entrails and bird flights are well lost.


Openness to discussion and inquiry is a distinguishing feature of Greek theology. It suggests that collective decisions often lead to a better outcome. Respect for a diversity of viewpoints informs the cooperative system of government the Athenians called democracy.

Unlike the monotheistic traditions, Greco-Roman polytheism was multicultural. The Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view of the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other ancient peoples in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greeks recognized female divinities, and they attributed to goddesses almost all of the powers held by the male gods.

The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of the nature of divinity allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to accept and respect other people’s gods and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety.


Paradoxically, the main advantage of ancient Greek religion lies in this ability to recognize and accept human fallibility. Mortals cannot suppose that they have all the answers. The people most likely to know what to do are prophets directly inspired by a god. Yet prophets inevitably meet resistance, because people hear only what they wish to hear, whether or not it is true. Mortals are particularly prone to error at the moments when they think they know what they are doing. The gods are fully aware of this human weakness. If they choose to communicate with mortals, they tend to do so only indirectly, by signs and portents, which mortals often misinterpret.

Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the monotheistic traditions. Greek theology openly discourages blind confidence based on unrealistic hopes that everything will work out in the end. Such healthy skepticism about human intelligence and achievements has never been needed more than it is today.

There you have it. If you could choose a religion for merely political reasons, you might choose polytheism, especially since it--naturally, as it were--provokes philosophical skepticism. Of course Lefkowitz’s picture of the gods and the Greek response to the gods conveniently elides the conflictual aspects of Greek religion (all too often imitated by those proud and bellicose Greeks). If only the gods could learn to get along--to be open to the free exchange of ideas the way Wellesley professors are (oh wait, faculties aren’t like that...)--then perhaps all could be sweet. But we’re fallen and fallible, as a non-polytheistic religion reminds us. I guess we’ll just have to muddle through.

Apologies for getting to this a few days late. I just saw the piece in the Atlanta paper this morning, a few days after it ran in the LA Times.

Mac Owens and Orbis

I got an e-mail saying this, in part: "The Foreign Policy Research Institute is pleased to announce that
Mackubin (Mac) Owens has been appointed Editor of its flagship
publication, Orbis-A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs, effective with
the Summer 2008 issue. Owens is a prolific writer on military affairs
and a long-time associate of FPRI, where he is a Senior Fellow in the
Program on National Security."

There was more to it, but just praise of Owens, and I don�t want to go there. This is the Orbis site. I don�t get all this. I guess Owens has too much free time on his hands, although he is scheduled to teach a couple of classes in our MAHG graduate program next summer. Slow down, Colonel. You are not thirty-something anymore. Congratulations.

3 Questions

In response to David Tucker let me first thank him for pointing to the ways in which what I said could be misunderstood and for posing these questions for our further consideration.

Question 1: Is Wahabbism the same thing as Islamo-fascism? I am no expert on the tenets of the Wahabbist version of Islam but, from what I understand of it, it may be possible to be Wahabbist and not also be an Islamo-fascist. So the answer is "no." The one does not necessarily embrace the other.

Question 2: What do you mean by Islamo-fascism? I mean it literally. I mean fascism that finds its inspiration in and believes itself justified because of the teachings it finds in the Koran. Is every Islamic person an Islamo-fascist? Of course not. It isn’t even true that every fascist who happens to be a Muslim is necessarily an Islamo-fascist. The fascism has to find its roots (or rather claim to find its roots)--rightly or wrongly--in the Koran and the teachings of its "scholars."

Question 3: Why is it wrong for someone to refuse medical services for religious reasons, even if doing so threatens their life? I actually did not say that--so I’m not sure how to respond to the question. I don’t think it is wrong--at least not in a legal sense. It can and often is my opinion that such refusals are foolish--but I would not impose that view on someone who disagreed with me. I probably wouldn’t even tell them my opinion unless I knew them well because I would think it rude to intrude. I don’t even think it is wrong (in a legal sense) to refuse medical treatment on the grounds that you just don’t prefer to do it. You may be foolish, but I don’t think you can be compelled to be smart in this instance. But what I do object to is a culture that seeks to suppress information that a grown woman can use to make her own choices about her own health care. I object to it here--where we have those who suppress information that suggests childbirth and nursing are important to a woman’s health because it’s not PC to say it and it might offend women who choose not to do these things--and I object to it in Saudi Arabia--where women are afraid of the social backlash that comes to them if they see a male doctor or have a mastectomy. I also have to say that I find it preposterous that any serious so-called "religious" person would rather see his wife or mother or daughter die than permit her to disrobe in front of a male doctor who might help her to prevent that. And it is despicable for a man to abandon a woman who must chose to have a mastectomy if she intends to keep living. If a woman is so foolish (or fearful) that she will not heed good sense when presented with all the (truthful) information, I suppose I have nothing to say to her about that in any legal sense. I would not force her to get a mammogram or have a mastectomy. But I see nothing wrong with telling her that she really ought to do otherwise. She may take it or leave it--as many (very free) women in our country do too.

You did not ask about, but I think you implied that you wondered why I suggested that it was "Islamo-fascism" at work in this case. I think it is fascist to actively suppress the truth in order to manipulate or limit people’s choices. I think it is fascist to take away a person’s liberty in this way. So that explains the fascist part. The "Islamo" part comes from the reasons why those who suppressed information or punished women with cancer did what they did. It comes from their ideas about gender inspired by their extreme version of Islam.

But I should be clear that there was no suggestion that the government of Saudi Arabia was itself responsible for this suppression or bad behavior. On the contrary, the story suggested that things were improving, women were speaking out and educating each other and, after all, Laura Bush was there to promote breast cancer awareness. She would not have been invited if they were all complicit with this kind of thing. She would not have been invited if they were all "Islamo-fascists."

Muslim Christian Dialogue

In a recent issue, the Economist reported that 138 Muslim scholars, including Grand Muftis from several nations, wrote a letter to Christian leaders, Pope Benedict among them, asking for a dialogue. The Muslim leaders pointed out that Christianity and Islam contain a third and a fifth, respectively, of the people on earth. “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake,” stated the Muslim leaders, according to the Economist.

In the spirit of the Muslim leaders, I would like to ask Julie Ponzi three questions about her post October 25, “Suppression of Breast Cancer Information--Islamic Style.” Is Wahabbism the same thing as Islamo-fascism? What do you mean by Islamo-fascism? Why is it wrong for someone to refuse medical services for religious reasons, even if doing so threatens their life?

Buy this book

I just received my review copy of John DiIulio’s Godly Republic (thanks to the good people here) and will preliminarily note three things. First, he gets blurbs from an amazing number of people, from Robert George to George Will to Gigi Georges (and that’s only the G’s). Second, he acknowledges both GWB and HRC, not to mention Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman. Finally, all the after-tax royalties will go to faith-based charities.

But seriously, folks, his middle ground seems reasonable and attractive at first glance, though I’m sure to have quibbles along the way.

The Crisis in Candidate Literacy

That means two things: The current candidates have written 18 mostly mediocre and sometimes ghost-written books. And let’s admit it: We alleged experts have, at best, glanced at only a few of them. Romney’s love of McDonald’s burgers may mean that his taste in food mirrors his taste in novels, or that he doesn’t allow bobo snobbery get in the way what he genuinely experiences with his own tastebuds. Rudy’s praise of the vital virtue of loyalty may not be the message for 2008, given that our president might be criticized for having abused that virtue. McCain’s is full of straight talk about his own failings, and Fred’s is not about anything he’s done lately. Huck’s may be Straussian, with a complicated numerology going on. And Biden’s book actually sounds worth reading, because anything Irish and sentimental is worth reading. If you’ve actually read any or all of these, please let us know what you think.

When All Else Fails, Blame the Computers

The New Republic is trying to get to the bottom of the story about Private Beauchamp and the accuracy of his writing for their website. There’s been nothing in the magazine’s pages or on its website for almost three months since the editors promised to determine whether they could or couldn’t stand behind the story. TNR’s editor Franklin Foer told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post yesterday that Beauchamp didn’t stand by his stories and he didn’t recant them. The implication is that the magazine is satisfied because the stories might be true. Opinion journalism apparently has something in common with horseshoes and hand-grenades: Close is close enough.Here’s what a TNR website search turned up today:

"Your search - Beauchamp - did not match any documents.

Thank you for coming to The New Republic! We are still trying to work out the kinks of our new website and ask for your patience while we move all of our content to the new location."

Nordlinger on Missile Defense, etc.

Jay Nordlinger has two pages full of good comments on everything from missile defense to President Bush’s honesty on Cuba to the left’s hatred of Dick Cheney to Sarkozy’s Israel policy.

As Jay says, it’s a "grossly long Impromptus," because he won’t be able to write again for several days. One reason he won’t is because he will be here tomorrow giving a talk for the Ashbrook Center. If you are in the area, tickets are still available.

Podcast with Jeremy Bailey

I did a podcast with Jeremy Bailey, a political science prof at the University of Houston. Jeremy’s book, Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power, was recently published by Cambridge University Press. We had a 20 minute conversation about the thesis of his book that I think was very interesting and enlightening. Thanks to Jeremy for the book and the podcast.

The Civil War Continued

After a hiatus, I have posted another installment of my series on the Civil War, aka The War of the Rebellion

This piece covers the critically important, but often underappreciated 1863 campaign in Central Tennessee. As I note in the piece, the Confederate general John B. Gordon described the Rebel setbacks at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga as "a triune disaster to the Confederate cause."

But I conclude that the case can be made that the most important of these was Chattanooga. For even though 1863 appears in retrospect to be the decisive year of the war, war weariness in the North was becoming widespread, even with Union successes in the field. Dissent in the North was a major concern for Lincoln; indeed, he did not expect to win the election of 1864.

It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September of 1864 that changed the electoral equation. Had Atlanta not fallen when it did, it is very possible that Democrat George McClellan would have been elected president, with the Copperhead Rep. George H. Pendleton of Ohio, as his vice president. A negotiated peace may well have followed.

But before Atlanta could fall, Union forces had to penetrate the Appalachian barrier at Chattanooga, opening the road to Atlanta. Had Bragg prevailed at Chattanooga, or even delayed its loss to the Union, the outcome of the war may have been far different than it was. The title of Peter Cozzens’ book on Chattanooga says it all: the loss of the city to the Confederates was indeed "the shipwreck of their hopes."

I also address the Lost Cause myth that claims that Confederate military leadership was generally superior to that of the Union. In fact, the only consistently successful Confederate army was Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. I don’t have a lot of positive things to say about Braxton Bragg, who commanded the main Confederate army in the West, the Army of Tennessee. I try to show how his failures in leadership destined his unfortunate army to stumble from one defeat to another.

Genuflecting at the altar of people-worship

Apropos of Peter L’s post, I wonder if Fred Thompson’s "laziness" isn’t a sign of Aristotelian magnanimity (or perhaps a gesture in that direction, self-conscious or not). Aristotle’s magnanimous man is famously slow to do anything other than the greatest things, thinking well enough of himself to think that much of the petty stuff isn’t worthy of him.

This is of course a problematical virtue (even from Aristotle’s point of view), and it doesn’t sit well with us democrats, as we like to be flattered and worshipped almost constantly. That Fred Thompson is short with reporters asking inane questions, doesn’t want to cozy up to the butter queen, and isn’t frenetic about campaigning (and that he wasn’t just absolutely enthralled by being a Senator) may speak well of him from a (sort of) aristocratic point of view. But "we the people" want someone whose most important concern is paying attention to our petty concerns. Or do we? Is it a sign of respect to be a "helicopter President" or to treat us like responsible adults?

More Idle Thoughts about Philosopher-Fred

He is lazy. He actually bragged about it in his high school yearbook. But that means he’s more like Churchill and Reagan than Nixon or Carter. Lazy men don’t start wars, and they’re rested up enough to get to work after some workaholic forces one on them.

Campaign matters

Daniel Henninger gives advice to Rudy Giuliani and religious conservatives about acting like grown-ups.

The NYT’s Gail Collins snidely argues that the failure of religious conservative leaders to rally around Mike Huckabee is evidence of their hard-heartedness:

Huckabee’s problems say more about the leaders of the religious right than about him. They’re united mainly by their hatred of abortion and gay marriage, and a desire to win. Considerations like who has the most Christian attitudes toward illegal immigrants don’t register. And the fact that as governor Huckabee spent a lot of time trying to spend money on the needy doesn’t go over all that well with the ones who believe that God’s top priority is eliminating the estate tax.

So Gail Collins knows what the "Christian attitude" toward illegal immigration should be? I know that it’s complicated by considerations of the rule of law, kindness and hospitality to the stranger, and recognition that the state has one role in these matters and the church another. And the "needy" who deserve our help, according to Collins, apparently don’t include the unborn. Whatever their position on it--usually opposed--I doubt that any religious conservative regards eliminating the estate tax as "God’s top priority."

As do the other candidates, Huckabee has strengths and liabilities, the balanced assessment of which calls for nuanced judgment. Henninger is right: we need grown-ups. Collins isn’t one.

Populist and cosmopolitan evangelicals

Here’s a great Pew transcript featuring Hanna Rosin, author of God’s Harvard, and Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power. They offer a richly nuanced survey of the contemporary evangelical scene (though I have to confess that some of the nuance doesn’t show up until TWS’s Terry Eastland begins asking his characteristically well-informed questions.

For me, the crucial question is the character of Lindsay’s "cosmopolitan evangelicalism" (noted here). Is it simply or largely stylistic (focusing on how to be "winsome" in a pluralistic society) or does it bring with it some intellectual sophistication (either in terms of philosophical and theological depth or in terms of an integration and accommodation with "the world")? In the past, some evangelicals (perhaps more properly called fundamentalists) worried about how "intellectualism" inevitably led people away from faith. It surely can do that, but it also strikes me that, absent a self-conscious engagement with a rich intellectual tradition that provides sufficient resources for relection and "self-defense," people who go out into the world will almost inevitably surrender to it.

Huck’s Shortcuts

Before the new man from Hope can become a really serious candidate, we’re going to have to come to terms with these pretty serious allegations about his unethical activity as governor. Of course, we decided to give another Arkansan chief executive a pass when similar (really, worse) concerns surfaced.

Jack Pitney Has a Crystal Ball . . .

. . . or else he’s just damn smart. See this article wherein he speculates about what would happen in the event of California wildfires--last May. Is he not spot on down to the bit about Dems blaming Bush? He can be forgiven for tooting his own horn on this at The Remedy. When you’re that accurate you should shout it. He’s right, too, that Presidential candidates will have to face an electorate demanding a better understanding of emergency management and the Federal government’s role. In the coming weeks and months there will be time to discuss it more fully. And while it looks like San Diego, especially, is doing a very good job of taking care of itself, disaster preparedness--in general--should be a topic that smart Republicans can take on in a direct way.

A frequent (and legitimate) complaint about the administration’s case for the war was that they didn’t do much to make people feel tied to it--to get us involved in the effort or ask us to sacrifice for it. Disaster preparedness is not exactly the same thing . . . but it’s tied to national security and could be (God forbid) tied to the war effort. And it is something we can all take more responsibility for achieving in our communities. The GOP should be out in front promoting this.

Suppression of Breast Cancer Information--Islamic Style

Last week, I noted the ways in which our own brand of leftist fascists have suppressed important information about breast cancer and other women’s health issues because the truth conflicts with their radical feminist agenda. This week we can see parallels in Saudi Arabia where Laura Bush is now trying to help spread some good sense and common decency amidst the prevailing Islamo-fascist mindset. Young women who value the truth should consider these parallels carefully before they jump on board the bandwagon of today’s kind of feminism.

Speaking of (to) values voters

Our friend RC2 has some characteristically smart and sharp observations on the speeches made at the summit this past weekend. She liked Fred Thompson’s speech the best, for reasons that I find persuasive, and she called attention to a weakness in Huckabee that one finds all too often in evangelicals: there’s an articulation of a "worldview" that, at its best, amounts almost literally to preaching to the choir, but isn’t worried about appealing beyond the sanctuary. (We’re often told that God will take care of that.)

On this point, I’m with my "natural law" friends and not so much with my "worldview" brethren, who should probably be paying attention to arguments like this. I hasten to add that I’m not making an argument for not being distinctive, but a distinctiveness articulated and argued for "rationally" might actually have a larger audience than one that doesn’t. (God can work in non-mysterious as well as mysterious ways.)

Stated another way, I don’t necessarily fault Mike Huckabee for engaging in evangelical "identity politics" (I owe this phrase to someone, but I can’t remember who) last weekend, so long as he can "reason with" other audiences. But too many evangelicals have drunk too deeply of the well of postmodernism (and its critique of rationalism as if it were all dogmatic Enlightenment rationalism), and have forgotten (if ever they knew) what they should have learned at the feet of C. S. Lewis, if not of his much greater teachers.

Might this needless disdain of reason be at the root of the way all too many evangelical leaders engage in politics? Rather than try to "reason with" folks with whom they disagree, they assume that reason has no force in a fallen world, leaving themselves far too open to the temptation to rely on the heavy artillery, which in a fallen world doesn’t so much mean God as the emotionally mobilized evangelical foot soldiers. They think they have an answer to the question: "How many divisions does Focus on the Family have?"

Clarity on Giuliani’s Views About Abortion

I think Michael Medved makes some very important points in this article today about Rudy Giuliani’s position on the abortion question. As he explains, Giuliani really is "pro-choice" as distinguished from "pro-abortion." Many of us in the pro-life movement have been loathe to make that distinction in the past. But I think it is a real one that should be considered more seriously by pro-life folks. Like Medved, I would consider myself unhesitatingly pro-life. But I can also see that my position is a minority one. I think Rudy comes closer to representing what the vast majority of Americans think about the abortion issue and--when compared to the views of all leading Democrats--it is different and there is much to be preferred in it. It is at least worth considering a possible irony . . . could the least "pro-life" candidate actually do more to advance the pro-life cause than the other more emphatically pro-life candidates? I think it is a distinct possibility.

California Fires: How to Help Specifics

Again from my source on the ground, a specific list of things most needed:

50 cots * Mini-shampoos * Granola bars * SOCKS!! * Lotion * Bedding * Q-tips * Pre-packed aspirin/ibuprofen/Tylenol * Eyewash * Sunscreen * Gold Bond powder * Aloe vera

San Diegans can take these things to: AMERICAN MEDICAL RESPONSE 8808 BALBOA AVENUE, STE. 150 (BETWEEN 163 AND I-15).

Others in Southern California can take items to their local fire department where they will be sent to the location where they are most needed.

Useful Info if You Can Help

From an email I received from the front-lines of the relief effort:

Did you hear the National guard commander last evening say this is the most astounding civilian organized evacuation and relief effort he has seen in 40 years of working on disasters.

Some detailed notes: everyone thinks of diapers, no one thinks of Depends to donate. Not only the evacuees and relief volunteers need Gatorade and Pedialite, so do the folks in the animal shelters and kennels.

If you are able to be generous, and able to get to a relief shelter, take rolls of quarters and $20 bills and hand them out, as folks are asked not to use cell phones, and run out of coins for pay phones. Do not take homemade food--lots of folks have food allergies and these are exacerbated by the smoke. Batteries of all types a welcomed for small radios etc.

If you are in a safe neighborhood find out who needs breathing help, and who needs books etc for kids. OFten the usual caregivers for our elderly and small kids cannot get in as normal. The product Airborne really helps and is not hard for most people to tolerate.

One of the civilian volunteer shelters came up with a solution to the ’validation’ issue of who was allowed to do what--they bought colored Tees--everyone who was an evacuee was asked to wear one color, everyone who was a volunteer wore another, and no one could get a Tee without identification. Also there, and at Qualcomm, all kids who had parental permission, were dressed in "red runner" tees and did errands under adult supervision. The teenagers at Qualcomm and Del Mar fairgrounds are saying "This is the best experience of my life, I can really make a difference."

All civilian shelters have let people come in with pets, and pet care is proving one of the most soothing activities to offer folks.

Anyway, everyone is saying how remarkable the experience is and I think that is because the attitude is one of do what is needed now, we are in this together.

P.S.--urge folks not to donate sugar-based drinks, and to take with them gloves as the most important task they may be able to do is trash pick-up.

More Sources for Calif. Fire Updates

Courtesy of our frequent commenter, Carl Scott. Look here and here. Among all the disturbing and sad news comes a special worry for the soldiers and their families based at Camp Pendleton--as that area is now subject to some evacuations.

Project K.I.D., a wonderful group co-founded by my friend Lenore Ealy in the wake of the 2005 Katrina disaster, is already on the scene trying to help families with child care issues as they go about re-establishing their lives and their homes. (Imagine trying to navigate the mess of insurance and clean-up and federal agencies with a toddler in tow!) They are also working on general disaster-preparedness issues with a focus on localized (and therefore, more effective) efforts. This is something we all would do well to consider more than we are prone to do. Conservatives, especially, talk a lot about personal and localized responsibility. But how many of us really know what we would do in the event of an emergency like this? What is your plan? I confess that we have some plans . . . but not enough. And I’m not sure where I would go in my community for help if I needed it. Today is a good day to start thinking about that. In the meantime, it’s also a good day to help groups like Project K.I.D. who have taken it upon themselves to think these things through for us and point us in the right direction.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt is recommending Kithbridge as another very useful link. I see they’re also linking "And I Still Persist" and "Infinite Monkeys." Good calls.

One-Term McCain?

Ramesh claims that McCain would be the GOP’s strongest candidate in November and that he would make himself even stronger by pledging to serve only one term. It’s true that John doesn’t share Mitt’s or Rudy’s characteristic weaknesses; he’s not a Mormon and he’s been clear on being anti-ROE. But arguably the one-term pledge would focus attention on his (old) age, and his candidacy would focus the campaign on Iraq, which may not be to the Republicans’ advantage. And both Romney and Giuliani have that proven competence thing going for them; they’ve both been very effective executives.

California Fire Updates

As of now, we are blessedly spared from any fire danger in my area. But the smoke and ash are pretty oppressive anywhere you go in Southern California. The schools have canceled recess and pretty much all other outdoor activities. The best reporting and summaries (with links) I’ve been able to find are coming from my friend Ben over at Infinite Monkeys. When I last checked the numbers, the fires had consumed close to 700 homes and damaged hundreds more in the various areas where they are burning. Pray for those people and help where you can.

UPDATE: It’s much worse than 700 homes, unfortunately. It’s more than 1000 in San Diego county alone. I didn’t realize what a huge national story this was until this evening and the scope of the thing became more clear. (Also people keep calling to see if we’re o.k.--thanks!) So you all probably know as much as I do. Still, Ben’s links are quite helpful if you want even more information than you’re getting elsewhere.

Richard Land, post Values Voters summit

Southern Baptist heavyweight Richard Land continues to talk tough about Guiliani, even after a speech that contains the following passages:

First, I will veto any reduction in the impact of the Hyde Amendment or other existing limits on abortions or the public funding of abortions. (Applause.) I will support
-- I will support any reasonable suggestion that promises to reduce the number of
abortions. I support parental notification and will continue to, and I supported and
continue to support the ban on partial-birth abortion.


In many ways
-- in many ways, our liberty as Americans is protected by the separation of powers
between and among the three branches of government. In order for that to work as it was intended by our Founding Fathers, each one of the branches must respect the limitations that are placed on it by the Constitution. So it is critical that judges be conscientious in their role of interpreting the law, not creating the law.


And each opportunity I have, I
guarantee you I will appoint men and women who understand and act upon the principle
that I just said to you -- that it is their role to determine what other people meant when they wrote the words of our Constitution or the laws, not what they would like it to mean.


And if you need a yardstick, well what kind of judges would he appoint, then I can tell you I would appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, or Chief Justice Roberts. They might not agree on every interpretation, but over the course of hundreds of opinions, you will see a
consistency of interpretation that evidences their determination to figure out what the Constitution means.

This comes pretty close to what Land says he wants Giuliani to say:

He would [have to] say, number one, "This is a pro-life party. I realize I am out of step with where the party is, and I am not going to try to in any way weaken the [pro-life] plank." He could say, "I will only appoint strict constructionists, original-intent jurists to the federal judiciary." Strict constructionists by definition think that Roe v. Wade was an overreach and is a badly decided decision. If he were to agree to appoint a pro-life attorney general in the mode of a John Ashcroft …


And if he also said, "I will not veto any legislation that comes across my desk that restricts abortion. And if he were then to further say, "I will veto any legislation that comes to my desk that expands abortion rights …" If he did that he would mitigate the damage.

But Land remains obdurate: the summit speech did nothing in his view to mitigate his position among conservative Christians. Still, he’ll concede RG this much:

In the recent debate I think he helped himself a lot—[particularly] when he made the statement that if some sort of critical mass of four, five or six states [allow] same-sex marriage, he would support a constitutional amendment [to ban it]. He said that had always been his position. It may have been, but he certainly kept it a well-guarded secret. That will help him among social conservatives.

Call me squishy, but I’d be celebrating Giuliani’s gestures and looking for common ground wherever possible, at least to the point of being able to keep a door open for reconciliation. Stated another way: I’d rather be able to declare victory if Giuliani met me at 75% of the way, rather than have to concede defeat if he didn’t come all the way over to my side. Here’s RG invoking the shade of Reagan:

Ronald Reagan had a great way of summarizing it. He used to say, “My 80 percent friend is not my 100 percent enemy.”

That’s politics. If Land doesn’t want to play politics, he shouldn’t be giving interviews to Newsweek.

"If you are to be an alternative, you have to be where the alternative is needed."

J.C. Watts points to what should be obvious for GOP operatives. I note his article mainly because, in itself, it makes a powerful argument against the GOP front-runners and their operatives who seem to be doing nothing to cultivate support among blacks. Beyond that, however, consider this:

I can, without fear of contradiction, assure you the Conventional Wisdom Caucus and the Status Quo Caucus and the same-old-tired-establishment consultants are running the GOP front-runners’ campaigns -- and aiming to get no more than 1/12th of the black vote.
If that is true--how much more is true? How many other important opportunities are being ignored? If the "Conventional Wisdom Caucus and the Status Quo Caucus and the same-old-tired-establishment consultants" really are running the GOP front-runners’ campaigns to the extent that Watts posits, I expect this won’t be the only lost opportunity for the GOP this campaign season. If any group of individuals should have lost their jobs after the ’06 mid-terms (apart from the losing incumbents) it ought to have been the representatives of that (old) school of politics Watts condemns. If this political season is one in which the strength of the base is supposed to be questionable, I would think the smart money would work--not simply at begging that base to remain intact--but also at growing it. This does not mean that GOP candidates should approach new forums with their hats in their hands offering bread and circuses. That’s the "white guilt" of Democrats. The Republican version of "white guilt" is to ignore the problem or pander in half-steps. I am tired of white guilt in all its forms. Why can’t a Republican stand up, say what needs to be said and, thereby, do his audience the honor of treating them like thinking men and women. The MSM and the Dems will try to demonize such a candidate. But the candidate may be surprised to see growing respect and even support from those who seem to get no honest respect elsewhere.

Rich Lowry’s take on Huckabee

Vice presidential timbre.

Update: While I’m at it, here’s Terry Eastland.

A reminder

If you needed any reminding, Gary L. McDowell recalls the Bork nomination battle to discuss the stakes in the upcoming election. Of course, if Democrats makes the gains in the Senate that they expect, even a Republican President committed to "constitutionalism" will have a hard time filling the bench with acceptable judges and justices.

Friendship in Texas

Our friend John von Heyking sends word of this conference on friendship, featuring other friends, to be held at Baylor University later this week. Friends within driving distance of Baylor (in Texas, that means 500 miles, doesn’t it?) might consider dropping in.

Equal Time for Men

Last week I noted this story by Dr. Miriam Grossman outlining important information about breast cancer prevention that is often ignored because of ideology. Today, Daniel Halperin notes in The Washington Post some ways for men to prevent the spread of AIDS that might not be considered . . . well, politically correct.

Happy Birthday Daniel Boone!

A fitting tribute to his pioneer spirit appeared today in the Orange County Register.

Religion and politics miscellany

I neglected to link to yesterday’s big stories about the Values Voters summit. Well, here they are, including this weird bit of self-conscious cultural anthropology.

Here’s an article based on an interview with Mike Huckabee that ought to make a lot of people angry and others interested, especially in the light of all the reports (including this one, overblown though it is) that evangelicals are "evolving" politically.

Finally, here’s a story about a document to be considered by U.S. Catholic bishops at their upcoming meeting. Intended to guide Catholic participation in our current political season, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States" offers a nuanced response to efforts to nuance into diminished significance the "human life" issues that have been at the core of traditional Catholic and Protestant stances in the current poltiical debate. I suspect that the bishops’ Protestant brethren would also profit from reading the document, though I haven’t seen the whole thing.

Update: Here’s Byron York, arguing that there are five plausibly top tier Republican contenders in a wide-open race. Our friend the Friar, who has his doubts about Huckabee (and seems to lean toward Giuliani), calls our attention to this post by Evangelical Outpost’s Joe Carter (an employee of summit host Family research Council). The post is not calculated to leave feathers unruffled. And Carter answers our friend RC2’s plaintive request for speech transcripts.

Another Weekend Lost to the CRB . . .

Mark Steyn is quoted in the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books as saying: "The Claremont Review of Books is an indispensable publication . . . If like me you start reading late in the evening, you may lose sleep but you’ll gain an awful lot." I guess I read a lot slower than Mr. Steyn because I spent most the weekend with the CRB (between familial obligations, of course) and I’m still finding more time to lose and much more to gain! Charles Kesler has two excellent must read essays in this issue--but, of course, they haven’t posted them yet. This is going to sound odd . . . but I’m recommending reading this fine piece by Cheryl Miller on Edith Wharton first. Then read the Kesler essays when your hard copy arrives and see if there isn’t a common thread there. There is also a good review by Michael Barone of Bill Bennett’s two volume history of the United States. Of course, you can’t miss Steve Hayward’s fine essay on recent Reagan books. If you don’t subscribe already, you really are missing out. I can think of a thousand things I would deny myself before I denied myself the pleasure of reading the CRB.

Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year Award

. . . this is what our own Steve Hayward, in an interview with Frontpage Magazine, said Al Gore should have gotten instead of the Nobel Peace Prize. Good line. But you need to read the whole interview and the links therein to fully appreciate its humor.  

Louisiana’s new governor

I note with some pleasure that the "racists" in Louisiana just elected a Republican of color as governor. Congratulations to Governor-elect Bobby Jindal, a likely rising star in the Republican Party.

Rowling, religion, and Harry Potter

Get Religion’s David Pulliam calls our attention to this article in which J.K. Rowling confesses her faith (no surprise to me). Of course, people will probably pay more attention to this story.

Values Voters summit

For coverage of yesterday’s events, go here, here, here, and here. There’s also lots at The Corner and at The Campaign Spot, if you keep scrolling.

When the straw poll results are released this afternoon, bear in mind that it’s possible to vote online after making a nominal donation to the Family Research Council. There are roughly 2600 people in attendance at the event. Online voters will swamp them. The Ron Paul people know this, as do, presumably, the other campaigns. It wouldn’t surprise me to find Paul in the top three (along with--here’s my prediction--Romney and Huckabee). If you separate the online from the in-person votes (which Byron York hopes FRC will do), I’d add Thompson and subtract Paul). Stated another way, I won’t take Ron Paul’s performance here as an indicator of anything other than the devotion of his supporters, who are capable of swamping an event like this, but not of propelling him to victory in a primary, let alone a general election.

Update: Byron York has the straw poll results, which (as he notes) make it hard to distinguish between summit attendees and online voters (since some of the former might have voted online). Bottom line: the results are predictable--Romney and Huckabee at the top, with Thompson trailing (discounting Ron Paul’s results, as I said I would). With his speech, Rudy Giuliani might have made it more possible for folks like those attending the summit to vote for him in the general election. Given the alternative, I’d have no problem doing so.

Thomas Interview

I’ve heard several interviews with Justice Thomas and read several reviews of his book in the last couple weeks. This one was the longest and the best I’ve heard so far. As I write this, the audio is not yet up. But if you check back in a few hours I think it will be there. It’s well worth making a mental note to do so.

Why Do People "Hate" Hillary . . . Part 3

I remember reading this Florence King piece on Hillary Clinton during the week of my college graduation in 1992 and I remember being completely blown away by it. At the time, I thought it was one of the most devastating things I had ever read. King always wrote with sharp edges, so I wasn’t shocked by that. But I did think it was--despite (or because of?) its harsh tone-- shockingly clear and insightful. Re-reading it again, after all these years, I still do. I don’t think anyone has ever said it better. Hillary is that smarmy "great girl" and, whether it was in high school or in college we all knew someone like her and we didn’t like her.

If you didn’t know anyone like her . . . be warned. Perhaps you were her?

Why do People Hate Hillary, part II

Okay, so maybe "hate" is a bit strong, but the always entertaining (but hardly conservative) Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic offers one possible reason why. Remember Socks the Cat? He suddenly burst onto the American scene during the 1992 campaign, when press photographers noticed him outside the governor’s mansion in Little Rock. Suddenly Hillary the non-cookie-baker had a way of connecting with "the vast group of Americans (schoolchildren, mothers, teachers, old folk, simpletons) who share a good-natured, apolitical enthusiasm for the particulars of White House domestic life." Before long Socks was showing up in staged White House photographs and accompanying the First Lady on personal appearances. She even wrote (well, compiled) a book, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets, in which she showcased "the way Hillary wanted to be seen as a first lady...warm, spontaneous to the point of being a little bit silly sometimes; somone who always has a twinkle in her eye whenever children are around." In other words, everything that she very likely is not.

You may be wondering, whatever happened to ol’ Socks? As the Clintons were making preparations to leave the White House in early 2001, the hapless feline was quietly palmed off onto Betty Currie. Of course, Buddy "had barely sniffed his first Chappaqua crotch" before he got loose and was struck and killed by a car--the same fate that befell the Clinton’s previous dog Zeke.

Okay, so Hillary, along with her husband, used dumb animals for whom they probably never had any real affection to score political points. That they’re phonies won’t really strike anyone as front-page news. But what’s worse from Flanagan’s point of view is not that Hillary’s a phony, but a sanctimonious one at that. For Dear Socks, Dear Buddy isn’t just fluff, it’s preachy fluff, full of admonitions never to give pets away, and always to be protective of their physical safety.

The bottom line is that Hillary combines "the worst of the traits that often mark idealists (humorlessness, sanctimoniousness) combined with the worst expediency and hypocrisy of her husband." Yep, that sounds about right.

Why do People "Hate" Hillary?

Peggy Noonan opines that Hillary should think long and deep about that question and, carefully, answer it (if she can). If she could do that, she would be doing something that may inspire more female support, argues Noonan. Her eternal problem seems not to be the fact that she is a woman--but rather that she does not seem to be one. Her public persona of toughness comes off as a bit much--even to her supporters. Hillary’s recent flurry of appearances on programs like The View give testament to the fact that she is aware of this difficulty and that she is trying to combat it. It is an open question whether or not Hillary will be persuasive on this ground--but Noonan is certain that Hillary has chosen precisely the right field for the battle. It seems to me that if Noonan is right (and I think she probably is) then our side would do well to engage her there--albeit on the field of her choosing--instead of running for the trenches or searching for some other point of attack. Even if Hillary is choosing the battleground, it is the ground on which she is (ironically) the most vulnerable. All of this is a long way to a short point--which is: the 2008 election is probably going to turn on the votes of women and of men who are accustomed to aligning their sympathies to the concerns of women. Those are the folks who are angry at Bush. Those are the folks who are not supporting Hillary in enough numbers to make her bullet-proof. So those are the folks, therefore, we must persuade (or, if that fails . . . divide).

David Brooks hearts Huckabee


Dean Barnett hearts him here.

My view: lots of strengths, and a big foreign policy weakness. Vice presidential timber, if ever I saw it.

Cosmopolitan evangelical power elite

Here’s a review of Faith in the Halls of Power, based on interviews with many conventionally successful evangelicals. A snippet:

More than a few writers and pundits, noting the new prominence of evangelicals in American life (not least, that of George W. Bush), warn of a looming theocracy with proselytizing impulses and apocalyptic visions. But Mr. Lindsay, listening to his interview subjects talk about their faith, "found little support for the conspiracy theorists who think evangelicals are plotting to take over America." For starters, the members of the evangelical elite are too divided to embrace a single ideology. Most are Republicans, but many others lean to the left. The first politician profiled in "Faith in the Halls of Power" is Jimmy Carter. Al Gore, Mr. Lindsay notes, participated in Washington’s evangelical prayer groups, too.

Many evangelicals in high positions, in fact, reject the "populist evangelicalism" of the new Christian right. They go "out of their way," Mr. Lindsay observes, to say that they have "never read Left Behind," the series of end-of-the-world novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Instead of celebrating "apocalyptic pot-boilers," one-fourth of Mr. Lindsay’s interview subjects cited C.S. Lewis as a strong personal influence.

Shocking, isn’t it? The larger and more successful a group becomes, the less distinctive it is.

Values Voters and Compassion Summits

Here are two articles written in advance of this weekend’s Values Voters summit, which you can watch, for a small fee, here.

There are three things worth noting from the news coverage thus far. First, as Gary Bauer notes, it’s unlikely that, all of a sudden, there will be clarity about which direction "Values Voters" are moving. Second, although there continues to be some interest in a third party, if RG is the Republican nominee, James Dobson has for the moment backed away from that talk. Third:

"Our voters would rather stay home than vote for half a loaf of bread," said Bill Stephens, the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida. "They either want the whole loaf, or they’ll wait for next time."

I hope he doesn’t mean it, or that his group isn’t big or influential (If the former is true, I’m betting also on the latter.)

On a different note, this piece tells of "Compassion Forums" organized by Faith in Public Life. As I’ve noted before, Faith in Public Life is firmly ensconced on the religious left, something not made clear in the NYT piece.

A soldier’s view of Iraq

I just hosted an Oglethorpe alumnus who is on leave from his second tour in Iraq (the first time as a tank and scout platoon leader, this time as an advisor to the Iraqi National Police). The highlights, from the point of view of a liberally educated soldier:

*It’s hard for him to understand a national debate where virtually no one knows what he’s talking about. Shouldn’t our opinions be informed by knowledge?

*Compared with his first tour, the U.S. soldiers this time are infinitely more sensitive to the culture of the people with whom they are dealing. The picture he paints is of a nuanced and culturally sensitive approach to the iraqis with whom they deal.

*Al Qaeda is being beaten very badly in Iraq.

*The proper war analogy is not Vietnam, but Korea, where a long-term U.S. presence stabilizes a situation and permits the economic and political development. Indeed, he seems to think that economic development (successful small business) is the key to political development in Iraq. (Warner Winborne, what do you think of this?)

*"North Korea," in this analogy, seems to be Iran. He has no doubt but that Iran is at war with us in Iraq.

All in all, I think my students heard a lot of good things from a thoughtful and frank soldier who can’t believe how little his fellow citizens know about and understand what he and his comrades are going through. He says he never sees any American reporters, even though he’s all over the Baghdad area (and spends some time in the Green Zone).

Update: A couple of other observations I didn’t have time to include in the original post:

*He’s beginning to see camera mounts on the Humvees (like those on police cars in the U.S.), presumably so that there will be a better record for assessing what went on in particular situations. And he’d have no problem having all his actions in Iraq videotaped.

*He knows of cases in which insurgent deaths are treated as "civilian" deaths because working weapons are quickly removed from the scene, recycled, so to speak.

Update: One thing we all can do: he says it means a lot to troops in transit through airports when people thank them for their service to their country.

Lilla and some critics

Here is a version of the argument from Mark Lilla’s new book, with responses from Damon Linker, Philip Jenkins, and Anthony Sullivan. Jenkins is surely right to point to the flaws in Lilla’s history, but I applaud Lilla for stressing the fragility and rarity of our regime, even as I disagree somewhat with his characterization of it.

I also wonder whether, given his argument regarding the ubiquity of what he calls "political theology" (about which I think he’s basically right), we might not consider whether some political theology is "truer" that the secular liberalism that he, Linker, and Sullivan cherish.

Democrats and religion

This article focuses on Obama’s efforts to organize through churches, where he clearly goes beyond just showing up on Sunday and being introduced by the pastor.

He’s also been talking about "creat[ing] a Kingdom [of God] right here on Earth," which doesn’t sit well with C. Welton Gaddy, a liberal Baptist separationist who heads the Interfaith Alliance. Obama’s efforts to organize through churches also come up for some mild criticism

Might Barack Obama be the most "theocratic" candidate in this field in either party?

The separation of church and union?

Steven Malanga describes a little-noticed field of cooperation between liberal congregations and denominations and labor unions. you can read the longer version here.

Scalia the Catholic (?) judge

This story offers an account of a speech Justice Antonin Scalia gave at this event. Here are some snippets:

"The bottom line is that the Catholic faith seems to me to have little effect on my work as a judge," he declared.


"Just as there is no ’Catholic’ way to cook a hamburger," he said to a murmur of laughter, "I am hard-pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic."

Nonetheless, he continued, his Catholic faith obliges him to abide by two "commands" in his life and his work as a judge.

" ’Be thou perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect.’ And ’Thou shalt not lie,’ " he said.

Those principles, he said, call him to be a strict constructionist of the law, one who does not "distort prior cases" or the Constitution in order to assert that certain rights are guaranteed under law.

Our friend Jim Stoner was also on the conference program. If he has a take, I’d love to hear it.

Update: MOJ’s Rob Vischer wonders about this, and calls our attention to this paper on prudence and judging for a more extended treatment of Justice Scalia’s similar remarks in the past. Might this be an example of Scalia’s adherence to a kind of natural law that informs his judging--not, I hasten to add, the attribution of a natural law background to the Constitution (a la Justice Thomas), but rather an assertion that judges have universal obligations?

Update #2 Rick Garnett parses Scalia:

To be a Catholic judge -- and Justice Scalia is, whether he likes it or not, a "Catholic judge" in this sense -- is to be a judge in the way a Catholic, like everyone else, should be a judge: To take seriously one’s obligation to decide impartially, to submit to the rule of law, rather than one’s own preferences, and to have an appropriate humility about the task one is charged to perform. Obviously, this is not a distinctively Catholic way of judging....

One man’s trash

Is another’s treasure.

Forget the Pink Ribbons and the Fluffy Pink Slippers . . .

This is the kind of information people need to help them combat breast cancer. But Dr. Miriam Grossman, M.D. points out that there is a strong reluctance to report it. I knew that having babies and nursing them was one good way to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer (and, if you think about it, it’s very logical or even teleological) but I did not realize the extent to which it was true. According to Dr. Grossman:

Numerous large studies have shown that each birth will reduce your risk by ten percent and each year of nursing by at least four percent. So if you start your family early, have three kids and nurse them each for two years, you’ve decreased your risk by about 54 percent.
Now that’s really something! That should be front page news in October--the so-called "Breast Cancer Awareness Month." But apparently, we’re not supposed to be that aware. Grossman points to a thwarted campaign among doctors to try and respond to the dismay of patients who discovered that they were infertile in their 30s. A group of them tried to sponsor PSAs that showed a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass. The text announced that fertility starts to decline after 30. This is nothing but a fact--and a fact about which a great number of disappointed patients had reported ignorance. Still, malls and theaters refused to post their announcement. This deliberate ignorance of female biology is really astonishing. It has become perfectly acceptable to discuss (in the most public and even obscene ways) the anatomy and function of the female clitoris, but to suggest that fertility declines after 30 and that early childbirth helps prevent breast-cancer is--well, taboo. Up is down and black is white.

I should point out to those of you who have followed my postings on these topics that I have just discovered that Dr. Grossman is, in fact, the "Anonymous, M.D." responsible for this book which I reviewed here). The paperback is now out and includes a new introduction and her real name on the cover. I’m glad she isn’t anonymous anymore. This kind of thing needs to be combated and it needs people willing to take the heat.

Chinese Commies Make KELO Look Benevolent

Terence Jeffrey writes a clear summary of recent government takings in China. Citizens of Beijing, apparently, are hardest hit because of a spade of takings anticipating the coming Olympics. People’s homes are taken and destroyed (with little or no compensation) in order to clear the way for the development of these facilities. Although these actions make our Kelo decision and the takings in New London, CT look like child’s play, Jeffrey rightly points to the affinity between the Chi-com’s and our own hard left.

Evangelicals politically irrelevant?

Our friend the Friar notes this post, written by someone who is apparently no friend of religious conservatives. Here’s the conclusion:

At present, let me float two theories about the relevance of the Evangelical constituency in Republican party elections. When they are united, Conservative Protestants are very necessary, but not sufficient, for a victory. And when they are not united, as Rudy Giuliani is wagering, they are far less necessary.

Fair enough, but the question remains for the general election: without this necessary but insufficient bloc, there’s no Republican road to the White House.

And by the by, the fact that evangelicals are all over the Republican map (with a portion even on the Democratic map) surely gives the lie to any caricatures about lockstep voting, intolerance of difference, and so on. Could it be that conservative evangelicals look at a complicated electoral scene and don’t rush to a simplifying categorical judgment? How, how, how nuanced and bicoastal of them!

Jonah Explains WHY He’s Pro-Life

It seems to me that more of this kind of article from Jonah Goldberg is what is needed from those of us who are pro-life. Jonah does not get on a high horse and give us a lecture. He explains his thinking on the matter, admits (and in the end, even embraces) his doubts, and--in general--gives us a very clear and very human accounting of his position. Without working at being persuasive, he persuades. What I like most about it is that his points are fresh and down-to-earth. It is time for a fresh and down-to-earth discussion about abortion. The reason so many people shut their ears when the subject of abortion comes up is because the rhetoric is so over-heated on both sides. There are so many who claim to know more than they know and they are so venomous about it. Regular folks rightly cringe (and if it’s talk radio, they change the dial) when the subject comes up. But I suspect they might have a different reaction to Jonah’s piece.

Another thing to keep in mind is that--with the exception of the partial birth debate--the leading arguments were formulated and crystallized in the 70s and 80s (and perhaps on into the early 90s). Of course, that doesn’t make the salient points any less correct--but it does mean that they are unfamiliar to a large segment of the voting public. Now is a good time to re-cast them and Jonah sets what I think is exactly the right tone.

Another new and interesting blog

Those who have too much time on their hands might take a look at Principalities and Powers, the outpost of David Innes, a Toronto and Boston College-trained political theorist who also happens to be an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the OPC, this book is a helpful account of its origins in the modernist takeover of Princeton Seminary.

Full disclosure: I remember David as a too-smart-by-half undergrad when I was in my final years at Toronto.

Canada’s loss is America’s gain.

By the way, the post at the top of the page is a little gem,

Nothing Silly About this "Silly String"

A soldier’s mom had the gumption and the perseverance to help out our troops by arranging to send them 80,000 cans of "silly string." It’s not because these guys want to goof off. The string is used to detect trip wires on bombs. This is a great story about American ingenuity and a mother’s devotion. Good for her.

Cleveland Rocks!

The fast pace of life and the crowds in Southern California have a way of wearing a mid-Westerner down and, if one is not careful, it is hard to see much good in it. But my son, with his devotion to the Cleveland Indians, reminds me of at least one good thing: the time difference. We got to watch every minute of those last two wonderful games.

Last night’s performance was not as exciting as Saturday’s 11th inning drubbing . . . but it was great fun to see my home state displayed to the rest of the country and to such good effect. Special kudos should be accorded to The Cleveland Plain Dealer for the hilarious "bug faces" they printed in the paper for people to cut out and wear in the stadium (in memory of the great gnat plague God wrought on the Yankees)! What kind of wonderfully twisted mind comes up with a genius idea like that? That and the ladies dressed in bug costumes handing out bug repellent to the fans (!) . . . that’s the good-natured Ohio humor (and resignation to the fates beyond our control) I miss so much.

I noticed, by the way, that Hugh Hewitt had John Kasich and Michael Barone on in the last hour of his show to discuss Ohio politics yesterday. Of course, he taped this hour because he had to be at Jacobs Field. Yes. There’s plenty of time to straighten out Ohio’s politics before Nov. of ’08. But Hewitt was right to suggest that whoever gets the Republican nod in February better plan on camping out there at least every other week until the election.

Social conservatives yet again

Our friends at Power Line note this Novak column which looks at a Gallup analysis I can’t find on the web. (Here’s an earlier version of the same sort of analysis, showing that, as of this summer, RG beat HRC among frequent church attenders--including, most importantly, those who are politically independent.) Novak suggests that the Anybody-But-Rudy social conservative leaders are out of touch with their rank-and-file. Perhaps; for the latter, Anybody-But-Hillary might be the more important consideration.

But let me add another bit of polling analysis to the mix, this one from the invaluable Pew Forum. It stresses the gap between self-described Republican social issue voters and the rest of the party identifiers. It’s a big gap, with the social issue voters comprising a substantial portion of the solidly Republican voters, but a candidate who’s going to be successful in the primary and general elections is going to have to reach out to those who are less reliable as Republican voters. And if the social issue folks are serious about Anybody-But-Hillary, they’re going to have to countenance that kind of outreach.


Well, I liked Joe’s comment below, because it gets to the nerve of the Thompson issue. The comments in the REPUBLIC are really about the PHILOSOPHER-KING, who is an unrealistic abstraction or perfection of qualities found in real-life people with philosophic temperaments. For the latter, motives are always mixed, and "public service" or "politics as a vocation" remain possible. Not only that, for those without the wisdom of the philosopher-king (without knowledge of what gives being its beingness etc.), ruling can be a source of knowledge (self-knowledge, knowledge of human nature etc.). In the case of Fred, his relatively contemplative nature might produce prudent policies, or it might produce impotent self-indulgence. Socrates never DID much of anything, because he couldn’t quite figure out what virtue is. Fred hasn’t lived a life of ACTION, much less DANGER. Still, there’s something to be said for a ruler who doesn’t have self-esteem issues (unlike, say, Nixon).

Authenticity in politics

As I was teaching Plato’s Republic yesterday, we came to the passage in Book I where Socrates tells Glaucon that good men only rule so as to avoid being ruled by someone worse. In a city full of good men, he says, there would be an argument over who had to rule, as everyone would prefer to be benefitted rather than to benefit others.

There are (at least) two implications here. First, we should be suspicious of political ambition: people who actually want political power probably don’t have admirable motives. Second, Plato’s Socrates apparently can’t conceive of a "selfless" or "altruistic" motive. What merely appears to be such is really a manifestation of a sense that one has something better to do for oneself. Philosophy emerges in the Republic as the great competitor for, and antidote to, tawdry and self-seeking political ambition.

Of course, that doesn’t leave room for "politics as a vocation" or calling, something that politicians (of whom we’re rightly suspicious) evoke when they speak about a life devoted to public service.

All of this is a long way of introducing David Brooks’s column about retiring Ohio Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, who clearly didn’t like what she had to do to scrape by with a narrow victory in 2006. Brooks admires her, and others like her, for avoiding the principal occupational hazard of political life:

Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are.

There are consultants who try to turn them into prepackaged clones. There are party whips demanding total loyalty. There is a culture of workaholism that strangles private life and private thinking. There are journalists who define them based on a few ideological labels.

And then there is the soul-destroying act of campaigning itself. Active campaigners are compelled to embrace the ideology of Meism.

They spend their days talking endlessly about Me. When they meet donors, they want to know if they are giving to Me or against Me. When they meet advisers and fellow pols, they want to know, do they support Me or not Me. When they think about strategy, it’s about better ways to present Me. When they craft positions, they want to know, what does this say about Me?>

No normal person can withstand the onslaught of egotism and come out unscathed.

And so there are two kinds of politicians: those who become creatures of the process, and those who, like Pryce, resist and retain the capacity to be appalled by what they must do.

An amazing number gladly surrender. “Public people almost eagerly dehumanize themselves,” Meg Greenfield wrote in “Washington,” her memoir. “They allow the markings of region, family, class, individual character and, generally, personhood that they once possessed to be leached away. At the same time, they construct a new public self that often does terrible damage to what remains of the genuine person.”

These politicians become denatured pantomimes. They have no thoughts in private that are different from the bromides they utter in public. They confuse public image with real self. They talk to you as an individual the same way they would address a large crowd.

Why would any decent, self-respecting person want to do this? There’s the Socratic motive--not wanting to be ruled by someone worse--however rarely the self-esteem implicit in that view is truly justified. And there’s the calling of public service, which I think is genuine, but of which (as I said) we’re rightly suspicious when politicians talk too much about it.

I have some stake in sorting this out in the particular cases before me as I decide who I’m going to support in ’08 (as if it will matter by the time the Georgia primary rolls around). And it’s why this article, to which Peter L. called our attention, makes Fred Thompson continue to seem appealing.

Treat Him As a Man

Good for James Kirchick of The New Republic for his op-ed in today’s LA Times about Clarence Thomas. Titled "Clarence Thomas is not the Hypocrite," Kirchick takes Thomas at his word when he describes the pain that came to him from realizing that a Yale degree "meant one thing for whites and another thing for blacks." In other words, Kirchick acknowledges that Thomas’ dislike for affirmative action is sincere and heartfelt. He even sympathizes with it--as a gay man--and argues that he would be mortified himself to realize he had been advanced academically or professionally mainly because of his sexual preference. The hypocrites are those liberals who, in order to defend affirmative action, point to Thomas as a "less than qualified" justice because of the affirmative action that they argue served to advance him. They are saying that Thomas could not have achieved without it. Their little program is the reason for Thomas’ success, so he should be grateful and toe the line?! It is preposterous and insulting. A real liberal in the classical and original sense of the term would understand that. Kirchick does.

"The New Girl Order?"

The always interesting and compelling Kay Hymowitz writes about the globalization of the Single Young Female (SYF) phenomenon. Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw is alive and well and living in Eastern Europe, Japan and--increasingly--even in China. Of course, this has all kinds of demographic, social and political implications. How this transformation will be greeted and felt in each country or region will vary--depending upon what preceded it. Hymowitz has some interesting takes on how it all may play out.

She also has a very interesting discussion about why it may be that the "Rome of SYFs"--the United States--has felt the impact of this transformation less vividly or violently than it is being felt in the countries she discusses here. American women, even SYFs of the Carrie Bradshaw sort, still report a strong interest in getting married. It has much less to do with these women, she argues, than it has to do with the quality of the men. American men, apparently, are more worthy of marriage in these new circumstances. In the United States (and Northern Europe), Hymowitz explains, there is a long tradition of companionate marriage which is more open to the interests of both parties. This translates into more flexibility to accommodate these shifting roles within marriage. Much more could be said about all of this but Hymowitz offers much to stimulate that discussion.

Michael Moore’s Current Reading

You won’t believe this new title, out last week. Complete with a blurb from Mr. Sicko himself. Go ahead and click the link. Make your day. It’s just too good for satire.

Remi Brague on the Law of God

Here’s a good review of a great book. Does "modernity" depend on a faith it has only apparently rejected? The reviewer criticizes Brague, with some justice, for not giving appropriate attention to Locke and the American "regime." So does Locke depend on a faith he has only apparently rejected? Or, as Ratzinger/Benedict says, is the modern world movements toward de-Christianization and de-Hellenization working at cross-purposes? Any adequate response to "what is modernity?" can’t be reduced to a single overarching answer or narrative. (Thanks to Mark Henrie and the Brague fan club.)

A New Book by Pierre Manent

...experted translated and introduced by our friend Paul Seaton. Don’t be fooled by the amazon page; DEMOCRACY WITHOUT NATIONS? is in print.

Tomorrow’s Birthdays

...include John Kenneth Galbraith and Nietzsche. OK, they’re both overrated. Galbraith wasn’t much of an economist, although he has a nice prose style and looked good playing an economist on TV. And our society really and truly is affluent. Nietzsche tried to be the first wholly post-Christian postmodern, but he only succeeded in being really, really modern. (We learn both from his penetrating criticism and personal example that everything we proudly call postmodern is really hypermodern.) It is true enough, though, that if I have a "why," then I can get by with just about any "how," and so any conception of freedom that’s all about "the how" and reduces "the why" to a mere preference is worthless, is nihilism. Nietzsche certainly was a brilliant critic of the herd morality lurking at the heart of liberalism. And he saw clearly what liberalism would do to key social institutions, such as marriage. But his observation that "God is dead" was plain wrong, and so the desperation that fueled his extremist rhetoric was, to be gentle, misguided. Read Tocqueville instead.

Thompson the social conservative choice?

Gary Bauer thinks that religious conservatives ought to keep an open mind about Fred Thompson, who is apparently a work in progress. This earned Bauer a rebuke from Randy Brinson, who, by the way, has been playing footsie with "progressive" Democrats (see also this item, where Brinson appears is lots of good "progressive" company).

Hat tip: Power Line.

Update: The more I look at the Third Way report on a common ground between evangelicals and progressives and at co-sponsor Faith in Public Life (see the staff bios here), the more suspicious I am of Brinson’s new friends. The only evangelicals these folks are intrested in are those who can be persuaded to sign onto a "progressive" agenda. For example, the language about abortion--"reducing the need" for it--presumes that there’s an imperative leading to abortion, that some people can legitimately regard abortion as a "need." I’ll concede that there are certain limited conditions where that may indeed be the case (e.g., to save the life of the mother), but I wouldn’t speak generally of a need for abortion.



I can't believe I was able to stay awake for the whole of the five hour plus game between the Indians and the Red Sox. It was worth it. The game was billed as a pitcher's duel, and was anything but. Such a strange game reveals the flaws (and virtues) of each team. Boston thinks too highly of itself, and the Indians are tenacious. Now Boston knows that every Indian is dangerous and fear has entered their vain hearts. The ideal series for me would be Cleveland vs. Colorado.
Categories > Race

September 6 attack on Syria

It is now being more publicly stated that Israel struck a partly constructed nuclear reactor in Syria last month. Note this paragraph:

"A senior Israeli official, while declining to speak about the specific nature of the target, said the strike was intended to “re-establish the credibility of our deterrent power,” signaling that Israel meant to send a message to the Syrians that even the potential for a nuclear weapons program would not be permitted. But several American officials said the strike may also have been intended by Israel as a signal to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Neither Iran nor any Arab government except for Syria has criticized the Israeli raid, suggesting that Israel is not the only country that would be disturbed by a nuclear Syria. North Korea did issue a protest."

Some Interesting Birthdays

Today is the birthday of four fascinating Americans: Dwight David Eisenhower, e.e. cummings, Chuck Yeager, and Albert Nock (author of A SUPERFLUOUS MAN). In my opinion, three of these men remain underrated, but one is overrated. To stay out of trouble and keep you guessing, I won’t actually name names.

Yesterday was the birthday of two famous foreigners who would be very hard to overrate: Margaret Thatcher and Virgil.

Bill Kirstol vs. Republican Gloom and Doom

According to Bill, things aren’t so bad. Conservative policies, we have to remember, are working well, and we’re starting to win in Iraq. No doubt the Republican nominee will start behind. But if even Bush the elder can rally to victory (1988), surely the guys we have now have what it takes to do the same. Because I’m naturally predisposed to doom and gloom, I have to exercise extreme impulse control not to give the case in the other direction. So I’ll add that the outcomes of elections--like the outcomes of wars--only seem inevitable after the fact. There are always plenty of reasons to both hope and fear, because we really don’t know how things are going to play out.

More (Cautiously) Good News from Iraq

Here’s the word from our friend Lt. Col. Doug Ollivant, who is widely acknowledged to be one of our best strategic thinkers in Iraq: "Thing are really looking a bit better, at least in Baghdad. I must admit I’m rather shocked to see spontaneous subsidiarity working here. That said, it’s all still very fragile--but I feel a lot better than I did 60 days ago." There’s reason for hope, reason for prayer, and reason for gratitude for the work done, risks taken, and lives given on our behalf.

Barnes on Giuliani and the socons

Fred Barnes offers Rudy Giuliani a version of "safe, legal, and rare" to say to "Values Voters."

I fully accept the fact that the Republican party is a pro-life party. And though my personal view is different, I will make no effort whatsoever to change the party’s stance and I will oppose any attempt by others to do so. If elected president, I pledge to do nothing--either by executive order or by signing legislation--that would increase the number of abortions in America or make abortions easier to obtain. And I will speak out as president to discourage anyone from having an abortion. I further pledge that if reasonable legislation reaches my desk to reduce the number of abortions, I will sign the legislation or let it become law without my signature. And my administration will defend that legislation in the courts if necessary.

I don’t think that’s enough to distinguish him from HRC, who could say much the same thing (after the first couple of sentences, of course). Barnes cites this Rasmussen report to the effect that (right now, more than a year out) 27% of Republican voters would vote for a third-party candidate rather than RG, even against HRC. And he notes:

If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee against Giuliani, that will create a dilemma for social conservatives--but not as much of one as the Giuliani camp might think. Social conservatives won’t vote for Clinton, who they see as intensely pro-abortion. "ABC, anybody but Clinton, is not enough to attract social conservatives" to vote for Giuliani, [FRC’s Tony] Perkins insists.

This is particularly true of young evangelical Christians. They tend to be independents who vote for Republican candidates because they’re anti-abortion. A pro-choice Republican would have little appeal to them, even as the lesser of two evils. "It’s not enough to scare them with Hillary," says [Gary] Bauer.

The new stupid party

According to our friend James W. Ceaser, Democrats have become the new stupid party, a sobriquet once reserved for Republicans. Among other things, Ceaser offers a tour of the current Democratic horizon, finding numerous wonkish ten-point plans, a lonely big thinker or two, a few bobo billionaires, and lots of anti-intellectual virtual thugs overly fond of invective. To be sure, there are many smart and clever Democrats, but they seem to be allergic to broad and deep thinking.

Socon bolt a signal?

Jay Cost wonders if the muttering about Giuliani’s unacceptability and the likelihood of a third party candidacy is mostly a signal to religious conservative voters about the substance of RG’s stance. The news coverage is even cheaper and more likely to get people’s attention than an email blast. If they get the message and vote for someone else in the primaries, the (empty) threats will have served their purpose.

Our friend the Friar thinks that this is a mighty generous interpretation.

Tommy Thompson Endorses Rudy

See article here. I’m listening to him explaining now on Michael Medved’s show. The Court and electability are among his strongest reasons. Medved questioned him about Rudy’s temperament and his personal failings as possible roadblocks to his election . . . Thompson noted that none of us are perfect and that Guiliani’s temper at least has the virtue of seeming to have some rational relationship to his genuine opinions. In other words, he is exactly as he seems. You either like that or you don’t. I confess to finding something exceedingly refreshing in that.

Bell of the "Jena 6" Back in Jail . . .

. . . on unrelated charges. Shocking, I know.

Well, it’s not the Nobel Peace Prize, but I too was honored recently. I am proud to report that I was attacked in the pages of
The Nation by one Rick Perlstein. Since I don’t normally read this august publication, I heard of the honor from a friend. He began by asking me if I had stolen Rick Perlstein’s girlfriend. I replied, "not that I know of....who is Rick Perlstein?"

Perlstein is going after the Vietnam revisionists, i.e. those who reject the Vietnam narrative of the left--that the United States was preordained to lose the war. Folks like Mark Moyar and Bob Sorley--and myownself--argue that we lost because of our strategic and poltical failures, not because of some imperialistic original sin.

Perlstein goes after me because I praise both Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken and Sorley’s A Better War. Here is his final paragraph:

Here is one of conservatism’s first-call "experts" on military history. He seems to have brazened out the only job requirement: If a book suggests America can never lose, except when meddling liberals forsake the triumph, then that is an "objective analysis," functionally identical to all other such objective analyses. Denial and bargaining are the order of the day. Does Owens teach this at the Naval War College? Does Moyar at the Marine Corps University? I can only imagine they do. I do know that the former head of Central Command in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, is said to have read and heeded A Better War. Is it any wonder they can’t make sense of their loss?

When it comes to military affairs, I don’t think of mysels as "conservative." I think of myself as someone who takes strategic reasoning seriously and who thinks we have a lot to learn from military history. What I teach at the Naval War College is simple. Strategy matters. A better strategy is more likely to result in success than a worse one. The key point is that countires are not preordained to win or lose. The choices that both sides make determine the outcome.

What really bothers Perstein is that some have dared to question the conventional (left-wing) wisdom regarding Vietnam. His line seems to be "Don’t mess with my narrative." Sorry, pal. Your time is up.

November (’08) in October (’07)

First Things runs a symposium on the next president. John DiIulio hearts Huckabee and Hillary, "the Arkansas-connected odd couple." Joseph Bottum can’t imagine a Hillary victory and seems to hope that Fred Thompson will emerge from a cluttered field of relative non-entities to confront a Congress even more Democratic than it is now:

A Fred Thompson nomination, a slim election victory over Hillary ­Clinton, a stealth pro-lifer slipped on the Supreme Court through a Democratic Senate—that weak ­scenario is about the best a social conservative can hope for today. Everything else is bad. Very bad.

I wonder how long Bottum will stick with this "wishful" scenario.

Strategery for the Right

Pete Wehner and Yuval Levin offer an interesting assessment of conservative disaffection and offer an explanation along with a political prescription. In essence, they argue for a re-play of the strategy in the welfare-reform struggles of the late ’80s and early ’90s, where conservative co-opted the issue from the liberals by acknowledging the problem and re-articulating it on conservative ground. Eventually, the conservative understanding of the issue took root and even liberals had to adjust their rhetoric to fit the conservative narrative if they wanted to remain relevant. Wehner and Levin argue that conservatives need to duplicate this effort now with environmental, health care, and income inequality issues. I would add race relations and immigration issues to the mix. They argue that conservatives should embrace these fights and prepare to see a flood of support come their way. I think there is something to this . . . though even Wehner and Levin concede that the model of success that conservatives have to follow on this is not as comprehensive or complete as it should be. But that’s the perpetual problem of politics. People get old and die, others are born and grow up. Opposition imposes limitations and garners its own support. We always have to start over and explain everything again. We’ll never be (and shouldn’t be) satisfied with our success.

Environmental Gore

Joe asks, and I deliver: my reaction to Gore’s Nobel Prize, over at NRO.

Now I’m off to the event Peter and Joe previously flagged for us.

The Weaver/Ingersoll Symposium

Next Friday and Saturday (Oct. 19-20) at Belmont Abbey near Charlotte. Here’s the line-up:

Friday: Pat Deneen(11am), Marc Guerra (2pm), Mark Henrie(330pm), me(730pm).

Saturday: Thomas Hibbs (930am), Mary Keys (11am), Dan Mahoney (2pm), Robert Preston (330pm).

Further information here.

An inconvenient prize

As we await Steve Hayward’s written commentary, you might go to Bill Bennett’s site and look for Steve’s exchange with Bill this morning. I missed it, as I didn’t drive to work (in my "Humbler," not Hummer) until the very end of Bennett’s show.

This just in

Al Gore wins 2007 Nobel P.C. Prize.

Krauthammer on HRC

Charles Krauthammer writes a good column this morning, making the case that HRC’s "slipperiness"--"[a]lways careful, always calibrated, always leaving room for expediency over ideology"--is certainly better for conservatives (and the country) than the Democratic alternatives. I think he’s right about that, though he doesn’t say a word about judges.

Republicans and economic aspiration

David Brooks wonders whether there’s a Republican response to the statist middle class agenda offered by Hillary Clinton. Where are the Hamiltonians who can speak to "the party of Sam’s Club?"

Aspiring Novelist Turns Cannibal

This gruesome story demonstrates why our intellectual habits may be at least as important as our other habits in forming our character. If you fill your mind with horror and despair it is not surprising if, eventually, you begin to act it out. It’s not impossible to resist it, of course, but it takes more fortitude than many (including this guy) can muster.

California Craziness

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill banning smoking in cars with children under 18. But that’s not all. LA officials have reached an agreement with homeless advocates that will allow the homeless to sleep on sidewalks between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. (as long as they don’t block doorways, of course). That’s just beautiful. Tell kids that their (admittedly imperfect) parents are criminals if they happen to smoke a cigarette in the same car with them--but bums who use public sidewalks as urinals and toilets and personal campgrounds have the "right" to continue as they are. I wonder what would happen if the bums lit up? Well . . . I mean a cigarette . . . not crack pipes.

This kind of thinking demonstrates both a lack of intelligence and a lack of compassion. How? What kind of compassion is it to "allow" people to sleep on the street--when, clearly, a large number of these folks need to be institutionalized, medicated, or both? Another large percentage of them are in need of detox and addiction treatment. But we can’t force that on them . . . that would be a violation of their civil liberties! These people sleep in cardboard boxes and in their own filth. They deserve real compassion and the public deserves real relief from the hazards and burdens they impose. We don’t address the problem with these laws, we turn our heads (and our noses) the other way. We pretend to care when, really, we can’t be bothered.

As for the smoking parents . . . before people jump all over me--the answer is "Yes!" I have been stuck in a car with a smoking adult (and in sub-zero temperatures with the windows locked, no less) as a child. I know what that is like. It was quite annoying and, even, sometimes gave me the sniffles and burned by eyes (as I have an allergy to tobacco smoke). So yes, it was irritating. But then, so were many other of the bad habits of the adults around me. Thank God no one ever thought to criminalize any of them and prosecute my elders while I was a kid. There is a world of difference between irritating and abusing a child.

Would I have preferred my grandparents quit smoking? You bet. It would have been less irritating to me to drive with them and it might have kept my grandfather alive a decade longer. But would I have wanted to see my grandparents arrested or cited for smoking around me in order to "inspire" such a change? Of course not. Did their smoking do me any lasting harm? No. Did it do me any good? Probably. It’s one reason I don’t smoke.

Compassion for the smoker, of course, is something no one is allowed to consider. Unless there is a lawsuit against a tobacco company pending, no one talks about the smoker’s dependence on tobacco as anything deserving of compassion money. But don’t smoking parents deserve at least as much compassion as the homeless? As a group, parents who do smoke certainly don’t love their children any less than those parents who don’t smoke. They might not be doing exactly the right thing by smoking in front of them . . . but do we really want to go there? What have you done in front of your kids that you shouldn’t have done? We all have such a shameful little list, don’t we? Well . . . you either have such a list, you have no conscience, or you’re lying.

My larger point is that both of these laws demonstrate a lack of compassion. They show that we want to kick the can down the road with the homeless problem; ignoring the good of the homeless and the good of the community they endanger. And they show that we want to enforce some strange new moral code that feigns concern for children when, in truth, it is concerned only with flexing the governmental muscle of some interest group. The lie that smoking bans in California have anything to do with "public health" is exposed in our negligence of the homeless problem. Our government in California is not concerned with exercising any control over the real and difficult public health issue of homelessness; it is concerned with pretending it is doing something about public health by exercising symbolic control over private health concerns like smoking in cars with children.

Ukrainian election recap

Andy Busch explains what might have been going on in last month’s Ukrainian elections, telling us why we should continue to pay attention to a country that Vladimir Putin and his supporters regard as a wayward province. Hee concludes with a suggestion for how we and our European friends could spend some "pocket change."  

VDH’s More Prudent Hope

Hanson’s writing has always been noble and eloquent, but sometimes I’ve wondered about its realism. Now his expectations seem more than a bit chastened. Our goal is now stable Shiite dominance, and the Iraqis are going to have to straighten up fast to benefit from the very substantial gains made recently by our courageous and idealistic but very strained and overextended forces. We have to hope that the Shiites will do what Hanson says they must do. The good news is that there’s real evidence of progress on both the military and political fronts and reason to hope that our civilizing mission might succeed well enough. The bad news is that it might not, and there are limits to what we can or will do.

Treaties, the World Court, and suchlike

This case has a little bit of everything for everyone. George Bush is messing with Texas, apparently accepting a World Court ruling. Do you go with your presidentialism, your federalism, your jealous and zealous protection of sovereignty?

Evangelicals and Romney

Apparently at least some evangelical leaders can see past Romney’s past (not to mention his Mormonism). They also know that supporting a third party in ’08 would be disastrous.

My guess is that James Dobson knows that too, but is making noises now in order to try to influence the calculations about electability that lead many to tilt toward Giuliani. Does anyone else think that focusing so much on Giuliani’s alleged electability is reminiscent of the Democratic calculations about John Kerry in 2004?

Gerson on traditionalist conservatism

Aware that this waves a red flag in front of our paleocon readers, I think that there’s something to what Michael Gerson says. In "Straussian" terms, the good and one’s own aren’t the same.

Bob Dylan and Great Books

Yes, Bob has read widely and sometimes deeply. He, like DuBois, is a self-educated man, and there’s even an argument that he ranks with great poets. This silly and pretentious article doesn’t ring true as an acccount of either student experience or professorial greatness. But it’s true enough that Bob deserves to be recognized for his career-long refusal to subordinate his art to trendy political causes. He’s been at least seeking truth and greatness that transcend the limits of his time.

Are Human Beings Ultimately Rational or Affective?

The erudite and brilliant Eva Brann lays out the ancient arguments for the primarcy of reason and the modern for the primacy of passion or mood. She says that any answer must be less psychological than ontological and metaphysical. Her own view isn’t clear, although her last word is from the anxious Heidegger. My own view: The question is somehow wrongly put as a statement of fundamental alternatives.

Fred Looked Half-Dead

There are all sorts of opinions in blogland etc. about how Thompson did in the debate yesterday. The truth is he wasn’t terrible. But he was in some ways he was the worst of the serious candidates. He was at times a bit dazed and confused and looked old but not distinguished, his answers were full of fake-folksy cliches, and he didn’t say anything that showed he was really up on the issues or really smart.
Giuliani and Romney were both pretty good in a dull but quite competent overall Republican performance. McCain had a few very manly answers that distinguished him. Poor Huckabee didn’t really break out from the crowd this time, and clearly having Fred around makes his job tougher. Tancredo is a bit scary, and Ron Paul is certainly right that we should read our Constitutions. Duncan Hunter said a number of sound things in a most unmemorable way. Because nobody much was watching and nothing outrageous was said, none of the candidates was helped or hurt by this pointless event. I don’t think there was a lot of talk around the water coolers this morning about the Rudy vs. Mitt line-item veto dispute. But Fred in particular has a lot of work to do. (I watched as much of this debate as I could stand with my elections class, and their reaction to Fred was more negative than mine. They got a kick out of Ron.)

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for September

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

Gerard Alexander

Geoff Moseley

Lynn Robinson

Steve Thomas

Sherry Milstein

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 October’s drawing.

She’s Right!

Kathleen Parker nails it in this article about the new "exhibitionist" symbolism that seems to have gripped the country. Obama’s recent flap over not wearing an American flag lapel pin is part of this--but did, she argues, exhibit a kind of tone-deafness that--if it did not show him to be less patriotic than others--at least demonstrated that he did not care about insulting people. But I absolutely agree with her about those rubber-band bracelets and the pink breast-cancer slippers I saw for sale in the supermarket (!?) yesterday. Why do we do this kind of stuff? Parker has some thoughts . . .


Gordon Lloyd’s Colloquium from last Friday on his book The Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debate Shapes the 21st Century is now out.  

Be there or be square

Patrick D’s Tocqueville Forum, noted earlier today, has a great schedule for this year, with an event coming up later this week.

Here’s Patrick’s description:

The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy is pleased to announce a Colloquium on the subject of "Natural Right, Constitutionalism and the Law." The colloquium will feature lectures by Hadley Arkes of Amherst College; J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas at Austin; and Charles Kesler of Claremont McKenna College.

This colloquium will explore the connection - if any - between Natural Right and constitutionalism. Are rights and the law a result of contract and convention? Must laws and the constitution itself have an ultimate basis in nature, or natural right, in order to attain legitimacy? Does Natural Right set a limit upon what can be regarded as constitutional and/or lawful? In a day when issues of gay marriage and abortion - among other issues - convulse the nation, questions regarding the status of Natural Right lie at the heart contemporary debates over jurisprudence and the law.

The Colloquium is scheduled to take place on Friday, October 12 from 1-5 p.m. Each presenter will lecture and then respond to questions for 45 minutes with a 15-minute break between lectures; the final hour will consist of a plenary roundtable during which presenters will respond to each other and questions by its moderator and the audience. A reception will follow the final plenary session at 5 p.m.

The Colloquium will be held at the new Tocqueville Forum conference room on the 3rd floor of 3307 M. Street.

Wish I could be there. Folks in the D.C. area don’t have the excuse of being over 600 miles away. How else are you going to spend your Friday afternoon??

Good news

Our friend Patrick D. (aka Dr. Pat) gets a plug from NRO’s Stanley Kurtz. Now will someone plug Ashbrook on the conservative site of record? You’d think they’d care about this upcoming event, for example.

Is the Center of American Politics More Left or More Right?

Fred Siegel at Commentary magazine’s blog "Contentions" argues that it is shifting left. I think there is much superficial (which is not to say it is unimportant) evidence to support this particular "contention." Siegel gives a good deal of it. It is an interesting diagnosis of the American electorate and it is worth contemplating. Beyond that, however, I am interested in the causes . . . for in the causes of a perceived shift to the left, we may in fact discover that this "shift" is not a shift at all. I wonder whether the center in American politics really ever does "shift." Might it not be the case that it just sits there in the center minding its own business as "left" and "right" play tug-o-war for its attention? This is not to say that the center is daft or even disengaged . . . (though a case for more engagement certainly might be made). Rather, I am suggesting that the character and the attitudes of the American people are pretty deep-rooted--we don’t flutter in the wind or "shift" as much as either side would like. We cause the real shift; and that is the shift of the "left" and the shift of the "right." Those guys have to change themselves in order to appeal to us. They have to make themselves more like the center--or at least present their arguments in a way that brings aboard those in the center. They have to make a case to us and persuade us. And, when the side we’ve been supporting fails us or does not live up to its promises or our expectations . . . we drift away searching for alternatives.

There is a certain sense in which a desperate man will try anything to cure his cancer . . . if traditional therapies fail or his doctor seems to be giving him bad advice, he might even try a witch doctor. Is the American left the equivalent of a political witch doctor? In our current political situation that may be the case. The treatments they are prescribing are so patently absurd that it is hard to avoid the comparison. If the Dems are like witch doctors and the center is still turning to them, the question becomes what is it about the traditional therapies that have failed us? Were they inconsistently applied? (Yes.) Is the cancer too advanced? (I hope not.) Did the patient give it enough time to effect a result? (Probably not.) If not, did the doctor do his best to make a case for further treatment. (Clearly, no.)

It is certain, however, that blaming the patient (either for contracting the disease or for turning to unconventional treatments) is a waste of time and probably, also, unfair. If the center of American politics is to hold it has to be reminded about what is best in itself. It has to be asked to recall the things that have made it strong in the past and to be given some reasonable hope for the future. It does not want to cast its lot with the specious arguments of witch doctors and snake-oil salesmen. It wants to do the right thing. But the those who prescribe the right thing have to do a better job of understanding--not only what that right thing is--but also what appeals to their patient. The center cannot and will not be ignored in American politics. And the right would do well to remember that that is a good thing.

Barone on the Disgrace of American Universities

Michael Barone writes about the decline but, in the end, questions why no "fall" has come to American universities mired in disgraceful capitulation to speech codes, second rate scholarship, racial quotas, and the myriad of other ridiculous and failed social experiments that keep them from offering good value in their products. An understanding of the rise of cowardice and petty tyranny that characterizes much of what takes place on the campuses of most American universities, is a familiar narrative to most of us reading this blog. But what remains unexplained is why parents--who dutifully fork over increasingly burdensome sums of money to pay for this so-called "education"--continue to do so. As the product becomes less valuable--in real (i.e., intellectually meaningful) and in pure economic (i.e., job expectations) terms--the demand and the price have (oddly) risen in tandem. There appears to be a huge disconnect between what’s actually happening on college campuses and what parents and students who foot the bills believe is going on. It’s either that or, alternatively, everyone knows about the sham but they pay into it anyway for the sake of the "degree." The degree is still a necessary rite of passage for those who want to fall into rather than scrape into economic security.

It is a point of honor among most young parents I know to become familiar with and diligently apply themselves to the details of their 529 accounts and plans for college savings. But when these same parents talk of what their precious charges will actually do with those carefully charted nest-eggs--their focus is more hazy. There is a sense that little Johnny will, of course, know what is best for him to do when the time comes. These things will all take care of themselves and my role, as parent, is just to foot the bill and get out of the way. Parents who have spent 12 years or more hovering over their children like anchored helicopters, suddenly cut the cord and fly off into the distance when it comes to what their kids are "studying" in college.

I’m not arguing for more "hovering"--certainly not for 20 year olds in college. But before parents send their kids off to college today, I think there is plenty of room for more careful evaluation of the product. Is what you’re getting worth $15K, $30K or even $50K a year? Might their be a less expensive and equally useful alternative? Is college even necessary or good for this particular child? These are questions few people seem to ask anymore. I can’t help but think, however, that as costs continue to climb, more and more people will begin to ask things like, "Is a degree in "Women’s Studies" from an Ivy League institution really worth $200K?" or "Do I really need to pay $30K a year to get training for X? Might it not be smarter and more to the point to save the money and instead go to tech school?" When people start asking these questions more regularly, we might finally begin to see some real improvements in our universities.

It goes without saying that the smart money works to make sure their kids become Ashbrook Scholars.

Are the rumors of demise exaggerated or not?

Business-oriented Republican Matt Towery likes what he sees in the tea leaves he’s reading. (You can find his polling data by looking at some pdfs to which you can navigate from a spot on the right side of the page to which I just linked.)

Towery would like to think that the influence of the "religious right" is diminishing. Without historical data, I can’t say whether he’s right or wrong, though my inclination is to say that the numbers he cites are not too far from what they were in previous years--self-described religious conservatives are roughly 30% of the Republican electorate.

A Third Way to end the culture war?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. hopes that a statement, to be issued shortly by Third Way ("a strategy center for progressives," which is what center-left folks have to call themselves if they want to be card-carrying Democrats), will succeed in its aspiration to "end the culture war."

I’ll read the statement with interest, remembering, however, that Third Way is the Capitol Hill version of the DLC, which attracted exactly none of the Democratic presidential aspirants to its most recent confab and that the Blue Dog Democrats, elected in conservative-leaning districts in 2006, might more properly be called "Lap Dog Democrats." And I guess I don’t need to remind anyone how Bob Casey, Jr. has voted recently.

In the meantime, I have to content myself with this memo on "framing" the abortion debate, based on this poll. One immediate takeaway from the memo is that the Third Way folks would like people to think that pro-lifers are interested in putting those who seek and those who provide abortions in prison. I’d be happy to yank the medical licenses of those who provide abortion on demand and in other ways make it difficult for them to operate, without necessarily imprisoning anyone.

Sabato revisited

Almost exactly three months ago, I posted on Larry Sabato’s (bad) ideas for revising the Constitution and holding a constitutional convention to do so. (I’m all for civic education, but that strikes me as a singularly bad means of accomplishing it.)

Today, my father-in-law waved yesterday’s Atlanta paper in front of me. It had this announcement of a series devoted to Sabato’s proposals, and this interview with Sabato.

Among other things, LS apparently doesn’t like the Senate because it’s insufficiently democratic:

One thing we’re trying to do is remedy the unfairness of the Senate. Right now you have a population differential of 70-to-1 between California and Wyoming--70-to-1! The Founders could never have conceived of this. The population differentials among the early states were significant but not nearly to this extent. This is massive. Second, and this figure always shocks people, 17 percent of the people elect 51 Senators. The founders were concerned about the "tyranny of the majority," and I am, too. But there’s another evil at the opposite extreme: the tyranny of a small minority. It seems to me that when 17 percent of the people can drive the other 83 percent, we may have a problem. And it’s worse than that. Because in fact, since it only takes 41 senators to stop everything in the Senate, 11.2 percent of the people elect 41 senators. So 11 percent of Americans are driving the other 89 percent. To me that is tyranny of a small minority.

Oh, where to begin? How about with his implicit claim that minorities shouldn’t (ever?) obstruct overwhelming majorities? Kind of makes a hash of limited government, doesn’t it?

And then there’s his argument that current Senate procedures demand a constitutional response. Wouldn’t it be easier, if it’s really a problem, to change the Senate’s rules?

His most problematical argument--the most theoretical and least based on the kind of textured and nuanced political analysis for which he’s known--is his fear that small states will obstruct the will of large states. By my reckoning, the 26 smallest states are represented in the Senate by 22 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and 2 Independents. This is hardly a prescription for a unified tyrannically-minded minority, especially when you consider that the small states include almost all of New England (trending Democratic, with some Republican Senators who are hard to distinguish from their Democratic counterparts), Hawaii (which last elected a Republican when?), and a buch of states from the South and the West that you’d think would reliably elect Republicans (but include Democrats Jeff Bingamon, Byron Dorgan, Harry Reid, and Max Baucus, as well as Republicans like Chuck Hagel).

And if you pare Sabato’s obstructionist bloc down to the 21 smallest states, you get a 20/20 partisan split, with the tie-breakers being Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders.

It seems to me that the small states look quite a bit like the big states. And it seems to me that Sabato’s theoretical concern is so far-fetched as to be almost ridiculous. He hasn’t convinced me that anything is broken here, or that his "fix" (more "democracy") is in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution.

NLT--a civic education supplement

I just received an email from a friend who’s not a politial scientist (I have a few of those). He took the civic literacy quiz, doing reasonably well, a result he credits in part to reading this blog from time to time. He’s sure (for a variety of reasons) to have nailed the Lincoln question.

From "Silence of the Lambs" to "The Noisiest Sheep"

Jonathan Demme, the man who brought us "Silence of the Lambs," is now foisting on us a movie that should be called The Screeching Sheep. But no: "The Man from Plains" is a documentary, out shortly, about our GEPE*, Jimmy Carter. See how he bleats.

Clarice Starling would no doubt prefer the company of Dr. H. Lecter over the Ham-Handed Hannibal of Plains, GA. Jimmy no doubt has "Inconvenient Truth" envy, and even though Gore is safe as the BEVPE**, Jimmy can’t rest too secure, you know.

*Stands for "Best Ex-President Ever."

**Stands for "Best Ex-Vice President Ever."

Boy, the word "ex" never sounded so good.

Bill Kristol on Rudy

Bill contests the validity of the "we’re stuck with Giuliani because he alone can win" thesis. He also doubts that that thesis will actually move primary voters all that much. He adds Obama can beat Hillary, while admitting that he’s a six touchdown underdog.

The "New Politics" Song Remains the Same, and Other Weekend Musings

Contemporary liberals have (at least) two great nostalgic longings. The first, to be transported back in time to August 1964, to cast a vote against the Tonkin Gulf resolution that authorized LBJ to escalate the Vietnam War. (Remember, even George McGovern voted for the resolution, though he later claimed that he immediately regretted it.) Thirty-seven years later, most liberals (including today’s leading McGovernite, John Kerry) voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution, a fact that fuels their fury over the war now that it is less popular.

The second great longing is for the Bobby Kennedy campaign—and presidency—that might have been. It was not just the Kennedy mystique and charisma that drove this extreme sentimentality. Just as significant was the advent of the supposed “New Politics,” of which Bobby was a supposed avatar. Now, just what was the “New Politics”? Good question. There appears this useful passage in An American Melodrama, the single best book written on the 1968 campaign by the trio of Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page (this account is leagues better than any of Teddy White’s Making of the President series—get it if you see it second hand somewhere):

Every year in the United States there is a new Ford, a new Chevrolet, a new Chrysler, and a New Negro. At less frequent intervals, a New Woman, a New Child Psychology, and a New South make regular appearances. At the beginning of 1968, New Politics were in the air. Politicians talked about them. Journalists wrote about them. Pundits and academicians cranked themselves up to talk about them. The only trouble was that nobody agreed on what they meant.

One is tempted to suggest the “New Politics” is like the New Coke—a gimmick destined to give way to the sensible old way of doing things after a momentary and insubstantial enthusiasm. In the 1960s, Chester, Hodgson, and Lewis write, the New Politics meant two things above all: “One is that appeals should be made directly to the voters through the mass media.” Today that would mean the Internet. Second, New Politics meant “the politics of ordinary people who are fed up with the superficial and hypocritical politics of the two major parties.”

But are either of these really unique or “new” in any profound sense? New media, such as radio in the 1920s and 1930s, television in the 1950s, and direct mail in the 1960s and 1970s, always affected political campaigns. And is not the “fed-upness” of voters to be expected in a nation of close partisan division where more and more of our social life is politicized, not to mention the normal cycle of disappointment in democratic politics? (And remember that “the personal is political” might also be said to be a product of the 1960s New Politics, at least for the leftmost part of the political spectrum.)

The New Politics always comes around again every few election cycles, though not always by the same name. We saw it with Gary Hart’s explicit generational appeal in 1984; we saw it after a fashion with Ross Perot’s appeal to the “angry middle” of disaffected voters in 1992, and we are seeing it now with Barack Obama (who is a two-fer, since he also qualifies as a “New Negro,” if you’ll pardon the archaic usage). The comparison of Obama and RFK has been explicitly made for months now, as has his generic post-boomer theme of transcending partisan differences. It is a simple matter to predict that this aspect of Obama’s candidacy will come to nought, as did Hart and Perot before him, and as RFK’s surely would have had he lived.

But the real historical comparison taking shape these days may be with Hillary and . . . Al Smith! My thesis is simple: Hillary is going to become the Al Smith of our age: an inevitable nominee, and a sure loser for similar reasons to Smith in 1928. It is not just that a woman president is likely unacceptable to a decisive portion of the swing vote (which will be loathe to admit this to pollsters), but also that she is just too emblematic of the Deep Blueness of the blue states in a way that her husband was able to conceal successfully.

These thoughts came to mind as I was reading a 1925 essay on Smith by Walter Lippmann, in which he judged:

The availability of Al Smith is glaring, indisputable, overwhelming. And yet he is unavailable. By the unspoken and unwritten law of the United States, as it stands today, he cannot be nominated by any national party.

Lippmann was wrong about this judgment, of course, but his broader analysis is correct on why Smith couldn’t win the presidency. The parallels aren’t exact, but close enough to prompt some reflection:

One cannot say that the new urban civilization which is pushing Al Smith forward into national affairs is better or worse than the older American civilization of town and country which dreads him and will resist him. But one can say that they do not understand each other, and that neither has yet learned that to live it must let live. The conflict is an inevitable consequence of our history. It seems, however, to be the fate of this genial man to deepen that conflict and to hasten it, and to make us face the conflict sooner than we are ready. . . The Ku Kluxers may talk about the Pope to the lunatic fringe, but the main mass of opposition is governed by an instinct that to accept Al Smith is to certify and sanctify a way of life that does not belong to the America they love. Here is not trivial conflict.

Maybe this all means that in another generation, we’ll be observing "AL Smith/Hillary Clinton" dinners, with an ecumenical Catholic/Methodist clergy presiding.

The political complexion of the professoriate

Here’s a story about this study of the political views of the American professoriate. We are, they find, more moderate than some culture warriors have argued. But if you focus on leading research universities and liberal arts colleges, and on the core undergraduate liberal arts disciplines, the liberalism increases and the moderation diminishes. I’ll have more when I have a chance to take a closer look at the study, which won’t be until I return to Atlanta this evening.

Update: Just a quick note to say that this report shows that conservatives remain clearly in the minority almost everywhere in higher education (which of course isn’t news). And I wonder how "moderates" react in a landscape where conservatives are hardly sufficiently numerous to provide a counterweight to the other side of the spectrum.

Update #2: Our friend on the Northern plains. Jon Schaff, has more. I’m printing the paper and will study it more closely over the next couple of days.

Can we all heart Huckabee?

This TNR profile isn’t totally a puff piece, but it makes Huckabee seem admirably nuanced. He lacks foreign policy gravitas, but that distinguishes him only from Giuliani and McCain (and maybe Duncan Hunter) among all the aspirants, and he has the advantage of not having had to cast a vote for or against anything the Bush Administration has does anywhere in the world.

I think he has an appeal beyond his "natural" constituency: his language of self-discipline and self-help sounds like it could be deployed to good effect in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey (shudder!), which means that he’s a Republican who could actually contest the female vote with any comer. I leave it to others to tell me whether he’s manly enough to appeal to men.

A Gnostic Heideggerian Existentialist Agrees (in a Limited Way) with Darwinian Larry

Arnhart is certainly right that, for St. Thomas Aquinas, natural law has a biological foundation. He’s also right that the Finnis attempt to defend Thomistic natural law without nature is implausible. I do think MacIntyre unrealistically narrows the gap between us and the dolphins as "dependent rational animals." There’s a huge difference between our eros or love and dolphin and chimp eros (which is only loosely called eros). We’re both much more independent and much more deeply dependent than our fellow creatures. Let me add that the distinctively Thomistic position is particularly difficult to defend these days. Here’s one reason why: For both Locke and Darwin, reason or words are just tools. For Locke, they’re for the preservation of the free individual, and for Darwin the preservation of the species. For St. Thomas, they’re for a lot more than that.

David Broder Found a Republican Smiling

...and not because his Prozac dose has been upped. Polls show that Republicans are almost incredibly unpopular and distrusted. The smile is triggered by the fact that the Democratic ratings are almost as bad. The national mood is less anti-Republican than anti-Washington. And so the so-called good news that 2008 might be something like 1992. A Clinton wins the presidency, but not by a landslide, and the Republicans--rather unexpectedly--make modest gains in the House. I have to add, in the name of realism, that it’s hard to sustain that smile aftering turning your eyes to the Senate races, where the anti-Washington or generic anti-incumbency mood will make really tough for the Republicans to defend many of the seats they now hold. Meanwhile, it’s very hard to find more than one or two vulnerable Democrats.

The future of conservatism

Jonathan Rauch praises two books published by our friends at ISI. He has high praise indeed for the Dan Mahoney piece I noted (and quoted) here, calling it "a dazzling essay, worth the price of admission all by itself."

State lotteries and education

I’ve long ridden this hobbyhorse and am happy to see the NYT join the good guys, even offering this cool interactive graphic.

For me the bottom line is this: it’s ironic that a program often touted as being good for education relies, first of all, on the economic ignorance of its "core" customer base (quick: what’s the expected value of a dollar "invested" in a lottery ticket, compared with a dollar put in an interest-bearing bank account?) and, second of all, on an attitude (wishfully thinking that one can get something for nothing) that is antithetical to the connection between hard work and self-discipline, on the one side, and reward, on the other that we’d presumably wish to cultivate.

To me, lotteries indicate a failure of political leadership: they’re a so-called "voluntary tax" imposed by legislatures unwilling or unable to make the case for spending more public money on education. What are they afraid of--that the voters can’t be persuaded that the public education as it’s currently constituted is less marketable than the exploitative "entertainment" of a scratch and lose (er, I mean scratch and win) ticket?

Vouchers and choice, he whispers.

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.