Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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.