Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Clash of Civilizations?

Uhhhhmmm . . . does anyone want to make an argument for an attempt to initiate dialogue in this situation? Should we try and understand and respect their feelings? Do we need more cultural sensitivity? Or is it time to recognize the evil that animates these kinds of reactions in the Islamo-fascist (or pick a better term if you don’t like that one) world? I’m all for trying to come to reasonable terms with sane human beings of all stripes. But I’m also for seriously marginalizing folks who think it’s a good idea to execute school teachers who name a teddy bear Mohammed.

Hold the date

The day after Super Tuesday (or is that Stupor Tuesday?)--Wednesday, February 6th, for those who aren’t paying attention--Jonah Goldberg will be keynoting a conference at Oglethorpe. He’ll be talking about his new book. I’m looking for professor and blogger types to fill out a couple of roundtables, one on the future of liberalism and conservatism in America, the other on the nomination marathon/sprint. Conteact me by email ([email protected]) if you’re interested. I might could come up with airfare and accommodations for some of you, but can promise nothing more than conversation and conviviality.

Pass the Smelling Salts

Kansas City Star sports columnist Jason Whitlock gets down on the Sean Taylor shooting in ways that hitherto only Bill Cosby has done, referring to the hip-hop culture as the "black KKK."

I’m guessing he’ll get attacked for blaming the victim.


I just discovered this site and this amusing video, "NewsBusted". It lasts just over two minutes. In case you have nothing better to do...


This Report, an analysis of census data, was published today by the Center for Immigration Studies. Among other things it reports that one out of eight people are immigrants (37.9 million total), the highest level in 80 years. Nearly one out of three immigrants are thought to be illegal. Since 2000 10.3 million immigrants have arrived, the highest seven year immigration in American history. This is the New York Times article on the topic.

Huck Now Ahead in Iowa

...according to Rasmussen. And, in my opinion, he did very well in the You Tube debate. He and McCain seemed like the authentic and comfortably principled candidates, and Huck was witty and quick on his feet as well. According to some experts, that means things are looking good for Rudy. Ramesh, for example, claims that Giuliani could only win a one-on-one race againt Huckabee, and that prospect is looking more and more likely. Of course, it might be the case that Huck is peaking too early and McCain will end up as the surprise winner. I’m not at all sure myself. There are similiarities between Huckabee’s and Dean’s word-of-mouth and internet-based campaigns.
And it still might be the case that Huck could be quickly decimated by a negative campaign based on actual Arkansas facts. But my own view is that the social conservatives will stay true to their desire to take their stand in Iowa. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but for us poltical scientists facts are facts.

Will McCain take Iowa?

Andy Busch reminds us of the 2004 Democratic primary contest in Iowa in which Gephardt and Dean (the front runners) beat one another up so badly that John Kerry was able to win it and then take New Hampshire, and you know the rest of it. Andy thinks that there may be a parallel between that and today’s GOP race in Iowa. He thinks there is a good chance that the Romney-Huckebee battle for first place may end up turning into a victory for McCain. Read the whole piece and see if Andy can persuade you that lightning can strike twice in the same place!

Bring back the smoke-filled rooms!

By now, you’ve probably heard a good bit about the "unbiased" Republican (??) questioners at last night’s debate. Interestingly, this WaPo piece on the questioners doesn’t get any of that, while this NYT piece gets only a little of it.

There are a couple of issues that come up here. One has to do with the competence and/or impartiality of CNN and Youtube as organizers of an event like this. Seems like Republicans were right to be leery of this format. And I think that both organizations deserve even more egg on their face than this.

A second issue is whether non-Republicans have any business posing questions to Republicans during the nomination process. If the forum is open, why not? But, of course, this wasn’t an open forum. I’m tempted to argue that part of the problem is the manner in which the "parties" choose "their" nominees. In too many primaries, like the one in my home state, all a voter has to do is ask for a particular party’s ballot on election day. And even being required to declare your party allegiance when registering isn’t much of a hurdle. The result that just about anybody can have a modicum of influence over a "party’s" choice, even if that person has no real interest in or loyalty to the party. (In that respect, last night’s debate is just an instance of the permeability and openness of the nomination process as a whole.)

What’s more that permability and openness don’t stop in the voting booth. People with money and their own agendas, like George Soros, have a pretty powerful incentive to drive folks in a certain direction. And even candidates will try to figure out how to mobilize "their voters," rather than those who are most predictable in their November voting behavior.

I know that there are some virtues in this (e.g., evidence of an ability to reach beyond the so-called base), and I can’t imagine a way of building a disciplined party structure in this day and age, but can’t we agree that the "democratization" of the nominating process isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be? I don’t really want to being back the proverbial smoke-filled rooms (Mike Huckabee would be aghast!), but I wish there were ways to empower parties to regain the control of their labels that they’ve ceded since the 1960s.

The Stem-Cell War Is About Over

And so, as Yuval Levin explains, even the NYT can now tell the truth.

What is to be done?

So asks Patrick D. Do when fight cultural decay (hopefully, but not optimistically), or do we withdraw into our monasteries? Time was, we could expect universities to be part of the solution....

Romney’s Mormonism for the umpteenth time

In Iowa, sola scriptura doesn’t include the Book of Mormon. Romney’s response:

"I think as people come to know my faith they’ll recognize that the values of my faith are — they very much flow from the Judeo-Christian tradition of this country. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the equality of all humankind," Mr. Romney said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Romney ought to say (or continue to say) at least three things. First, the "theological distinctives" of Mormonism will not produce "eccentric behavior" in the Oval Office. (Surely Harry Reid’s eccentricity isn’t caused by his Mormonism.) What will loom largest is the "natural law" or "common grace" that Mormons share with all human beings. Second, when one takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, one means it. The powers of the government are limited, and surely do not extend to the establishment of religion or the abridgement of free exercise. Third, a person of faith acknowledges his dependence upon a Creator, which ought to produce humility and a sense of responsibility, surely good characteristics in a leader.

How are things going in Iraq?

Ask the American people.

Word is getting out, but it’s unlikely to make much of a dent in the bloc that is solidly anti-war and won’t hear of any good news. These folks will, of course, control the Democratic nominating process. The question is: will candidates who pander to this bloc pay a price in the general election?

How safe is Baghdad?

Ask a cabbie.

Huckabee in S.C.

He’s behind at the moment--how far is hard to tell--but his menu of issues might actually be appealing in a state that isn’t your father’s South Carolina. (Actually, it’s my father’s South Carolina. Opa and Oma Knippenberg relocated to S.C. to find an affordable retirement community closer to the interesting grandkids. Their neighbors are from all over the place, and one of the biggest sports in their community is bocce, not exactly native to the Upstate. But I digress....) So, yes, social conservatism. And, yes, economic populism. But also yes to some of the issues that people regard as allegedly oddball.

Can Huckabee make a dent in S.C.? A lot, I think, depends upon whether Fred Thompson can hold on. Even more depends upon whether Huckabee’s rise in Iowa is sustained. Did you realize that he hasn’t actually been in Iowa since November 8th, that his rise there probably has more to do with viral marketing?

Update: The latest polling shows great volatility in S.C., with Romney and Huckabee moving upward, Thompson moving down a bit (will his momentum carry him further? I think so), and Giuliani plummeting. Still, undecideds comprise a huge bloc. I’d bet that, after Iowa, people will get really, really serious and we’ll begin to see where matters settle.

Faith in politics

There’s a good bit of talk about Huckabee’s "Christian leader" ad--see, for example, here, here, and here. I find it a little distasteful in its unsubtle attempt at subtlety.

And then there are Christopher Hitchens’ characteristically unsubtle questions about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Yes, Mormonism was once racist; so was southern Protestantism; so were some strands of secular liberalism (as Jim Ceaser showed in this most excellent book); and the fathers of intellectually fashionable deconstruction were anti-Semites. Either everyone should be embarrassed, or everyone should (more or less equally) be off the hook.

Jonah Goldberg takes a different tack, arguing that various and sundry people of the Book(s) have a paper trail about which they can be quizzed, while secular liberals, who allegedly think for themselves by themselves, using only their reason, do not. Here’s Jonah:

Liberalism’s canon is largely unwritten, it’s dogma made-up as they go along (and yes, I’m over-generalizing to make a point; there are plenty of important liberal philosophical treatises that go unread by politicians and political journalists).

As someone who subscribes to the view that liberalism is a secular religion, it is very frustrating that liberal politicians do not offer up a paper trail for people to scrutinize the way conservatives do. Liberalism has a dogma as rich and serious as conservatism, but you can’t go to a liberal politician and ask: Are you loyal to John Dewey? Richard Rorty? John Rawls? You can’t ask what their bible is because they are acolytes of the bookless faith of good deeds, the cult of do-goodery. So when they argue for keeping "religion" out of politics they are saying "keep your religion out of politics." When they say that we need to "get past ideology" they are saying we need to get past your ideology. This means that conservatives must constantly defend their own territory rather than demand a similar accounting from liberals.

There’s something to this, but I think you can demand arguments and reasons, which surely have first principles and points of departure. People who have done their homework, as Jonah has, can begin to piece together the theoretical structure (perhaps Rube Goldbergish, perhaps shaky) underlying the lists of programmatic proposals. And even "pragmatism" has a literature, which, if you think it through, makes it pretty doggone scary as a "philosophy." Of course, this underlying argument is for the most part unacknowledged and/or held dogmatically, which makes it a species of faith not unlike that embraced by Huckabee.

Six Reasons Romney Is in Trouble

Each of them makes some sense. Especially worth hightlighting are the intensity of Huck’s support, the lack of scrutiny of Huck’s record in the Iowa press, and Mitt’s less than compelling public personality. Let me add that it’s in everyone’s interest that the new man for Hope’s record gets hyper-scrutinized rightly now, before he becomes the only alternative to Rudy or even Hillary. I also share the author’s judgment that it’s just plain unfair that Mitt is judged to have to win in Iowa to have a chance.

Here’s Something Good About Giuliani

He’s supported by Adam Sandler, Ben Stein, and Kelsey Grammer, three of the most admirable and witty men in the entertainment industry. The other Republican candidates, even Fred, have nothing going for them in Hollywood, and that’s, of course, to their credit.

Hillary and the Grannies

The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton is seeking--with some success--to gain ground among elderly women impressed with the novelty of having a chance to vote for a woman. The story is a sad one because of what is missing (i.e., any substantive discussion of something other than HRC’s gender and the attributes these old ladies imagine she’ll have because of it). I have to believe that, in the end, most women are more worthy of the franchise than the broads in this story appear to be. Whenever HRC gets on this gender kick she induces groans from sensible women everywhere . . . she affirms every negative female stereotype in the book and--what’s worse--she appears to be doing it with a cynical consciousness of what she’s doing. With friends like this woman, we girls don’t need any enemies.

Political Theorists for...who knows?

Inspired by
my colleagues in history, I’d like to announce the formation of Political Theorists for ...who knows? My manifesto follows:

As political theorists, we recognize, first, that the tradition of political thought comprises an extended conversation among those who offer, more or less tentatively, alternatives that are more or less commensurable. Some of us believe that the rule of the wise is, in principle, the best form of government, others that there is no such thing as wisdom, political or otherwise. Some of us regard democracy as the best form of government, others believe that democracy is the worst, except for all the others. Some of us hold to the primacy of the individual and his or her liberty, others to the primacy of the relationships in which all human beings are embedded.

As political theorists, we recognize, second, that practical political decisions in particular settings require knowledge that we, as political theorists, do not have and that, indeed, human beings may have only imperfectly. We recognize that different people may assess the various factors in a situation differently and that reasonable people might come to different conclusions, depending upon how they assess these factors.

As political theorists, we recognize that there is a disagreement about the role and influence of the individual in history. Some of us believe that individuals can, at least on occasion, liberate themselves from their circumstances. Others regard us all as essentially products of our time, place, and circumstances. As a result, we disagree over the role that individual character plays in political life.

As political theorists, we affirm the importance of discussion and deliberation, except for those who think that the point of theory is to change the world.

As political theorists, some of us would continue the conversation about our present circumstances and predicament indefinitely. Others would act now, if not sooner. All of us would reserve the right to change our minds at any moment.

As political theorists, in other words, we’re generally much more comfortable advising our fellows about what’s wrong with the current political alternatives than in unconditionally affirming the rightness and desirability of any one candidate.

Anybody want to sign on?

I know John Moser is raring to join

Historians for Obama. There’s some background in this article. There are a few claims in the manifesto that are grounded in "historical expertise," especially this one:

As historians, we understand that no single individual, even a president, leads alone or outside a thick web of context. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to a friend during the Civil War, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

I suppose that I would be a little more impressed, or less unimpressed, if the arguments made on Obama’s behalf displayed some disciplinary specificity or intellectual sophistication. But they’re campaign boilerplate.

I’m a little more impressed by the academic members of this list, in part because I trust that the issues that moved them to give their names to the effort have something to do with their expertise. I recognize, of course, that every campaign could come up with a "Lawyers for" organization, but I think I’d find myself less in sympathy with the legal and constitutional views of, say, Lawrence Tribe, Cass Sunstein, Geoffrey Stone, Jack Balkin, and Edwin Chemerinsky.

By popular demand?

On this site, you can reserve seats for this theatrical production, featuring the lovely and talented Knipp wife and our handsome and talented Knipp kids.

A reminder for our Middle Georgia NLT reader(s)

I’ll be at Mercer in Macon for this event (scroll down a bit in both cases) tomorrow. I’ll be on a panel with these folks (and would love to do this with Hank).

The Myth of the Top One Percent

Thomas Sowell points to the transient nature of the nation’s top one percent of income earners and--in so doing--also points to the deceptive nature of most public discussion of the top one percent as a permanent oppressor class. Leaving aside the question of oppression from the super-rich, the fact is that people move in and out of income brackets all the time. The highest levels of fluctuation occur at the top and at the bottom. Few remain in the top for longer than a decade; just as few remain permanently on the bottom.

Sowell quotes Anna Quindlen by way of segue to this point. Quindlen, in an article for Newsweek lamented that, "the share of the nation’s income going to the top 1 percent is at its highest level since 1928." I cannot resist pointing to her choice of words in this lament. The "share" of the "nation’s income" going to the top one percent distresses her? It distresses me that she thinks it’s the "nation’s income" and that the nation should have any thought about what "share" of it goes to anyone. It’s the "nation’s" income? What did "the nation" do to earn it? And how do we get a share? By the graces of some magic pie slicer in the sky? No matter how big the pie, I guess the kids will still fight over who got the bigger slice. (I know mine do.) Isn’t that why it’s a good idea get the government out of the pie baking and pie slicing business? After centuries of this kind of fighting, the smart kids who founded our country figured out that the only pie worth eating is the pie one learns to bake for himself. Then you don’t have to fight anyone for a piece and you don’t have to worry about the size of your neighbor’s pie (unless you’re amused and inspired by that sort of sport). You can always try to bake a better one next time if yours doesn’t suit. Whatever its size and whatever its flavor, you can take pride in your own pie and rest assured it is--at least--undoubtedly better than the crumbs that would be thrown your way if there were only one pie to be doled out by your "betters," a.k.a., the experts. In America there isn’t just one big pie for all of us greedily to nibble upon. There’s roughly 300,000,000.

Douthat on Gerson

Ross Douthat reviews Michael Gerson’s book. While he wouldn’t read Gerson out of the conservative movement, he has nicer things to say about his diagnosis than about his prescription:

Gerson’s central argument is basically correct: American conservatism needs to stand for something besides government-cutting if it hopes to regain the majority that George W. Bush won (and quickly lost). At its best, Heroic Conservatism is a necessary corrective to the right’s mythologizing of its own past, which cultivates the pretense that small-government purity has always been the key to Republican success. By way of rebuttal, Gerson points out that conservatives tend to win elections only when they convince voters that they mean to reform the welfare state, rather than do away with it entirely.


If Gerson’s diagnosis is largely correct, however, his proposed remedy—the "heroic conservatism" of the title—seems more likely to kill the patient than to save it. Standing amid the rubble of an administration that promised (often in his own flowery prose) far more than it delivered, Gerson summons the GOP to a still-more-ambitious set of foreign and domestic crusades.


To last, and matter, conservatism needs an agenda that partakes less of Gerson’s evangelical moralism and more of the realism that defined the original neoconservatives. It needs a foreign policy whose idealism is leavened with a greater sense of limits than this administration has displayed; and a domestic policy that seeks to draw contrasts with liberalism, not to imitate it, by emphasizing responsibility rather than charity and respect rather than compassion.

All of that strikes me as basically correct, though I understood that the "ownership society" was the goal of compassionate conservatism. Applied to social policy, the "transformative" promise of evangelicalism (even if it’s read through the lens of Catholic social thought, which, by the way, always leavened the allegedly "militant libertarianism" of "midcentury conservatism") is supposed to cultivate characters who can stand up for themselves, pulling their weight as members of a community.

Is Douthat missing this strand of Gerson’s argument, or is it genuinely absent? If Gerson means to perpetuate a patron-client relationship based upon compassion, then he is indistinguishable from his liberal counterparts.

I know you’re all eagerly awaiting my thoughts on the book. I promise that it will be at the top of my pile over the Christmas holidays.

Huck’s New Ad

...portrays him, most of all, as a Christian leader. I buy Fred’s analysis: It’s a shrewd appeal to those most likely to show up at the Iowa caucus, but there will surely be a backlash down the line.

What Does Robertson’s Endorsement of Rudy Mean?

...almost nothing in terms of mobilizing the socially conservative vote. The leadership of the "religious right," as Cheney and Rove understood last time, has become irrelevant. There’s no way Giuliani will be able to energize the base--and produce more than a million volunteers and a huge turnout in key states--that reelected the president in 2004. A nuanced look at the latest studies might suggest that Rudy may be the weakest candidate the Republicans have.

Huckabee across the spectrum in South Carolina

From Ric Flair to a couple of Baptist pulpits.

Compassionate black conservatism

This WaPo article reminds us of where the Bush-Rove effort might have led.

Aristotle, Augustine, and the Democrats

Someone on that side of the aisle has read the Sparks Notes version of Aristotle and Augustine. George Lakoff, of all people (the one who’s all about "framing"), complains that "over the last couple of years, the phrase became reduced to ’a slogan.’"

Of course, I think the notion of a common good is very much worth discussing, but that it can’t be reduced to a laundry list of policy proposals (the characteristic Democratic reflex). And if the Democrats actually read their Aristotle, they’d learn that justice surely includes "equality," but, as Aristotle adds, "for equals and not for all." The common good, as Aristotle reminds us, has something to do with character and virtue. So let’s have a conversation about the kind of people we want our children to be, the kind of education they deserve, and the kind of standards to which everyone should be held. I’m all for it. Any takers across the aisle?

Thanksgiving in Death Valley

I’ve been away from the blog for a week because this year, on a lark, our little family decided to take advantage of the week-long Thanksgiving school vacation and head out on a camping adventure. Our initial thought was to return to the Grand Canyon and take it in this time from the South Rim (we visited the North Rim in August). But our trailer is not well-insulated and, because we prefer to do without hook-ups so as to avoid the parking-lot style RV "resorts," approaching cold weather discouraged us. At the last minute I had a brilliant inspiration and suggested Death Valley. Neither my husband nor I had ever been there and indeed, prior to this desperate inspiration, I had never had any inkling to go there. Who makes a point of going somewhere with such an unfortunate and foreboding name? But our kids are on this kick of collecting National Park Jr. Ranger badges and--thanks to Bill Clinton--Death Valley became a National Park in 1994. The weather would be right at this time of the year (highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s). So why not?

Rarely have my expectations about a place been so minimal or so wrong. I was expecting stark, ugly desert--much like what I’d seen on our drive across Nevada this summer on the way to Zion. So as we turned North from Baker, CA, I wasn’t very disappointed to see much of the same sort of landscape before me. But as we crossed over the ominous looking mountains on the East side of the park and entered the Valley, I was surprised by my fascination with the vistas before me. First we saw things that were noteworthy mainly because of their peculiarity--like the slimy white salt deposits at Badwater that, as you press forward, gradually form into weird dry, crystallized formations jutting up from the surface of the long-dry Lake Manly. But as we got closer to the heart of the park in Furnace Creek, we came upon Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette. There can be no doubt as to why that place got its name. One feels an almost overwhelming urge to pick up a brush and a canvas at every turn. The colors and the light and the deep contrasts make it look deceptively easy to duplicate and irresistibly beautiful. My daughter--ever true to her Italian roots--commented that it looked like melted spumoni. Indeed, it rather did!

The dry, crisp air made insects a rarity and we were able to sit out in short sleeves well into the evening over a campfire and to enjoy the imaginative rendition of a Thanksgiving "play" from our kids about a turkey named "Slick" who comically manages to avoid every attempt to get him on a plate.

Wonderful as all of that beauty and family fun was, my awe for the beauty of nature and my patience with the antics of my kids will only extend so far. I still need a good juicy story to hold my interest in a thing. What stories could a place like Death Valley tell? It’s a barren desert, after all. What history could it have? Fortunately, my kids and their obsession with these Ranger badges brought us to attend a lecture given by Park Ranger Dale Housley on the "Colorful Characters of Death Valley." As colorful characters go, Ranger Housley can certainly claim to judge them from his own experience! Every history teacher in America should be required to sit in on such a lecture. This is how it is done. Apart from some very small children and some very old audience members for whom this talk was past their bedtime, every eye in the room was on this man as he spoke. Even my 8 year-old was able to laugh at the appropriate times and see the wonder of the tales he was weaving. The stories he told about men like John C. Fremont, Robert Manly, Shorty Harris, Death Valley Scotty, the native Ohioan, Albert Johnson (who actually built Scotty’s Castle), and--of course--the 20 mule Borax wagon teams were fascinating. Who knew that such a place could have such an interesting and compelling and uniquely American past? But then, this is America we’re talking about. Of course our deserts are our playthings. Of course we can pull riches from their soil and make riches out of their salt. We can even--as Death Valley Scotty so vividly demonstrated--make riches and rewards out nothing but what exists in our own imaginations with no other tools but a penchant for friendship (and a little BS). What a beautiful and a great country we have and I am even more thankful for her now that I have seen and learned about this part of her. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving too.

Law and marriage

Here’s an argument that the state should only affirm, and not regulate, the ways in which people conduct their long-term private relationships.

If I leave aside for the moment the religious dimension of it, and focus simply on the distribution of state benefits, I can foresee the following problems. When does a partnership become one that carries with it survivor benefits, such as inheritance and social security benefits? Are children entitled to survivor benefits from anyone other than their natural or legal adoptive parents? Is there any basis for restricting a person to only one partner at a time? If not, what happens to a social security system in which someone can obligate it to pay out survivor benefits to an essentially unlimited number of partners? Or do two spouses simply get half the benefit one spouse would get, three spouses a third, and so on? Such treatment flies in the face of our commitment to fairness, and wouldn’t long persist, I suspect. But paying out multiple survivor benefits would likely require either a diminution of benefits overall or a substantial increase in social security taxes. Or perhaps it would lead to an attachment of benefits to individuals, with nothing of consequence following from a relationship. The family--any sort of family--would lose its "privileged" status when it comes to certain sorts of government benefits.

In other words, government support for, or acquiesence in, the free choices of individuals could in the long run lead to the elimination of government support for the family. This can’t be good for children, but, then, who cares about them?

The Democratic Party at prayer


Paulist press

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, two libertarians, engage in some self-congratulation about the improbable attractiveness of Ron Paul, who, for them, is intellectual heir of Barry Goldwater via Ronald Reagan. This is evidence, they contend, that "[m]ore than at any other time over the past two decades, Americans are hungering for the politics and freewheeling fun of libertarianism."

I think they have the "fun" part of it right, and perhaps even the "freewheeling." But I wonder where the responsibility is. Gillespie and Welch characterize the libertarian combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism as loving one’s countrymen and mistrusting one’s government. I don’t see the love, unless it’s based on the unconservative assumption that human beings are naturally good and hence can be trusted to do well for themselves and their fellows without much in the way of cultivation, encouragement, or regulation. And I do see a certain selfishness that has little to do with love.

Huck and Lasch

Mr. Postmodern Conservative thinks that one implication of Dr. Pat and me posting on Lasch is to display our reservations about Huckabee. It’s true enough that Huck is too therapeutic (and a bit narcissistic); that’s a characteristic vice of Evangelicals. But he’s also quite populist and pretty anti-meritocratic for a Republican. The big questions: Is he realistic? Does he promote living responsibly in light of the truth? It’s doubtful, in fact, that Huck’s track record would have impressed Mr. Lasch all that much.

It’s not all Bush’s fault

Naomi Wolf takes a look at the political disengagement of American youth, and comes to the conclusion that it’s not all Bush’s fault. How generous of her.

It would of course be helpful if, while invoking America’s founders, she didn’t write incessantly of democracy when they spoke of the democratic republic, if, in other words, she appreciated the weaknesses and dangers of democracy as well as its promise. It would also be helpful if she showed some appreciation for the forms of self-government, rather than identifying political engagement with insurgent grassroots activism. After all, one of the causes of the cynicism she deplores is the illusionary romanticism she celebrates.

Will on Gerson

George F. Will takes on Michael Gerson, and, as if that weren’t enough for a single column, he goes after all the "neoconservatives." While there’s not much nuance here, there is a pithy paragraph:

Conservatism is a political philosophy concerned with collective aspirations and actions. But conservatism teaches that benevolent government is not always a benefactor. Conservatism’s task is to distinguish between what government can and cannot do, and between what it can do but should not.

These are good challenges to pose to Gerson, but I doubt that he’d be reduced to silence by them, or simply revealed to be indistinguishable from "liberals" or "progressives."

The Latest Word from Iowa

It looks more and more like Obama and Huckabee. Democrats want CHANGE and a MAN who can give a SUPERIOR SPEECH. And Giuliani and McCain are stepping aside to give Huck a cleaner shot at Romney.


Newsweek runs an article on Amazon’s Kindle, the latest move into the post-Gutenberg era. It seems much better than other e-book readers I have seen. Buy a book and it is auto-delivered wirelessly in less than one minute, for ten bucks! It holds 200 books and you can subscribe to papers and mags. Clever. This is a review of the product, currently sold out, according to Amazon.

Dr. Pat Lasches Out

Christopher Lasch’s proud, populist realism is a powerful and noble antidote to meritocratic and therapeutic elitism. In addition to Deneen’s fine essay, let me recommend chapter 5 of my POSTMODERNISM RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD as an introduction to Lasch. From Lasch’s own work, you might begin with the last chapter of his THE REVOLT OF THE ELITES, which isn’t dated at all.

The post/pre-holiday report

Thanks to Steve for his charming report from the Hayward household.

The Knippenbergs have had a busy Thanksgiving weekend. No Turkey, since my father-ln-law isn’t thankful for the bird. Instead, we did steaks on the grill, with side dishes made from veggies grown in his crunchy-con garden. My son made the chocolate pecan pie that served as dessert. (He sells ’em, but sorry, we don’t ship.)

My entrepreneurial kids kept us on our toes with five--yup, that’s five--pet-sitting jobs: a rambunctious lab we visited twice a day; a late middle-aged golden retriever who needs our attention three times a day; a high-maintenance poodle who apparently only pees when told to (and the owners forgot to give us the magic words); a Welsh springer spaniel who won’t come out from under the table while we’re there; and your basic low maintenance cat. Lucre is being accumulated left and right to pay for electronic gadgets and American Girl accessories.

And then there were my parents, who buzzed in Wednesday evening on their way to a glorious Advent in Austria: we’re their park-and-ride; on the other end, my mom’s cousins drove from Salzburg to Munich to pick them up.

The upcoming weeks include this conference in Macon, this holiday event at Oglethorpe, this year with a Dickensian "Christmas Carol" motif, featuring the Knipp kids as the attendants to the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by our very charming and garrulous Irish-American VP for Student Affairs (an historian of late antiquity by training); and several performances of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, featuring the three talented Knippenbergs (my dog has more of a flair for the theatrical than I do).

Hope everyone had a blessed, joyous, and restful holiday!

Has Huckabee Peaked?

Although his analysis is mixed, Terry Eastland doesn’t really think so. Republicans are depressed, turnout in Iowa will be down, and surely Huck’s supporters are less depressed than most. Christmas civility will probably mute attacks on his selectively big-government Arkansas record.
The main danger for Huckabee: His three-tickets-get-punched-in-Iowa theory no longer applies to him. His surge has been so successful than he won’t be able to spin placing or showing into winning. The main danger for Republicans: He may do so well that he’ll emerge as the only alternative to Rudy, and without being adequately vetted in a variety of ways. One mega-disadvantage of "frontloading" is that it makes buyer’s remorse more likely than ever. What if, a month from now, both Rudy and Huck seem like disastrous choices? Does the system allow for the emergence of another possibility?

It’s Back! Steve TV, Holiday Weekend Edition

With the Hollywood writers strike stretching into its third week, time for us scabs to step into the breach. With apologies to Steven Colbert, here’s the first (and probably last) edition of The Hayward Report. About 2:30 long.

The Laws of Nature (and Nature’s God?)

Our physics is not yet rational because we don’t have a completely satisfying account of how the immutable laws of nature allow for the emergence of life or lives such as ours. We can’t explain how those impersonal laws permit of the emergence of particular persons who both are able to know and can’t account for themselves (at least completely) in terms of those laws. Is it reasonable to expect a physics that can account completely for physicists, for strange and wonderful beings who are more than minds or bodies or some combination of the two? Or do we live in a multiuniverse and not a cosmos at all? Does physics depend upon a faith in the intelligibiity or universality of natural order that may or may not fit the data? Do physicists think rationally when they refuse to ask "why" about what they can see with their own scientific eyes?

Giuliani’s Strategy described in all its complexity. Rudy is especially strong in big winner-take-all states. He won’t be winnowed out before February 5, and he’s very, very likely to have a strong lead in delegates on February 6. This analysis may not take momentum into account sufficiently. And there may be a ceiling in Rudy’s support that will become clear when he has only one significant opponent left standing. Still, his main hope is that both Mitt and Huck are both fatally flawed--in different ways, of course. (One reason I’m posting these schoolmarmish analyses of nomination strategy is to benefit my elections class. Here’s a solid AP overview of the early and likely decisive part of the primary season.)

Hillary and Iowa

After reading this post and the accompanying thread, it’s clear to me that the strategic considerations are pretty complicated. If Obama wins and Hillary comes in second, she’s in trouble because Edwards drops out and supports Obama. If Edwards and Hillary comes in third, she’s wounded but far from fatally; Obama is deprived of the momentum that comes with victory, and Edwards ain’t going all the way. But if Obama wins and Hillary comes in third, she going to wish big-time she skipped Iowa and the race is widen open. According to the polls, any of these results seem quite possible. Even after predicting she may experience some rough sailing in our primary process, I say her campaign based on displaying her responsibility gene will probably succeed over the long run.

Brooks on the real Rudy

David Brooks likes what he hears from the old RG on immigration, and regrets that it won’t fly in the current GOP. But if RG simply welcomes illegal immigrants--and doesn’t stress border enforcement--he can’t run as a champion of the rule of law, which is supposed to be one of his strong suits.

The secret (?) of Huckabee’s success in Iowa

"Viral marketing":

"He hasn’t used direct mail and his very first commercial is airing on TV now," Iowa Republican Party executive director Chuck Laudner said. "The word on Huck is being spread by the news media, on the Internet — and the faith community is pushing Huck by word of mouth, phone trees, e-mail and also through caucus training sessions that occur all over the state."

And then there’s his self-presentation:

The cause aspect of Mr. Huckabee’s appeal extends beyond the intense loyalty of his evangelical Protestant supporters to secular conservatives and some Republican centrists, Mr. Laudner said.

The other Iowa Republican leader agreed with Mr. Laudner, saying that in candidate debates, speeches and interviews, Mr. Huckabee conveys the image of a genuine foe of abortion and homosexual "marriage" who nonetheless "doesn’t shove his views down people’s throats" and speaks compassionately about homosexuals and immigrants.

Such an approach might also work in South Carolina, but it’s not likely to carry over into some of the bigger states when the primary action starts to be fast and furious. If Huckabee can’t quickly translate Iowa (and perhaps South Carolina) success into an effective national campaign organization, he won’t succeed in doing anything other than perhaps mortally wounding Romney (as some have argued).

My response: if Romney can’t close the deal after his months-long and very expensive courtship of Iowa voters, it isn’t Huckabee’s fault if he isn’t able to go the distance.

Joel Kotkin on the suburbs

Here’s a challenge to all the James Howard Kunstler supporters out there:

[Suburban] success revolves around many of the basics that William Levitt recognized as critical--affordable homes, good schools, nice parks and public safety. As long as suburbs continue to deliver them, the master developer’s legacy is likely to live on for another 60 years.

Those all strike me as sound reasons for suburban living. The familiar critiques of the suburbs--lack of diversity, blandness (especially of cuisine), and no culture--have much less force than they did a couple of decades ago. Which leaves the cost of transportation....

How high a price are we willing to pay for good schools and public safety? How long before we can confidently expect these "amenities" in densely populated areas?

The party of the rich?

Studies show that, increasingly, it’s the Democrats. Class appears to be diminishing as a political divider, replaced, perhaps, by one’s attitude toward government (upper middle class civil servants aren’t exactly hostile to it) and one’s stance on moral issues. I’d like to think that the fact that Democrats have lots of wealthy supporters will mean that they’ll become sensible on economic policy, but a lot, of course, depends upon the source of the wealth (trial lawyers not being known as friends of productivity, for example).

Update: For another view, go here: as long as Democrats can be identified as the party of tax-and-spend, the wealthy have the incentive to vote their pocketbooks with the Republicans, but if taxes are essentially off the table (as they have been in recent years), the "natural" advantage Republicans have goes away. What happens if the Democrats begin to think about raising taxes again?

Santorum’s common good conservatism

Rick Santorum seems to be trying to join Michael Gerson in the dog house.

The Crisis in Musical Literacy described by Little Steven/Sil. He’ll whack you if you don’t do your Dylan homework.

The marketplace of higher education

My colleague Bob Blumenthal has turned himself into something of an expert on the finances of colleges and universities. You can read the most recent fruit of his efforts here, where he writes about a dispute between one of the regional accreditors (for which he has worked in the past and for which I’ll work early next year) and a college that it has stripped of accreditation on grounds that are far from transparent.

The short of it is that the accreditor doesn’t believe that the college has resources sufficient to support its mission. One could respond that the best evidence that the resources are adequate to the mission is that the school is in fact fulfilling its mission, something that can be measured by student satisfaction, student success, and so on, in other words, by the educational marketplace.

Or, if that’s too subjective for you (since education isn’t a "product" like others, to be measured by consumer preferences), one could look at the quality and content of the curriculum (and so on), and render a professional judgment about whether the college ought to be granting degrees, regardless of how the place is managing to do it (financially and administratively). Regional accreditors don’t like to do that, since it requires rendering judgments about curricular quality that require the application of standards much in dispute. The American Academy for Liberal Education (on whose Council of Scholars I serve) unapologetically applies such standards.

I’m tempted to argue that there’s a way of dispensing with regional accreditors whose principal purpose seems to be to audit the books of the places they accredit. My colleague Bob suggests it, at least implicitly: if there were transparency, if audited financial statements were available to the public, parents, students, and peers could make their own judgments about the quality of the "product" offered, properly focusing on the distinctiveness and quality of the curriculum offered. The only way then that regional accreditors could continue to justify their role as gatekeepers is to get into the business of certifying quality. Colleges and universities probably don’t want that, however. They’d rather have an opaque accrediting process that enables them to avoid financial transparency and accountability for curricular content.

A Moral Controversy Resolved by Scientific Progress?

Here’s a small symposium on the newest way of acquiring pluripotent stem-cells without destroying embryos. It includes a contribution by me!

Could Oprah Win Iowa for Obama?

Maybe, or even probably. Could she go on to win him California and New York? It’s not out of the question, given that momentum thing characteristic of our zany serial primary process. In any case, Oprah, Iowa, and Obama combine to make a very poetic sentence.

Iowa GOP caucus

This article describes this poll, which reflects a Huckabee surge in Iowa. Romney’s support seems softer than Huckabee’s, so, to me, the question is where the Romney voters would go, if they left the man who has courted them so assiduously without winning their undying favor.

If you can get past the headline, which is (I hope) truer than the writer knew, this article rings true to the conversations I’ve witnessed.

Update: Apologies to Peter L, whose post I didn’t see until after I wrote this one.

Huck Closing on Romney Iowa. I’m not saying this is good news. And for me the real story is that a strong majority of voters in that state will probably choose either Romney or Huckabee.

Thanksgiving proclamations again

For those interested in reading all the Presidential Thanksgiving proclamations, as I once did, should begin at this site.

Here’s a quiz for you proclamation buffs out there. Who’s the author of this one?

"It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord." Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.

The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty.

In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States.

It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, "Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection," and that every American in his own way lift his voice to Heaven.

I recommend that all of us bear in mind this great Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me I the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Inspired with faith and courage by these words, let us turn again to the work that confronts us in this time of national emergency : in the armed services and the merchant marine; in factories and offices; on farms and in the mines; on highways, railways and airways; in other places of public service to the Nation; and in our homes.

I wonder what Richard Cohen would say about this guy.

Gersonism and therapy, once again

Here’s the Pomocon response to the questions I posed. JP concedes that not all religion is therapeutic. In turn, I’ll concede that some religion is. Generally speaking, the more theologically conservative or orthodox it is, the less therapeutic it is.

Where Gerson stands theologically, I don’t know. Officially, the government shouln’t ask questions about theology when it contracts with, gives grants to, or authorizes the expenditure of vouchers at a site associated with a faith-based organization. The issue is, or ought to be, outcomes. That said, it’s probably easier for a less conservative or less orthodox fbo to cooperate with the government. Fewer feathers are likely to be ruffled on both sides. There’s less likelihood of a lawsuit from a self-appointed secularist watchdog organization. So I’ll concede that "therapy" is present in the faith-based initiative, but it’s neither necessary nor essential. And groups like Teen Challenge and PFM, along with other smaller organizations that also challenge their clients, can play in the game.

How the Confederates Won

I always begin my classes on the Civil War with a discussion of how the war is "remembered." The fact is that there are a number of competing narratives of the war, as responses to my Civil War posts make clear.

Several years ago, I reviewed Race and Reunion by David Blight, which does a good job of tracing the origins and evolution of three narratives:

1) the "emancipationist" interpretation, arising out of the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, which remembered the war as a struggle for freedom, a rebirth of the Republic that led to the liberation of blacks and their elevation to citizenship and constitutional equality;

2)the Blue-Gray reconciliationist view, which focused almost exclusively on the sacrifices of the soldiers, avoiding questions of culpability or the right and wrong of the causes;

3) the "white supremacist" view, arising in part from the Democratic Party’s counterrevolution against radical Reconstruction, and reinforced by the Lost Cause narrative, the South’s response to physical destruction and the psychological trauma of defeat.

While the white supremacist view has declined in importance, the Lost Cause narrative has become entrenched. Indeed, as I have argued, the Lost Cause narrative has dominated Civil War historiography until recently.

For those who are interested, my review of Race and Reunion is here.

My next piece will be on the various controversies about Gettysburg. These include, on the Confederate side: the decision to invade Pennsylvania in the first place; the performance of Longstreet during the battle; the effect of losing Jackson at Chancellorsville; Lee vs. Longstreet on the question of defense; and Lee’s decision on the third day to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge; and on the Union side: the charge leveled by Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles that Meade was forced by his corps commanders to stand and fight rather than retreat after the second day; and Meade’s failure to pursue Lee after the battle.

Richard Cohen’s religious test

WaPo columnist Richard Cohen argues that Mike Huckabee owes us an explanation of how his faith is going to affect his policies. You see, according to Cohen, in a democracy we argue, and you can’t argue about something held on faith, so we need to know what Huckabee won’t let us argue about.

I’d like to know what Cohen won’t let us argue about. As is evident from this passage, the authority of science is pretty close to the top of the list:

When Huckabee says he favors the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, he’s taking a distinctly religious position. Intelligent design has no basis in science. And when any issue, any question, becomes a matter of faith, it means it cannot be argued. That’s not what we do in a democracy. We argue about everything. (This column is my modest contribution.)

First of all, I doubt that Huckabee argues that we should teach I.D. instead of evolution, but rather both. In other words, he encourages discussion (which Cohen apparently can’t distinguish from argument).

And then there are all the "self-evident truths" (both those in the Declaration and those that are ordinarily the subjects of pious belief by right-thinking bicoastal elites): can we argue about or discuss them, or are they off limits?

Perhaps Cohen should write a column explain how his unexamined or nonnegotiable commitments influence his policy recommendations. Or does he just mean to suggest that "argument" involves shouting about one’s secular commitments. Perhaps we can’t do that about religion because genuine conflict is likely to follow. Tell that to the victims of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, not to mention all those who died in the killing fields of Cambodia or in Nazi concentration camps, to name just a few instances of atrocity accomplished by people with nonnegotiable secular commitments.

Religious fanaticism surely poses a threat to our decent regime, as does its secular counterpart. But I don’t see Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney as a religious fanatic. And I think they’re capable of making reasonable cases for the positions they hold, as President Bush has been for the positions that Cohen claims are motivated entirely by his faith. By the same token--just to be clear--I don’t think that any of the plausible Democratic nominees (or Cohen himself) poses a threat to our regime. They may be profoundly mistaken or misguided, but that’s a different "argument."

Blowing out the moral lights of the Republican Party, if not the nation

Pro-life stalwart Hadley Arkes worries that a Stephen F...I mean Rudy Giuliani nomination would marginalize pro-life voters within the Republican coalition and hence within the nation as a whole. Here’s a snippet:

It is conceivable, then, that from the standpoint of the pro-lifers it might be better to lose to Hillary Clinton than to win with Rudy Giuliani. The Republican party left standing after the defeat would still be a pro-life party. In the film Ninotchka, Greta Garbo explains to people in Paris the Stalinist purges back home: “We will have fewer but better Russians.” The Republicans might be diminished, but they would be essentially intact as a pro-life party; and, when the electoral winds shift again, they have a chance of coming back with their character intact.

He recognizes how bad a Clinton presidency would be for his cause, and so imagines circumstances under which he could voter for a ticket headed by RG but with, say, Brownback or Romney as a running mate:

Faced then with the possibility of a Democratic presidency determined to weave the ethic of abortion rights more firmly into our law and to have its judges install same-sex marriage, a Giuliani candidacy could offer some slender grounds of hope. Under those conditions, I might bite my lip, vote for him, and indulge those hopes. But they would be the hopes of the supplicants. And they will be affected at every point by the awareness of just who has the upper hand, and just who, in this party newly reshaped, does not matter all that much.

Read the whole thing.

Saletan Tackles Another Tough Issue

Studies show that the races might be ranked according to average intelligence. But all this data does, of course, is remind us that we should think of people as individuals or particular persons and not as members of races, and that William Jennings Byran was far from completely wrong to fear that evolutionary science, disconnected from egalitarian, dignified moral guidance, might readily be used to justify despotism and eugenics. "Sinful man," St. Augustine writes, "hates the equality of all men under God and, as though he were God, loves to impose his sovereignty on his fellow men."

The Huck-Chuck Ad

Well, it’s darn funny. But is it presidential? It is "vintage Huck."

English-only job requirements

Here’s some evidence of the difficulty that immigration poses to the Democratic Party.

Because he focuses on the politics of this issue, Fund doesn’t reach the merits of the particular case that sparked the dispute. Can an employer legitimately require in any case that employees only speak English on the job? That employees must understand English, and be able to deal with customers and supervisors in English are no-brainers. But what’s the case for not permitting them to speak another language amongst themselves while they’re in the workplace? I have some suspicions, but wonder what others think.

For more background on the case, go here and here.

Is Huck Half-Baked?

So editorializes the NATIONAL REVIEW. He is as populist and as prohibitionist (when it comes to smoking) as William Jennings Bryan (that’s why he’s Dr. Pat’s favorite Republican), and Cato almost flunked his fiscal policy as governor. Two questions: Is this guy really clueness when it comes to the sources of prosperity? Is it significant that the NR is taking him so seriously?

Beer Goggles, Explained: The Formula!

A few days ago I linked to the social science finding that alcohol consumption makes the opposite sex appear more attractive. Turns out there is a mathematical formula that explains this, which shows that math really is the language of romance. Some nuggets:

Non-appealing people become suddenly attractive between [a beer google score of] 51 and 100. At more than 100, someone not considered attractive looks like a super model.

[But], A poll showed that 68% of people had regretted giving their phone number to someone to whom they later realised they were not attracted.

Hat tip: Prof. J. Jackson Barlow of Juniata College.

Iowa Strategery

Huckabee’s surge might be good news for Romney: It diminishes the unrealistic expectations for a blowout and might allow Romney to claim coming in first as a real victory. Huck’s surge might be good news for Giuliani: If Huck evenly splits the "social conservative" vote with Mitt, Rudy might, if his new commercials catch on, be perceived as finishing a very strong third and actually pick up some unexpected momentum himself. Huck’s surge might be bad news for the new man from Hope: He might be catching Dean-disease, by peaking before anyone actually votes and creating the expectation that anything less than coming in first would be a defeat.

It’s Going to Be a Long Campaign

First, we have the dustup over McCain failing to upbraid a questioner in South Carolina who called Hillary something that rhymes with "rich," and now we have this, the perfect Christmas gift for the low-brow right wing populist.

Giuliani Still Silent on ROE

I know this is getting boring. But Rudy managed to give another whole speech against judicial activism and such without criticizing ROE. So he’s far from clear on why he’d appoint judges like Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts.

A conservative (?) politics of hope?

The much maligned Michael Gerson sympathetically restates the claims of this article. Here’s Gerson:

On cultural issues, conservatives have been ambushed by hope. And Wehner and Levin provide two main explanations.

First, societies can, over time, recognize their own self-destructive tendencies and reassert old norms -- not just arresting decline but even reversing it. Many Americans, for example, have seen the damaging effects of divorce on children -- sometimes from the firsthand perspective of their own childhoods -- and divorce rates, especially among upper-income couples, have fallen. Over the decades the social wreckage of drug use has become undeniable -- and the social judgment on this practice has shifted from "stylish rebellion" to "suicidal idiocy." In many cases, our culture has benefited from the natural healing mechanism of simple sanity.

The second reason for this cultural renewal is bold, effective public policy -- welfare reform with time limits and work requirements; zero-tolerance approaches to crime; education reform that tests and requires basic skills; and comprehensive anti-drug efforts, including enforcement, treatment and education. In all these cases, good government and rational incentives have made a tremendous difference.

Are the public policies he praises "unconservative" or therapeutically liberal?

Update: Pomocon James Poulos calls me out. "Gersonism" is by definition therapeutic:

The key as far as Gersonism is concerned is that we the people learn how to therapeutically manage our practical morality by the experience of everyday life -- whereas government can help by providing the scientific expertise that we anxious, hectic citizens of a democratic age don’t have time to accumulate. They can set national standards, mobilize national resources, apply uniform regulations, and deploy centralized management techniques.

So Teen Challenge and Prison Fellowship Ministries are, above all else, therapeutic? Or do they just become therapeutic when they take federal money? Would it be different if they only took state money?

I grant that "secular" social work is shot through with a therapeutic approach, but I’d always understood religious approaches to be more than a little different (which is why they tend to give "therapeutic professionals" the willies).

So I’m not altogether clear on the argument. If, say, I’m an addict, is any assistance I’m offered by anyone by definition therapeutic? Is all pastoral counseling therapeutic? Is all prayer therapeutic? Is all Bible study therapeutic? Or is it only therapeutic when, for example, the prayer and Bible study are done in groups, rather than by individuals? Would that make communal worship therapeutic (on the assumption that all of us are somehow wounded or broken and turn to prayer and worship out of a recognition of our neediness)? Is the opposite of "therapeutic" "self-reliant"?

Evangelical evolution?

Not that kind. The political kind, from anecdote to wish.

But if we’re called to love, are we also called to regulate, to tax, and to administer?

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

We are approaching the central holiday in our civil religion. You can read President Bush’s proclamation here, an dmy reflections on the significance of such proclamations here, here, and here (the original having disappeared with the lamentable demise of The American Enterprise Online.

Obama’s Obliviousness v. Hillary’s Intractablity

In this post, Steve Hayward noted Daniel Henniger’s recent piece on the eternal return of 1968. Hayward rightly noted Henninger’s conclusion that this return, though tiresome, is inevitable and necessary. We haven’t yet sorted out all of those battles. In response, I posted some thoughts about another key part of Henninger’s piece. Steve has asked me to re-post them here, and so I am.

The key point in Henninger’s piece, Steve, is this:

Barack Obama says these endlessly booming babies have been at it for 40 years. He’s right, though let’s note that like the War of the Roses (1455-1485), this one is waged today with the tireless recruitment of new fighters not born when the fires started in 1968.

It’s funny to reflect on how that recruitment has played itself out and important to remember that--as it continues--it both clarifies and obscures.

When Abbie Hoffman offed himself with an overdose in 1989, I was just a freshman in college. I remember our professor coming into the classroom to announce the news. We all looked at him with blank expressions. Abbie who? He explained. We just blinked. We had no idea what he was talking about. We’d never heard of this guy. Did he have any old hit records? Had he been in a movie? No? Oh. Well, so what? It all seemed very removed from our world . . . ancient history. It was stuff our parents might care about but nothing that had anything to do with us. The only reason I walked away with a mental note to find out more was because this particular professor had argued that Hoffman died like a coward. If Hoffman had really been true to his principles, the professor insisted, he would have taken a dozen or so out with him to prove his point. I found that to be a shocking statement, and one that I did not immediately understand. So the point stuck with me until I could find out more and thus understand what the professor meant. But that was the only reason I wanted to know more. Still, for a few days after the news (until I could get my hands on the relevant newspapers--we didn’t have the internet in those days!), I persisted in the mistaken belief that "Abbie" was a woman. My point is, if the events and the people of the 1960s shaped the world in which we--the generation born after the 60s--lived, we were certainly unconscious of it.

But as I began to become more engaged in politics and to follow events more closely, it became clear to me that whatever I thought of the people and the events of the 1960s, those people and those events were demanding to be important to me. They weren’t going to stop darkening my doorstep. The coming fall of communism was steeped in them. It seemed to me an obvious thing that the Soviet Union was a menacing and dangerous and oppressive place. Why would this be controversial? But I did not know anything about Vietnam. I could not understand why some people hated Ronald Reagan. But I didn’t know anything about Barry Goldwater--and very little about Richard Nixon. The policies on campus regarding race, male/female relations, and academic excellence were all formed in and informed by an era that had passed before I had been born. As my fellow students and I tried to examine them apart from any knowledge of that era, we were stumped. The more we argued from abstract principles of right and wrong, the more we were encountered with patronizing voices who insisted that we "did not understand" because we had not lived through the difficult days that had shaped these policies. I began to see that the core issues of my time were not going to be shaped in my time. They were going to be the unresolved issues of the generation that preceded mine. I would have to come to grips with it. But how?

This nagging thought crystallized in my mind during the the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. In those hearings, all of the sacred cows and sanctimonious rhetoric that had shaped my mainstream political instruction from birth (i.e., the mantras of the 60s that were like air and water to me) were engaged in a great battle to the death--not against some obvious tower of injustice like the KKK or forced segregation--but against each other. I could see that those who protested the loudest for racial and gender equality were running out of real enemies. They were left grasping for their own power and, thus, turned on their so-called "allies." I saw people being used and ill-used to advance hollow agendas. It did not seem to have anything to do with the truth and the subtleties of human existence. It was a narcissistic parade . . . a pagan race to sacrifice to the strongest god. And it was repulsive. I lost my innocent unthinking respect for my elders that year. Now those who got it would have to earn my respect. I saw that I would have to understand the events that shaped their thinking, but I did not have to accept their understanding of those events. Now I was suspicious of it. The more abstract and innocent ideas I had held about justice and injustice were not as irrelevant as I had been tempted to believe in the wake of all the information I lacked. Getting caught up in events could be dangerous and stultifying. We need to understand our history to understand our politics. But we need to understand justice in order to judge it.

All of this is a long way to a short point--but perhaps it is illustrative to those who pre-date my generation a bit. It may explain why those in my generation are, like Obama, reluctant warriors in these old fights. We are a bit tired of the patronizing exasperation of our elders who insist that we "do not understand" because "you weren’t there" . . . (thank God, at least, for that!) I disagree with almost all of Obama’s conclusions about politics--but the reason I understand his appeal is that, like him, I am weary of re-treading the tired old battles of my parents’ generation (though I concede that Henninger is right to point out that many over 50 are sick of it too). There are many days when I’d like the accumulated weight of their history and their politics to just "go away" so we could get down to brass tacks and start anew. Unlike Obama, however, I am resigned to the fact that this cannot be. Obama may think he is new and fresh and all about transcending those old battles but--in truth, whether he accepts it or not--he’s really just working to reignite and convolute them. (Just as those youthful warriors of 1968 reignited and convoluted the battles of their parents and grandparents.) He is the youth candidate. He is the naive candidate who--like me in 1989--thinks that nothing preceding and pre-dating his consciousness ought to have any bearing on his life or his politics. There is a certain sense in which this is right--but it is not (and should not be believed to be) simply so. Hillary may be a tired old sack--utterly wrapped up in the prejudices and history of her glory days--but Obama is a fool who thinks pretending it isn’t relevant makes it irrelevant. And the irony is that he nothing so much as the reincarnation of that generation’s rebellion. He is their most perfect son--or their Frankenstein. The 50+ crowd that created him now feels a kind of obligation to "kill" him, as he has been obliged to try and "kill" them. The enthusiastic boomers have become the thing they once they claimed most to deplore--the "establishment." I suppose it was inevitable . . . they are all now well over 30.

Darfur: "We need to show them what Matt Damon is doing!"

Why I love The Onion, and should link to it more often. Especially now that the Hollywood writer’s strike--otherwise a happy thing--has shut down The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Victory in Iraq?

Our friend Jim Ceaser asks: can the Democrats move on?

Taking the "’Ho" Out of "Ho, ho, ho!"

The perennial story that chronicles some new and inventive way to ruin Christmas is now in full bloom. The good news is that they seem to get more absurd every year. At some point this has to become obvious, right?

Y’all come

The fair and balanced Knippenberg lecture series continues Tuesday next with GeorgiaDemocratic Congressman Hank Johnson. He’ll be speaking at noon on Tuesday, November 20th in the Grenwald Room of the Emerson Student Center. All relevant directions can be found here.

Next semester, perhaps in February, I’ll be hosting a prominent conservative pundit, and may organize a couple of panels to make a day (at least an afternoon and evening) of it. More details once the date’s nailed down.

The "Energy Independence" Chimera

As he always does, columnist Steve Chapman demolishes the favorite bipartisan slogan of "energy independence," which is always represented as easily within our grasp through pixie dust and duct tape.

Quoth Chapman: "The end of President Bush’s time in office is still 14 months away, but already, I can guarantee two things. First, the next president will be elected on a promise to lead the nation to energy independence. Second, the promise won’t be kept."

Meanwhile, if you want more background, see my twenty-question primer on "energy independence" here.

Splintering revisited

Our friend Jonah responds to this post, especially the end. Here’s JG:

[JK’s concluding point] misses what’s disturbing about the potential rebirth of Social Gospelism on the right, particularly in the form of Mike Huckabee’s compassionate conservatism with better bible quotes. If the Christian right — diverse though it may be — starts to become more sympathetic to using activist government as a instrument to impose God’s teachings — or one interpretation of them — then the largest and most reliable voting bloc in the Republican Party will become merely rightwing progressives, using government at all levels to do what they think is good, regardless of whether it’s constitutional or federalist or liberal in the classical sense. Huckabee’s support for a national federal ban on workplace and/or public smoking should be very scary to believers in limited government. Huckabee’s economic populism, likewise, is not a good omen. And the fact that Huckabee is popular in this "everybody’s doing it" climate is not reassuring in the least.

Let me try to make, inadequately, the more complicated point I didn’t have time to make yesterday. I take it as given that, in practical political terms, we can’t--or should want to--zero out all the government programs put into place since the New Deal. I agree with this argument and this argument, in other words. (Thanks, Julie.)

But the dismantling of "superfluous" government doesn’t take place in a political, moral, or cultural vacuum. The question is how to cultivate the characters who are willing to stand on their own and the civil society that can foster and support them. Cultivating the conditions of self-reliance and voluntary engagement with widows and orphans was--is?--the overarching purpose of "compassionate conservatism, properly understood."

Jonah’s right that this position can easily morph into something else--morally conservative Social Gospelism or (what we saw from all too many Congressional Republicans in the past few years) a license for politically motivated porkbarreling (for which Tom DeLay is the poster child).

Can such degeneration be avoided? I’m not sure, though if the alternative is an also easily vulgarized libertarianism that is indifferent to the social, cultural, and moral conditions of responsible liberty, I think I know which poison I’ll pick.

In the meantime, I’ll muddle through, encouraging respect for the Constitution and its limits and reminding everyone that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," which I regard as shorthand for the argument that our constitution can function well only on certain moral, social, and cultural presuppositions, which need shoring up after having been under assault for the past few decades.


Here’s a hit job on a straw man constructed out of a few Michael Gerson columns. Its author defends his boss, Dick Armey, from Gerson’s own alleged strawmanning. But if we’re seriously to consider how to manage the tensions in the conservative fusion--especially in the face of the rise of what some NLTers have called soft libertarianism--let’s get some light instead of heat.

Update: Pomocon James Poulos seems to agree that Gerson is at best a feelycon, and offers a long Tocquevillian explanation of why there’s pressure toward administration centralization under equality of conditions, a centralization that allegedly suits feelicons just fine.

My response: can’t compassionate conservatism properly understood base itself upon a properly Tocquevillian (and "Catholic," a la Gerson and John DiIulio, with whom I’ll soon have a few bones to pick) understanding of subsidiarity? Must the path to independence be as he describes it here?

One cannot cancel all our federal support programs without understanding that a lot of people on the dole are going to be stuck sucking wind day...the old aristocratic habits of local charity, church solidarity, and family integrity come back to the fore in places where they have administratively been substituted under the delinking pressures of the democratic age. That day may be a long time coming, or at least an uncomfortable time coming, or at a minimum far enough away so that we feel true guilt in standing around as if we were making things better for people and not worse.

Will these "old aristocratic habits" come back without a nudge or two? Are they that natural?

Update #2:
Andrew Sullivan reads Gerson out of the conservative movement. Which makes me feel good (oops, I shouldn’t have said "feel"!) about my anti-anti-Gersonism. And which ought to give the Gerson’s critics cause for pause. How conservative could their position be if Andrew Sullivan embraces it?

But I jest!

1968 Again

Dan Henninger’s Wonderland column in today’s Wall Street Journal takes up the point I made the other day about the Hatfield-McCoy aspect of baby boomer politics, and how this will inevitably play out in this election, hopefully for the last time? (I note that Andrew Sullivan takes this up in the cover story of the current issue of The Atlantic, but really, can anyone stand to read him any more?)

Sample from Henninger:

It’s hard not to share Sen. Obama’s weariness with these people, even if one is over 50. But is he right to imply that their long fight has lost its point? I don’t think so. . .

What fell out of 1968 was a profound division over what I would call civic vision.

One side, which took to the streets in Chicago or occupied Columbia University, concluded from Vietnam and the race riots that America, in its relations with the world and its own citizens, was flawed and required big changes. Their defining document was the March 1968 Kerner Commission report, announcing "two societies," separate and unequal. The press, incidentally, emerged from Vietnam and the riots joined to this new, permanent template. That, too, has never stopped.

The other side was, well, insulted. It thought America was fundamentally good, though always able to improve. . .

If it’s Hillary versus Rudy, McCain or even the placid Mitt Romney, we will be in those streets again. Besides, her candidacy comes with Jumpin’ Jack Flash himself, Bill Clinton. Would it be a good thing if the country’s politics said bye-bye baby to the children of 1968? Probably. But it won’t happen this time.

As the saying (acronym) goes, RTWT.

Howard Dean does it again

In a purely partisan mood, I’m tempted to thank Howard Dean for reinforcing the impression that Democrats are hostile to religion. Well, that’s not precisely what he said. He said that the "Democratic Party believes... that there are no bars to heaven for anybody," which is in fact a religious statement, albeit one that theologically conservative people (including, I presume, some in his own party) might have trouble with. As Eugene Volokh and Rob Vischer note, political parties usually don’t take such explicitly theological positions, at least not in countries that aren’t theocracies (another word Dean used, presumably to characterize Christians who kinda like public prayer). I eagerly await criticism of Dean’s remarks from the various Democratic presidential campaigns, from Jim Wallis, or from the various "faithful Democrats" who blog here.

New book for teachers

Oglethorpe alumnus Patrick Gray (married to one of my all-time favorite advisees) has a new book out, which he and his co-editor hope will be of interest to classroom teachers who teach the Bible. And here’s another collection from the same editors, also focused on pedagogy.

I’ll praise Patrick--whose virtues and excellences extend far beyond his choice of wife and their decision to homeschool--no more, for fear of ruining his burgeoning career.

Civic literacy...again

I wrote this about six weeks ago, but, as the editorial page editor said to me today, "it has a certain ’timeless’ appeal." Which is to say: he finally had nothing else to fill the space.

Dividing (and conquering?) religious conservatives?

Near the beginning of his busy, busy day over at The Corner, our friend Jonah Goldberg wondered whether the splintering of religious conservatives would be a good or bad thing politically. He received some responses.

Let me offer mine here, taking as a point of departure this most excellent RC2 post (which I urge you to read so that I don’t have to repeat her points). I’d like to begin by stressing two things in particular. First, "Christian conservative" is a vast oversimplification, covering up the complexities of both terms ("Christian" and "conservative"), not to mention the varieties of the ways in which they interact. The former term includes everything from charismatic Pentecostals to the Eastern Orthodox, and from traditionalists to modernists. (Permit me for the moment to be "catholic" and not "fundamentalist" in the use of the adjective.) "Conservative" also admits an array of meanings (once again: "catholic," not "fundamentalist").

Second, even if one speaks of "mere Christianity" and "mere conservatism," there remains questions of prudence or political judgment. How do we weigh various considerations of policy, politics, and personality? God knows the right answer, but, as a fallible human being, I have to admit that there’s a range of possibilities available to "reasonable people."

In other words, there’s nothing about the term "Christian conservative" that even implies a political monolith, even if you leave out the following consideration: there are in fact lots of morally and theologically conservative Christians who rather consistently support Democratic/liberal candidates. Most of them are African-American, and they make a "prudential" judgment about how they can protect and project their genuinely conservative moral and theological concerns in the political arena. But I guess you’d call them "conservative Christians," not "Christian conservatives."

In the end, I’d be surprised if "Christian conservatives" ever and early coalesced around one candidate, even if they might occasionally be unified in their opposition to someone.

Two more points and I’m done. First, Jonah wonders if it wouldn’t be better for conservatism if there were some conservatives who were Democrats. Some moral and theological conservatives already are (see above). And in the past, some conservatives were--when there was still such a thing as a Southern "yellow dog" Democrat. In Georgia at least, they’re pretty much gone, and the Democratic Party that remains in my state is awfully hard to distinguish from its national counterpart.

Second, Jonah excerpts an email wondering whether some Christians are drifting toward Christian Democracy and away from "American constitutionalism." If "American constitutionalism" is short-hand for a small national government with limited responsibilities and a heavy emphasis on federalism, it seems to me that Christian conservatives are not the only ones drifting.

The Blogging is Like Jogging Metaphor

. . . in two parts from Mark D. Roberts here and here. Noted via Hugh Hewitt. Roberts is always thoughtful and fun to read and I find what he says here to be quite true.

Worthy Advice for Men Against Hillary

. . . from Kathleen Parker. Though I may take some exception with her thoughts on men commenting on the shrillness of Hillary’s voice. I think the sort of shrillness Hillary often exudes (see the video linked in the Paglia column below) can be just as grating to most women as it is to most men. There is something so . . . I don’t know . . . pompous and "school dance committee chairman" about it. It rings like the clanking of a tin soldier in a toy box. No sane woman wants to be "that woman" or to defend her. This kind of voice is not commanding but laughable. It does not inspire confidence; it betrays a lack of it. And, frankly, serious women feel betrayed by it. What is worse than a man voicing approval of negative female stereotypes? A woman who affirms them.

Left-leaning lecterns?

I previously noted this conference, described (somewhat) in this article. I can’t find the papers that allegedly have been released, but I’m familiar with Dan Klein’s previous work, some of which was criticized in this study, described here. I have no doubt that, if you cast the net widely enough, and include disciplines that aren’t directly involved in "forming the culture," so to speak, and institutions that may enroll lots of students (but typically don’t train our future leaders or generate--directly or indirectly--lots of Ph.D.s), you can paint a picture of the academy in which the ideological tilt of the professoriate is less pronounced than if you focus on elite institutions and on the humanities and social sciences. I’m also willing to concede that there are lots of folks--among them, many of my colleagues--whose voting behavior doesn’t affect their teaching. (I count such people as some of my best friends and closest colleagues at my institution.)

To the degree that there can be and, indeed, is a separation between professorial political predilections (say that quickly three times) and classroom behavior, it behooves the honest brokers out there to join the chorus in criticizing those who do abuse their positions to promote their political positions. Let’s not simply dismiss accounts of bias; rather, let’s uphold the independence of the academy by focusing our critical attention on the "anecdotes" and offering "bipartisan" criticism from both ends of the spectrum. That way, we can isolate the anecdotes.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to book the AEI press release promises.

Update: Papers are posted here.

Camille Paglia on Hillary, Norman Mailer, Global Warming and Ellen

The always interesting Camille Paglia offers her own unique brand of criticism for all of these liberal icons and calls for a more authentic sort of liberalism in the process. Worth a look.

Reason and passion in politics

Peter Berkowitz writes compellingly about intellectual Bush-hatred.

Where Are Abbott and Costello When You Need Them?

Today’s Washington Post has an account of the court battle under way in Virginia between the conservative breakaway churches from the evil empire national Episcopal Church over who owns and controls the valuable property involved. I’m not not so much interested in the legal dispute, which is complicated by the overlay of property law and church law, as I am in the name of an evil empire national church spokeswoman.

Quoth the Post: "’At this point they’re squatters,’ Susan Bartensteinnohits, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said yesterday."

Bartensteinnohits? Is this for real, or a typo that crept over somehow from the sports page? This calls to mind how Abbott and Costello might record an Episcopal diocesan general convention:

Bartensteinnohits: They’re squatters and renegades! Off with their heads parking privileges!

Fleckensteinnoruns: It’s the gay bishop what did this!

Bartlebybuntsingle: Does the gay bishop have a curveball?

Twistletonnoerrors: No, but he sure can swing away at the plate!

And so on. But enough of this, I gotta get back to work.

Did Ancient Feminists Kill Off the Cave Man?

Apparently so, according to this Boston Globe article.

Supply your own punch line.

Sarkozy Again

In the comments below my post on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech before a Joint Session of Congress, Paul Seaton calls for a link to Sarkozy’s acceptance speech and notes that it compares nicely with De Gaulle (while noting that De Gaulle was not above reproach). So here is the link. And let me add my two cents (since we’ve also been on the theme of Jefferson) that his opening conciliatory lines remind me of TJ’s First Inaugural Address where he says: "We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists."

Leisure, busyness, and the aims of liberal education

That’s the title of a little essay I wrote based on the Tocqueville talk I gave last week.

In the spirit of liberally educated contrarianism, I urge us to think more about genuine leisure than about busyness as the core of the undergraduate experience.

Emancipation as a Political-military strategy

Ben has posted my latest piece in my series on the Civil War for Ashbrook. The topic is emancipation as a part of Lincoln’s strategy.

I find Allan Guelzo’s argument very persuasive. Lincoln’s preferred approach to emancipation, which he hoped to implement at the beginning of his presidency, called for convincing the legislatures of the slave states to agree to gradual, compensated emancipation, and simultaneously convincing the Congress to provide the funds for compensation. After all, the states, not the federal government, had the consitutional authority to pass laws with regard to slavery.

For Lincoln’s scheme to work, slavery had to be excluded from the federal territories. That’s why he refused to compromise on the issue of slavery’s expansion.

Secession threw a wrench into Lincoln’s origional plan, so he modified his approach. Now success depended on a combination of military success on the one hand and acceptance of the plan by the loyal slave states on the other. Neither was forthcoming by the end of 1862.

Emancipation as a military measure, under Lincoln’s executive war power, was the best of the remaining alternatives--contraband, confiscation, and martial law emancipation. The Republicans paid a heavy political price in the elections of 1862, but the decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation was a critical element in saving the Union.

Let the food fight begin.

Campaign potpourri

Terry Eastland calls attention to this Jay Cost post on the Romney campaign’s decision not--at least for the moment--to have him give a speech about his Mormonism. So long as there’s a trickle of evangelicals in his direction, why take the risk? So the thinking goes. I’d add: unless he can give a speech significantly more interesting than the oft-celebrated JFK speech to the Houston ministers, why bother?

This article and this post raise the question of whether HRC is the inevitable Democratic nominee. She’s still ahead, but Obama is closing the gap, more, I think, thanks to her missteps than to his efforts. What happens if she falls behind? Will her charmlessness as a campaigner cause her support to evaporate? Will the HRC campaign pull out all the stops and deploy Bill as a weapon of mass distraction (perhaps helpful in the primaries, but any Republican worth his salt would make it a big issue in the general election)? Will Obama know what hit him? This could get to be a lot of fun.

Prophet without honor

Peter Wehner dismantles a Jim Wallis screed. The two most biting paragraphs:

There is an immense double standard that exists in American life, and especially in the American media. The “Religious Right” is often accused — and sometimes fairly accused — of being intemperate, uncivil, staggeringly simplistic, and uninformed when they speak out on matters of public policy. Yet this is precisely what Jim Wallis — whose rantings will garner far less attention than those of Pat Robertson or, when he was alive, Jerry Falwell — is doing. Wallis’s words could easily emerge from the fever swamps of the Left.


For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Jim Wallis is lying in writing what he did. I simply believe he is deeply uninformed and politically tendentious, animated, and blinded by his political biases. And while he claims to be public theologian and a prophet, he’s a good deal closer to being a James Carville or a Paul Begala — though at least the latter don’t pretend to be “prophets” who are hovering above politics in a disinterested and morally serious fashion. Nor do they wrap their screeds in the garb of religious faith, pretending to be agents of reconciliation and civility when in fact they are simply undermining any possible claim to moral or intellectual seriousness.

Read the whole thing, especially if you want to see a former White House aide concede our intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war and you want to review some of the best evidence for why Iraq was nonetheless dangerous.

I wish there had been more intelligence skeptics in the White House in 2003, but I also appreciate the burdens of political judgment in a very dangerous world.

The Last

I’m a bit late getting to this today, but apparently there is only one living American World War I veteran left.

Jefferson, Monticello, and American Identity

Myron Magnet writes a thoughtful, rigorous and lovely reflection upon Jefferson--considering the man alongside his castle. Do go read it.  

Veterans’ Day, 2007

Today is, of course, Veterans Day. I have a piece on the topic in today’s National Review Online. In it, I make the point that the recent Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair at The New Republic is only the latest illustration of the undeniable predisposition on the part of the press to believe the worst about American troops. This is something that began with Vietnam.

Thanks to Peter for reminding everyone that Saturday was the 232nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. I always receive a birthday greeting from one of my old colleagues, Jack Higgins. When I do, I am reminded that Jack and the other Marines with whom I served in Vietnam were the best men I have ever known. I will never forget them, or the ones who didn’t make it back.

Our Marine birthday ball on Saturday in Newport was spectacular. BTW, so was my date. What can I say? The heavenly Doreen always makes me look awfully good. Semper Fi, Marines.

Friendship, Gratitude, and the Audacity of Freedom

I have heard bits and pieces of Nicolas Sarkozy’s amazing speech before a joint-session of Congress last week, but I had not seen the whole thing until today. The link above will take you to the full text. Reading the whole, I discover that it is even more remarkable than my initial impressions conceived.

First, it is infused with deep, thoughtful and overwhelming gratitude for the United States and our struggles on behalf of liberty--not only, but especially, in and for France. No matter your level of skepticism toward France in recent years, it is impossible to read these words and not be moved to some level of forgiveness. Of course, this was the intended effect and it succeeds in spades. But there are less obvious--though equally meaningful--bits to ponder.

Note this bit:

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who--with their hands, their intelligence and their heart--built the greatest nation in the world[emphasis added]: "Come, and everything will be given to you." She said: "Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent."

This recognition of America’s greatness is extraordinary--even if the cynic in you is tempted to suggest that it is mere flattery. It cannot be easy for Sarkozy to say such things and thus we must conclude either that he deeply believes it or that he feels compelled to say it for the purpose of forging a meaningful union between us to protect France. Perhaps it is both. But throughout the speech Sarkozy meaningfully rejects the notion that France will or must be a mere recipient of the fruits of American strength and bounty. He wants Europe to rebuild its forces and he wants France to take the lion’s share of its own defense. In short, he wants the "only limits to [what France] will be able to achieve [to] be [her] own courage and [her] own talent." He notes that his generation admires America’s audacity. It appears that he is calling on them to imitate it in the defense of their own freedom.

This is all to the good but there is one key to friendship he leaves on our doorstep: trust. He calls on America not only to remain true to her own ideals, but to trust Europe and her ability to learn from the New World. As the older Washington in the service of a young Republic instructed (and yet often relied upon) the younger Lafayette who represented an old (but also then re-emerging) power, so too, must America trust Europe to transform itself and come to her senses. We must instruct but we must also trust . . . I say we trust, but verify.

Much more could be said (and certainly is being said)about this speech. Clearly, it is an important moment in our common history with France and may represent a turning point. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

Locke note

Lawler’s post on Locke (libertarian or conservative) leads me to suggest for those more interested in Locke (and perhaps less in categorizing him) to look at Peter C. Myers’ book, Our Only Star and Compass: Locke and the Struggle for Political Rationality. Also see his talk here, about ten down.

Great Moments in Social Science, Part 10,976

This squib, which I ran across quite by accident in a book on substance abuse, hardly requires comment:

A recent study at the University of Glasgow found that alcohol makes the opposite sex appear more facially attractive, at least in the eyes of the drinker. Compared to abstainers, drinkers were more likely to rate someone of the opposite sex as attractive. Alcohol had no effect on the rating of same-sex attractiveness. This may explain why drinking in bars and at parties often leads to sex.

What would we do without social science?

Dr. Pat on Consumers vs. Citizens

This stark division of labor becomes more and more real when we meritocrats stop thinking of military service as a form of human excellence worthy of our best and our brightest.

Huck Hanging Tough Against Hillary

According to Rasmussen, he’s within the margin of error. (Thanks to Lucas Morel.)

Is Locke a Conservative or a Libertarian?

Well, he is, quite incoherently, both. His epistemology and metaphysics undermined radically the traditional views of Aristotle, Christianity, and Scholasticism. But he also reassures us with his God-talk and such. Are today’s libertarians right to reject Locke’s conservatism in the name of coherence? Are they improving upon Locke? Or just privileging what he really thought over his rhetorical window-dressing? Has the history of America been the outing of Locke, our inability to keep Locke in a Locke box? Can conservatives save Locke from the reductionism of our libertarians? Or do they have to go somewhere else to curb our creeping libertarianism? Are we all Lockeans now?

McCain vs. Giuliani

Part of McCain’s surge is his dawning awareness that he must take Rudy out early if he’s to have any chance at all for the nomination. The truth may be that if both he and Rudy poll fairly well in New Hampshire the real winner will be Romney.

So: Maybe the main threat to Rudy hanging on until Febrary 5 against the early Romney victories is a resurgent McCain. A "secret weapon" Rudy may have against being blown out early by Romney is Huck doing well in or winning Iowa. Both Huck and Obama threaten Rudy’s Iowa’s momentum. An Obama victory there would take most of the attention away from the Republican result. But an Obama Iowa victory would also make the Democratic contest in New Hampshire irresistable for independents--most of whom would otherwise vote for Giuliani and McCain. So, on balance, an Obama victory in Iowa might well be fatal for both Rudy and John.

Maybe the worst thing that could happen for "national security" voters is the persistence of the McCain surge; its effect would mainly be to undermine Giuliani. The worse thing that could happen for "social conservatives" is the persistence of the Huckabee surge; its effect would mainly be to undermine Romney. This analysis, of coruse, makes no sense to anyone who really believes that John and/or Huck have decent chances of actually being nominated. But it’s still hard to deny at this point that Rudy and Mitt are better bets.

Is Huckabee gaining traction in Iowa?

This article suggests he is.

Clinton the youth candidate?

There’s a poll showing that Hillary Rodham Clinton leads Barack Obama among young people, which seems to contradict other polls, not to mention the impression I have from stories I’ve read and my own observations.

Here’s the poll report itself, which includes some other interesting results that might explain Clinton’s lead among Democratic youth. To wit:

On foreign policy, over half (58.3%) believed that the United States military should be used to stop genocide and ethnic killing in places such as Darfur and Iraq. And, two-thirds (66.8%) would support U.S. military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Just under half of all respondents, 49.3%, agreed that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq immediately while a similar percent (48.5%) agreed that the ¡§surge¡¨ of troops in Iraq seems to be helping the situation there.

And Steve Hayward might kinda like this one:

While 67.5% believe that global warming is a real and growing threat, 49.3% suggest it is more likely due to historical climate cycles than anything man causes. Under half, 43.5%, believe global warming can be reversed by man.

Kids today! Until I looked at the poll itself, I would have thought either that it was simply an outlier or that the apparent inevitability of Clinton’s nomination had driven those who were only casually interested in politics to "go with the herd." I’m now somewhat more tempted by the thought that the changing news from Iraq has taken a bit of the wind out of Obama’s sails, not necessarily with the most active and ideologically liberal youth voters, but with those closer to the "mainstream."

Romney on religion and politics at Bob Jones University

Here’s an mp3 file of a meeting between Mitt Romney and Christian conservatives in Greenville, S.C., home of Bob Jones University, whose leadership has endorsed him and seems to have hosted this meeting. And here’s the CNN story accompanying it.

I have no objection to Bob Jones University administrators supporting any candidate they choose, nor do I object to hosting a candidate at a campus or off-campus event. But this approaches an "institutional" endorsement, which troubles me.

Bad flicks

It seems that the anti-war movies (e.g., Rendition, In the Valley of Elah) have been disasters financially. Shame.

Ohio Charter Schools at risk

Noting Joe’s comment below on school choice in Utah, also note this article on Ohio Charter schools in the NY Times a few days ago. The Democratic governor and attorney general, each in his own way (read, double hard!), is going after charter schools. Strickland: "I think charter schools have been harmful, very harmful, to Ohio students." Strickland has just endorsed Clinton. You should know that there are rumors that Strickland might be named her running mate. If he brought Ohio with him, the thinking goes, that may be enough.

School choice in Utah

You’ve probably heard by now that the good people of Utah voted down a comprehensive education voucher proposal earlier this week. Despite the gleeful crowing from my hometown newspaper, I’m disappointed. Responding to this editorial, Rick Garnett gets it just about right:

The anti-choice argument is, in the end, the argument that parents who want to form their children in and through a religious education should have to pay twice, and that poor parents and children who cannot afford to escape government schools that are organized around principles determined primarily by teacher-union members’ self-interest should not be permitted to escape. Yuck.

And Richard John Neuhaus
calls our attention to this article, while also wondering whether it isn’t time to consider tax credits.

Wobbly A’s

I spent the better part of today at two separate "Awards Assemblies." One for my first grader and one for my third grader. For K-2, these things always have a certain insufferable quality to them--partly because the "awards" mean so little (it’s understood that every kid will "eventually" get one and one teacher doesn’t even bother with the pretense . . . she just gives them out in alphabetical order!) and partly because some parents persist in the belief that they mean everything. Still, one is expected to attend and, because the expectation is coming from those ones whose expectations matter most to me (i.e., my kids), I go.

For the third graders, however, things become a little more serious. In third grade they start to get real "grades" (i.e., A,B,C as opposed to "proficient" and "needs improvement") and the question of honor roll and the various gradations thereof start to hold some real meaning. At least the honors are not doled out to everyone because they are "special" and can fog up a mirror. My daughter, to her surprise (because she did not know that such a thing existed before today) made honor roll. But she did not make the "President’s Honor Roll" because she did not have straight A’s. (It appears that the child has inherited her mother’s math gene. I won’t even tell you what happened when I tried to correct her word problems one evening!)

Still, on the way home from school today, I was explaining to her that I was very proud of what she did accomplish and that straight A’s--though certainly a worthy goal--are not as important to me as she may imagine. I was more proud, I said, that she had been chosen from the whole class as one of handful who consistently demonstrate good behavior at school. She had done much more than fog up a mirror in school this quarter; she had done her best and that’s all a mother can ever ask. "Yeah . . ." piped up my son (the first grader), "Don’t worry about straight A’s. Wobbly A’s are still good!" And when they are bought at the price she paid for them, they certainly are. Good for you kiddo!

Statesboro blues

Earlier this week, I noted this article, which offers an account of a conflict between long-time residents of Statesboro, Georgia and the Georgia Southern University students who temporarily reside there.

Well, preliminary results are in, and it looks like the merchants who mobilized the students to promote their businesses didn’t do quite as well as they needed to, coming up just short of a city council majority.

I brought this up today in the context of a talk I gave to colleagues--"Tocquevillian Reflections on Teaching Civic Engagement" (copies of my notes available if you send me an email). Had I been on the Georgia Southern faculty, I would have regarded this as the proverbial teachable moment, raising a number of questions with my students about the quality and value of their civic engagement. Most of them are recent and relatively short-term residents of Statesboro, a community in southeast Georgia on that long stretch of I-16 between Macon and Savannah. Absent the modern Georgia Southern (created in the 1980s when the university rode extraordinary Division I-AA football success to statewide prominence, becoming a destination of choice for students who wanted relatively bigtime college football, but couldn’t get into or didn’t want to go to the state’s flagship university), Statesboro would be a fairly sleepy smallish south Georgia town. The University is, for the most part, its lifeblood. There are merchants who want to cater to the wishes of a party-oriented student body (largely, I’d bet from the Atlanta suburbs), building for them the sort of commercial scene relatively affluent suburban kids want--big box retailers, Abercrombie & Fitch (ugh!), and bars, bars, bars! These merchants would use the political support of a transient population to alter tremendously the character of a town whose permanent residents have something on their minds other than the weekly sequence of happy hour deals. As they’re protrayed in the press, and as the merchants hope they voted, the students seem to be thinking like consumers, not like homeowners and heads of households, i.e., not like responsible burghers. Student engagement in Statesboro politics, however justifiable by Georgia registration laws (which, like registration laws everywhere, make only the most minimal civic demands of potential voters), doesn’t necessarily promote citizenship and community, but rather runs the risk of being destructive of it.

I wonder what my students would have said to me, if I’d spoken like this to them, raising questions about the relationship between politics and community, about the conditions of responsible voting, about the role of different sorts of interests deployed in the electoral process, and about the deliberative nature of politics.

The Huck Finn Controversy Again

A junior at Richland High School in Fort Worth, Texas, who is described as being black and Muslim, was offended recently when a teacher, in an introductory unit on Huckleberry Finn, printed the N-word – the whole word - on the board (along with other words that were expected to evoke emotion). This led to the formation by several groups of “activists” of the “Coalition to Stop the N-Word”. Almost everything about the story is predictable - except for the main outcome. The “activists” made the usual demands, including eliminating the use of the book, but after a long meeting, which school superintendent Stephen Waddell described as “cordial and very productive,” there had been a dramatic turnabout. We don’t know much about what was said, but it would seem that the good Superintendent actually made arguments, and that they were effective. Writing in the Star-Telegram, Bob Ray Sanders reports that Waddell had been reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, another book taught in the school. “Waddell pointed out that Hurston’s book also was filled with usage of that word and asked whether banning Twain would naturally lead to banning Hurston’s and many other books by blacks and Hispanics that often end up on the list of most-protested works in the country.” After the meeting, the “activists” no longer demanded the removal of the book, “as they thought it was a book from which blacks and whites could learn.” Very productive, indeed; and congratulations to the folks in Fort Worth who reached this sensible conclusion.

Veteran’s Day

Rich Policz writes about his father and his fellow soldiers and the bloody battle on a hill in Vietnam. It is good to remember such men on any day.

Tomorrow is the birthday of the Marine Corps, by the way. So all honor to the warriors, which includes these few friends. God bless you all.

Tim Swartz, Peter Schramm, James Kresge, and Avi Zaffini

Trustworthiness in politics

Our friend Matt Franck neatly sums up the case against the trustworthiness of Rudy Giuliani on abortion issues.

Giuliani would have us believe that his "honest" refusal to pander on abortion is superior to the inconsistent flip-flopping of others. Matt effectively disassembles the honesty of Giuliani’s position, showing how slippery it really is. He also shows that, in politics, trustworthiness depends upon clearly articulating principles to which you can be held, a standard somewhat more readily met by candidates other than the former Mayor of New York.

Read the whole thing.    

Update: Our friend RC2 argues that Matt’s counterexample to RG is also problematical, according to his standard of assessment.

Breaking Blogging Silence

Sorry for the long absence from the blog, folks. I’ve been driving hard trying to finish Age of Reagan II by the end of the year--I have the remaining three chapters roughed out, but still have a long way to go and a lot of gaps to fill in--but I was also just out on the Hillsdale College cruise for 11 days (along with fellow speakers Paul Johnson, Andrew Roberts, Phyllis Schlafly, and Ed Meese), and have you ever tried internet on a cruise ship? It is unbelievably expensive, and excruciatingly slow. I think cruise ships must transmit data packets by carrier pigeon or smoke signals or something. So no blogging. Anyway, a fun time was had by all, and hey--when is the Ashbrook Center going to have a cruise? Or maybe a motorcycle trip with Peter?

I’m in southern California at the moment, having flown out yesterday to give yet another speech on global warming. My seatmate on the flight to Los Angeles was the very chatty and convivial Lanny Davis, whom cable viewers will remember for his nightly appearances defending Clinton during the impeachment unpleasantness. He regaled me for at least an hour with the case for Hillary’s brilliance and greatness (I was unpersuaded). He also told a number of off-the-record things about Clinton White House in the 1990s, and other things. Nothing earth-shaking that you can’t guess or suspect, but I shall want to honor his confidentiality; I’m not a journalist after all.

But the most interesting point was our discussion of an aspect of the current political season that I see is the hot topic of conversation this week; namely, the way in which the political fights of the 1990s, and Bush hatred today, are part of the saga of the baby boomers continuing their intra-generational fight that began in the 1960s. This is the one aspect of Obama that is interesting: he’s been trying to make "goodbye to all that" a key theme, just as Jimmy Carter tried to make trust and goody-goodyness his leading trait after the disaster of Watergate. Obama went to college in the late 1970s right after I did (I have close friends who knew him at both Occidental and at Harvard Law School), and I do recall that the whole 1960s cultural divide seemed alien and remote to most of our cohort.

But is Hillary the answer to this? Isn’t she a continuation of the problem, with her sixties background? (Just read her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky some time if you want to read something scary. I am sure she doesn’t believe much of that anymore, but that fact that a person from a top university could once have written such radical tripe is still unnerving.) Lanny Davis assured me that Hillary is supremely conscious of this and has learned her lesson from the 1990s--and from the failure of Hillarycare--and this morning Joe Scarnborough was saying the same thing on MSNBC.

I’m skeptical but it bears watching. Back in early 2004 I had a notion to write an article about how if John Kerry was nominated, we’d end up refighting the Vietnam War. I’m still kicking myself for not doing the piece, since the Swift Boaters swiftly confirmed this. Now I suspect the Hillary nomination is inevitably going to open up another, but hopefully the last, chapter in the Hatfield-McCoy aspect of the baby boom saga.

Meanwhile, enjoy the stupidest spell-check correction ever: a recent Reuters story about Pakistan’s Muttahida Quami Movement rendered it instead the "Muttonhead Quail Movement" in the text of a story. About what you expect from the puddin’ heads that run Reuters these days.

Gerson hearts Huckabee

This isn’t surprising. What I’m waiting for both Huckabee and Gerson to say is that the policies they favor for helping the least among us are ones that, above all else, energize the voluntary sector and promote general prosperity.

Is Hillary Invincible?

Not necessarily, according to Andy Busch.

Ashbrook Congressional Academy

As we continue to have an effect upon the quality of civic education, I bring your attention to our new Congressional Academy website, just up and running. Our new "Congressional Academy for American History and Civics" will begin next summer and continue through the following two summers. We will accept 100 high school juniors (the application is here).
Here is the syllabus and schedule, and a listing of the first class faculty. Jeffrey Sikkenga is in charge of the program. There is more to read about it here. I certainly hope you like it and that you commend it to an intelligent young person looking for a challenge.

The Path to Hell is Paved with . . .

. . . homeless "advocates." This is a must read piece from Heather MacDonald in the current City Journal. It explores the emergence, development, and changing face of "Skid Row" in downtown Los Angeles.

What Does Cosby Want to Show?

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint write convincingly (if not originally) about the need for blacks to stop thinking about themselves as victims and to find it within themselves to overcome deep feelings of inferiority that become self-fulfilling prophesies. Cosby should be commended for lending his name and well-deserved reputation for decency and common sense to this effort. It is a good and noble thing he seeks to do.

Given that, I am troubled and--to put it mildly--deeply irritated by Cosby’s recent comments about Clarence Thomas on the Larry King show. Cosby was asked by King about the possibility of any affinity between his views and those of Thomas. Cosby denied him (more than three times) asserting that Thomas doesn’t "care about anybody" and that he is a "brother light." King emitted an insipid laugh in response to this comment.

This display does not square at all with Cosby’s own (?) words in the essay to which I link above:

Many people who are trying to make it find themselves struggling against fellow African Americans so lost in self-destructive behaviors that they bring down other people as well as themselves.

Precisely. And it also shows that he--like so many others--has never confronted Thomas in his own words. But I guess he thinks it’s o.k. to press on with some prejudices . . .

Just Because . . .

I am linking to this thoughtful and beautifully written reflection just because it is thoughtful and beautifully written. Perhaps it also points to something profound. How should we kill monsters? Note that there is never any questioning about whether they should be killed. Tony Woodlief writes lovely and sometimes amusing reflections about his adventures raising a family of young boys. He’s also written a small volume on the subject.

Number One, Baybee!

In D3 men’s golf.

Please excuse the crowing, but I’ve never before been associated with a college or university that has been #1 in any sport.

Rudy, Pat, and the socons

Byron York talks to Rudy Giuliani. And Pat Robertson says something with which I’m inclined in large part to agree:

“To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorism,” Robertson told reporters. The second-most important issue, Robertson said, is fiscal discipline. Only after that, he suggested, are the social issues, with the overriding priority being the makeup of the federal courts. “Uppermost in the mind of social conservatives is the selection of Supreme Court justices,” Robertson said, and Giuliani “has assured the American people that his choices for judicial appointments will be men and women who share the judicial philosophy of John Roberts and Antonin Scalia.”

This doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for Rudy G., but Robertson (for once?) makes some sense. Where I part company, and what gives me pause about RG, is that the President has some influence over the moral tone in the country. In terms of what’s possible in the states, judicial nominations matter a lot. But the way in which someone can speak for or against the proverbial "culture of life." I’m not confident that RG will consistently say what I’d like him to say. Judges are good, indeed very good. But the tone and example of the presidency matter too.

RG has some strengths here, not just weaknesses, and he should articulate the former in this context, talking about civility, responsibility, and opportunity. He does it reasonably well, and he can appeal to social conservatives on these grounds.

Robertson, I’ll say it again, is right: social conservatives can do complexity. But they can also recognize obfuscation and weaseling.

Update: Pomocon James Poulos disagrees. He’s right that, apart from the Supreme Court, most of the political action on social issues should be in the states. But Robertson seems in a way to concede that, by asserting that the biggest federal or presidential considerations are foreign policy and fiscal responsibility.


"Faith and Public Dialogue: A Conversation with John Kerry."

I don’t have time now to do amything other than observe the absolute windiness of it and to note that JFK is singing from the Democratic common ground hymnal, in which an obligation to help the least of us becomes an obligation to support government programs that purport to help the least of us. Plenty of folks I know give a lot of money and time to the poor, but, apparently, their failure to vote for Democrats indicates their mean-spiritedness.

Stated another way, the common ground in principle yields to a big disagreement about policy. But it’s not in the interest of Kerry and his allies to descend to that level of detail.

Update: Our friend Jon Schaff points to one of the many silly and/or vacuous statements Kerry makes, noting that, in effect, the "global warming" that "caused" the situation in Darfur has more to do with, er, hellfire (that is, human sinfulness) than climate change.

Religion, politics, and the campaign

Here’s an unsurprising summary of how various religious groups regard the leading Democratic and Republican contenders. We learn that evangelicals are the outliers on Giuliani, apparentlty narrowly favoring Fred Thompson (see this post).

Will Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani change this? If you agree with the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza that Pat Robertson is "one of the most influential figures in the social conservative movement," you might think so. That statement might have been true in 1988 (if you didn’t take into account that charismatics like Robinson don’t always generate warm fuzzy feelings from non-charismatic evangelicals).

Sam Brownback’s endorsement of John McCain might be a little more meaningful, if it helps in Iowa. But I was puzzled by this statement, not as a description of McCain, but as a reflection of Brownback’s opinion: "Brownback said McCain is the most fiscally conservative candidate, has the best foreign policy experience, was right on the strategy for Iraq and takes a tough anti-abortion stand." This must be the Brownback who was for the surge after he was against the surge. His only excuse is that it’s an evidence-driven flip-flop.

The present is prologue

The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus notes that George W. Bush, who allegedly is insulated from all contact with anyone who might say anything even the slightest bit unsettling, has been more available for unscripted exchanges with the press than Clinton and Obama have.

O.K., it’s the campaign and it’s easier to stay on message if there’s no informal give-and-take with reporters. But the only semi-plausible defense of our intolerably long campaign season that I’ve heard is that it’s an audition for governing (well, if governing is the same as campaigning...woe be unto us!). This doesn’t bode well for the availability of a President Clinton.

While I’m at it, will a future President Clinton be able to assert that men are ganging up on her at, say, a G-7 meeting or in something less than casual conversations with folks in Beijing, Moscow, or Tehran? How will Vladimir Putin react if Bill comes riding to her rescue? I’d expect more efforts to emulate or evoke Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir--even Benazir Bhutto--than I’ve seen from HRC. If she keeps it up, and manages to get herself elected, we run the risk of some serious efforts to push her around. While she may have it in her to push back, I wonder what sorts of awful things could happen before she does.

The Voegeli essay

Deserves some mugs:     

The GOP and the Image Problem

Patrick O’Connor at the Politico describes efforts on the part of GOP leaders in Congress to forge a new and improved image. To do this, GOP hot shots have turned to private sector marketing techniques and advisers. While there may be some limited merit to this approach, it appears to me to be a rather pathetic attempt to shove a sheep into sheep’s clothing. In other words, haven’t we had enough of this sort of thing in recent years? Our problem is not so much an inability to sell what we offer but an inability to offer anything coherent to sell. For example, see the description of the problems existing between the moderate, Mike Castle and the conservative, Mike Pence. (I tend to think that moderates like Castle are less concerned that the GOP agenda is too conservative than they are worried it may be too conservative to get them elected . . . but that’s another matter.) The point is, how do you market indecision and confusion?

At any rate, the GOP should be chastened by the example of what happened the last time a prominent Republican hearkened back too much to his training in business school.

"Limited Government" on OpinionJournal

OpinionJournal, the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s website, posts my essay on "The Trouble With Limited Government" from the current Claremont Review of Books today. I urge the minority of NLT readers who haven’t yet taken out a CRB subscription to treat yourselves to a first-rate publication. For the free riders, take a look at OpinionJournal.

I’ve been stingy with my NLT offerings in recent weeks, and will have to be so for a few more. I’m determined to complete the manuscript for a book by December 31st. The working title is, So . . . What Would Be Enough? Liberals, Conservatives and the Welfare State’s Limits.

Thoughts and prayers for a Marine

Nick Trippi, a young Marine from our neighborhood (his siblings play with my kids), was injured in an IED explosion in Iraq. Nothing life-threatening or, I think, permanently disabling, for which we’re all thankful. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

Nick, by the way, joined the Marines after high school and turned down a post at the White House to join his basic training buddies in Iraq.

Focusing on Giuliani and Thompson

The other campaigns can’t be too happy that, in the end, a Peter Hart-run focus group, described here and here, and discussed here by Michael Barone, was offered a choice only between Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson.

Actually, from their point of view, two pieces of good news seem to come out of the group. These Republicans seem to be moved relatively easily off their initial preferences for Giuliani, even toward someone who has made as little an impression as Thompson has. Giuliani’s front-runner status might be very tenuous. And second, everyone’s support seems to be soft. There could well be lots of movement between now and the elections.

The eventual nominess, whoever he is, can perhaps console himself with the thought that the one passion Republican voters have is directed against Hillary Clinton. In this respect, the 2008 Republican season resembles its 2004 Democratic counterpart. Is Rudy Giuliani Howard Dean or John Kerry, the early favorite or the eventual nominee, carried more by illusions of electability than by any real affection?

Populist God-talk from a plaintiff’s attorney

Is this an alternative future for socially-conservative evangelicals? Note that he’s campaigning against a classic business Republican.

Hat tip: Religion Clause.

Update: Incumbent Haley Barbour appears to be winning handily.

Civic education and citizenship

Patrick D. comments on a piece I also read this morning. I commend his thoughts to your attention.

This Friday, I’m giving a talk here on what we can learn from Tocqueville about teaching civic engagement. The habits and dispositions that we should cultivate, I’ll argue, can almost all be cultivated on campus. Encouraging students to be involved off campus is the last thing we should be doing--not last asin "never," but last as in "only after they know more or less what they’re doing" and "only after they have acquired the taste for self-government and responsibility through engagement with the matters that mean the most to them on campus." We’re not alone in my little piece of the academic universe in referring to it--self-deprecatingly--as "the bubble," but, doggone it, it’s our bubble, and there are ways we can exercise control over it and take responsibility for it that we can’t do elsewhere.

What’s more the tendency to look off campus for "engagement" often enlists students in others’ hidden or not-so-hidden agendas and emphasizes a kind of "practicality" thatis the great temptation of American higher education, not to say American life and American intellectual life altogether.

Calling all Middle Georgia friends of NLT

I’ll be participating in this shindig at Mercer University on Wednesday, November 28th. The main draw is Eduardo Velasquez.

Our paleo friend Red Phillips should also be around.

Update: By the way, I’ll probably be talking about Tolkien.

Harmless fun

NRO election predictions a year out.

My predictions? Get used to saying President Clinton again.

If the Republican nominee is Rudy Giuliani, he’ll have a Southern pro-life running mate not named Huckabee. Can Bobby Jindal run for Veep without giving up his governorship? Any plausible Florida people not named Bush?

If it’s Romney, he’ll also go for a southern evangelical not named Huckabee.

I heart Huckabee, at least a little, but if I were at the top of the ticket, I wouldn’t want my running mate spending all his time explaining why he’s not at least as soft on crime as was Michael Dukakis.

The issue that will help Republicans, and perhaps make it a tight race, is immigration, which is why I have a hard time imagining John McCain as the nominee.

Republicans will lose a few seats in the House and in the Senate. Let’s hope that those who remain have the stomach to constitute an effective opposition.

Last prediction: soon after the election, the real battle for the heart, soul, and mind of the Republican Party will begin. If libertarian leaners or business Republicans win, especially if they’re graceless victors, I have a hard time imagining Republican Congressional majorities in my lifetime. Well, Republicans could benefit from a Democratic overreach, but that would be a gift, rather than anything they earned.

HRC’s religion

Our friend Paul Kengor has a column about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s faith, and its political significance in today’s USA Today. Her inflexible support of abortion rights makes her (undeniably liberal) religious faith hard for some to credit. As Kengor notes, polls show that people (wrongly) regard as the least religious of the major candidates (with one noteworthy exception on the Republican side). Where do "orthodox" religious voters go in November, 2008, if the choices are Giuliani and Clinton? HRC probably hopes they’ll stay home.

Transcripts, transcripts, get yer red-hot transcripts

The Carnegie Council website is a veritable trove. You can find transcripts of recent events with Mark Lilla, D. Michael Lindsay, Robert D. Kaplan, and Walter Russell Mead.

A Visit to Antietam and Reflections on Civil Liberties During the Civil War

This past weekend, I took my two sons, ages 15 and 11, to Antietam, my favorite Civil War battlefield. There are not nearly as many visitors to this site as to Gettysburg, which is too bad. On the other hand, it makes for a nice, quiet visit.

The battlefield is also very compact, especially compared to Gettysburg, perhaps only about one fourth the size of the better-known site little more than an hour north in Pennsylvania. It is amazing to think that so many Americans perished on this small field in a single day—nearly 6000 dead and another 19,000 wounded or missing. September 17, 1862 remains the bloodiest day in American history.

My oldest son is taking a class in digital photography and I was amazed by his eye for framing shots. Of course, there are many possibilities on that hallowed ground. He came away with quite a sophisticated photographic record of the place.

I always get a strange sense when I stand on “Bloody Lane.” I can almost feel the presence of the hundreds of souls who perished when, after repulsing Union attacks for nearly four hours, the Confederate defenders were flanked by their attackers who raked them with enfilading fire. One of Matthew Brady’s photos shows the result: a sunken road piled high with Confederate dead. Standing on this site is quite eerie.

I wrote a couple of pieces about Antietam for the Ashbrook site. They are available here and here. Of course they deal more with the overall campaign than with the battle per se, but anyone who is interested can start here.

Before I left for DC and Maryland, I sent in another piece in my Civil War series, this one concerning civil liberties. It is here. I contend that the steps Lincoln took as commander in chief during the emergency were in fact constitutional. I believe the Bush administration ought to plagiarize Lincoln’s letter to Erastus Corning and the Democrats wherein he defended his actions. I also argue that, despite the Lost Cause narrative, the record of the Confederacy with regard to civil liberties was no better than that of the Union.

Fighting for the right to party

Is this an argument for or against collegiate civic engagement and/or democratic self-government, at least insofar as it’s extended to the young?

Gary Wills on abortion

I won’t repeat Ramesh Ponnuru’s criticisms of Gary Wills’s op-ed on abortion--you can read them for yourself--but I’ll add my own. Wills argues that the state should have no authority over abortion because "the people are divided on this," an argument that would seem to deprive the state of authority over almost every issue.

Perhaps Wills could respond that tis is true only when "science" or "reason" don’t speak authoritatively. There you have it: Wills could be said implicitly to favor some combination of scientific dictatorship and libertarian choice in matters in which science is allegedly silent. (I know I’m exaggerating, but his argument does seem to cede a great deal of authority to science and to deny the state to make any determinations when there is popular disagreement. By this argument, the only possible justification for our constitution could be either popular unanimity or science. There’s no room for just government by the consent of the governed, determined by majorities to supermajorities.)

Update: For more on Wills’s confusions from our friends, see Rick Garnett and, quite succinctly, RC2. Wills appears to have been blinded by his modernist anti-theological ire, in evidence at least since this 2004 op-ed.

Steyn on Allan Bloom--20 Years After Closing

Mark Steyn delivers wit, insight, and a scathing critique of where we stand 20 years out from the publication of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. It is, he notes with much sadness, particularly closed vis a vis music. His last two lines are the most damning: And that’s the biggest difference between 2007 and 1987. What Allan Bloom observed in his students can now be found in the teachers.   

Boxers or briefs?

Here’s a rosy Huckabee scenario, authored by one of Michael Barone’s colleagues at The Almanac of American Politics.

Are the Democrats Winning on Health Care?

They may well be so far. And here’s why: In an increasingly dynamic, individualistic society, people are changing and losing jobs more than ever. Employer and employee loyalty are on the decline. So they’re increasingly anxious about a system that connects coverage with employment. But people also are suspicious of becoming dependent on a national bureaucracy and about the affordability of universal coverage. Is it possible to come up with a way of alleviating anxiety through a largely market-driven system? Please don’t tell me that security-driven herd animals are craving a softer and wider safety net. The concern here arises with the steady erosion of protections to which we’ve become accustomed. And I still say the Republicans can win on this issue if they’re smart (see the wisdom of Yuval Levin).

Cats and genes

A cat
"called Cinnamon has made scientific history by becoming the first feline to have its DNA decoded.

The domestic cat now joins the select club of mammals whose genome has been deciphered - including dogs, chimps, rats, mice, cows and people.

The genome map is expected to shed light on both feline and human disease."

"Analysis of the cat genome sequence could also shed light on everything from evolution to the origins of feline domestication, they say.

"We can start to interpret them in terms of one of evolution’s special creations, which is also probably one of the greatest predators that ever lived," said Dr Stephen O’Brien of the US National Cancer Institute, who spearheaded the project.

Like other mammals, the cat has around 20,000 genes. By comparing its genome - the genes that build and maintain the body - to those of other mammals, researchers can study differences in biology, evolution and behaviour.

"One thing I’d like to discover is the genes for good behaviour in the cats - the genes for domestication, the things that make them not want to kill our children but play with them," he added."

Interesting, but what will explain the fact that all places are alike to cats? See this Kipling story (from Just So Stories).

Bill Clinton defending his woman

There is a conversation at the The Corner about Bill’s recent defense of Hillary regarding the "breathtakingly misleading" question asked by Tim Russert. More here, including the video of Bill wagging his finger at Russert. I think this is very interesting, and very much to Hillary’s disadvantage. This is one of those rare things that gets people riled up in the taverns. The good old days are here again, as it were.

The Petraeus Curve

This London Times editorial points out that "on every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging." That this is not yet being fully and publicly recognized by the media (and by Democratic candidates for President) is another matter. But it is now true that "Iraq is no longer, as they [politicians] thought, an exercise in damage limitation but one of making the most of an opportunity." Hillary, in my opinion, is the Democrat least disadvantaged by the success of the new more sophisticated strategy (aka the surge) in Iraq.


Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has declared emergency rule, suspends the constitution. This is the

Washington Post story and this is from the BBC.

Studies Show That Beer Is Better

...for you than water, especially after working out or playing rugby. And replacing water with imported beer would be quite the socially responsible gesture for those of us in areas suffering from drought.

Are the Complacently Darwinian Smart Loners Rising?

They are, says Michael Kinsley. A simple libertarian-communitarian realignment is unlikely, but the more libertarian of the two parties will increasingly have the advantages. And that’s the Democrats.

Hillary’s Female Problem

I knew it was going to be a hard week when I found myself agreeing with Hillary Clinton about something . . .

In the last two days I’ve heard and read a lot of talk about Hillary’s "disastrous" appearance in the Democratic debate this week. The standard interpretation is that she misstepped and then--after the fact--she played the gender card to complain about everyone ganging up on poor little her. Well . . . yes, that’s one way to view the thing. But conservatives should be careful about laughing at Hillary.

I’ve been watching the way the Clinton’s play this game for too long to really believe that they have room in their well-rehearsed program for many missteps. This is what I think happened: Hillary does not want to take a position on drivers licenses for illegals. She did say that she thought Governor Spitzer’s plan "made sense"--but she is right to point out that saying something makes sense is not the same thing as saying that it is sensible. Though an apparent contradiction is evident and though it was certainly slippery, Hillary’s right about the technical use of her words. She’s right because she chose those words carefully so as to be able to sit back and wax philosophic to either side in this debate. It’s not considered appropriate to say such things in public . . . but Hillary Clinton did what is typically female in this instance. She is straddling the line on a controversial issue and deflecting attention away from her inability (or unwillingness) to take a stand by pointing to the failures of someone else (Bush) in bringing things to such a convoluted point. She shouldn’t have to think about such exasperating things and, she wouldn’t, if it weren’t for that bungling Mr. Bush. Husbands, does this sound familiar? It’s all your fault! You go figure out what to do about it and don’t come to me with your messes.

This line of argument is intended to do exactly what it did. It made those men angry and confused. "But you said it ’made sense’!" they cried. "But you’re not smart enough to understand my words," she replied. It provoked a spirited piling on of the boys from all sides. And that always makes me suspicious. It may have been a calculated risk on her part. She knew she couldn’t stick her neck out and take a firm position on this issue so perhaps she’s taken the danger this presented and turned it into an opportunity. Perhaps she’s betting that the sympathy she’ll get from women watching her fellow Dems (and most conservatives) beat up on her will bode well for her female numbers. She was never so liked and admired by American women as when she was the victim of that bully husband of hers, after all.

There is a risk that this could backfire. It is fair for people to point to her duplicity on this as well as many other controversial issues. She can be seen as indecisive or non-committal. She may be criticized for playing the gender card and crying "poor me!" in the face of tough questioning. Some people will likely come to the conclusion that she is too slick and not tough enough to handle the job of Commander in Chief. But those people probably already had that opinion--don’t you think? How many more of those folks is she likely to lose? And what are the potential gains? Hillary’s negative numbers (some 48%) are very high indeed. To overcome them she needs to do something drastic. I think she’s banking on this appearance of vulnerability making her more likable with the group she considers her natural constituency: women. Of course it is insulting to women--not only for her to harbor this opinion of them--but for her to act on it so. But history has never given a Democrat an opportunity to pander to an identity group--no matter how low the level of pandering--that the Democrat wasn’t happy to take. I guess Hillary’s just one of the boys after all.

David Brooks writes an amusing parody of this episode here. The best line (attributed to Clinton) is this one: To be clear, I said that licenses for illegals was a smart idea that I oppose. There are also many dumb ideas I support and mediocre ideas I’m lukewarm about. I keep track on my iPhone.

UPDATE: Also see Kathleen Parker’s interesting take on the event.

Faith-based inside baseball

Professor Friedman calls our attention to this op-ed by Carl Esbeck, one of the authors of the original charitable choice language in the mid-90s (when he worked with then-Senator John Ashcroft) and to a policy statement by the Department of Justice that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the co-religionist hiring rights of any faith-based government contractor that wishes to assert them.

Interestingly, in his new book, original Bush Administration faith czar John DiIulio seems to regard this exemption as basically unconstitutional, despite the fact that the laws that served as the foundation and inspiration of his White House office, all signed into law by (the first) President Clinton, all contained language that extended the co-religionist hiring exemption found in the 1964 Civil Rights Act to faith-based government contractors. I can’t shake the feeling that DiIulio is doing a little rewriting of history in his otherwise generally admirable book.

Why Does Rudy Heart Huck?

The various media outlets have reported that Giuliani really likes Huckabee, saying that he’s the only candidate who makes me laugh. Ross may explain why. Without Huck in the race, Romney would be poised to win the "hat trick" of early contests--Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. And it’s not so clear Giuliani could survive all that momentum. But with Huck surging, Iowa, at least, is no longer a sure thing for Mitt, and at least the new man from Hope is likely to reduce the big national bump he would get from a solid victory. So Ross calls Huck Rudy’s "secret weapon." (Have you noticed that the "social conservatives" are trying to run Giuliani out of the party, while the "economic conservatives" are doing the same to Huckabee? Both efforts are quite misguided.)

Jay Nordlinger

Jay Nordlinger, the managing editor of National review, spoke at an Ashbrook lunch on the 26th last. He is thoughtful, learned and well spoken. It was good to have him here. The students especially liked him. It’s about an hour long, with the question period.

Mr. Evangelical Outpost Defend Huck

...from the Pat Toomey/Club for Growth allegations concerning his economic evildoing as governor.

Conference alert

Our D.C.-area friends might be interested in this AEI shindig on "reforming the politically correct university."

Is the Islamist threat the new abortion?

Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman wonders whether Rudy Giuliani’s steadfastness on the threat from the Islamofascists is the key to his continuing relatively strong support from rank-and-file conservative Christians. Rod Dreher agrees.

I kinda do, too, but not precisely for the reasons they suggest. First of all, I don’t think abortion and other life issues have gone away, supplanted by the challenges coming out of caves in Waziristan. To say that presumes an incapacity on the part of some people (those simple-minded evangelicals, I guess) to care about more than one issue or challenge at a time, and to weigh a variety of competing considerations.

Second, I don’t think that all people who identify themselves as conservative Christians have only one identity or view the world only through one lens. (That’s largely the preserve of fanatics and theory-besotted intellectuals.) Most folks I know wear crosses and wave flags, so to speak, and many of them can tell the difference between the two. Many of them also know that politics and poltiical considerations are not identical with religious concerns, that we’re in the process of electing a commander-in-chief, not a preacher or pastor. And they know that politics offers a range of flawed human choices, which, come to think of it, makes it no different from every other arena of life in this world.

The Republicans

Andy Busch’s take on the GOP candidates, in NCAA basketball torunament terms:

"The Republican race should be seen as a multiple-round elimination tournament that started with three brackets, each of which has pitted two contenders vying with each other for the right to be the one Republican who can plausibly represent a particular niche in the field."

Fine piece.

School choice in Utah

In the context of the looming vote on school choice in Utah, George F. Will offers a primer on the standard arguments for and against vouchers. Guess which side has the better argument?