Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The American Bomb Lady

She is known as the The Bomb Lady around the Pentagon, or, "one of the most important weapons-developers of the modern era," according to one who knows something about these things. Her most recent innovation is the JEFF, which analyzes biometrics, and therefore helps identify bad guys. The lady who developed the bunker-busting bomb says: "The best missile is worthless if you don�t know who to shoot." She came to the U.S. at age fifteen when Vietnam ran out of bullets, as she says. She says this about why she does what she does: "My life is payback: I�m indebted to the soldiers and to Americans." She tells the Washington Post reporter that when she went to see "The Deer Hunter" she walked out enraged over how America was portrayed in the middle of it. So did I. Read her great story and you be grateful to her heart and work.

Earth to the Times. . .

Let’s see: Dennis Kucinich (now stop laughing) brings up the subject of UFOs in one of the televised debates, and the Los Angeles Times editorial page takes him seriously. But remember--it’s Republicans who are anti-scientific.

At least the Times editorial has the wit to make an oblique reference to this great cult movie, which remains one of my all time favorites. I suppose only in LA.


...the campaign blog of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. It’s very good, of course. What do we find there? Doubts about Giuliani’s character, based on his tendency toward a statistical exaggeration of the greatness of his record of his record that would make Al Gore blush. Attempts to reinvigorate Thompson’s campaign, which, for today, lives on only by being hooked up to machines. A scenario in which Huck could actually win. And an account of who will unite to stop the new man from Hope--the big Republican donors, the inside-the-Beltway lobbyists, and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. I don’t deny that there are good reasons for stopping this guy, but with such an enemies list he might be able to style himself quite effectively as the man of the people who is (naturally) opposed by "the interests."

Juan Williams on Obama and racial politics

I meant to bring this NYT op-ed by Juan Williams to your attention yesterday, then got busy. Williams is an interesting American-enough guy (I should say that I happen to know and like him; he also lectures for us in Presidential Academy program) who in some ways resembles (in background, if not in his liberalism) Barack Obama. There is truth in this essay, which, among other things, explains why Obama is creating such anxiety and jealousy among older black politicians. Others have pointed to the cultural divide between Obama with his immigrant-like sensibilities (also speaking in "universal terms" about race relations) and other American blacks who seem to see more pitfalls than possibilities in the American dream (and speaking in "very race specific terms"). Obama is pointing to the possibility of transcending the American racial divide if immigrants avoid the identity politics of the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton School of Black Victimization and decide instead to jump into the American mainstream with both feet. Lincoln’s old "electric cord" linking all liberty-loving hearts together keeps America’s hopes alive.

Mohammed the Bear

Combine your sense of humor (includes outrage) and a free market and you get to purchase Mohammed the Bear. I�m sure someone is going to get in trouble over this! In the meantime, two Brit Muslim peers are flying to the Sudan to try to free poor Mrs. Gibbons, as the mob outside her cell demands her life.

Energy Security

Mac Owens explains the difference between "energy independence" and "energy security." The former is not possible, and Mac explains why the latter is most important. This is a longer version of an article that appeared in yesterday�s Christian Science Monitor. On the CSM page there is a seven minute conversation between the editor and Mac that you can listen to.

Needless to say, this is all related to our Maritime Strategy. Also see this.

Happy Belated Birthday WSC!

I have a good excuse for neglecting to note Winston Churchill’s birthday yesterday, but I am nonetheless aggrieved by my absentmindedness. I am particularly embarrassed as I am just finishing listening to Volume I of William Manchester’s great biography, The Last Lion. Thanks Robert Jeffrey for reminding us about the date in the preceding thread! Too late (or is it too early?) for a toast this morning . . . but this evening I mean to make amends.

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.