Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

2007 Ends with a Bang . . .

First in Pakistan and now in Kenya. This is probably also something to watch in the coming days and months. Kenya is one of the more reasonable places in Africa but, as you can see from this article and the other dispatches coming out of the place, still beset by the problems--caused mainly--by tribalism but put to use by various factions only too happy to use that weakness to their advantage.

Happy New Year

to everyone!

The end of sprawl?

Patrick Deneen notes this op-ed that finds a silver lining in the cloudy confluence of housing bust and high gas prices.

But let me cite the argument of Witold Rybczynski and Robert Bruegmann that sprawl is universal, even in places with old nice housing stock, good public transit, and high energy prices.

I’ll note my experience with the Austrian town near which my mom grew up. Where once it was a relatively self-contained market town serving local farmers, it’s now a suburb of the booming metropolis of Salzburg. There’s still town-like density and open land between Seekirchen and Salzburg, but the yuppies are coming--indeed, they have come--and are bringing their chain stores with them. We discussed it all here. For me the bottom line is this: the environs of Salzburg are a little more American-looking than they were when last I visited.

These things are, of course, matters of degree: houses and cars are bigger in the U.S. than elsewhere. I see some evidence that the latter are getting smaller, but little that the former are. Infill housing everywhere I see it consists of big houses (perhaps energy-efficient and "green," but nonetheless BIG) on little lots. And as Eduardo Penalver, the WaPo author, points out, we haven’t yet really begun to talk about "affordable" middle class housing as infill. Certainly the market won’t produce it, as the margins aren’t there for developers (unless we’re going to become again a nation of tenement dwellers). What’s more, unless we’re going to become a nation of home-schooling tenement dwellers, much will have to change before people other than the wealthy or childless will move close in.

In the end, then, my question mark is probably much bigger than is Penalver’s or Deneen’s.

Candidate responses to Pakistan again

Using a different metric than the one I’d use, the Washington Post grades candidate responses to "the Pakistan test." The WaPo editorialist liked John Edwards, who managed to get Musharraf on the phone, and Edwards is loving the opportunity to appear "presidential", despite the fact that conducting diplomatic relations with other nations, especially in times of crisis, is currently President Bush’s job.

As I said, I’d grade the candidate reactions somewhat differently. Their job at the moment is to sketch in broad strokes what their approach to foreign policy would be, when they sit in the Oval Office, not to pretend they’re sitting there now. If they step beyond this bound, all they do is send a confused message to foreign leaders and make it more difficult for the current President to do his job.

By my metric, by the way, HRC and McCain do well, as do Romney and Giuliani, the former for reasons stated by the WaPo editorialist, the latter because they attempt to put the events in a larger context. Make no mistake about it, all the responses are political and pitched to meet campaign necessities. HRC, for example, was highlighting her experience on the world stage, something Obama can’t match.

But the fact that all the statements and actions were intended to gain a narrow political advantage and the fact that none of the actors can be held responsible for his or her actions and statements is precisely what makes it so inappropriate for them to go beyond the kinds of general statements offered by Romney and Giuliani. And even in those cases, they reacted before the President did, which strikes me as unseemly.

Two Tickets – At Most – Out of Iowa

If Noam Scheiber’s analysis is right, in the 5 days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary either Hillary Clinton will become the presumptive Democratic nominee or Barack Obama will. His argument is that Obama could not recover from a clear victory in Iowa by John Edwards. The 2007 campaign could tolerate several alternatives to Hillary Clinton, but once the voting starts on the third day of 2008 that throng will very quickly be winnowed to one. If that one is Edwards, however, he will be ground down in New Hampshire and beyond by the huge disparity between Clinton’s bank balance and his own. So a Clinton victory is a Clinton victory, especially if Obama finishes third, but an Edwards victory is also a Clinton victory.

An Obama victory in Iowa would be an Obama victory, not just in the limited and immediate sense, but also because the only way Edwards can survive is by winning there. By depriving him of that victory, Obama reduces the race to a contest between himself and Hillary Clinton. Obama, unlike Edwards, does have enough money to compete against Clinton until the race is settled. More importantly, after Hillary’s 15 years as a national figure, the majority of Democrats around the country who list Edwards (or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Bill Richardson) as their first choice are likely to gravitate to Obama, not her. That is, there are a lot more Democrats who harbor deep misgivings about Hillary than about Obama; a post-Iowa Clinton-Obama contest would be Obama’s to lose.

There’s a fourth possibility, in which a Clinton victory in Iowa would be an Obama victory. That would require Obama to finish a close second to Clinton, with Edwards a disqualifying third. Though Obama leaves Iowa as the loser to Clinton, he does leave Iowa in a one-on-one race against Clinton, with his campaign treasury intact and with a bigger upside than Clinton in New Hampshire and every subsequent primary. “An inconclusive muddle actually benefits Obama,” Scheiber argues, because “without Edwards in the race, Obama consolidates the anti-Hillary vote, which nudges him over the top in what’s now a dead-even race in New Hampshire, makes things look pretty good for him in South Carolina (where he’s been closing but still has to convince some African-Americans he can win), and generally gives him the upper hand for the nomination.”

That argument leaves the question of what constitutes a narrow victory by Clinton over Obama in Iowa. Scheiber guesses that if “Hillary wins by more than a point or two, [then] the race is basically over.” Conversely, a one- or two-point victory by Clinton over Obama leaves the race an “inconclusive muddle.”

Perhaps, however, the mainstream media won’t tolerate an inconclusive muddle. America’s most powerful writers and editors are not famous for diffidently saying, “Far be it from us to impose a master narrative on the ambiguous and confusing jumble of facts before us. Rather than arrogantly and fatuously rushing to say ‘what it all means’ when no one can possibly know, let’s withhold our interpretations until more voters in more states have spoken, and only then offer our opinions about front-runners and also-rans.”

It’s entirely possible, then, that even a photo-finish Clinton victory over Obama will mean the race is basically over. After weeks of mostly bad press and sinking polls, she would be this year’s “Comeback Kid” by doing “better than expected.” (Her husband, after all, got to be 1992’s Comeback Kid by finishing second in New Hampshire to Sen. Paul Tsongas; the numerous reasons to think that Tsongas’ victory was more impressive than Bill Clinton’s silver medal didn’t matter.) Five days of good media would seal a victory for Hillary in New Hampshire, and the brief holiday from inevitability would be over.

The mainstream media is supposed to be much weaker in 2008 than it was in 1992, when there was no blogosphere, barely an Internet, no Fox News or MSNBC, etc. Its ability to forge a master narrative has been permanently subverted. Perhaps. But front-loading the primaries was supposed to diminish the role of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nominating process, yet so far has only enhanced their importance. The fact that the herd of opinion makers is much bigger now than it was 16 years ago may mean only that the herd mentality is more powerful now than it was then, and the 2008 stampede will be quicker and more decisive than 1992’s.

2008 will be the first election since 1952 in which neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president is running for the presidency. A large majority of the electorate has no recollection of a race in which both parties’ nominations are seriously contested. There could be surprises and ambiguities in both parties. A final question that will emerge in the 48 hours after the caucuses conclude is whether the media has the power to shape two ambiguous results into one master narrative. If it does, then there will be only one big story coming out of Iowa. Does a Mitt Romney victory make him the Comback Kid, diminishing a Clinton victory and making an inconclusive muddle for the Democrats possible after all? Does a Mike Huckabee victory constitute big news or old news, making him the Paul Tsongas of 2008 for meeting expectations that he was unfortunate enough to raise a news cycle too early, rather than late enough for his victory to be “dramatic”? Never has the advice, “Stay tuned,” been more appropriate.

China as Paper Tiger

It would appear that Western experts have overestimated the size and power of China’s economy, by around forty percent. Worries that China is on the verge of overtaking the United States as the world’s economic powerhouse now appear vastly overblown.

Tax Heresy!

Okay, sit down for this bit of heresy from me:

Keep the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)!

I dislike the AMT as much as the next guy, as it nicks me pretty hard every year. But one reason Democrats are terrified of it is that it hits hardest the high-tax blue states, which typically have higher state income and property taxes that can’t be deducted under the AMT, such as New York and New Jersey. As such the AMT is a modified flat tax.

Cast your mind back for a moment to the debate over the original Reagan tax reform proposal of 1986. Reagan’s first plan would have ended for everyone the deductability of state and local taxes in return for lower rates across the board. The chief opponent of this was New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who knew that it was a de facto tax hike for New Yorkers. The point is, deductability of state and local taxes is a de facto federal subsidy for high tax states, and therefore a buttress for liberalism.

Reagan’s original proposal was dropped, but the non-deductability of state taxes lived on in the AMT, and is now biting blue state folks hard since it was not indexed to inflation.

Pat Buchanan, in 1986 Reagan’s communications director, got the matter right with this pungent comment in defense of Reagan’s initial proposal: “We do not believe in a neo-socialist approach to government that redistributes wealth. This plan will force people to take a second look at government and see what they are getting from it.” Cuomo called it “wrong, insulting, unfair, and denigrating.” Heh: That’s why I like it.

It is fun watching liberals squirm over this. They hate to give up the money, but their own constituents will be increasingly up in arms so long as the AMT lasts. It can’t be "patched" every year forever. Look for the Democratic Congress to repeal it outright before long.


I’m very late in commenting on events of the past week--travels, site troubles here, and trying to get a chunk of work done have kept me away from the keyboard. Anyway, for a while now I’ve been telling people who ask me that what really keeps people awake at night in Washington is not Iraq, or Iran, but Pakistan. If it slips under the waves, look out. It is not merely that terrorists might gain access to nukes, but the prospect that India might feel the need to launch a pre-emptive war. That India would like to have a go at Pakistan is no secret, but remarkably undiscussed. Pres. Clinton apparently had to intervene strongly to prevent the outbreak of war ten years ago; maybe it’s a bad thing Hillary didn’t attend NSC meetings.

Romney or McCain?

Well we’re back on the air after overcoming some "technical difficulties." (Let that be a lesson to you Crunchies; sometimes there are technical solutions to technical problems.)

Although no two polls from Iowa agree, it does seem that Romney is rebounding and Huck is slipping, at least among the most likely cacusers. The outcome is in doubt, but the big news will probably be that the overwhelming majority of the people of Iowa chose Huckabee or Romney. Right now it looks like the bronze medal will be given to someone (likely McCain) who finishes a distant third.

Things are looking better for McCain in New Hampshire, although apparently the famous independent vote there is leaning strongly toward Obama. He’s more "independent" of Bush than John, it seems.

All in all, many analysts seem to agree, as Peter indicates subtly below, that Giuliani, Thompson, and Huckabee have become very unlikely nominees. The real race, before even a single vote has been counted, may (may!) now be between Romney and McCain.

Although I was wrong on some obvious details, I was surely right to say that the Huck surge would benefit Mitt (as the socially conservative alternative to Huck) and John (as the authentic alternative to Huck). The Republican establishment, for no reason that makes any sense to me, persists in the shrill "anybody but Huck" mode. And that has produced the realization, as Peter suggests, that Giuliani and even McCain are insufficiently conservative. So there’s a lot of embracing, if not a lot of hearting, of Romney (see the three guys from Ohio Peter discusses below).

McCain, of course, operates best as an outsider and from behind. He clearly stunk as a front-runner and is back in business as a horse moving up from the outside. Will he stink again if he becomes a front-runner again? It’s time to take a hard look at the downsides of a McCain candidacy, just as we have a duty to continue to examine Romney critically and urge him to present himself more effectively. (Huck, too, flourished as an outsider and has been very tentative and mistake-prone as a frontrunner.)

The fact that John and Mitt are far from the best candidates ever suggests to me that Giuliani is not quite washed up yet. He could still surge in Florida and on Feb. 5. But I stand fast in my opinion that he would be the weakest of the Republican candidates.

One thing we can learn from the unexpected success of the Huckabee campaign is why Giuliani’s would fail either to energize the Republican base or appeal to the increasingly anxious members of the middle class.

The only candidates in my part of the world that have generated any enthusiasm are Huck and Ron Paul. Paul, we have to admit, is so authentic that he doesn’t worry about being authentic. In his own way, he’s the least demagogic candidate. He would, of course, be a terrible president.

Will it ever be a wonderful life?

Patrick Deneen responds to the conversation we had here.

I posed a couple of questions in a comment on his site, basically boiling down to this: if "Bedford Falls" requires something like despotism, how likely is it that it will be ruled by a "benevolent despot"? And is Bailey Park necessarily antithetical to community. The argument in Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City suggests that the suburban form itself isn’t the problem, though the sense of freedom without responsibility might be.

Success in Iraq

The recent (December 2007) DoD report on Iraq reminds us that “The strategic goal of the United States in Iraq remains a unified, democratic and federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself and is an ally in the war on terror.” The report makes clear that the recent improvements in security have not yet brought us much closer to that goal. A recent issue of the Economist, to which I cannot link, reports an advisor to General Petraeus as saying “the politics is going nowhere.” The economist comments “the fundamental flaw in Iraqi politics persists. The new Shia order remains loth, after centuries of oppression, to give the Sunnis a decent slice of power; and the minority Sunnis seem unable to accept second place in a devlolved state. Last week a deputy prime minister, a Sunni, denied that Shias outnumber Sunni Arabs.”

Both the DoD report and the Economist article provide information that puts Sunni cooperation with the U.S. in perspective. An important factor in bringing about this cooperation was the overreaching of al Qaeda in Iraq. The hope, of course, is that cooperation at the local level can be transformed into cooperation nationally among all Iraqi factions.

Noonan on Iowa

Not deep thinking, really, just meditations, but good. By the way, I had three chance conversations with acquaintances (market, gas station, oil change) and all three said the same thing, independently of one another: The GOP field is not exciting, no one is "really" the kind of conservative each would like; all are worried about the future of the party; all dismissed Huckabee, didn’t think either Gulliani or McCain were conservative enough, and all three said they would probably end up supporting Romney. Then we talked about Pakistan for a while.

Diversity and quality education

When this U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (PDF) study, "The Benefits of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Elementary and Secondary Education", landed on my desk this morning I wasn’t especially looking forward to reading into it. Then I noticed (page 3) that the first finding of the Commission is this:

"Based on the record, the Commission issued a number of findings, including:
There is little evidence that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and
secondary schools results in significant improvements in academic

Hillary Clinton, Affirmative Action Hire

Seven days before the Iowa caucuses and 12 before the New Hampshire primary the polls are inscrutable. We can infer, however, that things are looking bad for Hillary Clinton when her supporters begin desperately availing themselves of the weakest possible arguments on her behalf.

Kay Steiger of the American Prospect has embraced one such argument. Yesterday the New York Times examined Sen. Clinton’s eight years as First Lady, leaving the impression that they could be construed as relevant experience by voters determined to support her, but hardly compel undecided voters to accept that after seven inconsequential years in the Senate she is ready to take on the presidency. As First Lady Mrs. Clinton “was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making,” according to the Times.

That’s good enough for Ms. Steiger, who rushes to gender-norm the tests presidential candidates have to pass. “Hillary Clinton has great experience for a woman. There are few women as qualified as Hillary Clinton for a candidacy.” If, like Jackie Robinson, you’re kept out of the big leagues, it’s only fair to judge you on the basis of how well you hit minor-league pitching. “There’s a smattering of female governors, a mere 16 female senators (two of whom were elected in 2006 midterm elections), and a handful of high-ranking and high-profile secretaries,” says Steiger. Clinton’s years as First Lady may not qualify her to be president, but the daunting odds against women in politics leave Steiger asking rhetorically, “If women are barely represented in high-level offices, how are they supposed to ‘qualify’ themselves for a presidential run?”

Maybe, however, the question is not so rhetorical. How are women supposed to qualify for a presidential run? The way men do – winning offices and holding them impressively. Steiger laments that “most women tend to sail into office on the coattails of their deceased or retired husbands.” She writes as if unaware that this group includes Hillary Clinton and excludes growing numbers of female politicians. Six of Hillary Clinton’s female Senate colleagues are Democrats who have served there longer than she has: Barbara Mikulski, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln. All of them held elective offices before they won Senate seats. Marie Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow, two other Democratic senators elected in 2000, the same year Hillary Clinton won her race in New York, previously served in the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi has been a member of the House for 20 years.

Thus, even if you accept Steiger’s dubious premise that it’s imperative, this year, to elect a female president, there’s no need to accept her even more dubious conclusion that Democrats have no choice but to overlook the meagerness of Hillary Clinton’s qualifications for the office.

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination

PWS has already noted the bad news out of Pakistan. I was working out, with Fox on the television (my wife’s preference; I’d rather read), and caught the non-stop coverage.

What I found striking about the domestic reaction is the unwillingness of many of the candidates (Rudy and Mitt seem to have been the first out of the block, but Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee were hard on their heels) to await the President’s official statement. I understand that John McCain has also already spoken, but I can’t find a link to it.

Fox’s Carl Cameron has speculated that this event will change the dynamic of the primary process, raising the salience of national security issues (thereby helping McCain and Giuliani, and perhaps Clinton). But I’ll be paying attention to whether the candidates recognize that, in a time of crisis, the President needs the field to himself.

Update: I hear on Fox (my dad’s netowrk of choice) that all the major candidates have issued statements. And I note this response from John Podhoretz (the end of our brief campaign holiday from history) and from Byron York on the campaign fallout.

Update #2: Jim Geraghty has reasons for doubting that national security will move up in voter concerns (partly Iowa’s middle Americanness and partly that the candidates really don’t have much interesting or distinctive to say about Pakistan). Of course, voers can think about it without candidates talking explicitly about it.

Geraghty also notes Bill Richardson’s boldly stupid comments, which strike me as not helpful at all, but ultimately inconsequential unless he finds a home in a future Democratic Administration.

Here is a story about President Bush’s statement. And here’s HRC
’s statement, which has the virtue, at least, of not offering policy prescriptions.

A Real Man Fries His Own Squirrel

Huck and McCain are ganging up on Mitt for his lack of authenticity. Let me say again that I don’t think this is quite fair to Romney, while adding that it’s a natural consequence of his inability to cure himself entirely of Al Gore disease.

Bhuto assassinated

This is not good news out of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto has been murdered.

Bailey Park, McDonalds, and Wal-Mart

. . . all represent something great about America to me. Without getting too deep about the specifics here, George Will encapsulates my sentiments about these questions with this article on McDonalds. The lofty suspicions so many of us (right and left) are inclined to harbor about franchises and suburbs and big box stores are just a bit rarefied for my taste. I guess I’m just a conservative girl born with a plastic spork in my mouth and, really, I don’t see anything wrong with that (as long as you know when to take it out!)

Boxing Day opinion roundup

Greetings from South Carolina! We pulled in last night at about 11, after spending the day with my wife’s family outside Atlanta.

Jonah G. is actually kinda glad that the holiday is putting politics in its proper place, an unintended consequence of the self-important Iowa politicos who accelerated the calendar.

The Fred Barnesian rejoinder is that, then, Jonah ought to like Obama and Huckabee, the two candidates who say--albeit not altogether persuasively--that they want to put politics in its proper place.

Tony Blankley takes a look at the past and future of the conservative coalition and offers two suggestions: first, in the future a majority coalition will have to have a substantial Hispanic component; and, second, Republicans have to address the economic anxieties of the erstwhile "Reagan Democrats," else some will no longer be able to ask "what’s the matter with Kansas?"

This is, of course, Huckabee’s territory, even if Time’s Michael Scherer can’t understand how populism can issue in conservative policy proposals.

And now, perhaps appropriately, it’s time to think about a second Christmas dinner (my mom saved the turkey for today) and about the patriotic duty of spending Christmas money.


Although the studies don’t come anywhere near agreeing, it is clear that Huck is fading some in Iowa. He may well be sharing one of Dean’s failings: Huck peaked too early, and it’s tough for an outsider to sustain the position of favorite. Those who love "change" become easily bored. And in Huck’s case: Being the favorite means being attacked incessantly and somewhat wildly by the whole party establishment. Some of the attacks are perfectly reasonable, and the new man from Hope hasn’t been able to handle them. He’s become too self-conscious and defensive and so he’s obscuring what was attractive about him to begin with. (Here’s one criticism I don’t like: He’s pardoned too many people becuase he’s too Christian. I very much prefer concerns about his foreign-policy judgment and his narcissistic paternalism, which may well reflect apolitical weaknesses in the "evangelical worldview.") It’s now pretty much anyone’s guess what’s going to happen in the Christmas-season caucus. Polls wildly disagree on who the surgers are--you can find evidence for Romney, McCain, Thompson, Paul, and even Giuliani. If the Iowa result is flat and inconclusive, all the candidates get to fight on, even Huck. (And certainly Iowa deserves to be reduced to insignificance.) Huck or Romney still might score big, and I’m guessing the real surger is McCain.

Funny Film Quotes

Here’s a genuinely impressive list of 50 from Mr. Evangelical Outpost. Take special note of the classics from the Whit Stillman trilogy and even of the good ones from the really decent Christmas movie LOVE, ACTUALLY. There’s a lot here to guide your holiday viewing, and never mind that Joe Carter is under withering attack for his connection with Huck.

Fake or real?

Rich Lowry examines the pros and cons.

We (reluctantly) went fake a few years ago, mostly for economic reasons. The trees we like--noble firs--are very expensive and, given the distance we are from the source, not in terribly good shape when they get here. If we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we’d probably still have a real tree.

Once again, Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

That says it all.

Wehner on Huckabee

My sentiments exactly. If the title of the op-ed mystifies you, read this.

Update: Ramesh Ponnuru offers a criticism of the politics of Huckabee’s campaign. I’d add: it’s probably not possibly for any Republican to do better than GWB among evangelicals, but it’s easily possible for someone to do worse with other parts of the coalition, not to mention the general electorate.

Will it continue to be a wonderful life?

Patrick Deneen meditates on the significance of Bailey Park. Must we choose between slums and suburbia? Who can afford community these days?

As If You Weren’t Already Confused . . .

Here’s another primary scenario. . . this time with Fred Thompson (?!) the triumphant tortoise. Hey, at this point I think it’s safe to say that nothing will surprise me.

Kesler on ’08 and the Search for Conservatism

What is the most obvious question to which the 2008 Presidential election points but, it appears, we’ve all been too timid to ask? Charles Kesler is not afraid to tell us in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

The reason it seems that Republicans cannot make up their minds about who to choose for their nominee is simple:

Republicans lack a clear criterion by which to make up their mind. Not so long ago, that standard would have included a definition of conservatism—ragged at the edges, but still serviceable. But American conservatism’s meaning, even in its heyday never uncontroversial, is less clear today. And the implications of that meaning—where conservatism should go from here—are more up in the air than at any time since the movement’s founding in the 1950s.

Kesler argues that conservatives have lost focus since the end of the cold war and have been turning inward . . . trying to resolve those unanswered questions from our "founding." This has left us with a cache of candidates trying to "reinvent" conservatism or "recast" it in terms that appeal to today’s conservative voter (whatever that means). The problem is, we don’t much like their offerings--at least not in numbers sufficient to give us a clear front-runner. As Kesler puts it:

The problem is that Republican voters don’t recognize any of these trial versions of conservatism as the real deal, a distillation of American principles for our time; and they’re right.

The problem is that we’re fighting each other . . . it is a fight that, perhaps, was inevitable and maybe even necessary. It’s come to a head because we’re not focused enough on a common enemy. Why we’re not so focused is, in a sense, beyond me. It’s not as if we don’t have one (or a dozen). But convincing some people that there are bigger problems in this world than neo-conservatives or, even, paleo-conservatives (!) is not so easy to do. This is not good . . . because (as Kesler also notes) "[i]n the meantime . . . there is a president to nominate and elect."

Huckabee’s populism

Terry Eastland spends some time on the Huckabus, and shows that the "we" rhetoric I noted here can be deployed "populistically" as well.

Update: See if you can pass this quiz, though I suspect that the contexts would be revealing.

Presidential Christmas messages

Claremont’s John J. Pitney notes some past presidential Christmas greetings. So far as I can tell, Herbert Hoover was the first president to send a formal Christmas greeting to disabled veterans and an informal one to the nation as a whole (though we’ve had a national Christmas tree since the Coolidge Administration). The practice seems to have been formalized by FDR in 1933 with this message:

For me and for my family it is the happiest of Christmases.

To the many thousands of you who have thought of me and have sent me greetings, and I hope all of you are hearing my voice, I want to tell you how profoundly grateful I am. If it were within my power so to do I would personally thank each and every one of you for your remembrance of me, but there are so many thousands of you that that happy task is impossible.

Even more greatly, my happiness springs from the deep conviction that this year marks a greater national understanding of the significance in our modern lives of the teachings of Him whose birth we celebrate. To more and more of us the words "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" have taken on a meaning that is showing itself and proving itself in our purposes and daily lives.

May the practice of that high ideal grow in us all in the year to come.

I give you and send you one and all, old and young, a Merry Christmas and a truly Happy New Year.

In 1935, FDR had this to say:

We are gathered together in a typical American setting in the park here in front of the White House. Before me and around me is an American assemblage—men and women of all ages, youths and maidens, young children who know nothing about the cares of life—all jubilant with joyous expectation.

The night is falling and the spirit of other days, too, broods over the scene. Andrew Jackson looks down upon us from his prancing steed; and the four corners of the square in which we are gathered around a gaily lit Christmas tree are guarded by the figures of intrepid leaders in the Revolutionary War—Von Steuben, the German; Kosciusko, the Pole; and Lafayette and Rochambeau from the shores of France.

This is in keeping with the universal spirit of the festival we are celebrating; for we who stand here among our guardians out of the past and from far shores are, I suppose, as diverse in blood and origin as are the uncounted millions throughout the land to whom these words go out tonight. But around the Manger of the Babe of Bethlehem "all Nations and kindreds and tongues" find unity. For the spirit of Christmas knows no race, no creed, no clime, no limitation of time or space.

The spirit of Christmas breathes an eternal message of peace and good-will to all men. We pause therefore on this Holy Night and, laying down the burdens and the cares of life and casting aside the anxieties of the common day, rejoice that nineteen hundred years ago, heralded by angels, there came into the world One whose message was of peace, who gave to all mankind a new commandment of love. In that message of love and of peace we find the true meaning of Christmas.

And so I greet you with the greeting of the Angels on that first Christmas at Bethlehem which, resounding through centuries, still rings out with its eternal message: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men."

In 1941, he had these words for us:

Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies-more than any other day or any other symbol.

Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere.

It is in that spirit, and with particular thoughtfulness of those, our sons and brothers, who serve in our armed forces on land and sea, near and far- those who serve for us and endure for us that we light our Christmas candles now across the continent from one coast to the other on this Christmas Eve.

We have joined with many other Nations and peoples in a very great cause. Millions of them have been engaged in the task of defending good with their life-blood for months and for years.

You can listen to the remarks of Roosevelt’s special guest on that occasion here (#17)

The tradition was upheld by successive presidents, with Eisenhower offering the following message in 1953:

For us, this Christmas is truly a season of good will--and our first peaceful one since 1949. Our national and individual blessings are manifold. Our hopes are bright even though the world still stands divided in two antagonistic parts.

More precisely than in any other way, prayer places freedom and communism in opposition, one to the other. The Communist can find no reserve of strength in prayer because his doctrine of materialism and statism denies the dignity of man and consequently the existence of God. But in America, George Washington long ago rejected exclusive dependence upon mere materialistic values. In the bitter and critical winter at Valley Forge, when the cause of liberty was so near defeat, his recourse was sincere and earnest prayer. From it he received new hope and new strength of purpose out of which grew the freedom in which we celebrate this Christmas season.

As religious faith is the foundation of free government, so is prayer an indispensable part of that faith.

A few years later, he offered this "natural law" gloss on the meaning of Christmas:

The Christmas Message of "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men" is not alone an ideal of Christianity. It is a basic aspiration of Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist alike--of every person in the world who has faith in an Almighty God.

It is not limited to us as Americans or even to people of the free world. It is matched in yearning in the innermost thoughts of all peoples. It is a universal, divine spark that lights the soul of mankind.

I could go on and on and on. I won’t say that the messages are all theologically coherent (here’s a particularly bad one). But only a few (see these Nixonian examples) have been relentlessly secular. (Ronald Reagan, as this example shows, was thoughtfully inclusive.)

I’ll leave you with these two messages from the current occupant of the Oval Office.


UPDATE: Andrew (see thread below) is right: The movie is anti-communist, anti-Christian, and anti-Islam (anti-both the Biblical God and the God that failed), and somewhat conventionally opposes brains and guts to right-wing moralism. Real men and real women aren’t priggish when it comes to drink, sex, and so forth, and their morality comes from hating all threats to their liberty or the liberty of others. (Real men and real women are also somehow basically decent in spite of it all, and in their own way know how to treat women [or men] as they really want and deserve to be treated.) The true or lovable America doesn’t depend at all upon and in fact is mucked by Christian values. But the film does give right-wing Christian wackos credit for being on the right side on communism, if for the wrong reasons, and the Julia Roberts character (right-wing Christian rich lady who still sins [wink, wink] a lot) is the one who spurs Charlie to action. It’s a left libertarian movie that separates today’s [still pro-Israel] Hollywood elite from McGovernites and implicitly criticzes Bush I and Bush II for their incompetent lack of devotion to liberty properly understood. My verdict: The movie is pro-Hillary and even suggests what a Ms. Clinton foreign policy would be like. Yes, it’s still really good and you should see it.

It Depends on the Meaning of "Good Faith"

NLT readers might be interested in this exchange I’ve had with Josh Patashnik of the New Republic. It began when he posted the following on TNR’s "The Plank":

Mark Schmitt has a terrific piece up today (joining Jonathan Alter’s from earlier in the week) responding to Paul Krugman’s "Obama-is-naïve" column). Schmitt, in particular, does a very good job of explaining why Obama’s decision to make unity and partisan reconciliation such a central theme of his candidacy is itself a strategic decision. (As Obama told Noam Scheiber, "I’m not interested in good government for the sake of good government. There were times when patronage politics worked pretty well for the down and out. ... That’s not true anymore. When I say I want to change politics, it’s precisely because I want to make sure people have health care.") Schmitt discusses the mechanism by which this works:

"What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism--people who don’t agree with him. ... One way to deal with [conservative] bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows."

I think this is right. If there’s common ground to be found between good-faith liberals and conservatives, Obama’s approach will find it; if Schmitt is correct and there isn’t, Democrats are in a much stronger position to take their arguments to the voters. It’s unclear what the downside is. And it’s also true that polarization isn’t ideologically neutral. As Obama recognizes, it favors conservatives--or, rather, favors a certain cynical, nihilistic strain of conservatism that wants not only to limit the size of government, but (for reasons almost passing understanding) to impair its capacity for performing even governmental functions broadly recognized as necessary. In a political system that is (appropriately) biased toward the status quo, polarization--which makes it all but impossible to develop the consensus required for any important policy change--plays into the hands of those who rejoice at the thought of a paralyzed, ineffective federal government.

I replied:

I’m a conservative who would be interested in finding common ground with liberals. The fear is that the only way to demonstrate to Mr. Patashnik that I’m a good-faith conservative is to be an unconservative conservative. No sooner does he extend an invitation to sit down at the big table and bargain in good faith than he dismisses Bill Kristol’s 1994 rejoinder to Hillarycare as cynical and nihilistic. The scorched-earth barbarism Kristol advocated included making health insurance more portable, limiting insurers’ ability to deny coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions, and reducing paperwork costs by creating a standardized claims form. Decent and reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom or adequacy of such proposals. They can hardly do so, however, if the price of the ticket to participate in the debate is to first confess that we conservatives are all either ideologues or stooges for rapacious corporations. If Patashnik wants to see good faith, he’ll have to show some.

Josh responded:

Thanks for your response above--I think it helps illustrate what I regard as the difference between good-faith and bad-faith political behavior (though this is straying a bit from the original topic of my post). I assure you I do not believe that "the only way to demonstrate to Mr. Patashnik that I’m a good-faith conservative is to be an unconservative conservative." Here’s what I think constitutes good-faith negotiation: one takes a public position and then sits down at the bargaining table representing that position, making a genuine (though not necessarily successful) attempt to reach an agreement acceptable to all parties. The outcome of the negotiation will depend entirely on the preferences of the actors involved. Someone like Ron Paul, for instance, could engage in good-faith negotiation and still almost never reach agreement with anybody.

Why I regard Kristol’s infamous health-care memo as an example of bad-faith politics is that he urged Republicans specifically to avoid this kind of bargaining. He did so not primarily because he believed Democrats had bad ideas about health care (which, obviously, is an entirely reasonable position and one that could be represented in good faith at the negotiating table), but because, as he wrote, he opposed even consensus-based health-care reform on the grounds that if the government demonstrated an ability to respond well to the health-care crisis, it would restore middle-class faith in the efficacy of government, harming the long-term political prospects of Republicans. This is the essence of bad-faith politics: one refuses to engage in substantive negotiation, even when agreement might be had, for reasons unrelated to the policy issue at stake--valuing gridlock for its own sake. (Democrats can be, and have been, guilty of it too.)

The problem with this type of behavior is that our system of government accords substantial power to political minorities to thwart the will of the majority; minorities abuse this power when they oppose legislation on non-substantive grounds.


Thank you for clarifying and elaborating your ideas. It appears that before liberals and conservatives can have good-faith negotiations over policy issues, we need to have good-faith meta-negotiations over what distinguishes good-faith from bad-faith negotiating. According to the 1994 Bill Kristol essay you link to, his position was that "the passage of the Clinton health care plan IN ANY FORM" would "guarantee an unprecedented federal intrusion into the economy" and "signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy." To say that such a position is an example of bad-faith politics (not to mention cynical and nihilistic) is to say that Kristol’s viewpoint was not merely wrong, but illegitimate. You’re banging the gavel and ruling him out of order: We’re here to make a "genuine attempt to reach an agreement acceptable to all parties" regarding national health policy, not to talk about the proper size and scope of government. Since that question is "unrelated to the policy issue at stake," Kristol was guilty of "valuing gridlock for its own sake."

Obviously, the power to limit "what we’re here to talk about" is very important. Saying that those of us who dispute the chair’s rulings about what we can and can’t discuss are negotiating in bad faith is a dubious way to encourage constructive engagement around the big table. Conservatives and liberals should have equal rights to object to what they regard as a camel’s nose under the tent. Kristol’s opposition in 1994 to Clinton’s health care plan in any form was identical, in this regard, to Democrats’ opposition in 2005 to privatized Social Security accounts in any form. If I understand your position correctly, however, Kristol demonstrated bad faith when he encouraged Republicans who had minorities in both houses of Congress and had just lost a presidential election to refuse to yield on the basic question about expanding the scope of government, but Democrats who were in the minority in both houses of Congress and had just lost a presidential election were acting in the only honorable way they could by refusing to yield on the basic question of reducing the scope of government.

Josh, perhaps one way of shedding light on this question would be to expand your statement that Democrats, too, have been guilty of valuing gridlock for its own sake. You regard the Democrats’ posture on Social Security in 2005 as a non-example of such intransigence. What would be a good - and, therefore, illuminating - example?


Bill: I think your last question gets to the heart of the matter. There are some Democrats (I am not one of them) who believe Social Security is just fine and doesn’t need to be changed; for them to refuse to engage with the Bush administration in 2005 was perfectly acceptable, since they had no interest in any reform in the first place. (Similarly, there are some conservatives who simply do not believe the state has any role to play in expanding access to medical care; for them to refuse to negotiate with Democrats is fine--there’s a clear contrast there and one can take the issue to the voters to settle.)

What is potentially troubling to me is Democrats who agreed that Social Security needed to be reformed, but still refused to sit down at the negotiating table because they thought gridlock would be to their political advantage. I think one has to distinguish between conversation-broadening (which seems perfectly legitimate) and refusal to bargain (which does not). That is, I think it would have been acceptable for Democrats to say, "We won’t agree to reform Social Security unless you (for example) agree to expand health-insurance coverage and the Earned Income Tax Credit". Similarly it would have been acceptable for Republicans in 1993 to have said, "We won’t agree to spend more on health care unless you cut spending on programs X, Y, and Z." This is how bargaining in politics should work.

What constitutes bad faith, in my opinion, is when one refuses to engage in this process in the first place, either publicly or privately. In my view (perhaps I’m wrong; this version of the story has sort of attained the status of lore on the center-left), this is what Kristol was urging Republicans to do in 1993, because he thought it would help Republicans politically. To the extent that Democrats in 2005 refused to even discuss what they would demand in exchange for making changes to Social Security, they deserve equal condemnation.

I guess I should also clarify that I’m not so hopelessly naive as to expect that government would ever really function according to these rules--I’m just trying to establish how I think the process ought to work in the abstract.

Voegeli, in what is, so far, the final entry in this dialogue:

Josh: It’s an interesting and important question, no? When politicians sit down to negotiate about a particular public policy question they are always going to have three other things in mind. First, there will be other policy questions. The positions you take and the deal you strike over Issue A could affect your negotiating position over Issues X, Y and Z, often in ways that are difficult to foresee but important not to be surprised by. Second, there will be ideological questions about whether a particular deal or position strengthens or weakens a general disposition to a whole range of policy issues. Third, there will be electoral questions about how your negotiating position will help you and your party win the next election and the ones beyond it. Furthermore, not only is the public policy issue on the table related to each of these other kinds of questions, but they are all related to one another. So it’s always complicated.

The ethical question is at what point a politician’s or activist’s attention to all these related questions causes his conduct in the debate over the public policy issue on the table to cross the line from being realistic and legitimate to being cynical and illegitimate. Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that the center-left legend is true, and Bill Kristol really did urge Republicans in 1993 to refuse to avoid any constructive engagement with Pres. Clinton on health care for the sole purpose of helping Republicans win subsequent elections. I don’t think such a posture is self-evidently nihilistic. Politics ain’t beanbag, and everything a politician wants to do or prevent will be aided by winning elections and gaining power, and harmed by losing elections and power. Furthermore, since everything is ultimately up to the voters, there was nothing to prevent the Democrats from counterpunching against the Kristol position, appealing to the voters to punish the Republicans for being obstructionists, misrepresenting the Clinton plan, and offering no alternatives of their own. It’s not Kristol’s fault that Democrats either didn’t make or couldn’t sell this argument.

There is one asymmetry worth noting. It’s much harder, politically, to dissolve an entitlement program than to create one. Republicans knew that if they offered to make "health care that’s always there" a social insurance obligation in exchange for spending cuts in other social welfare programs, the new entitlement program would exist forever, while the spending cuts would be ephemeral. The Republicans who took Kristol’s advice in 1993 had these other policy battles and ideological and electoral issues in mind. Realism verges into cynicism when every policy question is refracted into an electoral one, so that governance is completely devoured by politics. At that point, everything in politics is reduced to winning elections, and the only reason to win elections is to win more elections, which is a clear-cut example of nihilism. I don’t think the 1993 Republicans’ efforts against Clinton’s health care proposals were circular in this way. They wanted to limit the socpe of government and prevent an expansion that would be politically irreversible and would promote the expansion of the welfare state in other ways. That’s a contestable political objective, but not an illegitimate one.

A Question for John Edwards . . .

Doesn’t your own family story (however embellished) speak against your prescriptions? Does it never occur to people like John Edwards that mill workers bringing babies home to a two room house have a powerful incentive to improve their own circumstances with hard work and industry? And doesn’t the fact that John Edwards’ own father took the initiative to move his family out of that house within a year of little Johnny’s birth impress him? Instead of pointing to my humble beginnings in a shack to impress you with what I didn’t have, I think I might be more inclined to say, "Look at what I’ve been able to achieve for myself now!" and point to his . . . what DO you call a house like his? Mansion doesn’t quite capture it . . . But then, maybe Edwards is embarrassed by how much he’s been able to accomplish without much hard work or industry (at least in comparison with the hard work his father undoubtedly put forward).

Edwards sees a set of facts and draws conclusions that are exactly backwards. I see his story as cause to celebrate the greatness of our country . . . he sees cause to decry its injustice.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR second Holiday movie, is even better than the first. It centers around the cause-based friendship between two smart, generous, and very manly men--Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) and a dissident CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It’s such a great Cold War story that unstintingly presents the Soviets as cruel, murderous evildoers and properly highlights the importance of the brilliant success of a covert operation of unprecedented funding that it would hardly be right to quibble about its accuracy in every respect. That some of the problems we face now can be traced to our failure to finish the job then is surely true, and the irony that our initial intervention in Afghanistan was, in part, understood to be a humanitarian defense of religous freedom shouldn’t be forgotten. (The suggestions that 9/11 was caused by our indifference to Afghanistan after the fall of communism is ridiculous, though.) Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson was surely a wonderful and indispensable cause of the Soviets suffering their first and, it turns out, decisive defeat. But the regime change ushered in by President Reagan is conspicuous by its absence in the film.

Our Proud Human Future

You’ll want to check out the new NEW ATLANTIS, which includes a short article (on Hannah Arendt, space travel, and other matters having little to do with Huck) by ME.

McCain Surging in Iowa?

Here’s a new poll from Iowa that has Huck first (but with soft support) and McCain second (and with solid support). Romney has dropped to third, and there’s nothing going on for Fred. (I really this poll contradicts the Strategic Vision one, which was taken at almost exactly the same time and has Romney second and Fred surging.)

Conversation and ressentiment

Mike Huckabee has some tough talk for the "elites" in New York and Washington. "We [evangelicals]" have been offered a seat on the bus, but are not supposed "ever [to] think about telling us where the bus is going to go."

I prefer the table metaphor to the bus metaphor. There can be many involved in a conversation around the table, but only one bus driver. And on behalf of evangelicals, MH wants to be the driver.
This NYT article offers some suggestions about how he’d behave in the driver’s seat.

Two thoughts: by Huckabee’s account, George W. Bush (pretty doggone close to an evangelical by my lights) apparently wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Or, to put it another way, Bush listened to people who weren’t evangelicals (and, yes, didn’t always treat evangelicals with the respect they deserved). A Huckabee Administration would apparently be different: would he not listen to the non-evangelicals who disagreed with him? Would his White House not have a plurality of conservative voices? The implicit rejection of the Bush model ("evangelical" President with evangelical and non-evangelical advisors, with the former sometimes--perhaps too often--losing to the latter and the latter sometimes--perhaps too often--not playing nice with the former) suggests not. Huckabee’s comments aren’t nuanced, and there is, of course, room for nuance. I’d hope that he would offer an inclusive vision of conservative governance and that, while he demanded that everyone play nice, he wouldn’t shut out those who came from different camps. It’s one thing to say that the "establishment" conservative/Republicans didn’t always behave well and offer socially conservative folks from flyover country the respect they deserved; it’s another to imply that it’s payback time (which seems to be pretty close to what Huckabee is saying). This strikes me as an exceedingly "political" view of what it takes to deserve respect, but political only in the lowest (power-oriented) and not in the highest (reason- and common good-oriented) sense.

On a slightly different subject, the NYT article I cited above raises a related question about Huckabee’s understanding of the relationship between religion and politics. His focus on clemency for criminals is said to be rooted in his religious understanding of redemption. Aside from the fact that Baptists of all people are supposed to understand something about backsliding, there’s also the notion that Caesar also has reasonable and legitimate demands to make of people. I can forgive you, think that you have changed, and still insist that you pay your dues, that part of your redemption requires expressing your respect for the law and the government whose law you violated. Yes, there’s a difference between justice and the rule of law, but in a world where men aren’t angels, government and the rule of law are necessary. Individual judgment can remedy certain egregious defects in the execution of impersonal justice, but we have to be chary of going too far in that regard, both because we want to uphold the rule of law in general and because we’re aware of our own foibles (see, for example, the pardons issued by another man from Hope). Huckabee’s approach to pardons seems remarkably unpolitical, but also remarkably unaware of the fallenness of the human condition (which is what requires politics, coercion, and punishment in the first place) and the fallibility of his own judgment.

Romney and Al Gore Disease

Just to show that I’m truly fair-and-balanced or not coyly supporting Romney, let me add a link that begins to explain why we have trouble actually liking Mitt. He just can’t help, in a way that reminds us of Al, embellishing the truth about his hunting and crying and such. He needs to find his character, stay in it, and stop exaggerating. Gore kept changing with every debate, and that kept nim from being able really to exploit his obvious superiority to Bush in policy expertise. This time Mitt is the man when it comes to policy, but he, too, hasn’t been able to take advantage of how smart he is and what he knows, at least so far.

Charlie Wilson

I haven’t seen the movie yet (but read the book a few years back)...this WaPo profile-history seems to capture the real flavor of the man. Even his vices became virtues for this particular enterprise.

Can’t Taze This!

I’m sorry . . . but none of your submissions for the best quote of the year contest are coming close to the "Don’t Taze Me, Bro!" masterpiece . . . Our friend Kate suggests giving the kid the mug. It does seem like he should get something for making us laugh this much! If you need reminding or the holiday crunch is fraying your nerves . . . check out this re-mix of the event complete with MC Hammer. It’s a tough call which is funnier: the student or those pants on Hammer. This one isn’t bad either.

Politics and Religion in Family Gatherings and in Campaigns

I hate that sectarian religious differences have become such a focal point in this election. It is stupid politics and the Dems must just love to watch it. Now that I’m in Ohio for Christmas with my side of the family, I’m finally getting a chance to talk to all the relatives I haven’t spoken with for months and who, in their own way, also have been watching this election unfold. Let me tell you . . . they’re all pretty repulsed by this over-the-top religion talk and they sense that it is very, very bad for Republicans to allow it to continue.

Fair or not, they blame both Huck and Romney for the prolonged God discussion and for what they consider the bad press it’s generating for Republicans. Like I suspected, none of them paid any attention at all to the substance of Romney’s beautiful speech (who was the egg-head adviser who thought regular folks would even listen to that speech? Never were so many beautiful words wasted on so many pundits and so few voters . . . ). All they know is that Romney gave a big speech about religion and that, after the speech, everybody started going bonkers with God talk. Then Huck surged and it continued . . . Let me be clear: it’s not that any of my family are too shy to engage in God talk; it’s just that none of them thinks that the Republican primary is the place for polite people to do it.

I have an interesting mix of religion in my family. One side (Dad’s) are half-hearted "kinda-sorta" Presbyterians (meaning they were churched at a Presbyterian church as children but haven’t seen the inside of another church since the last family wedding . . .) but they’re definitely Protestant and decidedly not Catholic. But coincidentally (and oddly), every one of the brothers is married to a Catholic woman. So all of us grandkids (with the exception of my aunt’s daughter) have been raised Catholic. When we’re all together as a family, we might joke about religion and gently tease our Protestant fathers and grandparents . . . but happily they give back as good as they get and so we’ve all developed pretty thick skin and a fair sense of humor on the subject. Even so, for obvious reasons, we avoid engaging in serious or heated debates with each other about religion at family gatherings. Occasionally a joke will cross the line and get nasty . . . and then everyone will give the offending party a warning look that says it’s best to move on. Now, in smaller groups of us or in one-on-one conversations, no one shrinks from a more direct approach if pressed. But this kind of God talk is not for public consumption with good reason. We know we have more to lose from pressing it than we stand to gain from the exercise. If any of us really wants to take the time to work on the eternal soul of one of our fathers, we have enough time to do that in private. A large gathering--even of family--is a kind of public gathering. When arguments about religion are aired in public like that it is rude.

Granted, a campaign is not exactly a family gathering . . . the voting public are not a family. But it is similar in this sense: we all have more to lose by hurting and dividing each other with this sort of talk than we stand to gain by besting each other in this kind of debate. The object of such jousting cannot be greater clarity about either politics or religion . . . it is always something else. It is always in the service of something much lower . . . like naked ambition or showmanship.

That said--mainly because Mitt and Huck appear like the wise-a** college kids home fresh from break and with all sorts of strong opinions on taboo dinner table conversation--everyone here is giving them that warning look and is leaning toward Giuliani or, begrudgingly, McCain . . . though they are wishing--wistfully--that Thompson seemed to give a damn. I think my family are less fair to Romney in their assessment of him as a wise a** college kid using religion as a way to show us his verbal fortitude--because the substance of what he said was very close to what I have said here . . . but, again, it was the timing. No one listened to the substance of his speech. The perception is what will matter in the end.


...MY FIRST HOLIDAY MOVIE...another mainstream, slacker/teenage/nerdy, very pro-life, very pro-family movie. Very smart and very funny, and realistic without being trashy. The script and acting are good enough (unlike those of KNOCKED UP) actually to win awards. The semi-indy music of today used to good effect and quite melodically throughout. Does more than Gerson to restore my faith in today’s young people. I would say more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you!

Evangelicals and Catholics apart

Rick Garnett gathers some concerns and raises a reasonable question about where Huckabee stands, say, in the spectrum of theoloically conservative Christian opinion. I have to confess that I’m a little less troubled by Rick Scarborough than he is, though John Hagee does give me cause for pause, as his support for Israel seems in part predicated on a vision of the End Times and, as Kathryn Jean Lopez points out, there’s a substantial admixture of anti-Catholicism in his thought.

Will Huckabee take support from any source, or will he draw the line anywhere?

More on Huck-attacks

Again, my linking is stinking. But if you go to RealClearPolitics, you’ll see two more interesting Huck articles. One by Strassel in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, which is yet another extreme, grapeshot attack on this great threat to America and conservatism. The other, by Dionne, is in the WASHINGTON POST. E.J. concludes that Huck is the leader of a rank-and-file rebellion that will be crushed by the Republican establishment. I’m not saying that rebellions shouldn’t be crushed. But the establishment Republicans will need to find common cause with the rebels to win the big war, and that means taking a genuinely sympathetic look at the causes of the rebellion and the charisma of the rebel leader. (I live or almost live in a working-class evangelical, southern, failed milltown neighborhood, and the Huckabee signs are just starting to pop up. Again, this is not an expression of my view, inasmuch as I have no local influence, am not evangelical, and don’t really work much.)

The Christmas ads revisited

Our friend Jonah Goldberg’s column most excellently shows the vision of government behind HRC’s ad. What’s more, it contains a great P.J. O’Rourke quote:

“I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat,” wrote the indispensable O’Rourke.

“God” he explained, is “a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. ... God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s heavenly country club.”

P. J. continues: “Santa Claus is another matter. ... He’s nonthreatening. He’s always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of a quid pro quo.”

“Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one,” O’Rourke concluded. “There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”

And, by the way, if the Democrats want to Europeanize their appeal even more, they need to remember that St. Nick has
companions, who punish the naughty.

More Huck-analysis on NRO

For computer reasons that only make sense to me, I can’t link the articles by Hemingway and Pitney on NRO. They are easy to find there. They’re both much more measured than the Will article that Peter quotes from below. Hemingway, in fact, almost begins by criticizing George for being too comfortable with Giuliani’s anti-ROE position.

Hemingway limits his criticism to the Gerson-ianism of Huck’s published writings. He exaggerates when he compares Huck’s foreign policy to Jim Carter’s (implying that born-againers as such are easily duped by dictators), but Huck’s prohibitionist moralism when it comes to smoking, fatty and salty foods and such does deserve some mockery. The weakest parts of Huck’s writings (which are neither great nor terrible) are those infected by therapeutic narcissism. And he’s also quite weak in a number of specific public policy areas. Hemingway seems to mock both Huck’s styling himself as victimized by the conservative elite, and the conservative elite for thinking it’s its job to decide whether he qualifies for their club.

Pitney, surely one of our most astute political scientists, explains why Huck’s socially conservative stands (on abortion, evolution, same-sex marriage) are, contrary to the view of the MSM, are actually sources of strength for his campaign. He may have expressed his views, on occasion, over the years in ways that seem bigoted and are factually incorrect, but it really is true that most American observant believers (and many non-libertarian conservative public intellectuals) believe that same-sex marriage is not marriage properly understood, that abortion is morally wrong and should be legally constrained, and that evolutionary theory does not explain what is distinctively human about human beings. I would add that Huck has improved in expressing his views in relatively reasonable and sensitive ways, which is not to deny that a lot more improvement might be possible. Huck needs to move from his "evangelical worldview" in the direction of natural law, and that’s not likely to happen over the next couple of months.

Unless I Get Some Better Submissions . . .

. . . in this best quote of the year contest, then Joe Knippenberg is going to get himself another No Left Turns mug . . . and my guess is that he doesn’t need another one. I will say, however, that if you are married, it is a good idea to try and get more than one of these mugs. If you have only one, it will quickly become that little thing about which daily territorial squabbles morph into major mood altering irritations. You see, it’s a large and accommodating mug--much like our blog. It’s the one mug you’ll be inclined to wash rather than pass over for another when its dirty. Mornings are ever so much better now that I have two.

So keep the submissions coming . . . only now, keep them coming here. Also . . . let’s limit this space to quote submissions. If you want to argue about the merits or substance of someone’s quote submission here, I’m going to have to automatically disqualify yours for lack of good humor.

Will on Huckabee

George Will on Huckabee (the rest of the column is also worth reading):

"Huckabee’s campaign actually is what Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy is misdescribed as being -- a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs. Giuliani departs from recent Republican stances regarding two issues -- abortion and the recognition by law of same-sex couples. Huckabee’s radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity. And consider New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers union that is a crucial component of the Democratic Party’s base.

In 2004, New Hampshire’s chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary -- and Huckabee in the Republican primary. It likes, as public employees generally do, his record of tax increases, and it applauds his opposition to school choice.

Huckabee’s role in this year’s ’70s Show is not merely to attempt to revise a few Republican beliefs. He represents wholesale repudiation of what came after the 1970s -- Reaganism."

More on the Bush legacy in ’08

Having been given an opening by Huckabee, Mitt Romney is trying to appeal to those who have remained loyal to the President. For evidence of this new Romney theme, go here and here.

The Bush legacy

I’ve been trying to think about the Bush legacy in this campaign, and will probably try to write something more formal about it after the holidays. At the moment, all I have are some very preliminary thoughts, which I thought I’d try out here.

As I noted below, Mike Huckabee is in some sense closer to Bush than are any of the other Republican aspirants. He’s the "compassionate conservative" in this field, the mantle he inherited when Sam Brownback quit the race (as Andy Busch has observed more than once). For a variety of reasons, this is a difficult role to play successfully. First, many Republicans never really cottoned to compassionate conservatism. It has a whiff of big government heresy about it (though plenty of non-compassionate "conservatives" haven’t objected to big government when the recipients of public largesse have either inhabited corporate suites or lived in their districts). Second, the administrative missteps of the Bush Administration (how’s that for a euphemism?) have weakened the "compassionate conservative" brand: if you’re going to be good, you had better be good (and efficient and effective) at being good, and that (unfortunately) hasn’t been the hallmark of this White House. Someone who wants to pave the road from Hope with good intentions runs the risk of having others assume that those good intentions are a substitute for competence. Huckabee would have to persuade us that he’s the good good government candidate, better at being good than the man he wants to succeed.

Third, there’s the war, which has overshadowed everything else in Bush’s legacy. It’s hard to resemble Bush in other respects and not also suffer from guilt by association about this. Sam Brownback tried to distance himself, not very successfully, from the Bush Administration, and I take it that Huckabee’s efforts aren’t going well either.

Lastly, there’s immigration, where Bush tried to unite the business wing of the GOP with compassionate conservatives. Huckabee certainly used to be pretty much in that camp, but the current politics of the nomination battle (see the poll I noted here) make his old position essentially untenable. However socially conservative Catholics come down on immigration, their evangelical counterparts are likely to insist on border enforcement first. Hence the change of heart that led to Michael Gerson’s criticism.

I have to confess

That I like the Obama Christmas ad better than the others, though Rudy’s ironic politicizing of Christmas (surely a response to Huckabee’s) is far superior to HRC’s non-ironic effort along the same lines.

Should it be a requirement that our President be capable of irony? If so, HRC is surely totally unqualified.

More hermeneutic of suspicion

From two predictable sources. MH’s response:

"If I had used the name of Jesus Christ in vain and blurted it out as profanity, nobody would be talking about it. It would have simply been ignored," he told the crowd later in his speech. "But because I invoked His name on His own birthday to say to America, ’Happy Birthday, merry Christmas,’ somehow everybody sees in it something that isn’t even there."

"Have we lost our national soul? Have we become so coarse that even the attempt to bring some civility to the political arena is met with nothing more than scorn, disdain and disbelief?" he said to loud applause.

A few weeks ago, I would have been prepared simply to defend him, but the none-too-subtle attempts to rally the faithful (noted
here) have made me suspicious too. Peter L. is right that the questions that are raised about MH encourage "evangelical victimology," but so do Huckabee’s responses. He should turn the other cheek.

Update: Our friend the Friar notes another instance of MH’s unappealing victimology. I wouldn’t call him simply a representative of the "evangelical Left," however. As our friends at Power Line note, Huckabee is in a sense the logical successor to the incumbent, though George W. Bush had something of the self-deprecation (might I call it irony?) of the redeemed sinner about him (somewhat different from the zeal born of successful weight-loss).

Gender gaps

According to this poll of likely Republican caucus-goers, Mike Huckabee enjoys the support of evangelical women: there’s an 18 point gap between MH and MR among women (apparently even larger when you factor in religion). Men divide their support evenly between the two.

Hillary Clinton has trouble with (Democratic and independent) men, who apparently deny that it’s because she’s a woman.

(Comic) relief is on the way

Cynthia McKinney, newly resident on the Left Coast, is seeking the Green Party nomination for the Presidency.

The Republican nominee....

Time will tell...quickly, says our own Andy Busch. He’s dubious of Giuliani’s strategy of essentially conceding the early states, thinks that Huckabee’s foreign policy statement reorients the conversation in a way that doesn’t help his prospects, and expects the winner of the early contests to be.... Well, he’s a bit coy about that.

But, as always, his first draft of history is worth pondering, especially since the final draft will be a book that we’ll all assign in our courses on campaigns and elections.

Don’t stop thinking about yesterday

Matt Bai tenderly explores the role of Bill Clinton and his presidency in the Democratic nominating battle. Clinton isn’t quite to Democrats what Ronald Reagan is to Republicans, which poses an immense problem for his wife. She suffers from the part of his legacy Democratic activists don’t like (however advantageous embracing it might be in a general election). And she can’t evoke his "positives" without also calling upon us to compare (unfavorably) her political "strengths" to his.

While Democrats and Republicans surely disagree about the ways in which 2008 differs from 1992, there’s no doubt but that a campaign that depends too much on reminding us of what was has a problem.

New felllowship for teachers

Something called the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is rolling out an amibition state-by-state, and national, plan to get better teachers and then to "transform" teacher education. This may merit a closer look.

Romney on TIME’S Choice of Putin as "Person of the Year"

Romney’s instincts here are dead on. And what I like about it is that he seems to show a little righteous indignation that is almost endearing. He’s also quite right to argue that Petraeus ought to have been selected--though TIME is so thoroughly discredited in its judgment that no decent human being should really want its accolades. But what I don’t like about it is that instead of pursuing the theme of righteous disgust, he moved in the end toward a more or less obscure (I mean obscure from the point of view of Joe Public) list of Putin’s abuses. He ticked them off like a Rhodes scholar on an interview . . . making sure to cite as many as possible to impress his interlocutors with his knowledge of the facts.

I don’t want to be a nitpicker . . . I really don’t. And at this point, I am not sure I want to beat up on Mitt. I’m certainly with him over Huck. But this incident gets to the heart of my discomfort with Romney. This answer of his put me in mind of that silly habit presidential candidates have fallen into since Bush got "caught" not knowing the name of some foreign leader in 2000 . . . now they all try to drop the names of every possible foreign leader they can and in any context that can at all allow it. The trouble is that, as a voter, I’m not voting for the guy who can win a game of foreign policy trivial pursuit. Unless you are a complete buffoon, I am going to have to assume that you’ll have a decent command of the facts. And truth be told, I don’t really want to fill my own head with all of those facts. So stop it already with the listing! If you want to cite some facts, do it in a way that demonstrates your understanding of what is at stake. I want to know more about your judgment and less about your ability to memorize and recite a list of talking points. I repeat . . . all the candidates do this. But with Romney it’s always so darn obvious.

That said, make sure you check out the link and take a good, hard look at Putin’s picture there. Does he look like he’s a man worried about memorizing lists to look good?

You would not be shocked to learn

That Rod Dreher hearts Huckabee. There is, after all, a certain crunchiness about the man. And perhaps, with Dreher’s advice, he can promote ways of life that help us achieve energy independence within ten years.

I must say, though, that Huckabee’s approach to energy independence is long on new federal programs and relatively short on crunchiness. There are a few nods in the direction of conservation, but little else.

Perhaps the crunchiness only has to do with tobacco.

A Supposedly Dumb Thing They’re Determined to Do Again and Again

The Journals of the late Arthur Schlesinger have received a good deal of attention, but most of it has concerned Schlesinger’s writing style, personality, or the broad topic of keeping and publishing diaries. The strangely neglected question of Schlesinger’s politics is finally addressed by the New Yorker’s George Packer, writing as one liberal assessing another. “In [Schlesinger’s] long record of speeches, conferences, lunches at the Century, and dinners at Mortimer’s,” observes Packer, “there’s an unmistakable sense that liberal politics belonged to a small group of the rich and famous who all knew one another and knew what was best for the rest of the country, while knowing less and less about the rest of the country. . . . It’s possible, even if you agree with almost every position Schlesinger held, to find the smugness and complacency not just annoying but fatal. His crowd made liberalism a fat target for the New Right; Reagan and his heirs seized the language and claims of populism from liberals who believed that they had had permanent possession [of it] ever since Roosevelt.”

One subtext of the 2008 election is liberals’ effort to convey that they now “get it” – they understand the damage this elitism inflicted on their cause in a way Schlesinger never did. Packer’s critique of Schlesinger is one instance. Eric Alterman’s assertion that, “One of the great mistakes liberals made in the 1970s was to try to win in the courts what they could not win at the ballot box – thereby allowing their democratic muscles and instincts [to] atrophy and helping to inspire a right-wing backlash against which they were defenseless,” is another.

These mea culpas, however, always turn out to be sorta culpas. No sooner does Alterman identify judicial activism as one of liberalism’s great mistakes than his litany of the “catastrophes” that have befallen America during the Bush years includes “the attack on . . . choice.” The goal of this insidious attack is to re-democratize abortion policy, 35 years after the Supreme Court reduced the number of Americas who could affect it to nine. Roe v. Wade is the biggest land-grab of all the liberal efforts to secure a political victory in the courts that they couldn’t win anywhere else. Conservatives try to reverse this great mistake, and give liberals a chance to rebuild their democratic muscles, and Alterman sputters with rage.

The problem is that liberalism incorporated the agenda and the up-against-the-wall style of the various radicalisms of the 1960s in ways that now make disentangling the New Deal and New Left genomes impossible. According to James Piereson, the ideology that emerged from the 1960s was “punitive liberalism,” which “parted company from earlier liberal reformers such as FDR, Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, who viewed reform as a means of bringing the promise of American life within reach of more of our people.” Punitive liberals wanted America to atone for its sins rather than solve its problems. Their goal was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” as one of the era’s slogan’s had it. The comfortable, made numerous by the postwar boom, deserved to be afflicted because America needed to be redeemed. Arthur Schlesinger, for example, said that we all killed Robert Kennedy: Americans have become “the most frightening people on this planet . . . because the atrocities we commit trouble so little our official self-righteousness, our invincible conviction of our moral infallibility.” This heat-of-the-moment judgment, made in the hours after RFK was shot, was one Schlesinger repeated in a subsequent magazine article and book.

The current liberal attitude about the sort of bourgeois-baiting rhetoric and policies they favored 35 years ago is: don’t worry, that’s all behind us now . . . although it was completely defensible and really quite noble. Salon’s Joan Walsh writes, “Pushed by the civil rights, antiwar and women’s movement, the Democrats [in the 1960s] became the party of inclusion, of racial equality. The Democrats became the party that questioned unchecked U.S. military adventurism and untrammeled corporate power. In my opinion these were all good ideas, but the anxiety they engendered helped lead to 20 years of Republicans in the White House, interrupted briefly by Jimmy Carter after Nixon went too far. Reagan ousted Carter by continuing to hammer away at Democrats as the party of minorities and the poor. Sure, he talked about ‘Morning in America’ and that ‘shining city on a hill,’ but he mostly played on fears that liberalism had run amok.”

Walsh can’t or won’t ask whether there was something about liberalism that engendered the anxiety that Republicans could exploit. Favoring inclusion and opposing military adventures and corporate power doesn’t sound like a recipe for defeat. Canvassing for votes from people you’ve castigated as the most frightening on the face of the planet does.

’Tis the Season of Political Ads

...thanks mainly to the ridiculously early caucus and primaries. If you go to the CAMPAIGN STANDARD page, you can see and read about Giuliani’s and Romney’s most recent. Rudy flip-flops on the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas issue but is consistently pro-Santa. Mitt’s unfocused commercial seems to claim that the one difference between himself and Huck is that the latter is soft on crime.

Happy Huckadays?

Some might say you might be a redneck if you have a Christmas card that looks like this. But I hasten to add: This might cause us to admire even more Huck’s extreme makeover in recent years. Not only that: There’s nothing redneck about the message of Christmas gratitude.

Bali Hoohah

Regarding Bali, first you may wish to check out National Review’s in-house editorial, which, um . . . shall we say, I had some input into (hint, hint).

Then, check out Tom Friedman’s column today, which, when stripped of his typical unctuous snark, arrives at many of the same places.

There is especially this graph from Friedman about what is evident to people who pay close attention to what is really going on (which is almost no one, including Friedman):

And then something unexpected happened. For 90 minutes, Andy Karsner, who runs the Department of Energy’s renewable energy programs, James Connaughton, who heads White House climate policy, and their colleagues put on a PowerPoint performance that was riveting in its understanding of the climate problem and the technologies needed to solve it. Their mastery of the subject was so impressive that it left the room full of global activists emotionally confused. . .

Well, leaving "global activists emotionally confused" isn’t really that hard, because they show up that way in the first place.

Clear as mud

This article summarizes the results of this poll of potential Iowa Democratic caucus attendees. Each of the big three candidates has distinct advantages and disadvantages. What stands out is that HRC’s supporters seem less likely to stray from the fold than do Obama’s.

Wise Advice from Ross

Check out Joe’s link below. Here are the nuggets of wisdom I would highlight. I have twisted them, of course, to my own purposes.

To Huck: Now’s the time to expand your appeal. Play the conservative populist card. Combine steadfast social conservatism with alternatives to mere trickle-down economics. Address the insecurities of the middle-class with relatively market-based remedies in areas such as health-care. Moderately compassionate class-based appeals, studies show, work even among Republicans right now. Campaign against the New York conservative elitist establishment, as your brainy advisor Joe Carter is doing on his Evangelical Outpost. Stifle the puritanical and prohibitionist impulses of thin and fit Huck and remember what’s attractive about the inner hefty Huck.

To Romney: You’re actually doing pretty well, all things considered. The real problem is not that you’re a Mormon. Nobody really likes you that much. That’s pretty unfair, I think, but you need to work on being personable and displaying dignified character. Responsible Republicans are bound to continue to flock to you as the "ecumenical" socially conservative alternative to Huck. The odds are you’ll lose in Iowa, but the immensity of the Huck surge makes that no longer anything near fatal for you. Lay off Huck; his success has actually helped you, and you can use it to capture the center. It’s actually a big advantage to have the New York conservative mainstream establishment for you; it’s full of smart and influential people.

To McCain: Romney is going to peel off the "responsible Republicans" from Giuliani. But that’s your opportunity to get Rudy’s "national security" Republicans and do well enough in NH to be in the final three with Huck and Romney. Voters weary of the Mormon-Evangelical in-fighting might turn to you as an authentic man of character at least acceptable to social conservatives. Don’t say anything self-righteous that unnecessarily alienates religious conservatives for at least the next month. And look as young as you can.

Schall on Benedict on faith and reason

Our friend Ken Masugi offers the latest installment of his remarkable conversations with Fr. James V. Schall.    

Andrew Sullivan endorses

Ron Paul. That ought to put him over the top, as Sullivan has such a following in the Republican base.

But seriously: libertarianism "works" if there is virtuous self-restraint, not exactly something that Sullivan champions.

Advice for candidates not named Giuliani

Ross Douthat consults for free.

Missile defence

Japan "has for the first time shot down a ballistic missile, testing a defence system aimed at warding off potential missile threats from its neighbours.

A Japanese warship stationed off Hawaii launched a US-developed Standard-3 interceptor missile to destroy a mock target fired from onshore....Japan and the US have worked closely on missile defence since North Korea flew a missile over northern Japan in 1998.

The US has carried out such tests in the past but this is the first time a test has been carried out by one of of its allies."

Is China Going Neoconservative?

This will give the paranoid left a new thing to obsess over: I just caught up with the New York Times Magazine story from Sunday describing the reading habits of Chinese philosophy students, where this nugget jumped off the page:

"Translated works were widely accessible in China when Lei Bo was an undergraduate. Habermas, Heidegger, Arendt, Popper, Foucault, and Derrida were all popular then, and now Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss have been added to the list." (Emphasis added. As if any were necessary. Heh.)

Huck’s a Divider, Not a Uniter

So accuses KLo on the NRO page, and I guess that’s true enough. But might it also be the case that the dividing is also caused by the extreme overreaction to his surging by the mainstream conservative media. The chance of Huck getting the nomination is still very small, and the intensity of the attack his candidacy will surely damage the party in November.

At this point, I agree with the experts, the price of a Giuliani nomination (which is still quite possible) will be a fractured party, and so I think the turn to Romney has lot of reason behind it. (That’s not to say I’m endorsing anyone.) Let’s not also have the price of a Romney nomination be a fractured party.

It’s also true that Mormon-evangelical animosity is surfacing in various places, and that can’t be good for November or even for truthfully recalling how much the two very serious and admirable groups of believers share in common morally and politically. Although I’m not at all defending Huck’s remark in the NYTM article about Mormon theolgy (Mormons rightly see it as a coded cheap shot in their direction), it’s ridiculous to attribute the success of his candidacy to some kind of anti-Mormon bigotry. His positions on the issues really are significantly different from Mitt’s, and his character and campaign have been, in ways we need to remember, intrinsically attractive. (I know a good number of liberals who say that Huck is the only Republican they can stand. And to some Catholics he’s attractive as something like a European Christian Democrat.)

Extreme and often unfair attacks of Huck’s campaign, combined with unflagging efforts to parce every word he’s said his whole life for redneck intolerance, will have the main effect of bolstering evangelical victimology--the belief that real believers are constantly under attack in all directions (even conservative ones) by the politically correct thought police. For the most part, Huckabee’s campaign, in truth, has been upbeat and inclusive and even admirable in its genuine (if sometimes misguided in terms of policy) concern for less fortunate Americans.

Finally, I do think Huck is too evangelical (which is different from too progressivist) to be elected, just as I think that Rudy is too indifferent to the genuine concerns of the evangelicals to be elected. McCain might still be looking better all the time.

Voice as Projector of the Soul?

If the eyes may be said to be the window to the soul, might the voice be said to be its projector? This fascinating book by Anne Karpf seems to make that case. I’ve been listening to an interview with her on Dennis Prager’s show and much of what she says--taken from observation and studies--sounds eminently reasonable and insightful. Voice can project such obvious things as age and sex, etc. But she also makes the case that a trained ear can discern such qualities as height, weight, confidence, etc. It sounds like a truly compelling read and one that would certainly be at the top of my reading list if I were running or advising one who is running for President.

A Christmas truce?

The Byron York article I noted in a previous post raises an issue about politicking during the Christmas season. It’s unseemly. I hate it. Everyone should hate it, even if only out of respect for those who think there are more important things than politics.

The lion’s share of the blame for injecting politics into the Christmas season ought to go to the state legislatures that front-loaded the nominating process. If citizens are serious about not wanting to have their holidays spoiled or politicized, then they ought to send a message to their legislators about the timing of these primaries and caucuses.

Of course, a candidate can’t call for a political hiatus without seeming to seek a political advantage, but we pundits can, especially if it’s done by all sorts of people with all sorts of perspectives and allegiances.

So, fellow pundits: are you willing to demand a political truce around the Christmas holidays? No politicking, no campaign coverage for a few days at least? And a willingness to criticize anyone who violates the truce? Just chestnuts roasting on an open fire, nine lessons and carols, Midnight Mass, and Christmas Day afternoon at the movies for those who aren’t anticipating a turkey-induced afternoon nap.

Shameless Pilfering of Laura Ingraham’s Brain

She regularly asks callers to choose from a host of pull-quotes ranging from the noble to the ridiculous and dubs one "the sound-bite of the week." Today she’s asking callers to identify the "sound-bite of the year." My pick from her list is the John Kerry protester famous for his screaming, writhing and plaintive cry of, "Don’t taze me, ’bro!" I never tire of hearing it and I laugh every time.

I propose that we accept and evaluate nominations from our readers and contributors. Please submit your entries below. This is no democracy, however. I will arbitrarily choose a winner before the end of the year and send you a mug.

Mayberry Machiavelli?

That’s the tempting suggestion made here and here. Lest some think that this is just the Washington Establishment putting Huckabee in his place, I happen to know that the Friar lives in a flyover state.

For an appraisal that goes in a different direction (i.e., that MH is perhaps insufficiently Machiavellian when it really matters) see this double flyover (a native of Arkansas living in South Dakota) post.

I say that the unflattering characterization of MH is tempting because I think that it’s difficult for someone whose faith is so central to who he is to avoid the suspicion that his expressions of it are "strategic." Yes, he has been a "Christian leader," but to tell us that in an ad broadcast in a state where he’s running against an opponent most evangelicals don’t regard as "Christian" smacks of calculation, as does the "innocent" question posed to his NYT Mag profiler about Mormon beliefs.

This isn’t to say that a genuine Christian believer can’t engage in politics without arousing suspicions about the way he uses his belief, but it ought to be possible to wear the mantle of faith more lightly than Huckabee has. His jocularity is attractive, but less so in the context of the other moves. And the "Christian leader" ad has, I think, encouraged a hermeneutic of suspicion with regard to everything he says.

And lest some think that I’m singling out Huckabee for this scrutiny, I’ll go on the record here as saying that the Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, are even more calculating in their courtship of religious voters.

Update: Here’s Byron York on the Christmas ad, which makes evident the political calculation that went into it. But York also makes clear that not all political calculation is simply Machiavellian, as Huckabee appreciates:

I saw Huckabee a week or so later in Iowa, and I asked him whether the [Values Voters] speech was too hot to give before a general audience. He seemed a little surprised by the question. “The ultimate purpose of any speech,” he told me, “is to hit the target, and the target is your audience. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh that was a brilliant speech, I didn’t understand it, it was way over my head, but it was a brilliant speech.’ Well, it wasn’t a brilliant speech. If a shooter consistently hits over the head of the target, it doesn’t prove that he’s a good shooter. It proves he can’t shoot. So the whole point is you aim for the target. The target in that room was people for whom faith was the motivating factor to be involved in public policy.”

The question is not whether speech is intended to move people (and is strategic in that sense), but in what direction it’s intended to move them.

Feminism Meets Greenery: You Can’t Make This Up

With the Hollywood writers still on strike, we have to look to the newspapers and the government for good comedy. The chief science adviser for the British government, Sir David King, is happy to oblige, telling citizens yesterday that "women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming." Will James Bond movies be banned next?

As Will Rogers said, "There’s no trouble writing humor when you have the whole government working for you."

Hillary negatives

Are much more substantial than anyone else’s, according to this poll, which also offers these interesting Ohio results.

Query to NLT readers

Mike Huckabee’s undiplomatic remarks about the Bush Administration’s diplomacy raise a question. How are all the Republican candidates dealing with the legacy--domestic and foreign--of the Bush Administration? Is anyone embracing anything? Where there are attempts to establish some distance, how is that being handled?

Comments are most welcome. Examples with links are especially appreciated.

An Andrew Jackson duel

A couple of days ago, the buzz and hope in Nashville was that the remains of Charles Henry Dickinson ("base paltroon and cowardly talebearer," as Jackson called him) would be found in someone’s front yard. Dickinson was killed by Andrew Jackson in 1806. Although Jackson was in a dozen duels, Dickinson was the only person he killed. Dickinson fired first, Jackson took a ball about an inch from his heart. Jackson tried to get off a shot, but his gun misfired. He recocked and shot Dickinson in the stomach who then bled to death in agony. The bullet in Jackson remained in his chest for the rest of his life. Some people held this duel against him, but he was elected president. New York Times now reports that Dickinson’s remains were not found at the site.

Spirituality and politics in college

This Inside Higher Ed story describes the results of a survey (the report will eventually be available on this page) investigating college student "spirituality" (emphatically not the same as religiosity) from the freshman to the junior year. Although apparently not the result of what goes on in the classroom, student "spirituality" increases over the course of their collegiate careers. Unsurprisingly, they seem less involved in organized religion (although I wonder if students think of small group bible study as attending a "religious service").

The way spirituality is defined--"the researchers define religion ’primarily as belonging in a community of faith and following the dogma and the principles of a particular faith,’ while they define spirituality more broadly ’as a search for meaning and purpose in one’s life’ and the posing of existential questions--seems also to include some of the goals of cosmopolitan liberalism. Consider, for example, these findings:

*In 2004, 54.6% of freshman "endorse[d] the life goal of ’reducing pain and suffering in the world,’" while in 2007 66.6% of juniors did so.

*In 2004, 27.3% of freshmen "endorse[d] the life goal of ’helping to promote racial understanding,’" while in 2007 37.5% of juniors did so.

*In 2004, 42% of freshman "want[ed] to improve their understanding of other countries and cultures," in 2007 55.4% of juniors said so.

*In 2004, 83.3% of freshman "believe[d] that ’non-religious people can lead lives that are just as moral’ as religious believers,’" in 2007 90.5% of juniors believed this.

It strikes me that most of these "spiritual" beliefs line up rather nicely with the typical agendas of campus student affairs offices, and are also not the kinds of things that most professors are going to discourage. To be sure, the percentage of students actually engaging in community service declines from freshman to junior years, but I suspect that that’s connected with a change in the locus of service from family, high school, and church to service-learning class, student affairs office, and Greek organization.

To state it another way, the college experience seems to encourage the development of "right-thinking" sentiments (which includes, by the way, a modest move to the political left on a number of fronts) without necessarily encouraging involvement in the principal institutions in "civil society" that regularly encourage and provide the opportunity for action in the service of others. Believing that others need help comes to the fore, while actually helping them recedes into the background. That strikes me as laying the foundation for statism--creating bureaucracies to help others--rather than for a vital and vibrant civil society where people actually love their neighbors.

I realize that these are risky generalizations based upon a single news story, and before I go any further, I need to see the study itself. I would be interested, for example, to see whether there are significant differences between student responses at different sorts of institutions (e.g., public, as opposed to church-related; liberal arts college, as opposed to research university). I would also be interested in seeing whether the male/female ratio of the 2007 respondents is the same as that in 2004, in part because I suspect that men are more likely than women to drop out of college. Indeed, I’d love to know how much of the change in sentiments from 2004 to 2007 could be explained by a change in the population (drop-outs and transfers) and how much by the actual effect of the collegiate experience.

On words in politics

I guess Hillary’s campaign is in trouble. Words are flying. Are they slime?

Kate Phillips of the NY Times recounts (former Dem Senator) Bob Kerrey’s well-chosen (he repeats himself) words on Barack Obama, as he announces he is supporting Hillary. The question is simple: Is this an orchestrated attempt to smear Obama? Is it related to Bill Clinton calling Obama a "symbol" rather than an "agent" (Hillary) of change? Is Obama a roll of the dice, as Bill Clinton called him on the Charlie Rose show? This is David Brooks’ response to that question. And this is Jonah Goldberg’s thought on both Clintons, their words and passions.

JPod on Huck and Miscellaneous Thoughts on ’08

John Podhoretz admits he was "foolish" to dismiss Huckabee’s chances at the nomination a few weeks ago. And he wonders whether Huck’s rise may indicate that McCain--who also may have had a premature dismissal--might be able to stage a comeback against Huck in January. In the end, however, JPod seems to share my concern that a ticket led by Huckabee would spell electoral disaster for the GOP in November.

On another note, Michael Medved today was speculating on whether Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain signals a kind of growing disgust with the hyper-partisanship of the last few years (decades?). Are Americans really sick of the so-called extremes in both parties?

While I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon that’s always ready to heap disdain on the two party system, I think there is something to this. I think it is true that this election cycle has produced more of what we might call "niche" candidates. I add this disclaimer--that these are very "off the cuff" reflections--but I might also say that the candidates seem to reflect the growing trend in media toward "niche" reporting. There is a blog and a candidate for everyone . . . but there doesn’t seem to be one that unites enough of any of us. And I might also say that this accounts for the vacuousness of the Obama effort. His instincts are correct in trying to appeal to this vague notion of a need for "unity." But the problem is that he can’t really move away from oblique references to universally admired objectives such as hope and unity. That’s why an Oprah endorsement has been such a boon to him . . . she can and does appeal to the same kind of vague notions and has had great success in this for many years. It will be interesting to see his appeal continues to grow in this vague way or if the harsh realities of politics will force him to embrace some absolutes. As soon as he begins to designate specifics, I think things will fall apart and Hillary will be safe. But a Republican who can continue the theme of portraying her as a divider and successfully color himself as a uniter may have a decided advantage.

The Bill of Rights

I should have gotten to this earlier (but I have been reading exams and term papers, never mind our first December grad ceremonies yesterday, in the middle of the blizzard, no less!) because the 15th was National Bill of Rights Day (as proclaimed by FDR). Joseph Postell has written a fine piece on the Bill of Rights in which he discusses the founders’ objections to a bill of rights, and suggests that the primary reason they thought fit to give us the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to, in Madison’s words, "incorporate into the national sentiment" an understanding of our rights and liberties and a desire to preserve them. Do read it.

You might also want to visit our site on Ratification of the Constitution, and I bring to your special attention this Ratification Overview Table, to see
the various amendments and bills of rights that were proposed, starting with
the Massachusetts ratification. The site is the work of Gordon Lloyd and Roger Beckett.

No Free Speech North of the Border

My father-in-law has lived in Southern California for more than 50 years but he has never visited Mexico--not even TJ--because he insists that once you cross the border "you have no rights . . ." He exaggerates, of course. But, having heard sufficient numbers of real or concocted horror stories concerning wayward and unsuspecting Americans rotting away Mexican jails, one can at least understand his sentiment. But a healthy fear of Mexican Federales was never joined by a similar fear of Canadian Mounties and, unless you count the fear of being stricken by some horrible illness while traveling in Canada and consequently having to utilize their socialized medical establishment, I should think there is no good reason to eschew travel in Canada. My father-in-law reports that it is, indeed, quite beautiful. That being said, those of a more outspoken temperament may now want to reconsider . . .

If you don’t know what I mean, just ask Mark Steyn who is now facing a tribunal in Canada because some Muslim students were offended by the reprinting in Maclean’s of some passages from his book America Alone. David Warren writes a thoughtful piece on the implications of these tribunals here. And here is an amusing attempt by a Canadian liberal to come to grips with the monster their side of the debate has created in Canada. Without wanting to support "free speech" exactly . . . he has to defend Mark Steyn . . . well, just a tad.

UPDATE: More links from the man himself.

UPDATE #2: More from Steyn and see especially his pull from one of the articles found to be too inflammatory in Canada.

Huckabee’s foreign policy thoughts

Here’s the Huckabee Foreign Affairs article, which sounds many of the same themes as his foreign policy speech, about which I blogged here.

Such changes as I can discern on the basis of a quick side-by-side reading of the two are mostly condensations and updatings.

Huckabee did add the adjective "arrogant" to the phrase "bunker mentality," which has evoked a response from Mitt Romney. But just as that is a caricature of the Bush Administration, so are these responses (predictably) a caricature of Huckabee’s essay.

Once again, I don’t think Democrats would say this:

[M]y administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.


The Bush administration plans to increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps by about 92,000 troops over the next five years. We can and must do this in two to three years. I recognize the challenges of increasing our enlistments without lowering standards and of expanding training facilities and personnel, and that is one of the reasons why we must increase our military budget. Right now, we spend about 3.9 percent of our GDP on defense, compared with about six percent in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan. We need to return to that six percent level.


As president, I will not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq any faster than General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, recommends. I will bring our troops home based on the conditions on the ground, not the calendar on the wall. It is still too soon to reduce the U.S. counterterrorism mission and pass the torch of security to the Iraqis. If we do not preserve and expand population security, by maintaining the significant number of forces required, we risk losing all our hard-won gains. These are significant but tenuous.


Withdrawing from Iraq before the country is stable and secure would have serious strategic consequences for us and horrific humanitarian consequences for the Iraqis. Iraq’s neighbors on all sides would be drawn into the war and face refugee crises as a result of fleeing Iraqis. Iraq is the crossroads where Arabs meet Persians and Kurds, and Sunnis meet Shiites. When we deposed Saddam Hussein, we emphasized the potentially dramatic upside of Iraq’s centrality in the region: the country could be a prime place to establish democracy and have it spread from. Today, we face the dramatic downside: Iraq’s centrality makes the country the perfect place for terrorists to create anarchy and have it spread. Those who say that we do not owe the Iraqis anything more are ignoring what we owe our own children and grandchildren in terms of security.


The Bush administration has properly said that it will not take the military option for dealing with Iran off the table. Neither will I.


In order to contain Iran, it is essential to win in Iraq. When we overthrew Saddam, whose regime was a bulwark against Iran, we upset the regional balance of power. Now, we must stabilize and strengthen Iraq not just for its own security but for the security of its neighbors, the region, and ourselves. We cannot allow Iran to push its theocracy into Iraq and then expand it further west.


I welcome the Bush administration’s new sanctions against Iran and its decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its al Quds force as a supporter of terrorism. (The Democrats who claim that such measures are a step toward war are deluded: these moves are an attempt to use economic power instead of, not as a prelude to, using military power.)


"The process will not be quick," Ambassador Crocker told Congress of the progress in Iraq last fall. "It will be uneven, punctuated by setbacks as well as achievements, and it will require substantial U.S. resolve and commitment." Does this sound familiar? To me, the statement could also have applied to the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, or World War II. We paid a heavy price in each of those conflicts, but we prevailed. And we will prevail now. Our history, from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11, has been one of perseverance. I understand the threats we face today. When I am president, America will look this evil in the eye, confront it, defeat it, and emerge stronger than ever. It is easy to be a peace lover; the challenging part is being a peacemaker.

There are surely things to dislike in this approach (as I noted in my previous post), and I too object to the gratuitous slam at the Bush Administration (and appreciate Romney’s defense, even though it was motivated by something other than an effort to identify himself closely with the legacy of the man he hopes to succeed). But no Democrat, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, could have written this article. Of course, Lieberman wouldn’t have omitted in the article this passage from the speech:

Both al Qaeda and Iran seek not just to dominate Israel, but to destroy her and to control the Palestinians. The Huckabee administration would not waver nor flinch in standing by our ally, Israel.

Update: Peter Wehner notes and defends the aspects of the Bush Administration’s record that Huckabee gets wrong. Above all, he’s right that "ungenerous" is not an adjective that should be applied to this Administration. A balanced and extended appraisal of its foreign policy would take note of its AIDS initiative (partly the fruit of evangelical influence) and its efforts in tsunami and earthquake relief, to name just a couple of examples. And Wehner is right to stress the Bush Administration’s efforts at, and successes in, diplomatically waging the war on terror. Huckabee is too quick to draw contrast by caricature. He clearly needs a seasoned foreign policy hand or two on his team. Any volunteers, or is everyone just going to hope that he implodes sooner or later?

Update #2: Stephen F. Hayes goes over some of the same ground, with the same conclusion.

Huckabee the homeschool candidate

This WaPo article adds to our store of knowledge about homeschoolers’ affinity for Huckabee. Here’s the HSLDA endorsement, which came back in June (shows you how much attention I pay to an organization to which we belong).

Update: The NYT also has an article about the Huckabee homeschool Borg.

Lieberman Endorses McCain

Itr would be easy but unlazy to link numerous news outlets announcing this "crossing of the aisle" right now. Although I like Lieberman and McCain, I almost fail to see how this helps either of them. It’s not real news that Joe would prefer John to any of the Democratic candidates. Still, it undermines his already ulta-weak credentials as a member of his party to say that out loud, and this endorsement keeps him from being able, as a somewhat loyal Democrat, to prefer Hillary to Obama later (should she end up needing all the support she can get). And what Republicans not already planning to vote for McCain would be swayed by anything Lieberman says? Well, conceivably John/Joe alliance might be the basis for a surge in New Hampshire, where the many independents can vote in either primary. But I really do think that possibility depends on Obama not surging all over Hillary in Iowa and creating an exciting and very divisive Democratic battle to the death that would attract every able-bodied independent. I’m also skeptical that Joe can really add to John’s popularity with any group of voters at this point. Joe is now, more than ever, a man without a party--not that there’s anything wrong with that

Anh Duong

I had mentioned her before, and now George Will writes a fine column on Anh Duong, the immigrant lady who helped develop the thermobaric bomb.

When the Partnership for Public Service honored her with a Service to America medal, the woman born in Vietnam had this to say about the debt she owed to her new country:

"This land is a paradise not because of its beauty or richness but because of its people, the compassionate, generous Americans who took my family and me in, 32 years ago, and healed our souls, who restore my faith in humanity, and who inspire me to public service. There’s a special group of people that I’m especially indebted to and I would like to dedicate this medal to them. They are the 58,000 Americans whose names are on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial and the 260,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died in that war in order for people like me to earn a second chance to freedom. May God bless all of those who are willing to die for freedom—especially those who are willing to die for the freedom of others. Thank you."

Romney’s Strategery

Without going over all the information and opinons on Mitt available today, let me say, once again, that he shouldn’t be in the business of driving Huck’s numbers down through attacking him in various ways. Isn’t it clearer every day that Romney’s strength is as the moderate alternative to Huckabee, and his primary appeal should be made to Giuliani voters? The same advice goes, probably, for Thompson and McCain. The lesson, again: Both Huckabee and Giuliani are both too extreme to have much chance of winning in November.

Godly Republic

Noah Feldman offers a measured but ultimately unfavorable review of John DiIulio’s Godly Republic.

Feldman picks at DiIulio’s characterization of the Founders, arguing that DiIulio, in effect, reads them through rose-colored glasses on religious matters. He’s right, though the line he draws is itself a little misleading. Madison did indeed oppose non-preferential aid to religious denominations in Virginia, but I’m not sure that we can conclude from that that he would have opposed non-preferential government contracting with faith-based (and secular) charities. Giving money to churches for "inherently religious" activities is one thing; funding their social service efforts is something else.

My own measured but ultimately unfavorable review of DiIulio’s book will appear in an upcoming CRB.

Preach it, Brother Rich

Frank Rich celebrates the Obama worship preached by Sister Oprah:

This movement has its own religious tone. References to faith abound in Mr. Obama’s writings and speeches, as they do in Oprah’s language on her TV show and at his rallies. Five years ago, Christianity Today, the evangelical journal founded by Billy Graham, approvingly described Oprah as “an icon of church-free spirituality” whose convictions “cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble.”

“Church free” is the key. This country has had its fill of often hypocritical family-values politicians dictating what is and is not acceptable religious and moral practice. Instead of handing down tablets of what constitutes faith in America, Romney-style, the Oprah-Obama movement practices an American form of ecumenicalism. It preaches a bit of heaven on earth in the form of a unified, live-and-let-live democracy that is greater than the sum of its countless disparate denominations. The pitch — or, to those who are not fans, the shtick — may be corny. “The audacity of hope” is corny too. But corn is preferable to holier-than-thou, and not just in Iowa.


For those Americans looking for the most unambiguous way to repudiate politicians who are trying to divide the country by faith, ethnicity, sexuality and race, Mr. Obama is nothing if not the most direct shot. After hearing someone like Mitt Romney preach his narrow, exclusionist idea of “Faith in America,” [!!] some Americans may simply see a vote for Mr. Obama as a vote for faith in America itself.

Obama is thus the embodiment of America, in which we’re supposed to have faith. Rich’s civil religion isn’t "one nation under God" (how narrow and exclusionist!), but one nation above all else (idolatry, in other words).

The illiberalism of the "new"atheism

Damon Linker goes after Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, et al. He’s generally right about their position, but wrong that the only "liberal" alternative to various forms of theocracy is something like unitarianism, deism, or Ethical Culture.

This Seems a Bit Farfetched

I know being counterintuitive is all the rage these days, but this Time magazine article suggesting Bush was behind the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program seems a bit too counterintuitive.

Hippies or Bigots? What Did Unravel the New Deal Coalition in 1968?

Eric Rauchway is angry with Tom Brokaw. Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that Brokaw’s History Channel documentary on “1968” completely misinterprets why that year – halfway between Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1968 and George McGovern’s in 1972 – was a watershed in American political history.

The “secret subtitle” of Brokaw’s show, according to Rauchway, should be, “How Hippies Ruined America.” “My working-class dad, a longtime FDR Democrat who was opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Brokaw narrates, “was enraged by what he had seen on television [at the Democrats’ 1968 Chicago convention], enraged by the behavior of the antiwar demonstrators, the way they had flown the Vietcong flag, and taunted the police. I knew then, the Democratic Party was in real trouble.”

Brokaw is so committed to this simple, one-cause-one-effect explanation for Democrats’ descent that he misses a much bigger, more important explanation, according to Rauchway: “[It] is a moral certainty that race, and not the hippies, broke up the New Deal coalition. And not old, Jim Crow racism like keeping blacks from whites in public and private places alike, segregating buses, and banning interracial marriages – but new racial attitudes, like blaming African Americans for the growth of government and for the increase of lawlessness in America’s streets. On best estimates, a bit over thirty percent of the wealth transferred to poverty-struck Americans in the 1960s went to blacks – a sum that, if poor and middling whites kept it, might have increased their disposable income by under half of one percent. But the numbers didn’t matter – the symbols did, and the nonwhite poor were a startlingly effective target of white resentment.”

From a historian accusing a journalist of over-simplifying, this alternative underwhelms thoroughly. Why should we reject Brokaw’s reductionist explanation for the end of the New Deal coalition in favor of Rauchway’s reductionist explanation? Brokaw’s argument puts the blame on people who returned to and stayed inside the Democratic tent over the past 40 years, while Rauchway’s blames people who left and stayed outside. The exiles from the Democratic party weren’t racists, exactly, says Rauchway, but their resentment did target the nonwhite poor, blaming them for crime and high taxes despite all evidence to the contrary.

We need a more comprehensive explanation. “Middle America’s” disaffection from the Democrats is not an either-or question of hippies or bigotry. Rather, Americans in the middle felt besieged from below and above: by an underclass that made welfare dependency and criminality a way of life, and an overclass that excused or even celebrated it. For example, New Yorkers who had ample reason to fear walking the streets in 1975 received this helpful and sympathetic response from the sociologist Andrew Hacker in a report by the Twentieth Century Fund: “[The] upsurge in crime expresses a new sense of freedom on the part of classes which were once kept sternly in their place. . . . The city should count itself fortunate that so small a part of its population has taken to theft. That so many individuals remain honest while being treated so stingily by society should be a source of both amazement and confidence.” The report did not address the question of whether the city should count itself fortunate that so small a part of its population had taken to rape and murder, or whether being treated less stingily by society would steer the poor, whose new sense of freedom manifested itself in these possibly regrettable ways, in less problematic directions.

According to Jonathan Reider, the author of Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism, intellectuals who assured citizens that they should celebrate not being mugged more often by people who had every reason to do so provided the real reason for the collapse of the New Deal: “the perception by the middle-income classes of a growing chasm between themselves and the regnant version of liberalism.” Reider explains how those voters understood the Democrats’ ideology: “Liberalism meant taking the side of blacks, no matter what; dismissing middle-class plaints as racism; handcuffing the police; transferring resources and sympathy from a vulnerable middle class to minorities; rationalizing rioting and dependency and other moral afflictions as ‘caused’ by the environment or as justifiable response to oppression. Liberalism appeared to them as a force inimical to the working and lower-middle classes, assaulting their communities, their sense of fairness, their livelihood, their children, their physical safety, their values.”

Rauchway’s argument against Brokaw is more about 2008 and beyond than 1968 and since. If the Democratic party declined because of its noble refusal to pander to bigots, then Democrats have nothing to apologize for and much to be proud of. Rauchway’s interpretation of the past, which extrapolates and justifies Hacker’s argument, ascribes all the unhappiness over crime, welfare, riots and busing to bigotry, thereby delegitimating it. At a time when Republicans have few reasons for cheer, this evidence that the other party would rather repeat than learn from its mistakes is a cause for optimism.

More Huckabee

Today’s WaPo has a package of Huckabee articles. Here’s the big one, which is mostly a stroll through his past, less aimed at gotcha journalism than the NYT Mag piece.

Ramesh Ponnuru offers a kinder, gentler version of the case against Huckabee, acknowledging his strengths while arguing that his ascendancy (at the expense, presumably, of Romney) would hand the GOP to Giuliani.

I suppose that it’s possible to respond that a series of Romney attacks on Huckabee could accomplish much the same result. It all depends on what happens in Florida, where Rasmussen has Huckabee in the lead, with Romney second and Giuliani third. (To be sure, the RCP average has Giuliani first, with Huckabee and Romney trailing.) Can Romney drive Huckabee’s numbers down without suffering himself (engaging in the kind of fratricide that handed Kerry Iowa in 2004)? And will Romney lend credence to Huckabite Joe Carter’s charge that "Romney has surrounded himself with dirt-peddling, rumor-whispering, truth-twisting, Machiavelli-wannabes. They are the absolute dirtiest group of campaigners on the GOP side of the race"? MR has, after all, made the following remark:

“I’m not going to rule out any possibilities,” Romney said with a knowing laugh, when asked about his media plans. “We keep our possibilities open at this stage. It is politics, it isn’t tiddlywinks.”

Fair enough. But the more Romney seems like just another politician--just another flip-flopper from Massachusetts who sells himself on his electability--the less distinct he seems from Giuliani, who surely beats him in any measure of "authenticity."

Huckabee’s rise and...?

Our paleo friend Red Phillips sends along this post by Erick Erickson. It may be that attacks on Huckabee by folks housed in D.C. or New York help him more than they hurt him, at least with his biggest supporters.

Rich Lowry may be right that, if Huckabee were running right now against a well-prepared and well-staffed Democratic opponent, said opponent would run circles around him in a policy debate. Thereby confirming the suspicions of many of Huckabee’s supporters, who don’t cotton well to disdain coming from East Coast sophisticates.

In other words, it’s at the moment counterproductive simply to heap scorn on Huckabee or to assume that he can’t be brought up to speed, should he somehow win the nomination. My friends in the Bos-Wash corridor do themselves and their cause no service by burning bridges. All that might accomplish is encouraging a third party socon insurgency or discouraging the kind of turnout needed to win a general election.

More about bias in higher ed

Today I read this response to this op-ed on the ideological skew of elite research universities, which I already noted here.

Wow! It’s as if we weren’t reading the same essay! "Maranto’s piece," we’re told, "is part of a national propaganda endeavor to establish an ultra-rightist orthodoxy over thought in America." This despite the fact that, as Maranto points out, he worked at the Brookings Institution and in the Clinton Administration, which can only look "ultra-rightist" to someone in the academy. This is all part and parcel of an effort to saddle Maranto with the Academic Bill of Rights, which he explicitly denies supporting. Maranto is interested in the quality of debate and research on campus (and its relationship to the larger world of policy). His Atlanta-based critic, who is General Secretary (where have I seen that title before?) of the Georgia chapter of the AAUP, writes as if Maranto were simply channeling David Horowitz.

All in all, I’d call this AJC op-ed a case study in what Maranto says is wrong with higher education, recognizing, of course, that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. But oh what an anecdote!

Obama rising, Hillary falling

This Wall Street Journal article reports this, with some detail:

"Barack Obama’s rising poll numbers among white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are having an unexpected ripple effect: Some black voters are switching their allegiance from Hillary Clinton and lining up behind him too. That could mean a further tightening of the Democratic presidential race, especially in southern states where blacks make up as many as half of Democratic primary voters. The evidence of movement is most clear in South Carolina, site of the first primary where black votes figure to make a significant impact. There, four polls now show Illinois Sen. Obama with a lead among African-American voters for the Jan. 26 vote. As a result, the race in South Carolina has tightened, with some polls calling it a dead heat."

On Hillary’s decline (and panic?) and the mention, for the first time, that she may lose all four of the first contests, see Howard Finemann and this on how Obama is doing in New Hampshire.

Political neuroscience

This WJ article catches us up with what those who would reduce political animals to mere animals are doing. I’ve touched upon this subject before here and here. That the Romney campaign is dabbling in this isn’t a mark in their favor, as far as I’m concerned.

Bed and Breakfast in the Black Hills

Here is an interesting and attractive Bed and Breakfast in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Those of you riding your Hogs to the Sturgis rally in ’08 should take note, by the way. I just discovered that the owners are old friends I haven’t seen in many years, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Van Patten (he teaches at the law school, therefore I presume she does the real work). He is a regular reader of NLT and just won an NLT mug. Nice place John!

If you’re worried about Mike and Mitt

Have a look at Barack and Oprah. David Innes calls attention to this Rich Lowry column and works out some of the theological implications.

Would that Oprah were only playing Samuel to Obama’s David (though perhaps he’s just Saul).

Friday opinion rundown

Charles Krauthammer thinks that the candidates don’t know the difference between free exercise and establishment. I’m not sure that’s the problem. And if it’s O.K. for people to be motivated by religion in their support of public policies, why isn’t it O.K. for candidates to indicate that they too are moved by faith?

Michael Gerson worries that Mike Huckabee is acting too much like an ordinary politician, especially on immigration. While I might hesitate about Huckabee’s choice of bedfellows here, and I might quibble with his plan, I’m also not about to drink Gerson’s kool-aid, which would seem to require that we don’t care for the rule of law or control of our borders.

Eugene Robinson doesn’t like Mike, though his invocation of Jefferson indicates that he hasn’t read a word that the Sage of Monticello has written on the subject on which he cites him.

Paul Greenberg thinks we shouldn’t pay much attention to what the Club for Growth says about Mike Huckabee’s Arkansas record, which he thinks was, on the whole, good for the state. Greenberg, in case you don’t know, writes editorials for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Update: Stuart Rothenberg thinks that Mike Huckabee is filling the space in the Republican field that might have been filled by Fred Thompson, though I’m betting he thinks that Thompson would do better in a general election than would MH. Here’s the conclusion:

[I]f electability truly is an important issue for the GOP, Huckabee could be a disaster. While some have argued that he could hold conservatives on abortion and civil unions and appeal to swing voters and even Democrats on immigration, spending and domestic priorities, it is more likely that he would lose conservatives on taxes, spending and immigration and alienate moderates and Democrats on social issues.

I don’t think fiscal conservatives would sit out a race where the opposition was provided by any of the leading Democrats, and I think Rothenberg doesn’t understand (or take seriously) the "evolution" (if I might use that term) of evangelical political opinion.

Peggy Noonan’s miscellaneous reflections include remarks on the unworthiness of Mike Huckabee’s attempts to play the religion card, and the willingness of some voters to play with him. I too can’t help feeling that there’s something a little smarmy about Huckabee’s behavior. He ought to be able to talk about his experience and his faith without so transparently calling our attention to the contrast with others. But I don’t agree with PN when she says this:

[T]there is a sense in Iowa now that faith has been heightened as a determining factor in how to vote, that such things as executive ability, professional history, temperament, character, political philosophy and professed stands are secondary, tertiary.

O.K., I’m not in Iowa and I’m not in the heads of Iowa voters, but surely all those considerations matter. Or is Noonan simply arguing that on every other level--"executive ability, professional history, temperament, character, political philosophy and professed stands"--Huckabee is so unimpressive that it could only be his faith that explains his meteoric rise? Surely his opinions matter; surely ten years as governor stand for something; surely on matters of temperament and character he seems to be an engaging fellow.

I’m somewhat with Rothenberg on this: social conservatives were looking for a challenger to Mitt Romney (who seemed to be a recent convert to their causes and who didn’t electrify on the stump). Fred Thompson had his chance and didn’t seize it. Huckabee was poised to move up to the first tier and didn’t play Hamlet the way Thompson did. Romney’s inadequacies gave Huckabee his opening. MH has his own problems. Can Romney now make people forget why they hesitated about him?

This isn’t a big deal

But how could a resolution acknowledging the importance of Christmas attract some no votes, while similar resolutions acknowledging Ramadan and Diwali passed unanimously (albeit with a number of Republicans voting "present" in both cases)?

Hat tip: Religion Clause.

I Never Thought I’d See This

The Milton Friedman Choir.

My head is about to explode.

AEI election watch

I saw about 30 minutes of the AEI’s Election Watch panel on CSPAN toay. It included Michael Barone, John Fortier, and Norman Ornstein. The part I saw (the last quarter or so) was dominated by Barone and he was quite good. He was a march of logic and full of facts, and some good insights. Quite interesting. Best analysis I have seen thus far.   

Italian malaise

Perhaps related to Joe’s post below, the NY Times notes the "malessere" in Italy, for what it’s worth.

The Europeans worry

About God-besotted Americans, who are apparently about to restart the wars of religion.

What I’m Doing on Christmas Eve

I am sooooo going to have to do this on Christmas Eve this year. The kids are going to love it! I remember "seeing" Rudolph out my bedroom window every Christmas Eve when I was a kid. It never occurred to me to ask why his nose was flashing and never moved . . .

But Wait! There’s More

Now Richard Samuelson brings to my attention this attack ad on John Adams:

I suspect there are a lot of these floating around out in YouTube land, produced by bored graduate students everywhere. Send the best to me at: [email protected]

For love or money

Our friend Patrick Deneen has a very interesting post responding to this "rebuttal" of this WaPo op-ed. My favorite line from the "rebuttal":

The lure of large salaries is likely to appeal more to conservatives than to liberals.

Now there’s someone who’s not entertaining stereotypes!

Patrick’s argument focuses more on the "progressive" character of the research ideal that has come to define the American university. Where once colleges and universities were "conservators" of a cultural tradition (which might have contained a plurality of views, not to mention the resources for self-criticism), they’re now essentially "progressive," in the sense that the accumulation of a body of knowledge is progressive (at least since the Enlightenment). Everyone’s a scientist of a sort:

The infiltration of the canons of scientific research into the humanities has been the root cause for the decimation of the very idea of the humanities on our campuses. In their efforts to prove their "originality" and progressiveness faculty glommed onto post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-colonialism, and post- everything in order to prove that they were "with it," and indeed, that they were anything but "conservative" - that is, the one thing that made the humanities defensible inasmuch its reason for existence is to be conservators. By demonstrating their hostility to the authors and books they studied or even the very idea of "humanity" (what is now fashionably called "the subject"), the humanities at once made themselves "relevant" and destroyed themselves from within.

And Furthermore. . .

I tend to avoid posting much on NLT about this climate change business--I could post ten items a day if I wanted to and had the time--because I think most NLT readers rightly view the subject as a crashing bore and because it sets off another round of the usual cliches in the comments section that everyone has heard 1000 times now, but Julie’s post immediately below gives me license to post a link to this paper I wrote recently with two of my collaborators here at AEI (where we are known as the Three Musketeers) about the latest UN report on the matter.

Gore and his chorus keep yelping that the entire matter is "settled," and that it is an act of bad faith even to mention "uncertainties" in the science. So it came as a bit of a revelation to find that the term "uncertain" or "uncertainty" appears 1,300 times in the UN’s full 976 page report on climate science. The technical summary of the UN report identifies 52 "key uncertainties," many of which have a bearing on our estimation of the problem, and which would affect the sequence and timing of the whole range of policy responses. None of this is reflected in either the summaries the UN bureaucrats produce, nor in the press accounts.

I play a fun parlor game with reporters who call me. I say, "Of course I know you’ve read the whole report, so I know you’ve noticed the important bit on page. . ." Always leads to some awkward moments.

Envirnomental Issues that Deserve Real Attention

When stories like this come out, it makes me think that a smart presidential candidate would move the discussion away from "global warming" (which, looks ever more complicated and elusive as an issue except for those who wish to manipulate politics) and more toward environmental issues like this (which are fairly straightforward and concrete). Notice the efforts of AU Professor of Chemistry, Jeffrey Weidenhammer mentioned prominently in the last story.

Huckabee, the evangelical (and no one else?) candidate

Jim Geraghty thinks so, and he may be right.

But two points are worth noting. First, Republicans have to be serious about getting some of the themes that Huckabee has articulated if they’re serious about getting some of the support he has attracted. If the G.O.P. is going to remain a big tent, then there has to be room for Huckabites inside. Lisa Schiffren’s snarky condescension (and I’m putting it mildly here) can’t be the only, or even the modal, response. Of course, the converse is also true: evangelicals can’t be part of a winning political coalition if it’s their way or the highway.

And then there’s Randy Brinson, mentioned by Geraghty as someone with an extensive mailing list. Brinson, as I’ve noted before, is not above reaching across the aisle. The management team of Brinson’s Redeem the Vote includes this guy, whose friends range from John Street to Rick Santorum. Its advisory board runs the gamut from Eric Sapp of Common Good Strategies to YAF’s Stephanie Acosta Inks. I first heard about Brinson from the doyenne of the faithful Democrats, Amy Sullivan. And I first wrote about him for TAE Online in March, 2006, in an essay I’ve reposted here.

This is the coming wave of evangelicalism. Democrats can miss it if they continue to insist that being pro-choice on abortion is the "soul" of their party, but so can a Republican Party that thinks Rudy Giuliani is its most electable candidate. Huckabee and Michael Gerson need a seat at the table.

Separated at Birth?

Mike Huckabee and Gomer Pyle?

Yesterday’s Debate

Here’s one assessment with various comments. Romney’s policy expertise and executive experience were displayed to good effect, although he still hasn’t quite figured out to make health care an effective sound bite. Thompson seemed funny. folksy, tough, engaged, and alive. And, as Rob Jeffrey says below, he’s the only candidate to have taken on the Department of Education. MAYBE Mitt and Fred are both beginning to roll, although Fred, in particular, has to really turn up the heat now. Huck, for once, didn’t help himself; he seemed less authentic as he shied away from risk and wit. McCain seemed tired and disabled by the moderator’s strange decision to take Iraq and immigration off the table. John can’t afford not to occupy center stage at this point, and he didn’t seem presidential. Giuliani, the incredible shrinking candidate, shrank some more. Overall, the event was unexciting but not demeaning, and all of the real contenders seems competent enough. Its significance is in terms of what might be coming in the last few weeks of the unpredictable Iowa campaign.

If Emmanuel Kant Ran for President Today. . .

. . . He’d get hit with attack ads like this:

Here’s a question

Posed by an old acquaintance, relayed by MOJ’s Rick Garnett, apropos of the issues raised in this post.

My short answer is that I care for three reasons. First, since I’m not wise, it’s important to me to know what smart, thoughtful people think. Second, that these smart, thoughtful people stand at the fountainhead of the tradition to which I am heir and the regime that formed (or deformed) me helps me understand who I am. They also provide a yardstick or standard against which current circumstances can be measured. The authority of the standard is of course not absolute, but it seems to me that we need good reasons to depart from it. Stated another way, unless we’re conscious or self-conscious about our circumstances, we’re not free in the way Chris Eberle seems to think he is.

Third, and finally, I learned from Plato and Aristotle that "prejudice" or settled opinion plays a powerful role in politics, that politics, in other words, isn’t fully rational. For the most part, if we don’t honor our ancestors, we’re going to honor (and flatter and gratify) ourselves. And that’s a pretty good reason to care what the founders thought.

Update: There are good responses over at MOJ.

Sounds of the season, part 2

My wife forwards them to me, and I post ’em.

The trial of the year, century, millenium, and beyond

Here, with the most able Patrick Deneen as an expert witness. Called by the defense or the prosecution? He doesn’t say.

But since it won’t last more than a day, I can’t imagine Socrates regarding the trial as fair, regardless of the outcome.

Update: Patrick writes to say that Socrates was acquitted, though the vote by the audience was relatively narrow (55-45). His expertise was employed by both sides, as befits a "philosopher."

That does it

John Smoltz and Dale Murphy.

Huckabee’s Waterloo?

Not the one in Iowa, but rather his NYT Mag profile, which is giving him so much grief from so many people. So deservedly, it seems.

Update: But wait, he has the home-school vote.

Update #2: Huckabee has apologized to Romney, making it sound as if he was set up by the NYT reporter. Read about it and follow the links here.

Update #3: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway has more here.

Special Election Not Bad News for GOP

Stuart Rothenberg reports on the special Congressional elections for seats in Ohio and Virginia yesterday and the Republican success both. This does not represent any shift in the status quo (Republicans already controlled both seats) but, the fact that the GOP did not lose the seats (especially the hotly contested seat in Ohio), is taken by many as a sign of good news. Well, at least its a sign that things may not be as bad as many thought after the losses in ’06. The Ohio GOP has had its share of disappointments in recent years and there is no question but that Ohio will be crucial in the coming election. Tuesday’s special election seems to be an indication that the state is still, very much, in play for the Republicans. Needless to say, not bad news is a long way from being good news . . . but I’ll take it.

Congress’s Energy Bill: Lipstick on a Pig

Thanks to Peter for noting my earlier Christian Science Monitor piece in which I addressed the security aspects of the pending energy legislation. Today, I examine some of the economic consequences of the legislation in the Providence Journal.

Despite the attempt to appeal to environmentalists and advocates of "fairy dust" energy sources, aka "renewable energy," this bill, like most energy bills, is laden with pork, albeit "sophisticated" pork. Pork comes from pigs. You can try to dress up a pig by putting lipstick on it, but in the end, it’s still a PIG.

Bill Kristol Sees an Opening for McCain and Thompson

They seem like the most presidential candidates. Somebody might retort that they seem old enough to play ex-presidents on TV. But there’s still something to the observation, especially in McCain’s case, and tomorrow’s debate may be John’s time to shine. It also may be Fred’s last chance to look alive. Bill is certainly right that Romney seems small in his negative ads against Huck, and that Rudy has become the incredible shrinking candidate. He might also might be right that Huck is not an appropriate wartime candidate, although he adds that most voters don’t see us aa at war right now.

Is Romney the Republican Kerry?

Well, that makes sense, if Huck is the Republican Dean. Does that mean, as the NATIONAL REVIEW says, that Mitt is the moderate who can hold the coaliton together? Or that flip-floppers can’t win? To be fair to Romney, it’s just not true that he’s part of the D.C. establishment, and he’s stuck with being plenty controversial. (Thanks to Clint.)

Is Huck the Republican McGovern?

According to Drudge, the Democrats think so. And that’s why they’re holding their fire.

Sounds of the Season

So far as I know, our church choir won’t have the human teleprompters this Sunday evening.

HRC’s religion again

I’ve noted this book before, but can’t resist calling your attention to this interview with its author.

Will he find the time to write a book about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee or... before November, 2008?

Contending originalisms

MOJ’s Rob Vischer calls our attention to this typically one-sided piece by the University of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone, who trots out much of the evidence for the heteodoxy of many of the Founders. But as I suggested here and here, saying that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment doesn’t make them men of the radical Enlightenment, dedicated to a buck naked public square. Far from it, as even the carefully-worded First Amendment (leaving intact state establishments) makes clear. Stone of course overlooks one obvious reference to religion in the Constitution (the way the date is phrased) and doesn’t mention the Northwest Ordinance, which provided public support for schools that were to teach "religion and morality."

But a public square friendly to religion and religious expression isn’t the same as a Christian nation. There are all sorts of grounds for accommodation, cooperation, and support without there being any basis for establishment in the old-fashioned sense (which is the only sense we ought to care about).

More places to find Knippenberg on the web

Long-time readers of NLT might recall that for almost a year, I wrote a weekly column for the now-defunct The American Enterprise Online. There was a time when my TAE Online pieces could still be found on the inactive site, but that time has passed. I’ve started reposting them at Knippenblog. The first two with new life over there are "Thucydides and Us" and "Contending Originalisms: Secular vs. Christian America," which speaks to the discussion prompted by Mitt Romney’s speech.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for November

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

Jon Van Patton

Kevin Kearns

Susan Jordan

Roland Camp

James Croskey

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter December’s drawing.

Is Evangelical Prudence an Oxymoron?

Being to lazy to look for my own posts for now, I’m stuck with observing that I enjoyed Huck’s foreign policy speech posted by Joe. It was as sensible and, in its own way, as tough as those been given by the other candidates. It was "Christian realism" much more than compassionate politcs or unduly optimistic. I also noticed John Kienker’s "quibble" about Jim Ceaser’s NATURE AND HISTORY IN AMERICAN POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT on the Claremont Christmas books page: "Ceaser notes some of the rhetoric in the present-day Repblican party as a sign of hope for a restoration of natural-rights thinking in our politics, but not only has George W. Bush been guided more by evangelical fervor that natural-rights thinking, the gulf between our president’s rhetoric and his actions has regrettably allowed the latter to discredit the former, even within his own party."

Now Kienker endorses the Ceaser narrative of the displacement of nature by history in American political thought. So does that mean that "evangelical fervor" is a version of historicism, in his view? And does that mean that the real objection to Huck is that he is that he’s just another progressivist or historicist? Is Huck just another George W. Bush?

Discuss among yourselves.

Is Evangelical Prudence an Oxymoron?

Silent days

The campaign seems to have displaced the so-called war on Christmas, of which there have only been isolated outbreaks, with cooler heads seeming to prevail.

Theocracy, er, I mean religious freedom, alert

They commemorate Hanukkah at the White House, using a menorah that once belonged to Daniel Pearl’s grandfather. Read the President’s remarks here:

While reporting in Pakistan in 2002, Daniel was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists. His only crime was being a Jewish American -- something Daniel Pearl would never deny. In his final moments, Daniel told his captors about a street in Israel named for his great-grandfather. He looked into their camera and he said, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, and I’m Jewish." These words have become a source of inspiration for Americans of all faiths. They show the courage of a man who refused to bow before terror -- and the strength of a spirit that could not be broken.

Xmas Book List

Peter references the Claremont Review’s Christmas book list below. For some reason, theCRB folks didn’t receive/didn’t use my submissions, so NLT gets to have them:

Jeremy Paxman, The Political Animal

This book, by veteran British journalist Jeremy Paxman, is not out in a U.S. edition and is several years old by now, but is readily available from Amazon.UK in paperback. (I ran across it in a bookshop in London.) It is a splendid look at the character of Britain’s political class and contains great descriptions of life in the House of Commons and on the campaign trail. It’s a great read. (Sample: Paxman quotes Margaret Thatcher’s one-sentence putdown of Michael Heseltine, who attempted to bring down Thatcher with a flamboyant cabinet resignation: Whereas both of us are ambitious, Thatcher said, "whereas with me it is certain political principles that provide a reference point and inner strength, for Michael such things are unnecessary."

Robert Faulkner, The Case for Greatness: Honorable Ambition and Its Critics

For a thoughtful treatment--and defense--of political ambition and therefore a good companion to Paxman, see this new book just out from Yale University Press. Faulkner rescues political ambition from the slights and deprecations of social scientists, cynics, and egalitarians, surveying examples and analysis from antiquity through Lincoln and Churchill. This book deserves a wide audience among serious students of politics and statesmanship.

James Piereson, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism

Piereson offers a remarkably fresh analysis of what should have been obvious for a long time: liberalism suffered a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of JFK’s killing, couldn’t process the significance of the fact that his killer was a hard-core Communist (thus making JFK a martyr of the Cold War), and hasn’t put itself back together again in the four decades since. (My Weekly Standard review of the book can be found here.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods

Goldberg’s book isn’t officially available until January 8 of next year (I got an advance galley), but it’s worth pre-ordering. It is a deeply sober and serious book, and Jonah’s well-known wit and snark from National Review Online is conspicuously absent. His research is staggering and wide-ranging, and he makes a solid case that American Progressivism, and its heir, contemporary liberalism, rests on the same philosophical and historicist assumptions that generated European fascism. The left is already raising hackles about the book before it is even released (its Amazon page has been hacked, and is already the scene of flame wars), so buckle your seat belts, this is going to start some fights. I think Jonah is up to it.

Donald T. Critchlow, The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History

Fresh off his fine biography of Phyllis Schlafly, Critchlow offers this new synoptic history of how the conservative movement triumphed within the Republican party. And he got Harvard University Press to publish it! Worth reading a fresh treatment in this season of conservative discontent.

Huckabee’s foreign policy

In writing this post, I had the occasion to read this NRO editorial, which echoes the views of other people I respect.

But I also read Mike Huckabee’s big foreign policy speech, delivered before anyone was paying much attention. While it’s easy to be annoyed by his folksy style and somewhat inane analogies, and the focus on the minutiae smacks of someone who feels compelled to display his new-found learning, there’s nonetheless evidence that he’s not the Jimmy Carter retread that some fear he is. There is, for example, this evidence of what I’d call (and have called) Kantian realism:

My goal in the Muslim world would be to correctly calibrate a course between maintaining stability and promoting democracy. It’s self-defeating to try and accomplish too much, too soon – you’d just have elections where extremists end up winning – but it’s equally self-defeating to do nothing.

Even a Kantian commitment to principle does not require "premature" action. The prudence Kant encourages includes waiting for the moment.

Then there’s the context of a passage that our friends at NRO don’t like:

It’s an enemy that’s conducive to being tracked down and eliminated using the CIA and Special Forces and special operations. We can accomplish a great deal. We can achieve tremendous bang for the buck with swift, surgical air strikes and commando raids by our elite units, as we’ve recently done with the Ethiopians in Somalia. These operations are impossible without first-rate intelligence.

When the Cold War ended, we cut back on our intelligence, just as we cut back on our armed forces, and both have come back to haunt us. As president, I’d like to beef up our human intelligence capacity, both the operatives who gather the information as well as the analysts who figure out what it means. I’d rather have more people in Langley so we can fewer in Baghdad.

Taken out of context, the last sentence does indeed lend itself to the conclusion that Governor Huckabee "seems to think intelligence analysis from afar can be a substitute for combat power on the ground." But note that his point is for the intelligence to be good enough to be actionable, using military force. Robert D. Kaplan might have said it better, but the point is the intelligent use of military force.

Reading what the NRO editors said about Huckabee’s views of Iran, you’d never know he’d said this:

The administration has quite properly said that it will not take the military option for Iran off the table. Neither would I.


Both al Qaeda and Iran seek not just to dominate Israel, but to destroy her and to control the Palestinians. The Huckabee administration would not waver nor flinch in standing by our ally, Israel. The difference in America’s mission is that al Qaeda must be destroyed as a movement, while Iran just has to be contained as a nation.

So how do we achieve that? Well, to contain Iran, it’s essential that we actually win in Iraq.


And while there can be no rational dealings with al Qaeda, Iran is a nation-state looking for regional power. It plays the normal power politics that we do understand, and can skillfully and rightfully pursue.

Yes, he’s unfair to the Bush Administration (is there a candidate other than McCain who isn’t?), but this isn’t Dailykos verbiage. Huckabee may lean a little too much in the neo-realist soft power direction, and his unguarded responses may be a better indication than a prepared speech, but he knows who our friends and enemies are, and the passage that NRO quotes to criticize him is prefaced by a remark that isn’t quoted:

The wisdom of Sun-Tzu, from nearly 2,500 years ago, is relevant today: Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer. We haven’t had diplomatic relationships with Iran in almost 30 years, most of my entire adult life, and a lot of good it’s done. Putting this in human terms, all of us know that when we stop talking to a parent, or a sibling, or even a friend, it’s impossible to resolve the differences to move that relationship forward. Well, the same is true for countries. Our experience in Iraq should prove a valuable lesson for Iran.

Adding the italicized sentence makes him seem a little less naive. Leaving it out makes it easier to make the charge of naivete stick.

I’ll end where Governor Huckabee ends:

Our history has always been one of perseverance from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11. Our way of life, our economic and moral strength, our civilization, is at stake. I’m determined to look this evil in the eye, to confront it, to defeat it, and to emerge stronger than ever. All of us, I think, would like to be known as peace lovers, but I would remind you, from the words of Jesus, that it’s not “blessed are the peace lovers,” it’s “blessed are the peace makers.” And that’s what we should commit to being.

This comes perilously close to what might be called genuine Christian realism, not the ersatz variety peddled by Jimmy Carter. Huckabee knows that we have enemies, knows that they can’t or won’t become friends anytime soon, knows that there is a military option, and knows that a military option isn’t plausible without a healthy (and expanded) military.

This isn’t a perfect speech. As I said above, it wears its new-found wonkery a little too heavily. And even then, contrasts are drawn without adequate nuance. But Governor Huckabee says many of the right things. If I go by what he says, I can’t yet rule him out.

Hobbes and Machiavelli vs. Milton?

Stanley Fish opts for the former (that would be Clintiani rather than Huckabama). But I wonder: is being "wise as serpents" only the preserve of the Machiavellians? Some think Mike Huckabee proves it. Is "integrity" really simply "the quality of standing up for the same values in every situation no matter whom you’re speaking to"?

A postwar election?

David Brooks wonders whether 2008 will, in effect, be a postwar election, with the world seeming (my emphasis) a much less dangerous place than it seemed just a year ago. I’m not ready to declare a "new normalcy," but I am worried that the voters are.

A note on necessity in war

I know that the big news this morning is that Led Zeppelin is back playing a gig for the first time in almost thirty years. When I first heard them (I�m guessing it was around 1968) is when I stopped listening to so-called rock. Speaking of torture, this article

from Bloomberg, and this longer piece from the Washington Post on a CIA agent who was (in some way) involved in waterbording Abu Zubaydah says that while it may have been torture it broke Zubaydah and yielded vital intelligence that thwarted "maybe dozens" of planned attacks. On the one hand, he thinks that it may have been necessary at the time, yet now thinks that we "are better than that," and "we’ve moved beyond that." And this is the story of the security guard (a woman) who shot the killer in Colorado, as other security guards hesitated. The man had already killed four people, and had another 1,000 rounds of ammunition on him when his body was searched.

Christmas books

You can take a look at the Claremont list here.

I’m on sabbatical next semester, which means more time for reading books other than those I assign to students. My Christmas list of books I plan to read includes Pierre Manent’s Democracy without Nations, Barry Bercier’s The Skies of Babylon, this book about what went wrong at Baylor, this one (of course), and this book on Augustine and history, as well the Gerson and Lilla books we’ve discussed from time to time here, not to mention this book, whose author will be visiting Oglethorpe on Wednesday, February 6th (along with a number of other interesting folks).

I’ll also read this book, if HRC survives the Oprah onslaught.

Update: As I’m a big fan, Robert D. Kaplan’s latest will be on the pile on my nightstand (or carried with me to the gym, to be read while I sit on the bike).

The Gettysburg Controversies, Part I

The latest installment of my Civil War series for Ashbrook is now available
here. The topic is the continuing controversies about the campaign and battle.

Most of these are on the Confederate side and include the decision to invade Pennsylvania in the first place; the performance of Longstreet during the battle; Lee vs. Longstreet on the question of defense; the effect of losing Jackson at Chancellorsville; and Lee’s decision on the third day to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge on the second and third days of the battle. Many of them are the result of personal and professional jealosies that the participants aired after the war, most notably the attacks by Jubal Early and the Southern Historical Society on James Longstreet, who was deemed an apostate. His worst sin was to criticize Lee.

There were plenty of controversies on the Union side as well, although they are not generally as well known as those on the Southern side. These have to do primarily with Meade’s performance as commanding general of the Army of the Potomac during the campaign. They involve the intersection of the claims of ambitious officers, primarily Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles and Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, who also were partisans of the army’s former commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, and the open war waged by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, the creation of radical congressional Republicans, against West Point graduates and Democrats (often one in the same) in the Union army. I will address these soon in my next installment.

Another Benefit of Big Retail Chains

Apparently such chains as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have disaster warning, relief, and recovery systems that tend to be larger, and far more efficient, than those of run by municipal governments. So claims this article, which discusses the response of the chains to the storms that hit the Pacific Northwest last week, not only to clean and repair their stores, but to assist employees and the community at large.

A tip of the hat to Division of Labour.

Huck and Dive

I take Peter’s point (and that of several commenters) that Huck represents the authentic disquiet in conservative ranks with the self-appointed and media-blessed front runners, and for a while I rather liked the idea of Huck. I seriously considered sending his campaign $100 or more just for the fun of it, until I started paying attention to some of his ideas, such as having the federal government get into the smoking ban business. No. Let’s not. In other ways he’s just too populist (in the bad sense of that word) for my tastes.

As a practical matter I doubt he has, or can get, the resources to follow up on an Iowa win, and organization and resources count more in this contest than momentum. I wonder if he even has full delegate slates filled out and filed in the subsequent primary states. This time-consuming step proved to be the Achilles Heel for both Reagan in 1976, and Gary Hart in 1984, both of whom left a lot of delegates on the table they could have had--in Reagan’s case, perhaps enough to have won the nomination.

Is Huck Another Dean?

Thanks to Steve Hayward for his post below. But, with all due respect, I don’t think he deserves any dibs. We’ve been discussing the Huck-Dean comparison, which is in some ways quite instructive, for weeks here at Berry College. And the most obvious possibility is that Huck will flame out like Dean. But there are differences: Dean had become the establishment candidate soon before imploding. He was endorsed, remember, by Steve’s good friend Al Gore, and many, many others. The Republican "establishment," meanwhile, has shown nothing but contempt for Huck, and that’s not likely to change. So the new man from Hope continues to benefit from the "outsider," "man of the people against the interests" perception. What united Democrats in 2004 was hatred for Bush, and the perception that any relatively moderate, uncontroversial candidate could beat him. As soon as it seemed Dean could really get the nomination, he suddenly seemed too risky. The most important thing was not that any particular Democrat win, but that Bush lose. It suddenly seemed obvious to the Democrats that the "electable alternative" was Kerry. (Boy, were they wrong!)

The Republicans aren’t united by hatred of Hillary; Hillary hatred ain’t what it used to be. And it’s not obvious who the electable alternative to Huckabee is. Giuliani has been fading for months, has not had good press, is conservative only on issues on which the Republicans seem unpopular and on the defensive (health care, Iraq, even more tax cuts), has not campaigned well, and missed numerous opportunities to reach out to social conservatives (by, for example, being against ROE).

Romney is just starting to show some character, but he has a way to go. Thompson and McCain seem too old and sort of yesterday’s news. In general, they all seem like yesterday’s news, parts of a party that now deserves to surrender the White House and give the other guys a chance.

But I’m in favor of giving McCain a close second look, simply because he joins Huck in scoring high in authenticity. The Republican establishment is discredited for lots of reasons, and the party really, really needs an outsider. McCain is trying to be one. Huckabee certainly is one. I agree with those who who say he’s surely too evangelical to be elected, and that we really don’t know much about him. He would certainly be a very high-risk nominee. But that criticism only works if there’s confidence that someone else can be elected. And, let’s face it, most astute Republicans are pretty despondent about their party’s prospects next November. I’m not endorsing Huck (far from it), but Republicans shouldn’t be smug about cooler heads prevailing against him.

I Call Dibs

For getting to use the obvious bon mot, "The Huck Stops Here" when Huckaby hits the wall in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Michigan or wherever. He’s looking more and more like the Howard Dean of the 2008 race, capturing attention and generating impressive momentum, but likely to flame out as more and more problematic aspects of his record and views are vetted.

Let’s Pretend Day

A few weeks ago brought us "Talk Like a Pirate Day," which prompted several thought experiments featuring Schramm (what does a Hungarian pirate sound like anyway??).

Today is Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. There are some mischievous suggestions here for you practical jokers out there in NLT Land:

Greet people by referring to things that don’t yet exist or haven’t existed for a long time. Example: "Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?" "What spectrum will today’s broadcast be in?" and "Your king must be a kindly soul!"

Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished. [NB:But how would that be different than any day today??--Ed. Good question.]

Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it. [NB: Doesn’t Schramm do that now??--Ed. Yup.]

Hat Tip: Jim Lindgren, The Volokh Conspiracy

I Knew It

Everyone knows that Democrats prefer windsurfing to waterboarding, but today’s lead story in the Washington Post brings to light the inevitable hypocrisy of liberals on this episode: Hill Briefed on Waterboaring in 2002. Among those at the briefing: Intelligence Committee member Nancy Pelosi. Quoth the Post: "on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said. ’The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,’ said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange."

Reminds me of the episode in 1984 when members of the Senate, including especially my sometimes hero Daniel Patrick Moynihan, professed to be "shocked, shocked" to learn that the CIA was placing (non-lethal) mines in Nicaraguan harbors. Of course, the Senate Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the operation, but the temptation to grandstand was just too irresistible when the matter became public. Goldwater, one of the most outraged, at least had a decent excuse: He had missed the committee briefing. What’s Pelosi’s excuse?

We’ve lost Biggs, Red Leader

Wired tells of a team of amateur rocketeers who built a semi-working replica of an X-Wing Fighter and launched it somewhere in the desert outside San Diego. While it did make it off the launchpad, it exploded after only a few seconds in the air.

Of course, true Star Wars geeks know that this is what really happened to it.

"The Free Market Brings Fire, Flood and Famine; Socialist Planning Needed"

Um, I know the Hollywood writers strike is still going on, and that second rate scabs like me are trying to fill the void on open-mike night, but isn’t this a Daily Show parody??

Good answer

As far as it goes.

Guess who said this

"I believe that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are divinely inspired documents, written by men especially raised up by their Creator for that purpose. I believe that God has made and presented to us a nation for a purpose -- to bring freedom to all the people of the world."

You can find the answer

Love Letters for America

Once, while discussing Peter Schramm’s Born American theme (various versions can be found here and here) with a friend who I believe also could write a similarly moving account of her experience as an American, she demurred saying that she didn’t know where to begin. "Oh, that’s easy," I said, "just think of it as writing a love letter to America." She said she liked the idea and I do hope she takes me up on the suggestion. Anyone who can write such a thing really ought to do it. We need these accounts, now more than ever, in our politics. We need them because they remind us of the ties that bind and the things that are most noble and inspiring in our regime. In talking about the things we love, we address that which has the potential for uniting us as a people. Too much of what passes for political discourse today is really just thinly veiled grousing and fault-finding. There’s a place for fault-finding and for expressing grievances . . . but how many of these grievances might be better addressed by motivating people toward the good instead of always scolding them for the bad? I don’t remember ever having been persuaded by a scold. But I’ve reformed many a fault (or at least tried hard to reform them) because of the persuasive power of good example, good humor, kind enthusiasm and gentle suggestion.

So imagine my surprise yesterday when I heard Rich Lowry on Hugh Hewitt’s show (wonderfully guest-hosted by Mark Steyn, by the way) say that everything good about Mitt Romney’s speech stemmed from the way in which it read like a love poem to America. That is exactly right! But why didn’t Mitt tell us that he thought these things about America before now? THAT might have been helpful. THAT might have been important. Unfortunately, everything that was wonderful and lovely in Romney’s speech is now forever tied to his defense of himself as a Mormon. But everything that was wonderful and lovely in that speech had nothing to do with his Mormonism (or even his relative Christianity) and everything to do with his AMERICANISM. It’s the Americanism, stupid! And doesn’t that make we conservatives look rather ridiculous in all this silly hysteria about religion?

I am very disappointed in the performance of my fellow conservatives and Republicans this week. Again, I think Romney should have quietly addressed the Mormon question long ago and then stubbornly refused to answer any question about it ever again. Then he should have given us his love letter to America quite apart from this whole absurd drama. Every candidate for the presidency should give us such a letter or such a poem. That will tell me more about who I want to be my president than any statement of policy--and certainly of religion--will ever do.

Romney and the lost faithless

O.K., our own thoughtful Joe Knippenberg suggests how Romney would (or should) respond to those critics (Brooks, Noonan, et al) who chastize him for not leaving room for faithlessness in America in his Big Speech. Joe is thoughtful, and might be more persuasive than Romney, and that is not to Romney’s advantage.

Romney’s speech, as delivered by a theocrat

Courtesy of Patrick Deneen. Kinda eats away at this universalist pablum:

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Here’s a Review of my HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA a very smart and perceptive CANADIAN. I’m not endorsing either the praise or the thoughtful criticism, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you settle for the summary at the expense of depriving yourself of the joy of buying and reading the whole book. I appreciate the nice display of the work of art that is the book’s dustjacket, which is well worth the low price in itself. There’s plenty of time for Christmas ordering.

Memo to Mitt on the atheist question

Leave behind the Adamses for a moment and quote the obviously heterodox Jefferson to this effect: "[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?" I know that there’s also this: "[I]t does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god." But Jefferson recognized that relatively silent, inactive atheism isn’t harmful in small doses.

Romney could also quote the questionably orthodox Washington’s Farewell Address:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Yes, there are "minds of peculiar structure," but, for the rest of us, there’s religion as the essential prop to liberty.

Finally, he might call attention to the practice of Benjamin Franklin, also a man of dubious orthodoxy, who seems to have contributed to all the churches in Philadelphia.

So Romney could have it on pretty good authority that liberty requires religion, and even the atheistic friends of liberty should concede that.

Update: Romney could also take RJN’s advice, which, in this instance, is more religious than political:

Mr. Brooks is right to complain that “there was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.” There should have been more than a sentence explaining why such respect is mandated precisely by the Judeo-Christian tradition Romney so strongly affirms.
Yes, th liberty religion demands for itself, it cannot refuse to others. No one’s conscience should be coerced. But politically the atheists who contribute to our liberty are those who either respect religion or hide their disdain for it.

More reactions to Romney’s speech

I’m going to write something "formal," and would have done so already, were it not for those pesky student papers that need to be graded.

In the meantime, you can read E.J. Dionne, Jr., who likes Romney’s pluralism, but not his claim that freedom requires religion. I agree that not all religion conduces to freedom, but the pluralistic--indeed, pluralistic to an almost universalist fault--Romney can’t say that. At the same time, he probably can’t respond as vigorously to Dionne’s challenge about secularism as someone who isn’t looking for votes could.

Michael Gerson is more generous in his praise, finding merit in Romney’s differences from his older Massachusetts model.

Like Kennedy, Romney affirmed that "no authorities of my church . . . will ever exert influence on presidential decisions." But Romney also argued, "Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people." Repudiating Kennedy’s exact language, Romney contended that religion is not merely "a private affair." Martin Luther King Jr., Romney reminded us, did not regard religion as a purely personal matter or lay his deepest convictions upon the shelf.

It is one thing to assert, as Kennedy did, that politicians should not take orders from popes and prophets -- that is the institutional separation of church and state. It is another thing to assert, as Kennedy seemed to, that politicians should not take guidance from their own religiously informed conscience -- that is a multiple personality disorder.

His conclusion:

Romney’s speech, however, was an achievement. It had the boldness to argue with Kennedy on key issues and the intellectual seriousness to win some of those arguments. Kennedy’s speech remains a landmark of American rhetoric. But Romney’s deserves to be read beside it.

This is high praise from someone who, whatever your differences with his political views, belongs in the top echelon of presidential speechwriters over the past fifty years.

Charles Krauthammer goes after the proximate cause of Romney’s speech:

The God of the Founders, the God on the coinage, the God for whom Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving day is the ineffable, ecumenical, nonsectarian Providence of the American civil religion whose relation to this blessed land is without appeal to any particular testament or ritual. Every mention of God in every inaugural address in American history refers to the deity in this kind of all-embracing, universal, nondenominational way. (The one exception: William Henry Harrison. He caught cold delivering that inaugural address. Thirty-one days later, he was dead. Draw your own conclusion.) I suspect that neither Jefferson’s Providence nor Washington’s Great Author nor Lincoln’s Almighty would look kindly on the exploitation of religious differences for political gain. It is un-American. It is unfortunate that Romney has had to justify himself in response.

David Brooks was less enthusiastic than most of the social conservatives with whom he spoke.

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.

I think that Romney’s implicit civic theology is a little more demanding than Brooks says, although there is some bland smiley-faced stuff in the speech. And I wonder how Romney will respond to the challenge issued by Brooks and, a little less sympathetically, by
this WaPo editorial, to explain his view of the place of people with no religion in America.

Finally, I don’t think he should have to answer this willful misreading of his text by the NYT editorialist.

Update: While I’m at it, here’s Peggy Noonan, a high priestess in the Church of the Speechwriter. Her take on the atheist question:

There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.

My feeling is we’ve bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else.

A Comment or Three on Mitt’s Speech

It was dignified. It was or came off as authentic. He was firm on what he thought was relevant, and what he should not have to say. So he didn’t come off as evasive or shifty. And he gave us confidence that his faith really does give him a solid moral and political foundation. I’m not sure the speech’s content is particularly memorable, but he did quite effectively position himself between the extremes of Huckabee and Giuliani. Mitt supporters should hope he can stay with this new and more manly tone.

A NOTE ON HUCK’S APPEARANCE ON THE TODAY SHOW. He was good, as usual, except: Huck is now referring to himself as authentic (a lot). That’s not very authentic.

More on Romney’s Speech

Here is a link to John Podhoretz and--for the extreme pro-Romney analysis--here’s Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt also does us the favor of reprinting the speech within his comments so you can refer to it as you read his analysis. I read the speech and was able to catch about 5 minutes of it this morning as I chased the kids out the door for school. I thought it was only o.k. (though certainly too long winded) and I agree with Podhoretz in this assessment:

For those who don’t know Romney is a Mormon, well, they sure will now. For the next two or three days, it’s all anybody will know about him. Chances are it is the word that people will most associate with him from here on out. I don’t think that’s a good direction for a campaign that finds itself in the fight of its life in Iowa against the most explicitly Christian candidate in the field.
I stand by my earlier contention that Romney should have given this speech a very long time ago (as his wife argued) and that, had he done that, the question would have been off the table and not so prominent in the face of the Huckabee challenge. And while I sympathize with what Hewitt is trying to do with Romney (i.e., present Romney as a credible and electable alternative for conservatives to Giuliani), I think Hewitt’s comment that anyone who denies the magnificence of Romney’s speech is "not to be trusted as an analyst" is so over-the-top as to be unworthy of him. It was a well-intentioned and worthy effort, but I think it’s pretty clear that his efforts were better than Romney’s.

Romney’s speech

You can read the text here. You can read the news stories here and here, and some background here and here.

The pundits respond here (WaPo’s Chris Cillizza), here (NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez), here (NRO’s Byron York), here (Jonah G.), here (TWS’s Stephen F. Hayes), here (TWS’s Matthew Continetti), and here (TNR’s Noam Scheiber).

I’ve read the speech. Now I have to think about it.


I’m late to this game, but I can’ resist calling your attention to John Bolton’s analysis of its substance and Robert Kagan’s suggestions about the only remaining alternatives for President Bush.

Obama’s individuality and ours

Shelby Steele writes about Obama the man and citizen, the masks available to him, and advises him to drop all masks, all obsessions with identity, and tell us what he truly believes as an individual. A lovely and well-purposed essay.

Notes from the election on campus

This morning’s Inside Higher Ed brings news of the formation of Academics for Ron Paul, as well as of this poll of youth political attitudes. Democratic youth liked Obama in early November (the time of the poll), and their Republican counterparts favored Giuliani. There were more undecideds and more dissatisfaction among young Republicans, which is to say, there’s lots of volatility in that part of the electorate.

Has Michael Gerson endorsed Mike Huckabee yet?

That’s the question to which I’m led by this post by Jonah G. at The Corner. His conclusion is worth pondering:

If carried to its logical conclusion Huckabeeism is rightwing progressivism. If I have to choose between leftwing progressivism and rightwing progressivism, I’d probably choose rightwing progressivism on most issues and leftwing progressivism on a few issues. But I don’t want to have to make that choice. I don’t think I will have to either.

But more importantly, it needs to be said that progressivism from the right is nearly as flawed and bound to fail as progressivism from the left (I say "nearly" because I think the Right’s understanding of the fallen nature of man is more realistic). The left believes government can love you. Now, Huckabee and (some of) his supporters believe that too. If he is successful — which I doubt very much — in taking over the GOP, both Republicans and Democrats will craft policies grounded in the desire to translate their "love" for people they don’t know into public policy. And both sides, as well as many innocent bystanders, will feel the baton of unintended consequences in their teeth. Of course, there would be some political successes which would be construed as "transformative" events. But, in the process great violence would be done to the principle of limited government and liberty and — I hope — conservatives would be on the sidelines, once again, standing athwart history yelling "Stop" to anyone who might have ears to hear.

There’s more along these lines here.

The question one can pose is whether and how religiously-inspired moralism can be chastened. I take it for granted that a stark claim on behalf of "liberty" can’t do the trick, because that’s not the end for the religiously-inspired moralist. "Liberty for what?" he’ll reply. If he wants to reach out, he might also say something about cultivating the conditions of liberty (such as a sense of self-restraint and responsibility), which don’t spring up by themselves.

Another chastening possibility is suggested by Jonah’s resurrection of the language of "unintended consequences," which was a central weapon in the arsenal of the old neoconservative critique of transformative public policy. This line of argument might grant the goodness of the end while questioning the efficacy of the means, not to mention emphasizing the ways in which fallible human beings can get things wrong. Moralists of all sorts don’t necessarily like to hear this, but Jonah is perhaps correct when he argues there’s a little more receptivity among those who think that human beings are fallen than among those who regard us as perfectible, if only we give the Enlightened Ones the resources to bring this New Age about.

So, anyone think the Christian Leader can be sobered up? Or is Mitt the sober version?

Hillary’s Charm Offensive

Every election cycle poses questions for students of politics to reflect on. One of the 2008 questions raised by Hillary Clinton’s campaign will be whether a repellant human being can be elected president. Or, for those who take a more jaundiced view of American political history, whether a repellant human being, who can’t or won’t conceal that fact, can become president.

David Corn observes, “Candidates are always responsible for their campaigns, and they can be judged accordingly. If the Clinton campaign throws anything it can against Obama – with little regard for accuracy or decency – that will reflect her own character and values.” He reports that the Clinton campaign’s “Defcon 1 assault on Obama” is fueled by hatred. The Clintonistas “can’t stand” Obama. “They talk about him as if he’s worse than Bush.”

What accounts for this hatred, this determination not just to defeat but destroy? “It’s his presumptuousness,” Corn’s source relates. “That he thinks he can deny her the nomination. Who is he to try to do that?”

Haven’t we seen this before – the boundless sense of entitlement, the fury at those who would presume to deny the self-anointed candidate her destiny? Despite all the talk about how Hillary had grown in the aftermath of the health care debacle, the stories about how she had learned to play nice with others in the Senate, the same attractive attitudes and habits that endeared her to the nation 15 years ago are once again on display.

Carl Bernstein’s book, A Woman in Charge, reports that in 1993 the First Lady beguilingly told a group of Democratic senators, who expressed doubts about the political feasibility of passing ambitious health care reforms, that the Clinton administration would “demonize” those who stood in the way of her plan. It was the last straw for Sen. Bill Bradley. “You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy.”

When her task force of 500 members and 34 committees sent the Democratic Congress a bill that was 1,324 pages long, it sank like an anvil. Smaller, simpler measures might have passed, but the First Lady refused to support any plan but her own. Bob Boorstin, a media relations deputy with the task force, told Bernstein that Hillary is “among the most self-righteous people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Her many years in the public eye have given New York’s junior senator ample opportunity to grow in office. She has apparently used them to grow even more self-righteous, more arrogant, more vengeful against those who have the temerity to oppose her. One bumper sticker sums up the situation: “Women Against Hillary: We’ve Waited Too Long To Get It Wrong.”

Huck Pulls Ahead

by three percent over Rudy, according to Rasmussen.

Dr. Pat and ROE (and Dr. Paul)

Deneen is right in reminding us of the limits of what really will be accomplished simply by overturning ROE. But it’s also true--very true--that the our souls are shaped, in part, by the law. And so it is, quite literally, demoralizing for people to be led to believe they have a right they don’t really have. ROE really was an egregious act of judicial imperialism that replaced democratic moral deliberation with that of the experts. No true populist could think its overturning would be trivial or affirm a party that has regarded the Court as its legislative arm. William Jennings Bryan would have been mad as hell about ROE.
And no one who has any respect for the true understanding of our equality and liberty under the Constitution could be indifferent to the way ROE has distorted our understanding of both constitutionalism and the purposes of political life. Abraham Lincoln would have been mad as hell about ROE. Dr. Pat is right enough about the demoralizing impact of nominating Giuliani, who has said that affirming the precedent of ROE might be compatible with judicial restraint properly understood.

Teen Birth Rate and Births to Unmarried Mothers Rise

. . . for the first time in 14 years. Not a cheerful or a promising development . . . unless it indicates a reduction in the number of abortions (which I doubt). The widespread availability of birth-control--even to Jr. High students and without the knowledge of their parents--seems to counter the argument that kids need ever-increasing access to and education about birth control in order to promote a reduction in teen birth rates. We’ve done that and now we have more. Hmmmm. Perhaps there are other causes. Oh yes! Sex causes pregnancy. I think I remember learning that once (or twice).

Atheist Answer to Lord of the Rings and Narnia?

This film set to be released this weekend seeks to stir up a lot of controversy and animosity from religious and conservative groups in order to promote itself. I hope they won’t be satisfied in this desire, but I see that boycotts are already organized. I think that is unnecessary. I think the film will suffer the same fate that the recent spate of anti-war movies have suffered--all by itself and without organized opposition. It is good to get the word out that the movie is not just another innocent fantasy film (a teacher at my children’s Christian school almost unwittingly organized a trip for her students to see this film as a reward until another teacher in the know informed her about the plot) but this is yet another example of protests and boycotts working in a counter-productive manner.

UPDATE: Here’s a review from someone who has actually seen the movie. He makes the interesting point that the message of this first installment works against the atheist intent of its author . . . good.

A Green Argument Against Divorce and Against Hannukah Candles

Divorce, apparently, is very bad for the environment. Two households use more resources than one. Just as a factual matter, I’m sure that’s probably true--but whether it impacts the environment as much as is assumed in this article is another matter. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure there are better arguments against divorce . . .

In a related matter, The Jerusalem Post reports on an effort to get Israelis to reduce the number of Hannukah candles they burn this year . . . (hat tip: Dennis Prager).

Does anyone see the birth of a new morality in all of this? Morality is defined as what pleases or displeases Mother Earth . . . we sacrifice to the new goddess at the expense of the old God. On the other hand, at least this goddess is a figure outside of ourselves. The "anything goes" attitude of the sexual revolution doesn’t seem to fit in this new order, or does it? There’s always the possibility that we could just go "continental" and eliminate our "sexual jealousy" (as Peter Lawler discusses below). We’d still have to marry and remain married in order to please Mother Earth, but I guess there isn’t an argument for fidelity in this Green argument against divorce. How romantic!


Michael Novak calls our attention to this attempt by Richard Dawkins to transvalue values. In Dawkins’s world, "sexual jealousy" is reprehensible, while infidelity (and lying about it) isn’t.

My question: Does Dawkins think that people who regard infidelity as a sign of a character flaw should be permitted to vote?

The Speech, again

NRO’s Mark Hemingway ghost-writes it, hitting many of the right notes.

Update: Knowing that you can’t get enough of this, I call your attention to this battle of the titans between Rick Garnett and Douglas Kmiec.

More Advice for Mitt: Or More Evidence I’m Not a Smart Person if you needed it. Contrary to what the experts are saying, it’s clear to me that Romney’s big job is no longer reaching out to Huck’s supporters. Attacking him as a Christian progressive nanny-stater isn’t going to impress them. They can tell the difference between Christian hope and socialist, progressivist hope. (See our great pope’s new encyclical on hope, and see Tocqueville on how Christianity prevents Americans from imagining that political reform should be pursued by all means necessary etc.) Instead, Mitt should start convincing Giuliani supporters that he is the plausible alternative to Huckabee, that his more moderate but REAL social conservatism and policy wonkish market-based expertise on the domestic issues (like health care) are the keys to victory. The Huck surge should be a wake-up call that suggests to many Republicans that Mitt is more electable than Rudy. Romney should acknowledge the fact of the Huck surge, reflect soberly on its significance, but avoid any divisive attack on the new man from Hope.

Mitt should be prepared to endure the defeat in Iowa and fight on through an appeal to voters in the more urban and urbane states who are, for now, for Giuliani.

I also think, as I’ve said before, that another imperative in our volatile times is a reevaluation of McCain as maybe the best deal Republicans have right now.

Last night, we closed my elections class through a close reading of Ramesh Ponnuru and Richard Lowry, "The Grim Truth: Repubicans Face a Calamitous Political Situation, but They Can Act to Avoid It."
Here’s what those astute authors say about Rudy: "...Giuliani has broken with the base of the party, but only in ways that will not help him with the larger electorate. And to make up for those deviations on social issues, he is projecting a bring-it-on bellicosity that conservatives like but that most voters simply do not feel."


Twenty percent of people living in Canada are foreign born. "The 2006 census counted more than 6m foreign-born people out of Canada’s population of 31.2m, the highest ratio of immigrants since the 1930s.

The immigrant population grew four times as fast as the Canadian-born population between 2001-2006.

Nearly 60% of the newcomers came from Asia and the Middle East."

The Romney speech...what smart people are saying

If it’s all about Huckabee’s rise, as some have contended, then by all means go after Huckabee’s substantive record. So say Ross Douthat (with good links) and James Poulos (also with good links). (Douthat also has more here and here.) Romney’s problem in the Republican electorate is with evangelicals (see this Pew report for the details). He can’t persuade them that he’s a Christian, but he can try to persuade them that his Mormonism shouldn’t matter. The question then would be whether his substantive positions, character, and electability are superior to Huckabee’s (leaving aside for a moment the other candidates). This is, of course, where the debate ought to be.

Update: Count Jonah G. in this camp.

Huck Pulls Even with Rudy, according to Rasmussen. He’s also running even with Hillary. Dean Barnett’s explanation of Huck’s surge: He’s the best politician in the land. Dean adds: His campaign is easily in the best shape. Any of the other candidates would glady trade places with him at this point.


Here is the thought experiment I threw together last Friday. It may be catching on. Speaking of Romney and just back from Notre Dame, I gotta say that his Thursday speech has all the desperation of a "Hail Mary" pass at this point. I’m not in the business of endorsing candidates, but I will say that Romney would almost surely be a good president. The problem is, of course, that he hasn’t found the "voice" that would make him a good candidate, and his discomfort with being a Mormon in public is only one aspect of his "authenticity" problem. Those who remember another talented man from Boston, Doug Flutie, know that Hail Mary passes sometimes work. (And if knew Peter S. was going to link the above I wouldn’t have posted this, but too late now. Thanks, Peter.)

Notes on McCain and Huck, and Romney

I just wanted to make sure you saw these thoughts from Peter Lawler on how the last debate revealed something about the virtues of both Huckabee and McCain and what it might mean for the campaign. And Joe Knippenberg explains that in his upcoming Big Speech, Mitt Romney should not do what John Kennedy did in Houston, but rather take the opportunity to explain the true ground of religious freedom and limited constitutional government. Please read both.   

Prison Fellowship Ministry case

Howard Bashman provides a link to the opinion and some news coverage about the Iowa Prison Fellowship Ministry case, about which I blogged here, here, and here. The bad news is that the appellate panel (which included Sandra Day O’Connor) found against Iowa and PFM in many respects. The good news is that it did not uphold the district court’s very punitive requirement that PFM reimburse the state $1.5 million or require that the current privately-funded version of the program be shut down.

The folks at the Becket Fund are putting a happy face on a ruling with which they must be generally displeased, as do the PFM people. It’s true that nothing in the decision prevents states from permitting privately-funded faith-based programs in prisons, but all three judges still affirm that, as it operated for most of its term, the program violated constitutional strictures. The other piece of good news coming from the decision was the panel’s repudiation of the district court’s talk about "pervasive sectarianism."

The folks at Americans United regard this as a big victory, though I think they overreach at least a little when they claim that "[t]his ruling is a major setback for the White House’s ‘Faith-Based Initiative.’" Liberal Baptists are also pleased.

Once again, my own view is that, in general, opponents of programs like this ought to spend their efforts creating secular alternatives, guaranteeing inmates more choices, rather than working hard actually to reduce the rehabilitative options they have.

The upcoming Romney speech

We learn from our friends at Power Line that Mitt Romney has decided to give a speech about his faith, at the (GHW) Bush Presidential Library, no less.

You can read more stories here (stressing the latest poll results from Iowa, showing Huckabee in the lead), here (stressing the GHWB connection and reprinting he 1960 Kennedy speech), and here.

Not that the Romney folks want my advice, but I offered it here. Above all, he shouldn’t say what Kennedy said, which emphasizes no-aid separationism above all else, raises the secularist boogeyman of churches and denominations ordering people around, and looks forward to a time when religious distinctiveness will diminish to a point of insignificance. Some pundits will treat this as Romney’s template, but it wouldn’t work for at least two reasons. First, its no-aid separationism is much more appealing to secularists and liberal Baptists than to anyone else. And second, if he’s going to honor the role that faith plays in the lives of Americans (which I think he has to, given his immediate audience), he can’t be as hostile to the "prophetic" role of denominations as JFK was.

It will be interesting to see what he says.

No, We’re Not Nuts!

...or at least we don’t think we are. Studies show that Republicans have a much higher opinion of their mental health than Democrats. Other variables, such as income, can’t account for much of the difference, and so being a Republican is clearly a significant cause of self-reported sanity. It could be that Republicans are as crazy as Democrats, but have a manly sense of self-confidence that causes them not to notice. Or it could be that Democrats just whine more and are angling for mood brighteners. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

Nationwide Huck Surge

...according to Rasmussen, he’s only five percent behind Rudy. And it’s clearly a wide open race with a herd of candidates bunched closely together. It’s time for Republicans to start really thinking, because the inevitability of Giuliani is even more questionable now than the inevitabiity of Hillary.

Shameless Self-Promotion: I’m Coming to Notre Dame

Come hear me talk on the unjustly neglected American Catholic thinker Orestes Brownson next Monday night (December 3) at 8. And of course you’ll want to bring your copy of the ISI edition of Brownson’s THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC with my book-length introduction for ME to sign.

Here Are Some Christmas Book Lists

...including mine. And don’t forget my HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA.

McCain-Huckabee (or Huckabee-McCain?)

I actually proposed this idea on Friday and wrote a brief article on it that I will post on Monday. But here’s another version. Huck and John really do balance each other in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and they are the two candidates who shine in the debates and on the campaign trail right now.

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.