Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Allen Guelzo’s book just landed on my desk. It looks great. I had intended to get a lot of work done around the house this weekend. Instead, I’ll get back in bed and tell everyone I need to nurse my cold. What I don’t finish of it, I’ll read Monday on the flight to Alaska. Perfect. Thanks, Allen.

Book reviews, continued

The Sunday NYT book review section has all sorts of nuggets (calling them gems would be too strong). Michael Lind reviews the Gerson and Bolton tomes. Alan Ehrenhalt (one of my favorite fair-minded observers of American politics) takes a look at David Frum’s new book. And Notre Dame historian R. Scott Appleby reviews two of this season’s efforts to resuscitate the religious Left, by E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Amy Sullivan.

Life science

William Saletan reviews the latest attempt by the tireless Robert P. George (and co-author Christopher Tollefsen) to defend human life against scientific efforts aimed at the relief of our estate (as Francis Bacon would put it).

Saletan poses some challenges to their case, which apparently relies almost exclusively on science to make the case for respecting our humanity from its earliest beginning. Here’s the nub of Saletan’s argument:

“The proper way to identify the nature of an organism,” they write, is “to look at it through time.” Each of us “comes into existence as a single-celled human organism and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood.” But in the big picture, the embryo isn’t a future adult. It is, as the authors acknowledge, a future corpse. And the program is far bigger. It doesn’t end at death, because it doesn’t run on one body. It runs on the network of humanity. In fact, it runs on the entire Internet of evolving species.

According to even a teleological science, in the end we’re all dead, providing food and fertilizer for our successors. Our humanity gains its significance, not from science, but either from our capacity for self-assertion (in which case, the argument against abortion or destructive embryonic stem cell research is at best merely a pragmatic one) or from our creatureliness. Because science can’t answer the biggest question, it can’t settle the dispute. And since we’re "doomed," so to speak, to be unable all to agree on the answer, the dispute will always be with us.

Properly understood, this gives no comfort to those who would privatize abortion decisions or deregulate embryonic stem cell research. Rather, it leaves us with the various political mechanismes for conducting our disagreements--legislation and constitutional amendment, above all.

Unity in politics

Dennis Hale makes the entirely commonsensical and grown-up point that choosing means dividing. Unity requires the overcoming or suppression of politics. Obama promises to build the kingdom on earth, which amounts to the overcoming of politics. But people who promise that usually end up trying to suppress politics.

If Obama were serious about unity, he’d be Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Mussolini. I credit him with not being altogether serious. He’s merely, as Jonah G. would say, a liberal fascist.

Worth Reading

This is AOL’s Political Machine, and it so happens that a former student, Justin Paulette, blogs there. This is his latest, as he rolls through the possible VP candidates for McCain. Justin is a lawyer living in Italy. Tough life for some folks, isn’t it?   

The perils of going negative

Jay Cost argues that Romney’s attack ads might have made it difficult for him to win over voters--supporters, especially, of Huckabee--who were otherwise persuadable. Romney might have had the effect of driving down Huckabee’s support, but leaving others to reap the benefit of the defections. And he might also have made it more difficult for Huckabee supporters--having, perhaps reluctantly, concluded that there wasn’t any hope for the man from Hope--to transfer their allegiances to him.

All of this is to say that campaigns matter and that issue positioning isn’t everything.

The Democratic Problem

We have all noticed (all TV news broadcasts are now into this in great detail) that the focus is now on the probability of a brokered Dem convention, on cutting deals with the superdelegates, on re-writing the rules for Michigan and Florida in order to make "their votes count," etc. In practice this means that Hillary will do anything to be the nominee, and Obama will resist as long as he is likely to have the majority (albeit slight) of chosen delegates going into the convention. Because the possibilities for mischief are endless, I am betting that the Dems will "solve" these problems before the summer. If they don’t, there really is a chance that the ’68 Chicago mess will seem like a walk in the park compared to what could happen this summer. All this, I hasten to add, just proves that the so-called reforms (post ’68) having to do with proportional representation, etc., are very bad for democratic government at any level. Forming
majorities, especially rational majorities, is not such an easy thing. We’ll see if anyone on that side of the isle will notice this good lesson. Here is an

L.A. Times story on the immediate problem, and this from the WaPo.

Romney Postmortem

John Ellis breaks down the five main mistakes of the Romney campaign. Sounds about right to me on all five.

The Warrior and Preacher

Here is Peter Lawler’s speech of this title at Oglethorpe. Nothinbg in the talk should surprise readers of NLT, but it’s all in one place now, so to speak, and maybe even more poignant given that Huck and Mac are the only ones left.  

Dobson endorses Huckabee: too little, too late

Rather late, don’t you think? Such an endorsement could have helped Huck raise some money earlier on, or perhaps bolstered him in South Carolina, where every little bit would have helped. Had Dobson spoken, say, after Iowa, it’s not clear that McCain would now be the presumptive nominee and that it would now be hard to find a plausible political rationale for Huckabee’s persistence. I’m far from saying--in this counterfactual fantasy--that, but for Dobson’s silence, Huckabee would now be closing in on the nomination. But consider this: Huckabee wins Iowa; McCain wins New Hampshire; and Huckabee wins South Carolina. Who then wins Florida? Wouldn’t it have been a three-way or even four-way race, with Huckabee having the money to persist, McCain not doing so well in the panhandle, and Giuliani not necessarily bleeding votes? It’s not out of the question that any one of the four could have won, under those fantasy circumstances. I take it as given that, on Super Tuesday, Huckabee wouldn’t have won much more--perhaps Missouri and Oklahoma. But Romney would have done better, and Giuliani might have hurt Mac in the Northeast.

My fantasy bottom line: by endorsing Huckabee earlier, Dobson could have made it more likely that someone he could tolerate--Huckabee or Romney--would be well-positioned after Super Tuesday. I don’t say this because I think that Dobson is a king-maker. His endorsement matters at the electoral margins and probably looms a bit larger in fund-raising. But that might have been enough to change the dynamics of a closely fought race.

Again, I say this as someone who will vote for McCain and would have voted for Romney or Huckabee.

McCain the honor politician

Yuval Levin does an excellent job of explaining what makes John McCain tick (almost identical with what ticks him off), its uneasy relationship with "principled conservatism," and how conservatives can try to make their causes his. The result won’t have much staying power beyond this campaign or a McCain administration since it depends almost entirely on the mostly admirable character of the manly man, but it is the hand we have been dealt.

And to the degree that politics is about the formation of character--something conservatives who haven’t sold their souls entirely to libertarianism surely can’t deny--a McCain candidacy and presidency could offer a highly particular and personal vision of a kind of national unity.

The problem, as Peter Lawler has pointed out in an all-too-brief post (though doubtless soon to be in print or online somewhere in a more expanded version) is that honor politics is problematical or incomplete as a democratic politics. Men of honor have a hard time feeling compassion or respecting the ordinary lives of their fellow citizens or living with even a non-debased equality. McCain the "aristocrat" needs a leavening of "democracy"--not mere egalitarianism or pandering (the old Clintonian feeling our pain)--but what Peter has called "the preacher." This is a vision of nobility that justifies sacrifice not as an act of generosity or noblesse oblige, but as an expression of solidarity.

John McCain 1.0 could do well campaigning against Hillary Clinton. In both of them, "democracy" looks more like aristocratic generosity than solidarity. The difference is that McCain’s distance comes from his character, whereas HRC’s comes from her wealth. Clinton’s can even come across as interest group log-rolling, which really helps McCain. (If she could ever compellingly make her liberal Methodism part of her public persona, it would help her at the margins, adding a small element of solidarity to her noblesse oblige. But I digress.)

It would, I think, take a McCain 2.0 effectively to contest the election against Obama, whose seemingly vacuous message of unity hits all the right democratic notes. McCain the mere aristocrat can’t beat that. He needs someone not named Huckabee who can relatively plausibly present himself as a "sacrificial servant" as a running mate.

But even if you don’t buy a word of what I’ve said, read Levin’s article. It’s that good.    

Gerson on McCain

On the whole, I like Michael Gerson, which I know makes me one of the few people who call themselves conservatives who do. Some might call me delusional--either for my affection for Gerson or for thinking myself a conservative.

But I have a pet peeve or two about Gerson. I find him most annoying when his moralism overcomes his humility, making him seem less intelligent than he is. Today’s column, about the triumph of John McCain, is a good example. Gerson reads McCain’s improbable victory over a flawed field as a vindication of the Bush Admministration’s approach to immigration and its "moral internationalism."

Now, aside from the fact that such an argument isn’t going to help McCain woo the conservative base, the simplifications about immigration in which Gerson engages are unworthy. Here’s Gerson:

First, tough immigration restrictions were supposed to be a unifying rallying cry -- the defining domestic commitment of the post-Bush Republican coalition. Illegal immigration was framed as a simple political issue: Since illegal immigrants are just another type of criminal, targeting them is merely a defense of the rule of law.

But a young woman who dies in the desert during a perilous crossing for the dream of living in America is not the moral equivalent of a drug dealer. Millions of hardworking, religious, family-oriented neighbors make unlikely "criminals." And treating them as such alienates an even larger group of Hispanic citizens.

Immigration is not a simple political issue like crime....

No, it’s not a simple political issue like crime, but it does have both law enforcement and national security elements, elements that Gerson’s moralistic humanitarianism apparently leads him to overlook completely. McCain’s adjustment of his position is not mere "trimming," as Gerson would have it, but recognition that the President’s job includes responsibility for enforcing laws and protecting the nation’s security. His humanitarianism has to be contained within and conditioned on those constitutional responsibilities. Compassion for people who want a better life should lead us to creating a rigorous and generous immigration program, not to turning a blind eye to a porous border and overlooking the base criminality of some in order to celebrate the decency and hard work of others. It is a complicated picture, but Gerson simplifies it in order to bash those with whom he disagrees from what he takes to be the moral high ground.

In so doing, he does his cause and, apparently, his candidate, no favors.

Why "Agenda Conservatives" Couldn’t Seal the Deal

Blogger, Patrick Ruffini over on Hugh Hewitt’s site, delivers a thoughtful, harsh, and (sadly) fair look at the intellectual cocoon a good number of what he calls "Agenda Conservatives" have spun around themselves. This explains the shock many of them are now feeling and, probably, a good deal of the bitterness too. There’s more to it than a simple charge of being "out of touch" and Ruffini, to his credit, offers more. A good place to go to start thinking about how it might be done better next time.

McCain’s Speech at CPAC

Nicely done. The last bit of the speech, where he got semi-autobiographical, was very good. It was his version of a love letter to America--and that, as I have long argued, is exactly what we need. In future speeches, he will do well to develop the theme. He pointed to his life experience, acknowledged his imperfections, and asked us to come together anyway on the points we share because of the stakes. It was very good for him to say, for example, that his experience as a POW made him love liberty more than he had before but, on the other hand, he does not presume to love liberty any more than any of the rest of us do. There are about ten speeches that could be worked out of that. It is hard to find any fault in what he said here. His speechwriter should get a raise.

Our post-Super Tuesday conference

Was held yesterday, and a fine time was had by all.

Students from Berry College, Oglethorpe, and Mercer University were impressive in offering their thoughts on the state of contemporary politics. The most interesting--albeit unsurprising--observation was that on all three campuses--two of which could with some accuracy be called "evangelical"--the political energy is apparently focused on Obama. One young man from Mercer opined that the apathetic Republicans on his campus could probably outvote the Obamaniacs, but they couldn’t outwork or out-emote them.

Peter Lawler’s panel on liberalism and conservatism was "fair and balanced." Peter has already offered you the core of his analysis on the warrior and the preacher, both communitarian (and to some degree complementary) alternatives to "creeping (and creepy) libertarianism." Bryan McGraw offered serious doubts as to whether there would be a substantial evangelical drift leftward. Susan McWilliams deployed her inimitable and entertaining version of left Calvinism on behalf of beer-drenched communitarianism (although I have it on pretty good authority than John Calvin himself was a wine-drinker). Matt Franck brought Tocqueville to bear (in a good way) on Liberal Fascism and sorta kinds promised to make a version of his remarks available (eventually) on Bench Memos. The AJC’s Jay Bookman told us that conservatism was the ideological equivalent of an orchid that couldn’t survive outside the hothouse.

The elections panel, chaired by Berry’s Eric Sands, featured Alan Abramowitz telling us, quite persuasively (with numbers and pictures) that the Democrats enjoy a structural advantage this year, that, historically, partisan and conservative Republicans turn out much more reliably than their squishier brethren, that the only chance McCain has this year is to appeal to independents (roughly 10% of the electorate), who in 2006 looked more Democratic than Republican, and that therefore McCain should spend more time being himself than mending fences with the base. Bear in mind that this advice comes from someone who is a very sharp and solid electoral analyst, especially for Demcorats. If all things were equal, that might be sound advice, but McCain has to raise a pile of money, and it ain’t going to come from independents. Jay Cost made the case that McCain’s triumph was the final culmination of the party’s loss of control of its label. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a version of that argument over at his blog sometime soon. As befits a political theorist and student of Lincoln, Jon Schaff argued that individuals and campaigns matter. I hope we’ll see a version of his argument at SDP or elsewhere. Finally, Eric Sands lamented the loss of dignity in contemporary politics, at least in the ominating process. I’m not sure who his guy was or is in the race, but it sounded to me like the lament of a Thompson supporter.

After a fine dinner surrounded by beautiful objets d’art, we reconvened to hear Jonah Goldberg talk about his book. He rehearses the arguments well and wittily. I remain of the opinion that the principal practical benefits to come from his argument will be the problematizing of the word fascism as applied to people like me and the problematizing of the word progressive as applied to people not like me. I think he does a very good job linking pragmatism, progressivism, socialism, and fascism (carefully defined so as not simply to mean "whatever Hitler did"). He also makes a compelling case for the argument that identifying fascism with the right comes above all from the propagandistic efforts of Stalin’s USSR, which had a bone to pick with the nationalist (as opposed to internationalist) left. I’ll have more later, as will Jonah, sometime after he arrives at the next stop on his book tour. In the meantime, you can sample a couple of local reactions.

Update: I neglected to mention that another of the chief virtues of Jonah’s book is that it mentions my place of employment, which hosted this smiley-faced fascistic commencement address, which JG also notes here. Another element that connects my employer to Jonah’s theme is a fellow by the name of James Woodrow, the first Georgian to hold the Ph.D., who happens to have been someone’s uncle.

Update #2: Safely back home in northern South Dakota, Jon Schaff has more.

Update #3: Matt Franck has posted his remarks.

Romney bows out

Here’s what is in effect his concession speech, laying out the challenges we face in a comprehensive and, I think, admirable way.

Although at the moment Huckabee says that he will continue his campaign, I think that he’ll face a lot of pressure to follow Romney’s lead.

Is it good for the GOP for the race to be over so soon? On the one hand, McCain can start preparing and raising money for a general election campaign, adjusting his message and making nice with the appropriate constituencies. On the other hand, this effectively ends news coverage of the Republicans, with everything devoted to the Democrats until someone wins that nomination. Whether this is good for McCain and the GOP depends entirely on the character of the ensuing campaign. If both sides attempt or feel compelled to win ugly, there’s some gain for McCain. If one side plays nice while the other doesn’t, and the good guy wins, that’s bad for the GOP. If the bad guy wins, there’s a small opening for McCain. I suppose that it’s possible that there will be dignity all around, which I don’t think helps McCain.

The bottom line is that McCain’s free media really diminishes until around the time of the convention, although I suppose there will be a low-level explosion watch.

Romney Out, Positioned for VP?

As you all know, the Ashbrook Center always has a serious presence at the annual CPAC conference in Washington. The same is true this year. Roger Beckett, Marv Krinsky, and a number of our students are there. We will give the Ashbrook Award tomorrow night.

But the most interesting thing I want to report to you is this: Mitt Romney just set Senator McCain up to get the most positive reception he could from such a conservative audience. Romney ended his speech ten minutes ago. The critical part of the speech is that he’s withdrawing from the race and effectively endorsing McCain. Thereby, Romney is, in my opinion, setting himself up to be seriously considered for VP. He may have out-clevered the clever Huckabee.

McCain is supposed to speak a few hours from now at CPAC. Everyone believed that he would be booed. Now, after everyone overcomes the shock, he is likely to get a warm reception and will, therefore, be the GOP nominee with authority. If I get any further reports, I will pass them along.

The Drew Carey Project

The host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT comments on the desperate plight of America’s middle class.

It’s McCain

CNN is reporting that Romney is suspending his campaign. He’s expected to make the formal announcement at this afternoon’s session of the CPAC conference.

There’s nothing terribly surprising about this, of course, but it’s sad nonetheless.

Meanwhile, a plausible theory has emerged regarding just who wrote Ron Paul’s newsletters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Lincoln’s Union

NEH’s EDSITEMent has just put out our latest effort at helping teachers with lesson plans. This Curriculum Unit, called "A Word Fitly Spoken": Abraham Lincoln on the American Union, consists of four lesson plans. I think the thing is tremendously useful for teachers and students, indeed, anyone interested in studying history the way it should be studied, through documents. Lucas Morel is responsible for this Unit, and the whole project has been under the statesman-like rule of John Moser, who has done a tremendous job on them all. The whole project is almost completed, although not all are on line yet. The ones that are (from "The Road to Pearl Harbor," to the "Constitutional Convention," to
"Religion in 18th Century America", etc.) may be seen here. You really should look at all this, smart, clever, useful, and some of the interactives are spectacular and very appealing. See this one, A Word Fitly Spoken, as an example.

Allen C. Guelzo podcast

Guelzo’s new book was published yesterday: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America. My copy is arriving tomorrow, so I haven’t read it yet, but I’m willing to bet it will be first class, like his others. I had a short conversation with him about it (but not the last, I hope) as a Podcast. If you have 25 minutes, have a listen.   

Youth Voters

We all know the standard curmudgeon GOP line is that youth talk but they don’t vote. Yes, that’s generally true. But youth talk is important. Young people develop habits and opinions in their youth. Right now, we’ve got a whole lot of young people developing bad habits and opinions by jumping on the Obama Express. Even if Obama doesn’t pull off the upset that the dark side of my soul longs to see (as I know HRC is the better candidate to run against in November and the better President if we must suffer a Dem) the Obama Express is still going to be there and then benefit Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general for a long time to come.

Duane Patterson noted something incredible last night that’s only bolstered when you consider the last paragraph of Richard Reeb’s post on the Remedy. The combined age of the five folks in the camera shot with John McCain last night was something like 332 years old! Everyone (excepting McCain’s lovely wife) was grey. (And in another thread below Clint points out that Mrs. McCain is hopelessly "out of style"--though I admit this shows that he knows more about women’s fashion than I.) When you look at Obama’s supporters on the other hand, you see people in their 20s. You see life, exuberance and, yes, also inexperience. But Americans will forgive inexperience before they forgive crotchetiness. They will, anyway, unless they’re given a very good reason not to forgive the inexperience.

John McCain obviously can’t make himself younger. His wife would look foolish if she attempted to look more "hip." As old as his mother is, I thought she looked impressive and alert and her recent interviews demonstrate that her mental faculties are in no way diminished by age--to say nothing of her spirit. This bodes well for John. He comes from strong stock. John McCain will not get the same kind of youth support that Barack Obama gets. Indeed, he ought not want to inspire that kind of reflexive, unthinking and insipid prostration.

But all young people are not twits. There is plenty to be tilled from the fertile garden of thinking and emerging-in-intelligence youth. John McCain can start by reminding us that he, too, was once young. He can talk about character in a way that inspires rather than chastises. His story is an inspiring one. He has not used it to as much good effect as he might--partly, I think, out of a sense of modesty and partly out of a (sensible) desire not to bring up the whole Vietnam debate and, thereby, hearken back to the debates of the 1960s (yet again). There is some danger in this, I admit. But the debate that Obama wants to engage is, for all his youth and inexperience, a very old one. This can be demonstrated. The truth is that Obama is nothing new under the sun. And he can be made to look very foolish for thinking that he is. Young people are always insecure about the possibility that they look foolish. Don’t offend them by telling them that they are foolish--but point things out that lead them to this conclusion on their own.

There are things a septuagenarian can do to inspire young people. Two of them are NOT pandering to or ignoring them. Appeal to their minds and give them credit for having minds and then, perhaps, you may win their hearts. Such a strategy would do more than win McCain and the Republicans young voters. It would go a long way toward winning him all kinds of voters in general. For, in this need to have respect for our minds and in the desire not to appear as fools, we’re all very young at heart.

Who are the Republicans?

At some point, while I was watching the returns last night and listening to the pundits as they chattered about the division in the Republican party when compared to the unity of the Democrats, I began to ask myself if this whole narrative of Republican division isn’t just a bit too tidy. The division itself cannot be denied. Just look at the map of many colors and you can see it. And it’s true that no single Republican candidate has been able to generate the level of enthusiasm that Obama or, even, the Clinton Machine has produced. The standard talking point today (and also most of yesterday) from every MSM pundit I’ve heard speak on the subject, is how Democrats can’t decide because they "like both choices" and Republicans can’t decide because they don’t really like any of them.

That analysis is cute, neat, (in its way) true, and completely beside the point.

Today the question we all ought to be asking ourselves is not so much "Who is John McCain?" or "Who is Mike Huckabee?" or "Who is Mitt Romney?" Today we ought to be asking ourselves, "Who are the Republicans?" What are we all about? How are we different from the opposition? Those who see no difference or are inclined to be petulant because "their guy" didn’t get (or appears unlikely to get) the nod, need to focus--HARD--on this question. There’s a huge difference and the patchwork quilt of our electoral map last night is the first, most obvious and perhaps most important evidence of this difference.

The difference between Republicans and Democrats that our division demonstrates is the degree to which Republicans (and especially, perhaps, conservatives) are inclined to deliberate (and, yes, fight) about our principles. Hillary and Obama spar . . . but about what? Who’s the most authentic candidate for female voters? Who deserves the Hispanic vote? Who can get the biggest payoff for the labor unions or the old folks? There’s never any talk about the purposes and the ends of government. That’s all assumed. The only time you’ll hear the word "should" is when they’re leveling some insult at a Neanderthal Republican who is not yet on board with their program. To be a Democrat today is to acknowledge that you believe in the "End of Political Thought"--or, to be less generous, that you don’t believe in thought at all. The only thought is that given to the means to achieve pre-determined ends. That’s why their politics is almost always more wonkish and less interesting and fascinating only when it is more Machiavellian and internal.

Today Republicans should hold their heads up high. We have been engaged in a long and serious conversation with each other. We have acted like Americans--which is to say free and thinking human beings. We have deliberated and now--it appears--we are closer to a choice. All of us are not going to be happy with the choice and no one ought to be forced to accept a choice he does not like. But it is within the power of those who argued on behalf of the choice now before us to persuade the reluctant. McCain tried hard to be gracious in his victory last night. He should continue this effort and--considering only the things that unite us--begin to set his sights on the real opposition. The warrior candidate needs to understand that the terms of the battle have now shifted. He will have to move to a different front and save his fighting for there. Within his own ranks he needs to work more on persuasion--and, perhaps after a bit of penance--to give us a rousing Agincourt speech. We can be happy warriors together. But if McCain wants to keep us happy he must respect our independent spirits and our penchant for thoughtful disagreement.

Super Tuesday: the day after for Republicans

Here are CNN’s results page and its main election page, with delegate counts. You can read the summary stories here, here, here, and here. You can read analysis here, here, and here.

Going forward, McCain looks unbeatable. He’d have to self-destruct.

I’m also still not buying the argument that Huckabee is preventing Romney from consolidating the conservative opposition to McCain. First of all, in only four states that McCain won was the combined Romney-Huckabee vote total higher. In two (California and Delaware), Romney finished a relatively distant second; in the other two (Missouri and Oklahoma), Huckabee finished a close second. It seems to me at least as plausible to say that Romney harmed Huckabee as to say that Mike hurt Mitt.

Second, those who make this argument assume that "conservatism" is so salient for voters that their preferences are simply transferable from one "conservative" to another. Might not character or particular issues matter more? Indeed, isn’t it McCain’s stance on particular issues--as opposed to his overall orientation--that leads some to declare he’s not a conservative?

Third, note that in many places--California, for example--McCain gets a significant portion of the "conservative vote." To be sure, in California he lost the "very conservative" vote (roughly a quarter of the Republican electorate) quite substantially, but even if all the "very conservative" Huckabee supporters had gone over to Romney (a totally implausible scenario in any event), McCain still would have won...and handily. It’s more likely that on some issues (e.g., the war) or some dimensions (e.g., character or leadership) or some considerations (e.g., electability), some conservatives are going to choose McCain over Romney. Taking Huckabee out of the picture doesn’t change any of this. And, to be fair, taking Romney out of the picture wouldn’t enable Huckabee to climb Mount McCain.

Finally, if you look at the distribution of the self-identified Republican vote in the states McCain won, there are four (CA, IL, MO, and OK) in which his percentage of the Republican vote was lower than the combined Romney-Huckabee proportion. McCain did worst in states--Missouri and Oklahoma--where Huckabee came in a close second. Indeed, if all these states had closed primaries, Huckabee would have won Missouri and tied McCain in Oklahoma. And the only way Romney could have won in California and Illinois is by taking an implausibly high share (75%+ in CA, 85%+ in IL) of the Huckabee vote. In other words, McCain did quite well among Republicans, winning outright majorities in three of his states and effectively insurmountable pluralities in three others. In the other two, he would have tied Huckabee or finished a close third behind Huckabee and Romney.

I’m far from arguing that McCain is the perfect Republican or conservative candidate, but there is no one in this race who is doing so much better as to be the Republican or conservative.

And, by the way, I didn’t vote for McCain yesterday, though, unlike James Dobson, I could vote for him in a general election.

Is Huck Back?

...well, not quite. But it makes you wonder what would have happened had he won in SC. It’s too early to know who actually will win most of the southern states, but Huck is running impressively everywhere. I shouldn’t write this down, but I think he wins Georgia and conceivably Tennessee, not to mention Alabama. (And he’s not far off in OK and MO.) McCain’s showing is less than spectacular almost everywhere, even NY and AZ. Romney is not really shining anywhere, but there’s still hope for a Missouri and California combo. Once again, it’s the type of night that will help McCain, although he certainly doing worse than (at least I) expected. Will he feel chastened? You know the answer.

UPDATE: McCain finished strong with a very narrow winner-take-all victory in MO over Huck and a more decisive one in California. It’s hard to know how Romney can stay in the race now. Will Huck finally take McCain on? Hillary also finished strong to win all the big, contested states and manage a draw overall for the evening. That was actually a bit of a comeback on her part. Maybe those Clintons can never die!

55% Dixie?

Who would have thought a Lincoln-phile like me could be described so? But according to this quiz that’s exactly what I am--at least in my speech and pronunciation. If you want to take your mind off of politics for a bit today, go see where you fall on the spectrum. Thanks to my Mom for passing this along. She, by the way, is 57% Yankee.

Random Super Observations

1. Obama is now clearly ahead of Hillary nationwide. So now she’ll be lucky to get a tie today. I wish I had bet the plantation on the collapse. Will Bill Clinton be able to salvage his wife’s campaign? I, for one, hope so.

2. Romney closed a little nationwide and in particular states but not enough to make any difference. Geogia is basically a three-way tie.

3. From the point of view of people such as myself, Julie, and Joe who want to chasten McCain, the Georgia situation provides a stategic dilemma. I’m too manly to share with you the soul-searching that produced my final choice. And because it is, in truth, nothing more dramatic than a coin-flip, I’ll spare you the burden of being guided by that choice.

4. If you come to Oglethorpe tomorrow, you can hear my ten-minute talk on the Warrior and the Preacher. It tentatively includes this paragraph: "The weakness of the warrior--and this is the theme of many a Clint Eastwood movie--is that they prefer war to peace. So they’re all for sacrifice even when it would be counterproductive to require it. McCain was against the Bush tax cuts because they’d be unpatriotic in time of war. Now he’s finally for the cuts--in a way--because they’d stimulate the economy. It doesn’t seem to occur to the warrior that Bush’s pro-family tax cuts might have actually improved the ordinary lives of struggling parents. And McCain’s also a hawk when it comes to budget cuts, of course, because they usually require that someone sacrifice, and that can never be bad."

5. I might also say tomorrow: "Instead of taking Darwin on in the name of Creation, Huckabee should have said that Darwin is on his side: Members of our species--like members of all the others--are happiest when they live dutifully as social beings, when the do their duty to their species by having kids, raising them well, and not trying too hard to stay around forever, contrary to nature’s clear intention for each of them."

Three Parent Embryos

"Heather Has Two Mommies" gets a whole new meaning.

What I’m Going to Do Today

Joe’s very interesting dialog with himself (see below) about what he’s going to do today has inspired one of my own. I think I’ve learned a lesson from this election. Some months ago, I looked at the unsatisfying field before me and asked myself, "Which one of these guys has the best chance of winning in November and is the least disagreeable to me?" I concluded--we now know incorrectly--that this guy was Rudy. (Though I still think he’d have done well if he could have pulled through the primary.) All the available evidence--including polls--supported the notion that he was our best bet. Seeing the alternative, and admiring Rudy’s personal toughness, made me sanguine about the prospect of a Giuliani-led ticket even though I have strong differences with him on many issues. But now I’ve stopped asking myself who has the best chance in November. I no longer think I’m wise enough to know the answer to that question.

At this point, our leading choice seems to be a prickly fellow with positions firmly set and, quite often, opposite mine. Our other choice is a guy whose positions might generously be called "wobbly." He is not a prickly fellow but he’s also not particularly endearing. (I won’t go through my long critique of Romney’s missing love handles again.) On the other hand, when you look at his executive experience and you look at his many accomplishments and you compare them to McCain’s . . . McCain doesn’t look so good. Romney is standing by what he says he believes now . . . and he’s shown an admirable amount of determination that I’d really like to see applied to our foreign policy. I think he’ll be like a terrier with a bone when he sinks his teeth into the war on terror. Further, the looming prospect of Obama and the energy that ticket will bring with it makes me quite skeptical about the argument that McCain can carry independents. So I’m disregarding it.

That said, I have a very strong feeling that nothing I or the numerous outraged conservatives say about John McCain, is going to keep him from carrying the day. And, if he does, I’m not going to give my vote to the Democrats by sitting out. On the other hand, it’s not yet clear that this is inevitable and, more important, I think Romney would be a better President.

So I’m going to vote for Romney today. I’m voting for him in the hopes that he’ll carry the day. But, failing that, I’m counting on a good showing from Romney at least chastening his establishment opponent. To me, it’s pretty obvious now what needs to be done . . . even if you like McCain. Perhaps, even, especially if you like McCain. He needs to sweat.

Truly the End of an Era

I’ve been too depressed lately (okay, really just too d--- busy) to post much lately, but on top of all the chatter that the Reagan Era is well and truly over, comes the news that Bobby Knight is retiring from college basketball. Truly the end of an era. Knight was the General Patton of college basketball coaches.

Peter: Can we make Knight an honorary fellow of the Ashbrook Center?

The judicial road to same-sex marriage

The New York Times celebrates this decision, described here. The upshot is that, in the absence of any positive legislative action, the state of New York is required to give effect to marriages that are legally performed in other jurisdictions.

The court also acknowledges a line of precedents that prohibit state acknowledgement of marriages that are not in accord with "natural law." But in this case:

The natural law exception also is not applicable. That exception has generally been limited to marriages involving polygamy or incest or
marriages “offensive to the public sense of morality to a degree regarded generally with abhorrence” and that cannot be said here.

As the court understands it, natural law "evolves" with the public tastes and sensibilities, at least as they’re perceived by the judges. Legislators who favor this result don’t have to do anything, not even take political heat for supporting same-sex marriage. I’d prefer a more "inclusive" discussion of the state of the "public sense of morality."

Dr. Barack’s Traveling Salvation Show

E. J. Dionne, Jr. puts his finger on the stylistic differences between the Clinton and Obama campaigns. A snippet:

The larger difference between Clinton and Obama is in their respective theories of change. Implicit in the Clinton narrative, as she put it on the stump last weekend, is the idea that "making change is hard." Only someone with carefully laid plans and the toughness to go toe-to-toe with the Republicans in the daily and weekly Washington slog can hope to achieve reform.

Obama agrees to an extent. "I know how hard change is," he says. But he promises to transcend the old fights -- the liberation narrative again -- by building a "bottom-up" movement to create inexorable pressure for reform that would draw in even Republicans.

"Good intentions are not enough," he said in his Wilmington speech. They need to be "fortified with political will or political power." Obama marries a softer rhetorical line on Republicans with a more far-reaching and activist analysis of how change happens. He thus manages to go to Clinton’s right and left at the same time.

That’s why Obama is on the move in a way that worries Clinton’s lieutenants. She promises toughness, competence, clarity and experience in a year when many Democrats are seeking something closer to salvation.

One of the politicians who spoke before Obama at the rally, Delaware state Treasurer Jack Markell, cited the New Testament letter to the Hebrews in which Saint Paul spoke of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It was a revealing moment: While Clinton wages a campaign, Obama is preaching a revival.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the introductory speech Dionne cited in his last paragraph--a fine and "stirring" example of the religion of humanity Obama’s presence incites people to preach.

And here is yet another example of the pseudo-religious sentiment Obama inspires:

To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

Perhaps the election of Obama would be a good thing, because no one could live up to the worldly messianic hopes people have attached to him (which he’s done nothing to discourage). Boy, what a hangover that would be!

What happens to the Huckabee voters?

This guy thinks that a significant proportion of them might consider voting for a Demcoratic candidate. Some of his "analysis" is based on this poll, described here. Since those who answered the questions in effect "volunteered" for the poll, I don’t find the results credible.

This article captures the lay of the land a bit better, I think, as it describes a certain confusion, but no mass movement in the direction of the Democrats. Yes, the issue portfolio is broader than it might have been a decade ago, but note that the war against radical jihad is up there too.

And Nicholas Kristof is onto something, as George W. Bush has been for years.

Finally, I’d second at least some of the line of argument the good folks at Acton have been making, especially this part:

Now of course there is no one “Christian” set of policies on the best way to help poor or stimulate an economy. Unlike life issues, these are prudential matters and good Christians can disagree. Yet there seems to be a growing tendency among Christians to allow the left to claim the moral high ground with their big government interventionist plans despite the fact that history has shown this to be not only ineffective but harmful.

Trying to figure what I’m going to do tomorrow

Let me begin by saying that I could, in the fall, vote for any one of the Republican candidates still in the race (excepting Ron Paul, of course). The prospect of a President Clinton or Obama for judicial appointments, the conduct of our foreign affairs, and the management of our economy does not exactly warm the cockles of my heart.

But what to do when I go to the polls tomorrow? If I were to be influenced by the robocalls I’ve received, I’d vote McCain (having received five on his behalf and two on Huckabee’s, with none for Romney, despite the fact that I live in a district represented in Congress and the state legislature by Romney-like Republicans). If I were influenced by the positions taken by the Georgia Republican establishment, I’d vote McCain, since both my Senators have endorsed him. (That, by the way, covers a bit of a spectrum in Georgia Republicanism, since they’re not exactly peas in a pod.) But, O.K., I’m not merely a product of my political environment, so I’ll actually have to think a little.

McCain’s pluses are obvious: he’s a stalwart in foreign and defense policy, relatively solid on life issues, and hasn’t been a friend of the GOP pork-lovers. He polls well among independents, which would probably help him against Clinton, though I have a hard time thinking that he’d win that vote against Obama. Indeed, at the moment, I think he’s the only electable Republican (of course, there has to be a general election campaign, and lots can happen). McCain’s negatives are also obvious: he has a mercurial temper, no administrative experience, and a penchant for tweaking his fellow Republicans. At his age, none of this will change. At his age, I have a hard time imagining him successfully contesting the elusive "youth vote" with, say, Obama.

Romney has solid administrative experience. He’s smart. I worry about his changes of heart, though I think that the very public markers he has laid down, especially on life issues, will be hard to walk away from. But I have a hard time imagining him beating either Clinton or Obama. If he were an electrifying campaigner, I wouldn’t have such a hard time, but he’s not.

And there’s more. I mentioned in another post the resistance I’ve gotten when I’ve talked about Romney with fellow evangelicals. It is very deep-seated. Some portion of the folks with whom I’ve spoken will surely sit on their hands rather than vote Romney in the fall. And no GOP candidate is going to win if a significant portion of the base sits on its hands.

If I just wanted to send a message to the man, I’d vote Huckabee, free from any expectation that he could actually win the nomination and confident that he’d have a harder time even than Romney winning the general election.

So my calculation at the moment is that it might be possible for the GOP to win with McCain, and that it’s pretty much impossible with the others. I know that I won’t get what I like from Clinton or Obama. I might get what I like, at least some of the time, from McCain.

But suppose I thought the GOP was very likely to lose in November, regardless of the nominee. What then? A McCain defeat would be a personal loss for him, but not for the self-appointed keepers of the party orthodoxy. They wouldn’t likely learn anything. A Romney defeat would compel more rethinking in the GOP, perhaps leading to a reconsideration of how conservative principles have to be in this new environment.

And, as an added bonus, it would compel rethinking among the evangelicals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon candidate. With a "reward in heaven," they might be willing to pay the price of a new Democratic ascendancy on earth. But, then again, perhaps not. They might gain a new or renewed appreciation of the role of constitutionalism and a recognition that what we should look for in our political leaders is reasonable righteousness and good judgment, not theological orthodoxy.

Can you tell which way I’m leaning?

McCain’s Appeal

I have taken something of a beating by calling into question the idea advanced by some that conservatives ought to sit out the general election, or even support Clinton or Obama, if McCain is the Republican nominee. I would observe that the same argument was advanced in 1992 about Bush 41. Eight years of Billary Clinton would seem to illustrate the folly of such reasoning. Character ought to mean something, and McCain has shown he possesses it.

Y’all come reminder: liberalism, conservatism, fascism?

Jonah Goldberg, ably supported (and perhaps also contradicted) by our own Peter Lawler, Jay Cost (of RealClearPolitics), Jon Schaff (of South Dakota Politics), Matt Franck (of Bench Memos), Susan McWilliams (friend of our friend Patrick Deneen of What I Saw in America), Alan Abramowitz (of The Democratic Strategist), Bryan McGraw (friend of many of our friends), and Jay Bookman (of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) will be speaking at Oglethorpe University this Wednesday (the day after Super Tuesday...or is it Not-so-Super Tuesday?). The topics will be liberalism, conservatism, and fascism(???).

Festivities get underway at 11 a.m. with a student panel, continue through two afternoon roundtables, and culminate in Jonah’s keynote at 7 p.m.

All the events take place in Lupton Auditorium on the Oglethorpe campus. All the sessions are free and open to the public.

Happy Warriors

Bill Kristol makes the very sound and sensible point that movements composed of happy warriors are the only kind that tend to succeed in American politics--and with good reason. In the course of making this important point, he leads up to an attempt to elicit good cheer on the part of those elements of the conservative movement who--in all likelihood--are going to find themselves much distressed come Wednesday morning. (Is it any coincidence, by the way, that this Wednesday also happens to be ASH Wednesday . . . ashes to ashes . . .?)

My big quibble with Kristol’s otherwise sound advice in this piece is that I would suggest some re-phrasing at the end. He borders on the indignant (without, as yet, demonstrating a good reason for indignation) when noting the virulent reactions many conservatives have had in the face of a pending McCain coronation. He chooses words like "temper tantrum" and suggests that we not "close our eyes" to McCain’s virtues. Accusing others of temper tantrums at this stage in the game is not the sword I’d choose to defend support for Senator McCain. With that last bit about closing the eyes, however, I do have some sympathy. Problematic as John McCain is, he is not Hillary Clinton and certainly not Barack Obama. But it is condescending--right now--to suggest that anger at McCain (even anger that leads people to say wildly imprudent things) is the same thing as closing one’s eyes to the differences. We’re still in a primary and Romney though seriously wounded and probably seeking life support, is not yet dead. His supporters and McCain’s detractors are right to say what they will and to elucidate the differences as they see them and with as much force as they deem necessary. If that wounds John McCain, I’d suggest then that it’s a wounding he’s brought upon himself and probably one that he needs. I hope he begins to feel it and to make amends (as we enter the season of Lent!). It will be nothing compared to the wounding the Democrats are going to try and give him.

Kristol’s larger point for the conservative movement, however, is that in many ways this fight has got nothing to do with John McCain or Mitt Romney or, even, Mike Huckabee. It’s about the many fragmented elements of the conservative coalition. His discussion of what it is that conservatives are trying to do and what makes their efforts so difficult in a liberal democracy is worthy of committing to memory. His call to recognize the limits of the possible is less a capitulation to the zeitgeist than a call to arms. We should be happy warriors and press on--not only because it will make us more successful--but more because we’ve got much about which we ought to be happy. First among the things that ought to inspire a cheerful tone should be the knowledge that the smallest of our successes have produced greater felicity for our country than the combined results of the grand delusions concocted by the opposition. We need to focus our efforts on them and their schemes and to do this sooner rather than later.

The game

I have a miserable cold, so I have turned into a complaining ten year old boy. Still, I was able to take in a great football game yesterday and, in case you didn’t see the very beginning, here is the almost complete YouTube version of the reading of the Declaration of Independence shown yesterday just before the National Anthem. It’s about six minutes, and worth it.

Christian Democracy in America

I tried in an essay to make sense of Barack Obama’s various utterances about religion and politics. My conclusion: his "awesome God" is a thoroughgoing, card-carrying Democrat. I know this comes as a shock to everyone.

Update: I’d forgotten about the rather hetrodox religious dimensions of Oprahbamalooza until David Innes reminded me.

Random Observations

1. Zogby now gives Romney a clear lead in California. But the national poll shows him barely ahead of Huck and way behind McCain. A few narrow victories in the South and in California will hardly offset the landslide coming in most of the country.
John will be able to run the convention and campaign as he pleases after tomorrow.

2. Obama really is closing fast and may well more or less tie Hillary tomorrow. If that happens, he’ll pick up lots more senatorial and other prominent endorsements. If I really were to bet the plantation on something on which I could still get good odds, it would be on an impending Clinton collapse. Let me say once more: Nobody should be happy about this.

3. The Superbowl is, generally speaking, the most overhyped and boring event in sports. But obviously not this time. Two great quarterbacks struggling--finally with some brilliant success--against tough and smart defenses...Even Tom Petty showed up ready.

Another It Ain’t Right Update

1. The latest studies from Georgia (yes, more than one) put McCain, Romney, and Huck in a virtual three-way time, with John with an insignificant lead. The Republican elected officials in Georgia--with the most prominent exception of our mediocre, McCain-endorsing Senators--are rallying around Romney in a fairly impressive way. It’s hard to know what to advise to avoid the enraging outcome of McCain sneaking through with exactly 30% of the vote, with the other two just a point or two behind. Romney is surging some, but Huck is apprently not declining that much. I anticipate and hope for some movement from Huck to Romney in these last couple of days. At this point, it makes sense to vote Romney in Georgia, unless you’re one of those Huck guys who would choose McCain next (you stick with Huck).

2. In Tennessee and Alabama, Romney is not doing as well, as far as I can tell.

3. As a matter of honor--to avoid even the appearance of corrupt bargaining or simiilar impropriety--McCain should make it clear that he won’t pick either Huckabee or Thompson as his running mate.

4. McCain might think about selecting Romney, just to show that he’s not too "McVain" to really deliberate. His contempt for Romney seems to based in his "patriotism not profit" thing. Romney and his five strapping, species-perpetuating sons didn’t "serve." That view is based upon a too-spirited elevation of martial over marital virtue. From the point of view of the family guy, Romney is the most virtuous MAN in the race. And so the McCain-Romney ticket is the marrige of the warrior’s courage and the father’s responsibility and fidelity.

5. Obama is really surging in the polls. Gallup has him within the margin of error nationwide. He’s also just about caught up in states like CA and NJ. Time is on his side, and his time is approaching faster than I guessed.

Romney Wins Gold in Maine!

1. proving that I was wrong to say he’d only carry Mass. and Utah.

2. The Zogby poll now has Mitt ahead in California, and the others have him within striking distance. That may be one big state where the anti-McCain vote has become somewhat united. If he wins there, he can legitimately stay in the race. (From a Romney point of view, it’d be better if CA were winner-take-all.)

3. Almost all the Southern states are now looking something like Florida or South Carolina, with McCain poised to get 30-some% and the vote against him divided. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to consolidate that vote, in part because it’s not really anti-McCain enough.

4. With the strange exception of Rasmussen (which shows a tie betwen John and Mitt), the national polls now give McCain a huge lead.

5. On the Democratic side, the proportional representation (or lack of winner-take-all) will keep Hillary from scoring anything near a knock-out on Tuesday. And time is certainly Obama’s friend. Let me repeat that we shouldn’t really be happy about this. McCain, I really do think, is not well suited to run against Barack, and the Democratic Congress will be no brake on the extremism of President Obama.