Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Taylor vs. Lilla

Here and here, on this high-level academic blog. Bookmark it.

Bill Buckley on FOX NEWS Tonight

I have learned that FOX NEWS channel is airing a documentary on Bill Buckley TONIGHT 10 p.m. Eastern. The hour-long show will feature a previously unaired interview with WFB, and face time with folks like Charles Kesler and Harry Jaffa, among others. The interviews with Jaffa and Kessler were done last year, as part of a larger show on the rise of the right, as yet unaired. Thought you might like to tune in.

Obama’s bipartisanship

The WaPo’s David Ignatius glances at the record--there isn’t much--and finds it unpersuasive. Obama’s "bipartisanship" has never led him to defy his party’s base. If you want that, McCain and even Clinton have more scars to show for their "independence."

McCain’s citizenship

The New York Times ran this story a few days ago, while theoretically interesting, has of course nothing really to do with McCain’s citizenship. But because it has brought forth some interesting discussions (and some weird facts) I thought I’d bring some of it to you attention. Matthew Franck writes a few good paragraphs on the issue, and then Mark Krikorian comments with an interesting fact: "Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey found that there were 2.2 million people living in the United States in March 2007 who were born abroad but were citizens at birth. They are counted among the native-born."

The legislation that Obama’s introducing in the Senate to deal with this non-issue, doesn’t plug any loopholes. And all this because of a New York Times artcile? Natural born doesn’t mean native born.

Hillary’s angst and anger

The reason I like this Gloria Bolger column is because in it’s simplicity it reveals a massive fact. Hillary people (I include Bill in that) can’t figure it all out and they are unhappy: The hedgehog always wins the race against the fox. She will, of course, lose both Texas and Ohio, in my humble opinion.

Harry’s story

This is New York Times on how the Prince Harry story broke (Matt Drudge didn’t observe the news blackout), and how it was kept secret for three months. Harry is back in England, but no more Eastcheap for this boy man. He is determined to go back. The BBC has a number of stories on this.

Addendum: He was brought home to kept safe. Ironically, home bred "Muslim fanatics labelled Prince Harry a target for assassins last night after his heroics against the Taliban."

"Uncovering" Their Founding Principle: What IS Sexy?

Hoping to push up sagging sales, Victoria’s Secret CEO, Sharen Turney is making the case that the brand has become "too sexy" and needs to return to it’s "heritage." "We use the word ’sexy’ a lot and really have forgotten the ultra-feminine," said Turney. She’s not kidding. According to one CBS report (to which I cannot link, sorry) one issue of the company’s catalog used the word "sexy" more than 75 times!

All joking (and laments from male readers) aside, I actually think this could be an interesting development. Is there a point at which even our jaded popular culture begins to feel repulsed by a non-stop assault of the senses by overtly sexual imagery and exhortations to be more sexy? Is it any coincidence that the lingerie chain’s most recent advertising campaign asked this poignant and pregnant question: "What Is Sexy?" It is as if they finally understand they’ve reached the end of the road. They ask because it is so apparent that they no longer know.

Part of "sexy"--or really, any kind of appeal--has to be its mystery. You pique the interest and invite discovery. This is probably why Victoria’s Secret was so successful in the beginning. Their very name suggested the Victorian age--where such things were whispered but never spoken aloud. Instead of blasting rock and rap music, they used to pump classical and jazz music into their stores. They even used to feature pretty little feminine things you might find in a gift shop--apart from the underwear. (Years ago, I bought a lovely scented little volume of poetry from Victoria’s Secret--but I won’t say if I bought anything else.) Now they market "Sexy Little Things" and other items that more resemble things you’d have to search for in an adult bookstore 20 years ago. Once upon a time, you were not embarrassed to walk past their store front with an eight year-old in tow. Now, you avoid the mall.

In the beginning, the emphasis of the company was on the "Secret" . . . you got the catalog in the mail, it was just a little racy, but always feminine. No more. Look at the frightening woman marching at the camera in link above. She looks like something you’d get when Cruella D’Ville crashes into Xena the Warrior Princess and drags out Lorena Bobbit on the way--complete with the scissors. I mean, I realize that God made her an attractive woman . . . but no one could possibly believe that wearing that get-up is going to help her look anything other than ridiculous. Good lingerie advertising should make you believe it’s possible to aspire, in some way, to be pleasing to your man. But everyone knows that no one but a Victoria’s Secret model could carry off such a look without looking downright creepy. Whether the model succeeds in the "not looking creepy department" is even up for debate. Perhaps if she lost the leather and the scissors . . . but then you’re back to Turney’s point.

Taking stock

I mentioned in a previous post that now might be a time to begin staking stock of what WFB hath wrought, above all the so-called three-legged stool that is the consequence of the melding of libertarianism, traditionalism, and Cold War anti-communism that took place under his sophisticated, genial, and nonetheless tough-minded aegis in the 1950s.

Here’s a question that I hope will provoke an interesting and fruitful discussion: is "liberty" a means or an end for conservatives?

It strikes me that the three legs can be understood in the following way: libertarians think that individual liberty is the end and that virtue might be a means. National security conservatives think that the country’s liberty is the end and that virtue (understood above all as patriotism) might be the means. Traditionalists think that virtue is the end and that liberty of a sort (let’s call it "ancient liberty") is the means.

Needless to say, there are different conceptions of liberty (and of virtue) at work here. Libertarianism is thoroughly "modern," owing everything, including its conception of virtue, to the thought of philosophers like Locke and Montequieu.

National security conservatism has ancient and modern aspects. On the one hand, to the degree that it emphasizes what might be called "republican liberty," it owes a good bit to ancients like Cicero and Livy. On the other, to the degree that it emphasizes national security, it owes more to Machiavelli’s reinterpretation of those ancient sources. In the latter case, virtue is understood as instrumental and contingent, defined largely in terms of what works to protect national security. In the former, there are times when the price to be paid for success--in terms of virtue--is too high. Republican honor conditions the pursuit of success and security.

With certain caveats, "virtue conservatism" is most akin to the ancients. Republican liberty is understood as the means of producing virtuous human beings, but republican liberty leaves a good deal of room for a political order (polis or res publica) that is very "intrusive" in forming the character of its citizens. The central concern of political life is moral education that upholds and inculcates principles and practices derived from a moral order understood to be natural.

I can see how having common adversaries--domestically or internationally--could bring these strands together. But the common cause would, needless to say, only mask tensions that would otherwise come to the surface. And these tensions have to do with the most crucial question--the end or goal of political life.

I can also see two sorts of "natural alliances" among these three strands. The partisans of "modern liberty" (libertarians and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can make common cause in recognizing--at least on a practical level--that "national greatness" maximizes individual liberty. Or the partisans of "ancient liberty" (moral conservatives and national security conservatives of a certain sort) can find common ground in their adherence to republican liberty, with patriotic virtue as a central concern.

In the former case, traditionalists would be on the outside looking in, unable to find much support for their cultural concerns and hoping that merely private institutions could do the necessary work without much public support and perhaps in the face of a good deal of public and cultural opposition. In the latter case, libertarians would be compelled to make the prudential case that freedom and "choice" are the most solid grounds of republican virtue and republican liberty. Or they could join the opposition, looking to a certain sort of state-guaranteed prosperity as the best ground for an individual’s freedom to do as he pleases.

So I ask, where do we stand? Am I right about this?

Obama afta NAFTA?

We’ve heard this talk, especially in the Rust Belt, which doesn’t quite square with his apparently (or it is allegedly?) "non-ideological" policy shop.

Now (with thanks to our friend John von Heyking), we hear stories about people connected with Obama assuring the Canadians that they don’t really mean it. Of course, when that news hits, there are denials all around.

Obama’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric may be pandering; he may not really mean it. Or he may, in which case he’s adding an immense international complication to what ought already be a full plate of foreign policy concerns. And if he and his supporters think they’re going to get "something" for "nothing," that we can just opt out without consequences or extract concessions from our neighbors without giving anything up in return, they have another think coming.

Obama should be pressed to explain what exactly he wants from Canada and Mexico and what price he’s willing to pay to get it. Whose oxen is he willing to have gored in order to "improve" NAFTA?

Update: Of course, Clinton is afta NAFTA too. For a sample of reactions north of the border, see this post.

Obama channels Cosby

Change of which I can approve.

Gerson on oratory

An excellent apology for fine speechifying, by one of our generation’s best speechwriters. By the by, he reminds us that it’s the substance that we need to pin down and criticize.

Cleaner Louisiana

Bobby Jindal, six weeks into his term as governor of Louisiana has started his reforms. The watchwords are ethics and transparency and almost no one thought he could do it, but he has. This fellow is worth keeping an eye on.

Black History Month podcast

I talked with Lucas Morel about Black History Month. This means he talked about Fred Douglass, Lincoln, King, Ellison and other actors and thinkers, or, if you like, the "stewards of American optimism." This was a very fine conversation, based on a recent talk he gave on February 12 at the Heritage Foundation.

Allen Guelzo on the Daily Show

Allen Guelzo talks about his book Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America on Jon Stewart’s "Daily Show". Informative and hilarious. Stewart’s set-up questions are just too funny: e.g., a query about the role of technology in the debates. Enjoy!

Creepy, short-sighted, (and ultimately juvenile) libertarianism

Ronald Bailey doesn’t seem to like kids much, perhaps because they can’t buy his books or otherwise support his "voluntarily childless lifestyle." As Matthew Yglesias (whose position has its own problems, according to our pomocon friend) notes, this calculation works--I’d say might work--until you’re old. But perhaps Bailey doesn’t care about the loneliness of old age without children and grandchildren, or perhaps he doesn’t plan to grow old. And it’s quite likely that he’s utterly indifferent to the cost of social insurance and other government programs that provide benefits to the elderly. Does he care about a functioning economy, one vibrant enough to generate his private retirement income? Who’s going to collect his trash, clean his streets, and keep him safe from criminals and terrorists? Or won’t there be any terrorists and criminals in his largely child-free future, where all the unpleasant stuff is taken care of by robocop and robotrashman?

But let me return to the central point: one of the things that makes us human is feeling and living up to responsibilities for others, which is manifest much more powerfully in child-rearing than even in marriage (especially if you’re talking about two "autonomous adults," each of whom is earning an income sufficient to support himself or herself). Bailey’s position seems to run away from adulthood, because it isn’t much fun. The libertarians I respect are grown-ups who aren’t afraid of grown-up responsibilities.

I hold out the possibility that Bailey is better than his argument, but if the argument shows the man, it actually shows the adolescent.

Next week, this November, and after the New Year

Jay Cost suggests that there is indeed some evidence that HRC is a "good closer," but wonders if that means much more than that typically ill-informed late deciders have heard of her. If that’s true, then it’s hard to imagine that those folks haven’t heard of Obama by now.

Daniel Henninger argues that the Democratic primaries are auditions for the part of selling a dream. Is anyone prepared to contend that Obama isn’t the better salesman?

Karlyn Bowman and Ruy Teixeira (doesn’t he play first base for my Braves?) walk their readers through the state of the art in political demography. Here’s one of the interesting nuggets:

Married voters typically vote solidly Republican and married voters with children even more so. But their representation in the national electorate is waning, as are some values to which these groups have traditionally been linked. According to Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center, two-parent families with kids at home were 23% of the population in 2006, down from 45% in 1972. The proportion of never-married adults rose to nearly a quarter of the electorate between 1972 and 2006, up from 15%. Overall, never-married, divorced, or widowed women are now a narrow majority of adult women, and unmarried households are now a majority of the nation’s households. The growing, unmarried slice of the electorate is tilting Democratic.

Finally, our friend Steve Thomas sends along
this TNR piece about Obama’s domestic and foreign policy advisors. Obama apparently consorts with economists from the University of Chicago who are not true believers in the rational actor model. I regard this, generally speaking, as a good thing. It doesn’t tell me that I’ll find the policies of an Obama Administration (I may have to get used to typing that) congenial. Liberal big government solutions that are adjusted pragmatically at the margins (see, for example, his appraoch to health care) are still liberal big government solutions.

From out of the gloom at NRO

Comes word that a certain book will soon rise to the top of the NYT best-seller list.

WFB, RIP, second version

I never had the fortune of meeting William F. Buckley, or hearing him in person, but I find myself envying those who did. You can read plenty of reminiscences and appreciations over at The Corner, which will, I’m sure, be draped in black for the foreseeable future (as well it should be).

Lots of people will be using this occasion to take stock of the state of American conservatism, which wouldn’t have been widely acknowledged as a three-legged stool without Buckley’s efforts. Whether it will continue to be so understood is, I think, an open question. For the moment I can’t ask you to do anything more than to read Patrick Deneen’s reflections as a point of departure. I don’t agree with everything he says, or at least with the way he says it, but he seems to me to frame some of the issues quite well.


Story here. There will be plenty of commentary to follow, I am sure. In the meantime, a toast to the man and his work and a life well-lived.

Campaign financing again

The Democrats press their attack on John McCain as he attempts to opt out of public financing. Some conservatives appear to be enjoying the spectacle.

The definitive post on the subject is by former FEC Commissioner (and current Ohioan) Brad Smith.

All this leaves me with a few questions unanswered. First, does or does not Barack Obama have a hold on Bush FEC nominee Hans von Spakovsky? The WaTi article says he withdrew his hold in December; everyone else says the hold is still in place. Since that nomination is what is effectively preventing the FEC from reaching a quorum so as to be able to resolve this dispute, people need to be asking Obama and his fellow Democrats about their actions. The opposition to von Spakovsky is connected with his role in promoting voter ID legislation and purging the voter rolls of felons. Partisan Democrats don’t like him. Are they going to be able to get away with prosecuting their partisan ends and putting a cloud over the McCain campaign? As I said before, since they don’t actually have to do anything to keep this mess going, and since it’s pretty arcane, I fear that they can get away with it. Who’s going to put the heat on them? The press? President Bush? The RNC?

Another issue concerns Senator McCain’s place on the Ohio ballot, which he secured by showing that he was authorized for federal matching funds (even though he hadn’t received a penny). This enabled the McCain campaign to avoid the more cumbersome and expensive means of securing voter signatures to win a place on the ballot, a means all the other campaigns seem to have used. In this case, it strikes me that the ball is in the Ohio Secretary of State’s court. Why does Ohio law permit this alternative means of ballot access? I assume that demonstrating to the FEC’s satisfaction that you’ve raised lots of money in small increments in lots of states is a proxy for demonstrating that you could, if you needed to, jump through Ohio’s hoops for getting on the ballot. But I don’t know what the intention of the Ohio law is, and I don’t know how the official charged with administering that law will rule.

The big Pew survey revisited

The good folks at Acton have given me an incentive to think about the Pew survey I mentioned yesterday. They even suggested that I take a look at these two essays on church-shopping, which seems to be one of the big take-aways from the report.

Virtually all the major stories on the survey make our church shopping the headline, followed closely by the observation that we’re headed toward minority status for Protestants, and the observation that the secularist category is growing like gangbusters. This WaPo article is typical. The WaTi’s Julia Duin (for my money one of our best religion beat reporters) focuses on the decline of Catholicism (kept afloat by immigrants, but losing those raised in the Church) and the rise of evangelicalism. Get Religion’s Terry Mattingly nicely summarizes the various angles stories have taken.

As for me, I have lots of questions. To wit: why do people move from one church or denomination to another? Are they changing or are the denominations changing? (In the Knippenberg family, it’s a bit of both. We attend a church that’s somewhat like the church in which my wife grew up, but it’s a different denomination. As for my own upbringing...well, that’s another story.)

Another issue: the secular number in the survey is large--around 16%, as I recall. But only 4% of those call themselves atheists or agnostics. The other 12% are divided between people who apparently don’t give religion a thought (let’s call them "worldlings") and those who are kinda sorta spiritual but don’t fit into a denominational box at the moment. Some of the latter are immigrants; some others are young folks. Both these types find themselves in circumstances when their identities (for want of a better term) are in flux. I assume that many of them will settle. Where? So-called seeker-friendly churches are made for people like that, though one hopes that they eventually move from seeking to finding. In a similar vein, I’d add that one thing that tends to motivate people to church or back to church is marriage and family. All of this is a long way of saying that I’m not sure that our relatively high (by American standards) percentage of people who claim no religious affiliation is necessarily a harbinger of a post-religious future. It may be, but a lot depends, I think, on such "mundane" considerations as whether the decay of the family continues apace and whether churches and denominations do a good job of reaching out to immigrants. (Indeed, if our religious health were my principal consideration, I’d be very accommodating to immigrants...and make certain that women and children accompanied the young men. Without the former, the latter are much less likely to find their way into a church.)

Your thoughts and observations are welcome, especially before tomorrow morning, when I’ll be joining the Radio Free Acton podcast.

Update: The not-yet-ex-Catholic Jon Schaff has more. (I by the way do not mean to suggest that he’s on his way to being an ex-Catholic, but I do think he nails one of the problems with Catholic religious education as I experienced it--at least episodically--growing up.) Which leads me to another question connected with our religious fluidity: to the degree that churches all too often consist of rather poorly educated ex-members of other churches, how on earth can anyone successfully inculcate anyone in a religious tradition? Pastors have to carry an awful lot of weight, a problem that’s compounded in the Roman Catholic Church by the relative shortage of priests.

Update #2: You can listen here to the Radio Free Acton podcast.

Today’s Clinton Fun Fact

Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978 at the age of 32. He lost his first bid for re-election in 1980, giving him the odd distinction of being the youngest governor and youngest ex-governor in American political history. Newsweek reports that after his surprising defeat, "Clinton sank into a deep funk. Wandering the streets of Little Rock, he’d stop to question strangers: "’Why do you think I lost?’" [The correct answer to that question is, "Because you’re the kind of guy who wanders the streets of Little Rock asking strangers, ’Why do you think I lost?’"]

Ashbrook Center

Video on the Ashbrook Center

Earlier this month at CPAC, Ashbrook Chairman Marv Krinsky gave the annual John Ashbrook Award to Lee Edwards. We put together the following video for the dinner as an introduction to John Ashbrook and the work we are doing here at the Center.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

The faith-based initiative at risk?

Being otherwise occupied, I missed this article last week (hat tip to Howard Friedman through Jordan Ballor). The usual secularist subjects want to strip the affirmation of religious hiring rights from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Act renewal. Their argument is the old "no government funding of religious discrimination" canard, with which I dealt many moons ago here. The short version of my argument is that we’re not funding religious discrimination, we’re supporting religious freedom in carrying out programs that work. We shouldn’t fund programs because they’e religious, but because they work. We shouldn’t refuse to fund programs that are religious if they work, assuming that a wide range of alternatives is available (and also funded). This isn’t a violation of the First Amendment.

I have more to say about these matters in a review forthcoming this summer in the CRB.

Sikkenga on NBC Affiliate

Our own Jeff Sikkenga will be on NBC4 in Columbus this evening providing commentary on the Obama-Clinton debate starting at 9:00pm. If your cable system doesn’t carries NBC4, he will also be hosting a live chat on the debate on NBC4’s website during and after the debate. Follow the link and you will see a banner near the top of that page advertising the live chat. Log on tonight and take the opportunity to ask him questions about the debate as it happens.

Hillary’s Wilderness Campaign

One point about Hillary Clinton’s dire situation hasn’t received enough attention: her need to win both the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. A split-decision next Tuesday will be as damaging to her campaign as two defeats. Today’s Real Clear Politics average of the latest polls shows Clinton 8 points ahead of Obama in Ohio and 1.5 points behind in Texas. Polls in both states have shifted in Obama’s direction over the past week. According to Marc Ambinder, Clinton’s advisors now “figure that a loss in Texas is as likely as a win in Ohio.”

To put this problem of needing two big victories in military terms, Clinton’s position is like an army that needs to stretch its forces to defend the entirety of a long front, facing an opponent that can mass its troops for an assault on the point of its choosing. The similarity to Robert Lee vs. Ulysses Grant becomes stronger considering that Obama, like Grant, has more troops and more firepower. His campaign organization has shown itself to be more nimble and disciplined than hers over the past 8 weeks. He spent five times as much as she did on television advertising in Wisconsin. His financial advantage over the next week will be smaller than that but still considerable. With that advantage Obama can put extra ads on the air in Texas, if that continues to look more promising, while spending enough in Ohio to pin Clinton down there and prevent her from shifting resources to Texas.

Facing this tactical challenge, Hillary’s army in not only running low on bullets but, as you would expect after losing 11 straight battles, suffering morale problems. Patrick Healy reported in the New York Times that some Clinton campaign staffers are “burning out.” Some have “taken to going home early — 9 p.m. — turning off their BlackBerrys, and polishing off bottles of wine,” he writes, while others “have taken several days off, despite it being crunch time.” Mike Allen and John Harris reinforce that point in today’s Politico, portraying a campaign team “consumed with frustration and finger-pointing” that has “slipped into full recriminations mode.” The campaign has become “a grim slog,” they write.

Military history teaches that most tactical dilemmas are begotten by strategic blunders. We’ll give Michael Barone the last word on Hillary’s: “The way Clinton has run her campaign – like the way she ran health care reform in 1993-94 – undercuts her claim to be ready for the presidency from day one. In both cases, she had no fallback strategy, no Plan B, in case her best-case scenario failed to come to pass.”

Change in which I could have believed

Ah, but not so fast.

Cultural illiteracy yet again

There’s another survey--described in this article--that points toward the weakness of our schools as transmitters of anything like our full cultural legacy. Yes, the kids get Martin Luther King, but not Martin Luther; civil rights, but not so much the Civil War.

And this explanation won’t wash: it is, after all, possible to read about our history and culture.

I haven’t yet seen the report itself. When I find it, I’ll provide a link and will doubtless have more to say.

Update: You can download the report from this page and you can take a look at the survey’s sponsoring organization here.

Jonah Goldberg at Oglethorpe

No, he’s not coming back, but you can listen to a podcast of his speech here, in the second hour of this radio show (halfway through the podcast). The show’s hostess introduces Jonah’s talk by confessing that she’s kinda liberal, but (now) more conservative than she realized.

Random Observations

1. David Brooks explains in his new column that nobody is going to get anywhere claiming that McCain is too cozy with the lobbyists. Nobody has a more consistent record of taking on the special interests, the earmarks, the clever legislative insulations from competition and all that. Someone might say he’s too comtemptuous, in a warrior’s way, of ordinary democratic interest-group politics.

2. Stephen Hayes has a thoughtful comparison of Obama with Reagan in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Anyone who listens closely notices that Barack doesn’t just speak in platitudes, but has a complex and nuanced grasp of very liberal positions on policy issues. He’s careful to express his extreme views without being strident, and while always showing respect for the other side. So he might have what it takes to mainstream liberalism--to make it young and beautiful--again, just like Reagan mainstreamed conservatism in many ways.

3. Brooks concludes his column by claiming that we really do have two extraordinary candidates this year.

Religious landscape survey

The Pew Forum has issued the first installment of a report based upon a massive survey (we’re talking 35,000 respondents) of the American religious landscape. Bookmark the main page, with its interactive features, read the executive summary, and, if you dare, download the whole dang report, all 143 pages of it.

The folks at Pew promise more to come from this impressively comprehensive survey later this year.

I’ve just started browsing the report and playing with the interactive features.

No! Don’t Retract It!

It is reported that John McCain acknowledges that one of the central things he must do as a candidate for the presidency is to convince Americans that there is a reason to continue with the war on terror. When asked what happens if he can’t do that, he is reported to have said, "I lose." I gotta say . . . I like that. I suppose there’s a "rabbit’s foot" sense in which acknowledging the possibility of defeat can be considered the wrong way to conduct a campaign. But I like the very clear acknowledgment from McCain that this is his task before November. It is and it must be. He has to make the case for this war because we must go on fighting it.

And, whatever Barack Obama may say about what he’ll do as President, I really don’t believe he’ll simply stop. It’s juvenile to believe that it’s even possible. McCain can demonstrate (in a way that is not boring, please) exactly why it will be impossible to simply stop fighting. Then he can show why it would be irresponsible. Finally, he can ask the American people whether they want a guy with no experience and no heart for the fight leading the inevitable fight. If they are with him in understanding why the fight is here whether we like it or not, then it’s hard to make a reasonable case that Barack Obama is the better man for that job.

Obamacans running amok in Ohio?

The L.A. Times finds a couple who have bought the post-partisan line. To them, the tone and the personality matter more than the substance. Did they always?

Iowa faith-based prison program to end

Thanks to the federal courts and a Democratic governor. You can read all about it on Knippenblog.

Barack Obama to the contrary...

"I still haven’t found what I’m looking for." (Apologies to U2.) Bill Kristol is the latest to note that Barack Obama and his wife have a certain this-worldly messianism about them.

Obama has long noted that "we" (or at least some of us) have a hole in our souls, but in earlier speeches (such as the one I discuss here), he described the hole as one "that the government alone can’t fix." The implication was that the loving efforts of religious congregations could help heal what ails at least some of us. (This, by the way, is a view that George W. Bush shares.)

But the new faith healer Obama, as Kristol points out, seems to think that his election will begin a process of healing. This is, of course, a much less modest view of government’s role, let alone his role.

Obama, McCain, and the FEC

The WSJ editorializes about the questions I discussed here. Much as I too would hate to hand Obama and his allies a victory on Hans von Spakovsky, I think removing the shadow from McCain’s campaign is more pressing.

Update: In the meantime, Democrats are enjoying the spectacle of McCain twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. (Full disclosure, lest I be accused of plagiarism: those aren’t my words, but belong to John Ehrlichman.)

The 49th State

1. Those who want to hear my message of hope and change that promises to fix the hole in the American soul will have to travel to the University of Alaska Anchorage (recently visited by Peter Schramm) this week. There I’ll speak on the Tocqueville and America’s three races or on the American display of both middle-class and aristocratic virtues and vices or on greatness and justice on our very own soil. McCain and Huckabee are bound to make a brief appearance (in my speech). Go to the Polaris website at UAA for further details on this event next Thursday night.

2. There’s a lot of talk about Barack and Michelle’s effort to plug the hole in the American soul through inspirational rhetoric about change. Here the Big O is traveling in televangelist country, with the promise to make us better through his gracious word and without meriting salvation through our good deeds. And, as Michelle has proclaimed, we can finally be proud of our country only because it has recognized its savior through the testimony of its voters.

3. By contrast, Bill Kristol asserts, John McCain loves his country more than himself and is much more about deeds than words. But it’s surely an exaggeration to say that Mac is a man of few words, and it’s probably more accurate to say that he loves both his country and himself a lot. Thank God we don’t have a candidate this time with the self-doubt that plagued even Lincoln and de Gaulle on occasion.

4. I, for one, wish Mac would start talking up the virtue of ordinary Americans in their daily lives. Men and women who know how to live well under God don’t need political salvation. But they do benefit from the encouragement of the right kind of (limited) government policy, and we return once again to "the Warrior" becoming credible as a Republican on domestic policy.

5. I could expand my previous remarks on the Warrior and the Preacher to include one warrior and two preachers (Huck and Obama). Huck has the guts or lack of prudence to make his preaching pretty sectarian (God’s law) and policy-laden (the Human Life Amendment). Barack’s seems nonsectarian and really does seem to replace God with Himself.

6. An article in new AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE (which, as usual, I skimmed for free at Barnes and Noble) makes the point that President Obama is not likely to have either a humble or an isolationist foreign policy. He might well rival the present president in his ideological and even military interventionism--he’s out to the save everyone and maybe every species on the planet and not just our people.

7. If you’re really tough on immigration and a "realist" in the technical sense in foreign policy, you’re out of luck this time. Depending on your definition, it’s possible to say that both candidates are nationalists or that neither of them really is.

Huckabee’s future

Here are two pieces speculating on Mike Huckabee’s post-08 future. Does he want to be a erious contender in ’12, or someone with whom all the serious contenders must deal? By staying in the game so long, he’s been able to introduce himself to voters who otherwise wouldn’t have paid much attention, especially in Texas.

Note also David Kuo’s argument that, with the passing of the old religious conservative guard, the successors are less likely to focus relatively narrowly on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They’ll still be important, but the portfolio will be more extensive...and also more likely to depart from fiscal conservative orthodoxy.

As I’ve said before, there are ways of talking about these matters that don’t require "big government" solutions, but Republicans do have to indicate that they "care" about them. Otherwise, Amy Sullivan’s analysis of the ways in which Democrats have been hostile to the concerns of religious folks will find a mirror image in someone’s analysis of Republicans. Nothing is to be gained from having a tin ear...except permanent back-bencher status.

Frederick Douglass

Peter C. Myers’ new book on Frederick Douglass landed on my desk just as I was leaving for Florida on Thursday (I just got back), so I was able to read some it on the trip (it encouraged me for I had to speak on Lincoln at The Villages on Friday, about 250 folks showed up, by the way; I enjoyed it very much, hope they did). The Myers book is probably the most serious study of Douglass’ mind ever written, in my opinion. Is it too much to hope that Mrs. Obama (or the Senator) might read it? (Or Toni Morrison, for that matter, who said in 1986, "At no moment of my life have I ever felt as though I were an American.") Well, this might be a good time to remind ourselves that Frederick Douglass--under much more difficult conditions than are experienced today--was not alienated from our ancient faith. Or--to put it more simply--in seeing the difference between the good principles and the bad practice, he reminded folks, especially white folks, of both their hypocrisy and the soul of their country. Douglass speaking on the Fourth of July, 1862: "No people ever entered upon the pathway of nations, with higher and grander ideas of justice, liberty and humanity than ourselves." Douglass knew that Americans were not living up to their purposes, so he made it his life’s work to both change the practice (agitate, first against slavery then against segregation) and always to instruct his fellow citizens on the first principles of government. And so he instructs us today, and that teaching is revivified by Professor Myers. Good for us.

Peter Lawler

1. One effect of the Obama campaign has been to strengthen the Democratic party state-by-state. That’s what’s going on now in Texas. He’s attracting new voters and energizing the existing ones. Not only will he carry Texas against Hillary, there’s serious talk that he may carry Texas in November.

2. The column by David Brooks and the article in the NYT on McCain’s choice of running mate both make clear how thin the Republican talent pool is. I would say that Romney would be much better than the Governors of MN, FL, NC, and even Haley Barbour of Mississippi. I would encourage Mac to think "outside the box," but that might lead him to pick some Democrat or Huck.

3. Fred Barnes makes the interesting point that one of McCain’s strengths is that he’s relatively immune to the characteristic Democratic ideological attack on global warming, torture, Guantanamo, guns, tax cuts for the rich, and so forth. And that’s true, although we might wonder whether people who vote with such issues in mind would vote for any Republican. But the downside, I repeat, is that he’s not particularly well suited to bring on the ideological attack on those issues where the characteristic Republican position is actually popular--judges and tax cuts for families. Mac is strong on the patriotism issue, and Obama might well be even weaker than McGovern on the "nationalism" front. This might not be the most promising year for milking the American’s love of country for Republican purposes, though. Mac needs, I repeat once more, needs to become credible AS A REPUBLICAN on the domestic issues.