Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

For Art’s Sake?

During my misspent teenage years, my parents dragged me to an exhibit of Paul Gauguin’s work. Near the end of our tour of the exhibit, a friend who had joined us turned to me and said, “he liked looking at young women. I can appreciate that.” (Truth be told, his language was a bit stronger, but this is a family website). The troubles Miley Cirus has had of late (which Julie mentioned a couple of days ago) reminded me of that bit of adolescent wisdom.

In the past couple of centuries, broadly speaking, art seems to have lost its way. The naked pursuit of art for arts sake has made it difficult to consider the moral implications of art (other than "consciousness raising," and other such things) or the legitimacy of moral restrictions on the artist’s craft. Hence it is not entirely impossible that Miley Cirus and her father trusted Annie Liebovitz when she asked the 15 year old Miley to pose half naked for her camera. It is possible that they trusted a respected artist at work. Taking pictures of semi-nude people, however young or old, is, after all, art.

That reminds me of a comment in Leo Strauss’ famous "Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion": "Rousseau was the first modern critic of the fundamental modern project (man’s conquest of nature for the sake of the relief of man’s estate) who therewith laid the foundation for the distinction, so fateful for German thought, between civilization and culture." Culture, in which we find the world of high art, is to be free to follow its own muse. A good civilization, many people nowadays seem to think, is one that lets artists be free to do so. Hence my friend was not entirely wrong about the trend that Gauguin represented with his paintings from Tahiti.

Perhaps Voltaire put it best in a letter to Rousseau: "One wants to walk on all fours after reading your book."

Random Observations

1. Today is Willie Nelson’s birthday. Although I’m sure he has many unsound political and pharmacological views, he’s impossible not to like.

2. The most recent studies show Hillary nearing a double-digit lead in Indiana and behind only by single digits in North Carolina. But, to repeat myself, her surge has nothing to do with her renewed popularity. Nor does it increase enough to notice her very, very small chance of getting the nomination. Back in the good old real convention days, party leaders would be searching for a third candidate.

3. Rev. Wright, to state the obvious, both has caused Obama to become less popular and, through his hyper-polarizing racist demagoguery, makes it even less possible for Democrats to consider denying Barack the nomination. The most likely scenario is Obama limping to the nomination with no momentum and little enthusiasm. But he may rise from the dead at his convention.

Immigration, Old Style

From the fine textbook, Colonial America in an Atlantic World, by T.H. Breen and Timothy Hall. In the 18th Century:

arrival in an American port brought relief to passengers and excitement onshore. Crowds of prospective masters gathered to bid for immigrants ‘exposed for redemption sale.’ Fellow countryfolk already settled in America came on board to refresh expected relatives and friends with bread, fruit, and beer or to glean news and collect letters from home. Paying passengers settled accounts and gathered belongings, whereas those sailing on credit tried or arrange for payment or prepared themselves for terms of servitude. . . . Non British passengers then made their way to the courthouse, where English officials required them to take the oath of allegiance to the King and his successors, renounce any allegiance to the Pope, and abide by the laws of the colony where they were settling.

When Pigs Fly

Ben Boychuk brings to our attention this highly amusing story about Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) and his little lost Obama pig. He’s got some funny video too. I would say more but Ben says it so well. There’s also some more video. But just go read Ben and see the videos. Almost, but still not quite as good as the taser boy.

Post-Partisahship That’s Not Marked Down

William Galston of the Brookings Institution said something interesting the other day, which is a common event. He told New York magazine’s John Heilemann that the reason even many Democrats who admire Barack Obama think the fresh winner of the Iowa caucuses has gone stale is that he has “tried to be post-partisan on the cheap, through bring-us-together rhetoric and leadership style as opposed to substance.” Heilemann agreed, lamenting “Obama’s rebranding as a standard-issue liberal,” whose every policy proposal could “have been put forward happily by Nancy Pelosi or Ted Kennedy.”

Sen. Obama has come a remarkably long way towards the White House by speaking, nebulously, about replacing rancorous partisanship with “a different kind of politics.” As Galston points out, though, inclusive processes and earnest, respectful attitudes can improve the tone of our political life, but will not resolve deep differences over substantive policies. In a review of The Audacity of Hope, written before it was clear Obama would even run for president in 2008, Michael Tomasky detected signs that this Democrat “is not a political warrior by temperament,” but rather, “a believer in civic virtue, and in the possibility of good outcomes negotiated in good faith.”

It’s a lovely vision, but reality is going have other ideas. Mickey Kaus has argued that “half-a-loaf” political problems, ones that can be solved by both sides giving up things they don’t care about very much, are neither numerous nor significant – most of the easily solved problems have already been solved. “The problems we’re left with,” according to Kaus, “are problems where one side or the other is willing to fight to the death to protect a core demand that must be denied to achieve a solution.”

Post-partisanship that wasn’t on the cheap would acknowledge the policy questions that are intrinsically difficult, and the political problems that are daunting because of deeply held, irreconcilable views. Real leadership, in these circumstances, will often require telling one side, and perhaps both, that their core demands are going to have to be tossed overboard. The journalist Matt Miller, for example, floated the idea in 1999 of an ideologically eclectic rescue for floundering urban school systems: a big increase in federal aid, but also a much bigger role for vouchers. Several conservatives, including Milton Friedman, Sen. Lamar Alexander and school-choice activist Clint Bolick expressed misgivings but ultimately signed on, as did Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP. Miller next tried the idea out on Bob Chase, then president of the National Education Association:

Miller: Is there any circumstance under which that would be something that . . .

Chase: No.

Miller: . . . you guys could live with? Why?

Chase: No.

Miller: Double school spending . . .

Chase: No.

Miller: . . . in inner cities?

Chase: No.

Miller: Triple it . . .

Chase: No.

Miller: . . . but give them a voucher?

Chase: ‘Cause, one, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to answer a hypothetical [question] when nothing like that is ever possible.

Miller: But teachers use hypotheticals every day.

Chase: Not in arguments like this we don’t. . . . It’s pure and simply not going to happen. I’m not even going to use the intellectual processes to see if in fact that could work or not work, because it’s not going to happen. That’s a fact.

Chase’s position has an impregnable circularity: Vouchers aren’t going to happen because teachers unions aren’t going to talk about them, so there’s no point in the unions talking about them since they’re not going to happen.

The Obama 1.0 who won the Iowa caucuses came across as temperamentally and politically languid. In a New Yorker profile, “The Conciliator,” one Obama supporter described hearing from many conservative friends who identified Obama as “the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesn’t, but because I at least think he’ll take my point of view into account.” This very quality antagonized the legions of Democrats who, like Bob Chase, are in no mood for conciliation. Paul Krugman, for example, called Obama “naïve” for refusing to become a polarizing figure: “Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.”

Four months after Iowa, it’s clear that Obama is not going to be able to capture the White House merely by insisting on the importance of better table manners. If Obama wants to do the heavy lifting real post-partisanship requires, he has the perfect foil in Hillary Clinton, whose campaign has become an increasingly desperate and shameless panderthon. She stridently tells every Democratic constituency that none of their demands are unaffordable or outlandish, all of their core demands are inviolable, and only greedy, mean-spirited Republicans stand between them and their wishes.

Rather than try to keep up with this demagoguery, Obama should emphasize issues that will make some people in his party angry. He’s off to a good start in opposing the inane idea, advanced by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, of a gas tax “holiday” for the summer. Perhaps he’ll go on from there to embrace Matt Miller’s compromise on public education, or to advocate supplanting race-based with class-based affirmative action. The political support he would lose would be offset by the respect he would gain for demonstrating that post-partisan credibility will have to be earned.

A Suer Mentality

In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Gail Heriot describes the rank thugishness of the American Bar Association’s work accrediting law schools. The case of George Mason University Law School is typical.

GMU’s problems began in early 2000, when the American Bar Association visited the law school, which has a somewhat conservative reputation, for its routine reaccreditation inspection. The site evaluation team was unhappy that only 6.5% of entering students were minorities.

Outreach was not the problem; even the site evaluation report (obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests) conceded that GMU had a "very active effort to recruit minorities." But the school, the report noted, had been "unwilling to engage in any significant preferential affirmative action admissions program." Since most law schools were willing to admit minority students with dramatically lower entering academic credentials, GMU was at a recruitment disadvantage. The site evaluation report noted its "serious concerns" with the school’s policy.

Over the next few years, the ABA repeatedly refused to renew GMU’s accreditation, citing its lack of a "significant preferential affirmative action program" and supposed lack of diversity. The school stepped up its already-extensive recruitment efforts, but was forced to back away from its opposition to significant preferential treatment. It was thus able to raise the proportion of minorities in its entering class to 10.98% in 2001 and 16.16% in 2002.

Not good enough. In 2003, the ABA summoned the university’s president and law school dean to appear before it personally, threatening to revoke the institution’s accreditation.

GMU responded by further lowering minority admissions standards

And the harassment of GMU by the ABA continues.

Food or Health Care?

According to this morning’s local newspaper, a left-wing think tank called Policy Matters Ohio has added a new wrinkle to its argument for socialized medicine: Ohioans are "sacrificing other basic needs in order to pay for health care." One example the group gives is that lower-income people "may eat cheaper and less nutritious foods instead of more expensive fresh fruit, whole grains and vegetables."

Leaving aside the dubious claim that the reason lower-income people eat at McDonald’s is that they’re devoting all of their money toward health care, why aren’t the good folks at Policy Matters Ohio complaining about the soaring price of "fresh fruit, whole grains and vegetables"? Could it be that they’re hesitant to object to the diversion of so much of the world’s cropland to the production of ethanol, the latest global-warming panacea?

The economy

The U.S. Economy grew by 0.6% the last quarter. While this is not impressive (same as last quarter) it is better than expected and means that we are not in a recession; one economist calls it a "growth recession." The guy’s a wordsmith.

Random Observations

Lacking the time or energy right now to hunt up my own links, here are some shaky opinions on the ones posted by others:

1. Did you notice the manly Mansfield’s bold opinion in his hooking up review? He’s endorsing some mean between the hooking-up culture of the elite institution and the purity culture of the evangelical college. Each extreme, apparently, is a denial of the truth about our eros. Extreme claims about both hooking up and purity turn out to be forms of bragging that are plainly unrealistic. I’m not saying I agree, but it’s something worth talking about.

2. Berry College, always on the cutting edge, has already had a seminar on Mansfield’s MANLINESS and Wolfe’s I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, on the philosopher and the novelist of manliness. There are some amazing similarities between the two manly guys’ Jefferson lectures given in successive years.

3. Rev. Wright is sounding so insistently crazy that I confess I’m getting suspicious. People can reasonably say that Obama couldn’t possibly agree with ALL THAT, and so the distancing Barack needs is being accomplished by his preacher, who might be in a sly way taking one for the good of the campaign.

4. To answer a comment in the thread: I completely agree with Mac Owens that with better luck and/or better strategy the South might have won the Civil War. And even the defeat of Hitler was far from inevitable and depended upon some luck.

5. All the manly exaggerations found in men who brag about hooking up were predicted by Tocqueville in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA: The Americans take complacent pleasure in explaining that they’ve informed every moment of their lives by the doctrine of self-interest rightly understood. They brag, in other words, that love is for suckers etc.

Douglas Feith’s fate

At Georgetown University, at least, it seems to be sealed. Despite excellent teaching reviews and support from unlikely sources, Douglas Feith’s two-year teaching contract apparently won’t be renewed. Oh, it’s on the up-and-up. It was only a two year contract, after all. There was no promise of renewal.

But one wonders whether the colleagues who open-mindedly and hospitably greeted his appointment by calling him a war criminal might have been instrumental in showing him the door. And the administration did have an easy way out. It was only a two year contract, after all.

Civil War strategy podcast

I talked withMac Owens about the military strategy in the Civil War. Very good stuff, of course, but, alas it’s only about twenty minutes long. Thanks Mac!    

Obama on Wright

Wright is wrong, he says. Here’s the transcript of his press conference, in which he tries to put as much distance as possible between himself and Rev. Wright.

I’ll have more later, after I get back from some parental duties.

Update: Enjoyed a swim meet, dinner, and family time, with nary a thought for Obama and Wright. I think that the people Julie has been listening to are correct (no more punning on Wright). The ground will shift from whether Obama disagrees with the Rev. to why it took so long for the scales to fall from his eyes. This is clearly not a new or changed Wright. And while I’ll concede that you can’t size up a pastor all at once (especially if you’re as innocent of the ways of the church as Obama was twenty years ago), who he is and what he believes ought to have been clear enough long before now. So Obama’s judgment indeed becomes the issue.

And he will continue to be distracted by questions about Wright, either putting him off message or making it difficult for him to pierce the fog of this particular political war.

I also agree with Steve Thomas that Obama has an opportunity, not without political risks, to precipitate, not a national conversation about race, but a conversation among African-Americans about the burdens of history. I’m sure he’d rather do that from the Oval Office, but I doubt he’ll have the luxury.

Finally, there’s the politics of all this. I’ll be interested to see whether and how much this hurts Obama in the remaining primaries and in the general election (if it comes to that). For some portion of his supporters, he has probably said all that needs to be said. For some other portion, he may have said too much. (How many divisions does Rev. Wright have?) The latter surely won’t vote for HRC. What happens in North Carolina and Indiana if they stay home? I have a hard time seeing any fence-sitters breaking in Obama’s direction, though it’s also not as if Clinton is a big draw. Perhaps, then, some measure of the effect of this brouhaha will be whether turnout is down in N.C. and Indiana in comparison to previous states.

Barring a total Obama collapse in the remaining races, the superdelegates will still, I think, have a hard time refusing him the nomination.

In the general election, this becomes part of the general picture that I hope the McCain campaign paints about Obama’s character and (in)experience. Too much exclusive focus on it would, I suspect, be counterproductive.

Obama Under Sniper Fire

First he threw his grandma under the bus. Now he’s throwing in the Rev. Wright for good measure. So he took the advice offered by the estimable Prof. Schramm and gave a speech expressing his "outrage" at the Rev. Wright. Here’s a link to the video. I think he was effective and he did what he needed to do. Those who were already disposed to love him now love him more. He will be forgiven by his base and they will go back to defending him. But he still has his work cut out for him in re-gaining ground lost and it’s possible that he may have alienated a large chunk of his supporters who had a favorable view of the Rev. Wright. So this press conference will help, but it won’t be enough. Still, one cannot escape this conclusion: at this point the only thing separating Barack Obama from Hillary Clinton in terms of their respective willingness to say anything to get elected is that Obama was probably closer to "sniper fire" in this instance than Hillary Clinton ever was in Bosnia. He may have dodged the bullet . . . but he also might succumb to post-traumatic stress.

UPDATE: I’m hearing a lot of criticism of Obama in the news segments of local radio from political science types who, in light of this seeming reversal, are now questioning Obama’s judgment and his "leadership." It is a fair point, it seems to me. If we take him at his own words, it seems that he has been very wrong about a man he said (just six weeks ago in Philadelphia) was "like family" and with whom he as been associated for 20 years. How long will it take for Sen. Obama to assess the character of, say, Ahmadinejad? Do we have 20 years to spare for this effort?

Hannah and Her Sisters

James Poulos makes a very strong case for the inexpressible sadness that must accompany any serious reflection upon the dust up surrounding 15 year-old Miley Cyrus and those "artistic" semi-nude photographs she had taken for a Vanity Fair spread. I don’t normally follow the comings and goings of Disney Channel television personalities--mainly because we don’t get the Disney Channel. But one cannot have an eight year-old daughter today and not be at least semi-conscious of the phenomenon that is "Hannah Montana." That being said, this "fluff" story seems much less fluffy. The thing does merit the kind of serious reflection Poulos offers.

Poulos argues:

I’ve argued before that our problem isn’t honoring the sexual power of young women, it’s in aggravating that power for the purposes of dishonoring it. Miley’s evocative portrait alone doesn’t contribute to this problem. But the premise of the picture, and so much of what brought it into being, does.
Just so. It does seem that we build or puff up these pretty young things for the explicit purpose of tearing them down. And it is pathetic. It all stems from an inability to recognize what is truly beautiful or truly erotic in this life. We hold up the example of a young girl who--clearly, no matter what her "experience"--knows nothing of the erotic. But in that, she is just like us. She is the embodiment of our cultural naiveté. Like her, we are all promise and potential and, very likely, no delivery. We are excited and lured by the promise (or the hope)--perhaps as we once were drawn by similar sirens in our youth--and we bet (against the odds and against reason) for a different outcome. We look in all the wrong places to satiate our appetite--we search for something to which we can join ourselves and with which we can create something higher than ourselves. But that proves disappointing. It is easier and cheaper to do this than to do the real work for real satisfaction--or to accept the disappointment. We’re beyond the winks and nods we once allowed for the wolfish side of male nature--and the counterbalancing "over-protectiveness" of good fathers. Those things we now label "sexual harassment" and paternalism. In this change we puff ourselves up with the notion that we are all wolves now--we are all possessed of the power to be "beyond" the old limits . . . but, in fact, we are really just pigs doing little more than rutting.

Miley Cyrus, or her sister persona "Hannah Montana," made a fortune as she seemed to buck the trend of sexualizing childhood. But it was, as Poulos points out by noting a "regular" photo of Cyrus that is equally shameful, only an illusion. Behind the apparent demand for more wholesome fare in the popular culture, lurks more than a few pathetic pigs eager and ready slurp up some more slop. These pigs get rather noisy when they are not fed. If they are ignored long enough, they will even eat their young.

Brooks on demography

David Brooks describes, well, not exactly class conflict in the Democratic Party. Obama is the bobo candidate and HRC, a bobo herself, has become the default candidate of the working class Catholics from places like Scranton and Fresno. I have several questions, beginning with: if the bobo Clinton can win among working class Catholics, why can’t the Obobobama? The next is: is Clinton’s relative success with downmarket white and Hispanic voters in the Democratic primaries "authentic"? Is she appealing to them on her own merits or simply as the anyone-but-Obama candidate?

Then, finally, there’s this: one of the "facts" about at least some churches that social scientists have pointed to is that they can bridge class divides, with educated professionals worshipping alongside guys who work in garages. Jeremiah Wright’s church isn’t alone in being that way. Of course, I recognize that the distribution of socioeconomic "types" varies from denomination to denomination, with the Episcopal "center of gravity," for example, differing from its Southern Baptist or Pentecostal counterpart. I also recognize that this varies somewhat from congregation to congregation, especially to the degree that the congregations are located in socioeconomically defined neighborhoods. And now, finally, for the question: does the catholicity of the Catholic church do more to bring folks together across socioeconomic divides or does its parish system encourage a kind of separation? A couple of generations ago, one could, in certain northeastern and midwestern cities, speak of the Polish parish, the Irish parish, or the Italian parish. Ethnicity to some degree qualified catholicity. Can one now speak of upscale or bobo parishes and of downmarket or working class parishes? Or not?

Update: I meant to note, but initially didn’t, that Brooks could have written a similar column about Republicans, as there are clearly gaps between the business-oriented Wall Street types and the exurban evangelical social conservatives, to pick up a couple of stereotypes. And I haven’t even mentioned the neoconservative intelligentsia. One difference is that, for the most part (there are exceptions), Republicans have dealt somewhat more respectfully with intraparty "cultural" differences. That is, they’re aware of the gaps and have, from time to time, tried to bridge them.

Hooking up

The great Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. reviews this book on what some would call the hook-up "culture." The review and the book ought to be required reading for anyone interested in higher education.  

Destroying Obama

Now that Reverend Wright has spoken thrice at length, and answered questions at length, we have learned much about what he thinks, how he thinks, and how fond he is of himself. There was nothing American, or post racial, or post ideological, about any of this. On the one hand, this may be an intelligent man, a well educated man, even a deeply religious man. On the other hand, he sounds like an idiot, a fool, even a fraud.

We can speculate about why this man did what he did, and why he did it now. But that would be speculation based on effect. The effect is to destroy Obama’s presidential campaign. It is now certain that Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic nominee for president. The door has opened through which the superdelegates can walk--never mind Indiana voters--in good conscience not only arguing that Obama is not electable, but arguing that he shouldn’t be elected because the twenty year association is too tight, too revealing. Wright is no Martin Luther King, Jr. challenging us to live up to our standards, calling us to be our better selves.

Obama could make another race speech in which he will denounce both Wright and his words altogether. Behind him and with him he he should place every serious person he can, especially black thinkers and preachers, all of whom would be willing and able to speak on behalf of the abstract principle that is the American cause and appeal to the better angels of our nature. If he cannot do this--with pith and eloquence, even some justifiable anger against the egoistic Wright--he is finished.

Rev. Wright v. Jews

Instapundit links to serval comments about Reverend Wright’s latest sermon (if that’s the right word for it). In particular, he points us to this piece by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (no conservative he), which highlights Wright’s praise of Louis Farrakhan and the belief that Zionism is racism.

Two questions: How can Zionism be racism when any Palestinian (or anyone else for that matter) may become a Jew if they choose? On the other hand, it is impossible for a Jew to become a Palestinian. Perhpas it’s more proper to say that Palestinian nationalism (or even Arab nationalism more broadly) is racism. After all, the latter are, or, at least, they seem to have come to be, genetic groups.

Second question. In an earlier sermon, Wright suggested that he subscribes to the belief that Jesus was black. Is that belief inherently anti-Jewish? Unless I am mistaken, it is an implicit denial that Jesus was a Jew.

One final unrelated point. By raising his profile, and portraying himself as a representative of the Black church in America, does Wright strengthen Obama’s place in the Democratic party? Has Wright made it harder for the party elders pick Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama, because he has helped to make it harder to do so without alienating the most loyal part of the Democratic base?

Voter ID law upheld

Here’s the story. You can get to the opinion here. The opinion for the 6-3 majority was written by John Paul Stevens and joined by Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts. Justice Scalia authored a brief concurrence, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito. Both opinions agree that the inconvenience imposed on voters by the law is, generally speaking, minimal. Where they seem to differ is in the view they would have judges take of individual claims of a burden on voting rights. While he rejects the facial challenge offered in this case, Justice Stevens is open to arguments by individuals who assert unreasonable burdens. Scalia’s position is less accommodating.

Update: Beginning in Chicago, John Fund connects the dots contrasting John Paul Stevens (the real reformer), Barack Obama (the faux reformer), ACORN (Obama’s erstwhile client and fellow amicus in this case), the FEC commissioner in waiting Hans von Spakovsky, and John McCain. Oh what a tangled web!

Wright on...and on...and on

Here is the transcript of his National Press Club appearance this morning. You can read press accounts here, here, here, here, and here.

Here’s Rev. Wright’s defense of his 9-11 remarks:

You have said that the media have taken you out of context. Can you explain what you meant in a sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself? Quote, "America’s chickens are coming home to roost."

REVEREND WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon? Have you heard the whole sermon?

MODERATOR: I heard most of it.

REVEREND WRIGHT: No, no, the whole sermon, yes or no? No, you haven’t heard the whole sermon? That nullifies that question.

Well, let me try to respond in a non-bombastic way. If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq. That’s number one.

But, number two, to quote the Bible, "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap." Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

Stated simply, Rev. Wright believes that the U.S. engages in "terrorism." From his conversation with Bill Moyers, it seems that he believes that any time civilians are killed in time of war, it is terrorism. There’s apparently no difference in his mind between targeting civilians and what just war theorists call collateral damage. His reasons for perhaps holding this view may be expressed in his response to a question about his remarks about the U.S. government’s role in the spread of the AIDS virus:

MODERATOR: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz’s book, "Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola," whoever wrote that question? Have you read "Medical Apartheid"? You’ve read it?


REVEREND WRIGHT: No questions from the floor. I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven’t read things, then you can’t -- based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the -- one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

Let me repeat what Rev. Wright said: "I believe our government is capable of doing anything." We have, in other words, a terrorist government, which will, in its turn, provoke terrorist responses.

Oh, and in case you wondered about the distinguished medical authorities on whose work Rev. Wright bases his prophetic arguments, here’s the Wikipedia entry on Dr. Leonard Horowitz, written by an acolyte.

Update: Here’s a transcript of the NAACP "different is not deficient" speech. Am I different or deficient when I disagree with Rev. Wright’s "prophetic" portrait of America? And, while I’m at it, lots of people think that Rev. Wright’s obnoxious shenanigans will be difficult for Obama to overcome, though Jim Geraghty also thinks that Obama might save himself with an ultimate Sister Souljah moment. This isn’t it.

Just a Little Bit . . .

. . . of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Hillary Clinton is offered by Bill Kristol on the pages of today’s New York Times. If the liberal media cannot be depended upon to show her a little, Kristol argues that it falls to conservatives like him to do their job while they get over their crush on Senator Obama. Kristol, clearly, is having fun playing the devil’s advocate but he’s also got a serious point. He extols Clinton’s virtues as a candidate--scrappy and dogged, cunning and patient. Her massive failings have been telling too. In addition to exhibiting a kind of brazen insensitivity to the truth, she’s also shown a kind of chutzpah that could serve a candidate well, given the right electoral conditions. She is Bill Clinton, light . . . and if she fails it will be because of the "light." But if she succeeds (now or in the future) it will be because of the "Bill Clinton" and her willingness to be brazen.

So, it seems to me, that if Kristol’s prediction and assessment is correct and Obama wins the nomination even though Clinton is the stronger candidate, then Peter Lawler should revisit his pessimism over McCain’s chances. I’m willing to bet that my "optimism" (if that’s what it is) may be in need of some checking. So I appreciate Peter’s constant assault on it. But I begin to wonder (and only wonder, I’m not yet asserting) if the war and the controversy surrounding our entering it is fading into a position of background noise in this election. Do people other than vociferous supporters or detractors really think long and hard about it anymore? I think most people realize that the war is what it is and that the time for debating about whether or not we should have invaded is long past. The only question now is whether or not we should retreat. The candidates who seem to advocate retreat are both rather squishy on the point. Only incredibly naive voters really believe that the election of Barack Obama will initiate a precipitous withdrawal of our forces. This is why Obama plays up his initial disapproval of the invasion to the great delight of his young and his ideological supporters; he’d rather talk about the past than the future in this instance. But those of us who remember the thing (because remember, many of Obama’s supporters were too young to now remember it!) and who were not on then on the same ideological train do not now see him as some kind of Cassandra who was possessed of some special wisdom unknowable to the rest of us mere mortals. Instead, I think his original position on the invasion feeds into the perception of him as young, foolish, and vaguely anti-American. His crowing about it now makes him look even more young, more foolish and, worse, entirely self-important. All he’s saying is, "I told you so!" and, as Peter pointed out noting the role of chance in things, that’s a very easy thing to say right now. Too easy.

The frustration with Bush may turn out to help McCain. This is, in part, because I think the general frustration with Bush (not the particular frustration of the Left but the frustration that gives him a 69% disapproval rating) stems from a perception of incompetence in performance more than it does with a real questioning of the decision to invade. I argue this because I think there were two important turning points in public opinion. The first was Fallujah. The second was Katrina. Had either or both of those things gone in a different way (as they well could have done), I think we’d be in a very different position vis a vis public opinion right now. McCain seems to sense this and is running a campaign that touts his competence and, significantly, his toughness. This makes his "competence campaign" very different from that of Michael Dukakis’ similarly themed campaign. That’s because when Michael Dukakis went around talking about how "competent" he while as he sat inside of tank, one had very good reason to believe that his claim was a wish rather than a statement of fact.

In short, it seems to me that if the question boils down to Iraq it will not (except in the minds of those who were also against it in the beginning) boil down further to the question of whether or not we should have invaded in the first place. Don’t forget the massive support the invasion had in its early days. If they openly question the judgment of Bush on that score, the American people also have to question their own. And that won’t really happen as, in fact, it should not. The question will be, "How do we move forward and who do we trust to do the leading?" I have a very hard time believing that, in then end, there will be enough people willing to pull that lever for the junior Senator from Illinois and say he is the man for that job.

Re: Wright

Jeremiah Wright, who keeps insisting that politics isn’t part of his job description, keeps on keeping on, this time with the very sympathetic Bill Moyers. Our South Dakota friend Ken Blanchard watched the interview and provides these comments.

I’d add that Rev. Wright’s view of prophecy is a little less far from politics than he’s prepared to admit. And I’d note that prophets are also accountable for actually speaking truth to power. A prophet who gets his facts wrong, who perhaps willfully misrepresents the state of affairs, is a false prophet. I agree that not all of Rev. Wright’s statements are exceptionable, that there are some genuine sins to which he points in his sermons. But there are also some difficult political choices that he’s willing to condemn (on God’s behalf) without further consideration. And there’s a narrative about America that owes its provenance, not to serious theological reflection, but to a leftist political agenda, that he’s (mis)representing as God’s word to his audience.

As I noted above, Rev. Wright says that politics isn’t part of his job description:

"I am not a politician," he said. "I know that fact will surprise many of you because many of the corporate-owned media have made it seem like I have announced I am running for the Oval Office. I am not running for the Oval Office. I’ve been running for Jesus a long, long, long time, and I’m not tired yet."

But he’s
making a lot of speeches.

What’s more, calling a attack on himself an attack on the black church and acceding to a description of his treatment as a crucifixion can’t be intended to pour oil on troubled waters. Yes, the black church in America has a communal and political dimension that seems foreign to some folks. But Rev. Wright can’t have it both ways. If he doesn’t want to be treated politically, he shouldn’t act politically. And he shouldn’t respond to criticism of his politics by calling it criticism of his religion.

Bill Clinton vs. Obama

This Ryan Lizza essay, in talking about how Bill dislikes Barack, alludes to the ideological issues between the Clintons and Obama, and another reason why Hillary will not give up until beaten down on the last day of the convention. It also begins to explain the problem that someone like Bill Clinton has (and also McCain?) in the age of YouTube wherein the virtues of the speaker are not captured, just his vices: "Adjusting to the modern, gaffe-centric media environment has been wrenching. At most of his Pennsylvania stops, the national press was represented mainly by a pair of young TV-network ’embeds,’ whom Clinton regards not as reporters but as media jackals who record his every utterance yet broadcast only his outbursts, a phenomenon that has helped transform him into a YouTube curiosity and diminished him—perhaps permanently."


Hot Air Time

Yours truly appears this morning in the Wall Street Journal explaining why the candidates are full of hot air when it comes to fighting global warming. If you are a glutton for punishment, you can find a more complete analysis of the matter in my latest Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, just released last week in time for Earth Day.

Now back to our regularly scheduled Obamamania programming.

UPDATE: Oops--I see Joe beats me to it. I guess I have to get up earlier.

Categories > Environment

You say you want a (green) revolution?

Steve H. says that it’ll cost you. Well, actually that understates his contention. Just read the op-ed.   

Betting on politics

The WSJ’s L. Gordon Crovitz argues that we should pay more attention to operations like the Iowa Electronic Markets than to opinion polls in predicting the outocme of elections. But if I want to begin to understand why, or if I want to make an informed bet, I might still want to take a gander at the polls.

A forthcoming book

I spent some time this past week working with the author of this forthcoming book, which will find its way to my nightstand.

The Iraq Problem and McCain

Frank Rich is hardly an objective observer, and we shouldn’t believe everything he says. Nonetheless, he does well to remind us how hard the Iraq war will make it for McCain to win. It’s the main reason the president’s is very, very unpopular; 63% of Americans, more than ever before, now believe invading was a mistake. It seems to be the reason the Democrats seem poised to capture what seemed to be a very safe House seat in Mississippi--not a hotbed of McGovernism.

Let me call your attention to the observations made by our darling Kate a couple of threads below (a post on the Iraq War etc. by Joe): We may have had some fine reasons to invade Iraq, but, as some of our NLT interlocuters sometimes remind us, we have reasons to invade lots of countries. The big issue is that the invasion didn’t work out, and for that reason has hurt more than helped us. I’m not getting into any deep analysis here, except to say presidents (and their parties) who don’t win wars that were expected to be no big deal (and who prematurely gloat mission accomplished) pay the electoral price. It’s going to be very hard, I think, for Mac to make the case that the invasion was not only warranted but prudent, and the ONLY problem was incompetent execution. Nor can he really say that the surged has won the war or even moved us very close to some political solution.

Kate can’t think well of a decision to invade that may have wrecked her party in the short-term. Excessively ideological Republican thinking, she suspects, may give us really, really excessively ideological Democratic unified government. People are even connecting the out-of-control gas prices with the lack of respect we now get from the oil producing countries, and, rightly or wongly, they conclude we’re dissed because we haven’t prevailed on the battlefield--a battle we need not have waged.

The outcome of virtually every war involves a lot of luck. Every decision to wage war is to some extent a roll of the dice, unless it’s clearly the only alternative to total destruction of all that one loves. Lee, with either better strategy or better luck, could have won decisively at Antietam, and the case for Lincoln’s prudence today would be a lot, lot harder to make. So I’m not writing mainly to blame Bush for Republican woes, but just to say that the woes are real and pretty intractable.

Darwinian Larry, Hitler, and the Individual

Arnhart is perfectly right that we can’t hold Darwin responsible for Hitler. But we can’t forget manly Mansfield’s assertion that the alleged Darwinian discovery of the natural insignificance of particular members of our species may have
paved the way for the various totalitarian forms of "manliness run amok" of the 20th century. But don’t worry (scroll down to the second entry on Larry’s site), neo-Darwinian studies show a foundation for the individual in nature; even particular bacteria display individual--meaning unique--qualities. But still, the key point is that bacteria or even dolphins don’t really experience themselves as individuals. They aren’t concerned with their personal significance or importance, don’t engage in wholesale techno-rebellion against the nature indifferent to their particular beings, don’t believe in a personal or any other God, aren’t concerned with transcending their biological mortality, etc. Here’s the real Darwinian take on the modern individual: According to Locke, the individual is mysteriously free to invent his way out of nature. But all that exists is natural. So the Lockean individual doesn’t really exist.

Setting the record straight?

Yesterday, I participated in a blogger conference call with Douglas Feith, whose new book attempts to set the record straight about Bush Administration decisionmaking in the run-up to and early stages of the Iraq war. I have to stress that I haven’t yet read the very long book, so I’m not going to offer a review of it. Rather, I want at the moment just to say a few words about Feith’s project and about some of the arguments that don’t depend upon close acquaintance with his insider’s knowledge of the events about which he writes.

As I’ve noted, his project is, above all, to provide a record that challenges the conventional wisdom about the Bush Administration’s deliberations. Consider, for example, his book’s website, which provides links to all the sources cited in his roughly 100 pages of footnotes that are available on the internet. His readers (and critics) can check the evidence for themselves. Feith also told us that he relied on notes he took of the meetings he attended. His view of these meetings is by no means impartial, and can be challenged. But, all things being equal, I would find a person who is willing to own his views more credible than someone disagrees anonymously.

So the defenders of the conventional wisdom--like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank--will in the end have to rely on something more than ridicule to respond to the evidence. And other defenders, like the Post’s Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung--both of whom have written books that touch on Feith’s subject--will actually have to spend more than six hours with an incompletely edited manuscript in order adequately to characterize it. Will they? Well, thus far, the Post has declined to commission a review of the book, so perhaps they won’t have to.

One of the themes in our conversation with Feith that interested me the most is what he calls "strategic communication," the sustained effort to make the case for the Administration’s policy and explain it to the American people. For those of us who supported President Bush, this has been a source of immense frustration, as he and his subordinates have only sporadically sought to guide the public discussion. Feith offered a contrast between the Bush and Reagan Administrations on this point. While he praised the speeches delivered and arguments made by principal figures in the Bush Administration, he argued that, outside the limelight, the Administration failed. Here’s how he put it in the book:

White House officials did not generally encourage subcabinet officials to do speeches, interviews, or op-eds in support of our Iraq policy or our war on terrorism strategy. They chose to rely almost entirely on the President, Vice President, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice. That made it easier to keep official pronouncements “on message,” but it also meant writing off important audiences—including journalists, academics, and intellectuals—that could not be satisfied with generalizations delivered at a distance.

In the Reagan Administration, by contrast, there was a sustained effort to reach out to such audiences: officials were sent out with general themes, having the latitude to tailor them for specific audiences. Whether this would have made a big difference, I don’t know, but without the attempt, we’ll never know.

With great regret, Feith also cites the public release of the Duelfer Report, where apparently no concerted attempt was made to affect the public response to its simplest message. Yes, no stockpiles of WMD were found, which was the big headline. But, as Feith points out, the report also demonstrated that Saddam Hussein had retained his chemical and biological weapons facilities, his materiel, and his tech teams, so that the programs could have been started up within 3 - 5 weeks. The report also cited evidence of a clear intent to revive all the WMD programs, as soon as the West’s head was turned (as, indeed, it was turning). Once again, it might have been difficult to shift the press off the easy headline, but, Feith argues, no one made the effort, not even putting out a one page fact sheet aty the head of the report. The result, he says, was "a blow to American credibility from which we haven’t recovered and from which we may never recover" (as close as I could come to a direct quote while furiously taking notes).

If he were in the business of pointing fingers, this would have been a golden opportunity to blame someone. I asked him whose fault it was. His only response was that there’s plenty of blame to go around.

I’m buying the book. You should too.

The War in Sicily and Italy

In reviewing Rick Atkinson’s latest volume on World War II, Patrick Garrity let’s us in on the larger strategic questions having to do with the war, why the allies decided on Italy, how it was conducted, with what consequences. A fine essay.    

When It’s Better To Be Bitter

I lived in New York City for 15 years, not a great qualification for assessing Barack Obama’s claims about small-town Americans – the ones who have grown “bitter” about their economic prospects and, as a result, “cling to” guns, religion, anti-immigrant sentiments or cholesterol maximizing diets. But bear with me.

The first New York election I saw up close was the 1989 mayoral race, when David Dinkins won a narrow victory over Rudy Giuliani. New York was a grim place that year, mostly because of a terrible crime problem. The “Central Park Jogger” had been brutalized that spring, and the story dominated the news and water-cooler conversations. This was the time when “No Radio” signs began appearing in the windows of cars parked overnight on the street, pathetic appeals to crack addicts to please break into the next parked car in order to steal anything that might be sold or traded for drugs.

Race relations were tense after Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old black kid, was shot to death in Bensonhurst. The city’s finances, always heavily dependent on Wall Street, were precarious after the market sell-off in October 1987.

So, what did Dinkins and Giuliani argue about? One of the most debated topics was abortion, an issue about which the mayor of New York has no legal authority or practical capacity to make any difference whatsoever.

That, weirdly, was the whole point. New Yorkers had little hope that a mayor could actually accomplish something – could make the streets safer, the taxes lower, or the government more effective. So the election became an affinity contest. Since the city government couldn’t do anything, voting for its office-holders was an expressive rather than an effective act. We don’t expect any of the candidates to make things better, the voters were saying, but since we have to watch one of these guys on the TV news for the next four years, let’s pick one who understands and respects what we care about, rather that someone who disdains us and the way we see the world.

Sen. Obama’s unfortunate foray in extemporaneous sociology was premised on the observation of a similar phenomenon: “Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.”Like the New Yorkers in 1989 who didn’t believe the city government could do anything to address their most pressing problems, the voters in small towns where factories have closed and young people have drifted away don’t believe the national government can do anything to address their most pressing concerns. Since the promises about economic revival made to them by both Republican and Democratic presidents have proven worthless, people stop voting on that basis, and turn to selecting the candidate whose worldview validates their own.

Obama’s argument borrows from the one made famous by Thomas Frank in his book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? Democrats have embraced Frank’s thesis enthusiastically but perhaps too literally: If working-class Reagan Democrats want jobs and economic security, that’s what we’ll give them. Doing so will, once again, make these voters Democratic Democrats and all this foolishness about culture wars will be forgiven and forgotten. As a Pennsylvania state legislator told Byron York, his constituents are bitter because “they’re just tired of losing their jobs, losing opportunities, losing their young people, just because we haven’t had that federal help, that little push to keep those steel mills here, keep those coal mines here, and create manufacturing opportunities.”

The problem, as Noam Scheiber argued in The New Republic after the 2004 election, is that “Democrats have run up against the limits of what they – or anyone else – can do to create and protect good jobs, the top economic priority of working-class voters.” Restricting trade hasn’t helped America’s heavily protected textile industry, which lost half its jobs in a decade. Stronger unions aren’t likely to help, either: “The heavily unionized German manufacturing sector has lost about 25 percent of its jobs since 1991.”

Obama delivered his analysis to a group of Democratic donors, discussing the kind of campaign his party needs to run. That context reveals one more way in which his comments were tone-deaf. Working-class voters don’t need to “get persuaded” that we can make progress – they need to get shown. It’s not a problem that well-crafted ads and speeches – or well-funded campaigns – can address. Following Obama’s now-famous comments, Brett Lieberman of the Harrisburg Patriot News talked with voters in small Pennsylvania towns, and found out that they don’t expect Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Obama to improve their lives by bringing good jobs to their towns.

Since this kind of demonstration would require Obama not only to win the presidency, but then to enact policies that succeed spectacularly where those of his predecessors have failed, maybe it’s time for a different tack. As the candidate running to break free from the stale gridlock of Washington’s old debates, Obama might try saying that no one knows how to restore the economic vigor of rust-belt industrial towns, and politicians should stop pretending we do.

He could follow the lead of the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who argued last year that, despite repeated and expensive federal efforts to revive it, Buffalo, New York was the 13th most populous city in America in 1930 but now has a population 55% smaller than it had then, making it the 66th largest city in America. Glaeser recommends urban triage rather than urban renewal. The government should emphasize policies to help people in dying industrial towns – including policies that help them get out of those towns. Equip people with marketable skills and portable insurance, and upward mobility will naturally entail geographic mobility.

This won’t be an easy speech for Obama to deliver in Asheville, North Carolina or Kokomo, Indiana. If the people there really are bitter after decades of broken promises, however, they just might appreciate a little candor.

The Market for Equality

Instapundit links to this bit of wisdom:

Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley : "As we’ve come to expect from Sheldon Wolin, a tightly argued and deeply revealing book about the dangers of unconstrained capitalism for our democracy."

And lord knows we can’t have unrestrained capitalism in the United States.

In point of fact, we have not had unrestrained capitalism in the United States for at least a century - as Reich, as a chief constrainer, should damned well know.

But is that quite fair to Reich? We’ll leave aside the question of whether "Capitalism" is the proper term for the market economy. (If I remember my intellectual history right, to call it "capitalism" is to put it into a Marxist framework). It seems to me that one possible explanation for the rise of income inequality, to the degree that it has taken place in the U.S. in the past generation or so, is the Reagan Revolution. Thanks to deregulation, the wealthy and the talented may live in a free market world. The trouble is, the rest of the U.S. has, as of yet, been unable to esaape from the contstraits of the bureaucratic-administrative state. In short, it might be that the best way to decrease income inequality is to reduce the size and scope of government. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Professor Reich has in mind.

Fineman on Elitism

Howard Fineman offers some "advice" to Obama about how he can shed the image of being an elitist. At first glance, it seems to be advice that Obama would do well to take and McCain and his people would do well to study and begin to prepare for a counter-offense against it. Of particular interest is Fineman’s seemingly sensible assertion that being "big city" is just as representatively American as being "rural." He rightly notes that Republicans have, at least since the days of Reagan and possibly even before them, successfully characterized big city dwellers as, well . . . not quite representative. What he doesn’t say, however, is that this strategy of the Republicans was a reaction against the Democrats and their tendency to treat those from middle America and small towns as somehow uninformed, unsophisticated and incapable of knowing what is best for themselves and their own lives. Fineman, in other words, asks Obama to embrace his elitism but to call it something else. He gives Obama a hint about how he can achieve this by pointing to the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers (who can say that "big city" underdog phenomenon was not representative of America) and by noting--somewhat nastily--that perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Republicans began to question the infallibility of city dwellers in the 1960s, when a large part of their population was African-American.

In short, Fineman is telling Obama to embrace his elitism and play the race card . . . albeit, with more cleverness and invention than he’s exhibited so far. On second thought, if Obama studies and applies himself to Fineman’s advice, perhaps McCain should just let him go.

The Dress: RIP?

No . . . not that dress. I’m using the common noun, not speaking of an infamous dress in a shade of indigo.

Guy Trebay writes in the pages of The New York Times about the coming doom of the time honored fashion article. This, at least, is the opinion (or is it the "will") of the fashionistas who now clutter up the runways with their creations. One always wonders, when watching these productions, whether these denizens of design ever bother to consult with the end users of their products. I don’t mean the models, I mean real women. Do designers ever try to make clothing with the idea of making real women look attractive, or is their goal something else?

That certainly seems to be the case, particularly when you listen to the words of Anne Slowey, fashion news director for Elle magazine:

“The eye is looking for something new, and so is the psyche . . . The dress has been done to death, not to sound really cliché.”

She argues that women want to look, “a little more hard-core, a little more androgynous, a little more butch.” We do? Not to sound really "cliché" . . . but, I don’t think so!

Trebay wonders about that too. He points to the skyrocketing sales of dresses over the last three years--all to a generation of women who have never really enjoyed (because it was never really an option) wearing dresses. These women have discovered, not only how attractive they look in a dress, but also how much easier it is to achieve both an attractive look and . . . well, comfort with a dress than with odd pieces thrown together in an "outfit" and cutting into your body in, well, odd places. The lines of a dress are meant to flatter a woman’s body--elongating the mid-section, for example, and shrouding in sweeping mystery hips and thighs that may be (or may not be) especially toned. There are very few women who do not look better in a dress. If you doubt this, start looking around . . . examine the back view of most women in pants. Note the "muffin tops" edging out over most of the waistlines . . . is that attractive? A dress, it turns out, can hide a lot at the same time that it showcases quite a bit.

A few weeks ago, I was with some other mothers in the park. We were all, more or less, attired in the standard "Mommy" garb . . . which nowadays, unfortunately, means jeans or a sweat suit. These clothes have their uses and, perhaps, one of those uses (in addition to horseback riding or playing tennis) is the chasing around of wild children at a park. But as I looked around, I wondered whether function alone is overrated. And wouldn’t it be possible to design dresses that, in addition to being attractive, were also functional?

In the meantime, since Ms. Slowey has pronounced the death of the dress coming sometime around August, I guess I’ll have to go shopping and stock up.

Noonan on Obama and Bush

Peggy Noonan has spent some time in airports, as (recently) have I. She thinks that her fellow travelers wonder whether Obama "gets" America and knows that the people she has been visiting are over George W. Bush.

I finally understand the party nostalgia for Reagan. Everyone speaks of him now, but it wasn’t that way in 2000, or 1992, or 1996, or even ’04.

I think it is a manifestation of dislike for and disappointment in Mr. Bush. It is a turning away that is a turning back. It is a looking back to conservatism when conservatism was clear, knew what it was, was grounded in the facts of the world.

The reasons for the quiet break with Mr. Bush: spending, they say first, growth in the power and size of government, Iraq. I imagine some of this: a fine and bitter conservative sense that he has never had to stand in his stockinged feet at the airport holding the bin, being harassed. He has never had to live in the world he helped make, the one where grandma’s hip replacement is setting off the beeper here and the child is crying there.

The last bit is a little unfair. We stand in lines and endure the indignities of the TSA not because of Iraq, but becuase of 9-11. Unfortunately, for better or worse, Iraq has made us forget 9-11, or rather our response to the latter is filtered through our opinion of the former. And whatever one can say about the decision to invade Iraq or about the reasons for finishing the "job," once it has been undertaken, the demoralized confusion of those of us trudging through the concourses is the President’s fault.

Civic education and liberal education

Thomas Lindsay (an old acquaintance now at NEH) makes the case for studying our founding documents and the most profound responses to them. They comprise, he argues, a crucial part of any genuinely liberal education. How could anyone disagree?

News of the Weird

Okay, first item is Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who, in her Earth Day sermon, said that among the things children can do to save the planet is to use "sporks". No kidding:

"I believe children can tell us how to care for the earth," Jefferts Schori said in her sermon. She then proceeded to illustrate ways to care for the earth by showing items that can help the environment: re-usable grocery bags; long-lasting light bulbs; re-useable water bottles; and a spork (fork on one-side, spoon on the other).

Now you have some idea why I (and millions of others) have left the Episcopal Church in disgust. Did I mention that Schori had never led a parish before being given the top job in the Episcopal Church? Can you say "PC hire?" The Midwest Conservative Journal comments: "Hopefully, she was wearing a skort when she said it or else what’s the point?"

Meanwhile, in Indiana, a clueless Republican congressional candidate (but I repeat myself) spoke to a group of Nazis on Hitler’s birthday, apparently unaware that, you know, Nazis are bad guys:

"When asked if he was a Nazi or sympathized with Nazis or white supremacists, Zirkle replied he didn’t know enough about the group to either favor it or oppose it. “This is just a great opportunity for me to witness,” he said, referring to his message and his Christian belief. He also told WIMS radio in Michigan City that he didn’t believe the event he attended included people necessarily of the Nazi mindset, pointing out the name isn’t Nazi, but Nationalist Socialist Workers Party.

Ed Driscoll reminds us that this sounds like a Mel Brooks sendup: As the director of the play within the movie The Producers said after reading its script, "Did you know, I never knew that the Third Reich meant Germany. I mean it’s just drenched with historical goodies like that!"

Finally, a probably apocryphal story from Europe goes as follows:

We in Denmark cannot figure out why you are even bothering to hold an election.

On one side, you have a bitch who is a lawyer, married to a lawyer, and a lawyer who is married to a bitch who is a lawyer.

On the other side, you have a true war hero married to a woman with a huge chest who owns a beer distributorship.

Is there a contest here?’

Now back to book-writing for me.

Petraeus’ promotion

Robert D. Kaplan has a few clear paragraphs on what the Gen. Petraeus promotion to be the new head of Central Command means. The last is especially notable:

"That they [Petraeus and Odierno] will again constitute a team overseeing the Iraq war, now at an even higher level of command, means the Bush administration is going for victory in Iraq over all other priorities. Indeed, the personnel changes indicate that the administration is desperate to show enough improvement in Iraq by the end of the year that an incoming Democratic president wouldn’t dare reduce troop levels precipitously and risk being blamed for a dramatic security meltdown. To wit, these appointments demonstrate that, irrespective of who will be the next president, the presidential transition has already begun -- on this administration’s terms."

Obama and his Fathers

Peter C. Myers has written a thoughtful essay on Barack Obama’s speech on race. I want to characterize to you both the depth and grace of the essay, but I think you should read it yourself, it surely is the best thing yet written on the subject. It’s about the length of a Sunday op-ed. Let him persuade you that the best thing Obama could do is to travel back to the moral and political thought of our country’s founding fathers, and to allow Frederick Douglass to be his guide for that trip. Surely both Obama and our people wpould benefit. The essay is well worth a few cups of coffee and an Upmann Cameroon, if you’re man enough!

Barone Says Hillary Can Win

Michael knows his stuff, and so maybe you should listen to him. Obama is the candidate of blacks and academics and other Bobos--including big-time bureaucrats. Hillary is favored by everyone else (at least in PA). She is the candidate, right now, of the Jacksonian Democrats. She can also end up winning the popular vote, giving a moral impetus to the superdelegates to prefer her.

BUT: There is no real popular vote. And there are competing theories of how this mythical entity is to be calculated. Consensus will not be reached, and Michael does a great job of explaining why. Obama will be ahead in the only real category--delegates won. As long as he is ahead there, he can’t be denied, for reasons I’ve already explained.

Another podcast on Frederick Douglass

I talked with Professor Peter C. Myers again about Frederick Douglass (and allow me to push his fine book, Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism, on the subject) in a podcast. I would say that the three themes of this conversation are slavery, the Constitution as an anti-slavery document, and Douglass’ ideas on being self-made, with the necessary virtues.    

Obama as Carter

Andy Busch doesn’t think that Obama reminds us of McGovern so much as Jimmy Carter. Like Carter, Obama is a substantively vacuous charmer with minimal big-time experience. Like Carter, Obama has based his campaign on a general promise of change and a general posture of piety. Like Carter, Obama is devoted to "healing" the nation after a harsh period of divisiveness. Like Carter, Obama has suffered gaffes, but has maintained a reservoir of support that refuses to desert him. And, like Carter, despite his flaws, he is still the odds-on favorite to win the presidency in November. You can see what else is coming: If Obama is elected he will likely be a failure because we have to note the fact that "he has thus far demonstrated no concrete capacity to govern." An altogether thoughtful piece.   

Rove and Henninger on Obama and Clinton

Two columns worth reading, although we Georgians are offended that Henninger doesn’t know that Sam Nunn (an honorary alumnus of my institution) represented us in the Senate. They’re both right that Clinton is beaten and Obama is beatable.

Tenured Radicals

Several blogs, including Powerline have linked to material about William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, noting that Dohrn and Ayers helped Obama start his political career in the 1990s.

The focus on Obama, and whether there is any significance to his connection (whatever it is) with Ayers, has obscured the real scandal here. Both Ayers and Dohrn are now faculty members in good standing at Universities in the Chicago area. Their views are virtually unchanged from those they held in their younger days. Moreover, their views are probably hard to distinguish from those held by a significant number of their colleagues. The scandal, in other words, is that no one has asked why that is the case, and how we might change it. Are our colleges and universities damaged beyond repair.

McCain’s Character

The more I see of McCain, the more I suspect that he is, in part, the product of two things. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958. Before that, he attended a good prep school in northern Virginia. That means that his understanding of goverment probably owes a good deal to the consensus liberalism that was the reigning idea in the schools in the 1950s. McCain also seems to have the bull dog stubbornness and "don’t tred on me" attitude of Keltic culture. This is conjecture, but it might explain some things about him.

Update: I probably should have used the title, "McCain’s Political Character," as it would do a better job describing what I’m suggesting.

Why Hillary Can’t Win

The most reasonable quick summary of the facts is given by, believe it or not, Dick Morris. It would tear the party apart not to nominate an African American with the most elected delegates, and the Democratic system of proportional representation makes it impossible for Hillary to catch up on that front. Not only that, PA was Hillary country, in part, because of the closed primary and the very elderly electorate. NC and IN will have open primaries and considerably younger voters. Obama’s strengths are among the young and the independents, which is why, of course, he remains the stronger candidate against McCain. Each party is going to nominate a candidate who didn’t really win the support of its rank-and-file.

Poor Hillary

1. Her fairly impressive "technical landslide" in PA means she must stay in the race. But her victory wasn’t big enough to give anyone real confidence that she could actually win the nomination. She’s stuck with being perceived as mean and negative for at least two more weeks. And the odds are close to even that she’ll win in Indiana and really be stuck with going all the way to the convention that’ll have no choice but to deny her the nomination. (Obama’s has no momentum at all right now; the late deciders in PA went for Hillary.)

2. The old line on the Democrats this year was that voters were having a tough time choosing between two fine candidates. But Democratic voting has obviously become rather negative: Lots of white, working class, Catholic Pennsylvanians voted for Hillary although they don’t really like her and don’t really think she can get the nomination. They were very often voting AGAINST Obama and for, as they say, the lesser of two evils. (I would actually prefer to say they were choosing their manly, witty, and effective Governor Ed Rendell over the wimpy and boring Senator Casey Jr.)

3. For a variety of reasons, Obama has become ever more clearly both an AFRICAN AMERICAN and CULTURALLY ELITIST candidate. This combination, of course, is the recipe for Democratic defeat for the last generation. The sooner the nomination process is over the better for Barack. He needs to return to unity, change, and hope that transcends... And he can’t do that as long as the Clintons are around to exploit his every misstep. All in all, Republicans have lots of reasons to praise the Democratic devotion to proportional representation.

Hillary’s strength

Clinton’s near ten point victory means these things, in my opinion: 1. She is staying in ’till the convention; 2. An awkward feeling has settled in on the Democrats that she has a right to because she is tough, and this is combined; 3. With the sense that Obama is much more fragile as a candidate than we have thought; 4. This is connected with the sense mentioned by Peter Lawler that Obama has gone from inspirational to boring. The problem with being inspiring is that you need to keep it up, and if you can’t, and if there is nothing else in your arsenal but inspiration, you become dull; 5. The massive fact that Hillary is able to get the core constituencies in the party (save African-Americans) suggests strongly that Obama cannot beat McCain.

This uncertainty about Obama might be overcome by victories in Indiana and North Carolina, but it might not. It is possible that the gnawing feeling about him will settle in and winning late primaries in Oregon and New Mexico will not overcome it, and then it will come down to a knife fight in Denver over superdelegates. And who will bet against a Clinton in a knife fight?

John M. Olin Foundation, R.I.P.

I enjoyed--and I do mean enjoyed--the support of the John M. Olin Foundation once upon a time. It has made its final grant, to the Manhattan Institute’s Veritas Fund, to continue, in a way, the Foundation’s work in promoting genuine intellectual diversity on campus.

Secularity and religious questions in higher education

Having written on these matters, I’ll be interested in the results of the study described in this article. Does secularity mean "open to all kinds of religious discourse" or "closed to all kinds of religious discourse"?


HRC wins. Here are the exit polls, which show the usual suspects in both camps.

Assuming that Obama is the presumptive nominee (for reasons that have been discussed ad nauseum and that credit neither Democratic procedures nor the backbones of the superdelegates), the question is whether and to what degree members of the Clinton coalition will support him in November. Whither, above all, the Catholics, working class and otherwise? Whither white men? (Remember when, as in New Hampshire, Obama received more votes from white men than did Clinton?)

Mr. Pot, Mr. Kettle Calling

Bill Clinton’s comments that the Obama campaign "played the race card" on him reminds me of this piece by Dick Morris who said, around the time of the South Carolina primary, that the Clinton strategy against Obama was to turn him into the "black candidate," hoping that that would turn whites against him. Who is right, I have no idea, but it is worth remembering Morris’ take on it.

Flower Child Obama

Just a few quick questions as I’m on the run but listening to Hugh Hewitt’s very good program today on Barack Obama and his connections to Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. What does this do to the perception of Obama as the "Post-60s" candidate? Is he really as "post-Boomer" as he would have us believe? Is he about as post-boomer as he is post-racial? Is the mask slipping as much as it appears to be slipping? Isn’t it becoming ever more clear that he is really just a more aggressive and more left wing version of the politics of the 1960s. He’s everything they always wanted to be but never had the chutzpah, actually, to become. The fig leaf that generation of pols (i.e., people like the Clintons) used to cover their true politics was evasive action, lying, and good old-fashioned trimming. Obama uses pretty words and soaring speeches . . . you have to be sophisticated to understand him and his associates. (So far, he’s done a better job of this even than the Clintons and with their multiple choice definition of "is.") It’s all very complicated . . . "God damn America" doesn’t really mean "God damn America" and, anyway, he’s not really as tight with these folks as the right wing attack machine would have you believe . . . He’s beyond race and beyond generational discord. Well, he’s beyond them because he is the embodiment of them. He is the wolf the Left has by the ears . . . they can neither hold him nor safely let him go. He is the real flower child of the 60s generation. Better still, he is their Frankenstein. What will they do to him when it becomes clear that his bride won’t have him for her bridegroom?

Random Observations

1. For one reason or another, beginning with the "technical difficulties," I haven’t time to ramble about nothing.

2. Assuming Obama loses in PA, what’s most noteworthy about the result would be his lack of momentum. He caught up several weeks ago, after all. The MSM has been toughly pro-Barack and pushing the Hillary is mean and can’t be trusted line. The pressure on her to drop out is understandable. At this point the inevitable nominee is being hurt significantly by her prolonged campaign. But why should she drop out after winning a primary? That she can stay in until she loses somewhere else is just good manners.

3. Obama is gone from inspirational to boring, in my book. That doesn’t mean he can’t retool and come out with some new material during the down time after he secures the nomination.

4. Let me say one more thing about David Brooks’ character analysis of the candidates at Berry: He really got me to feel the like he has for McCain. Mac, it turns out, is really, really sloppy and disorganized. He can’t even dress himself presentably unless handlers take over, and his office and living spaces would be utter disasters without similar expert help. Not only that, he instinctively rebels against any and all authority: So he was a jerk in prep school, a big-time underachiever at the Naval Academy, a hero as a POW, and the very opposite of a team player as a senator. I don’t mean any of this as personal criticism: When listening to David recite these facts, my gut response was "Now, there’s a real man."

5. It might well be the case that both Obama and McCain are more than a cut above the usual presidential candidate as human beings, but neither obviously possesses executive competence.

6. One ambiguous sign of McCain’s possible success is Jonathan’s Rauch puff piece on him in THE ATLANTIC. Mac isn’t an ideological or revolutionary conservative, but a true or Burkean conservative. I would flesh out the distinction in Rauch’s mind, but you could do it as well I could. The MSM may end up hearting Mac more than Barack by October.

7. And I haven’t been able to thank Rob Jeffrey and various other professors and students at Wofford for treating Pat Deneen and myself with such attentive respect. Dr. Pat and I pretty much agreed about the many downsides of our techno-nihilism or Lockeanism run amok. But I’m a bit more positive on the upsides of living today (as a naturally sloppy and incompetent guy), and to some extent we disagree about what free and virtuous men and women should do now.

Polygamy . . . Just One Lifestyle Among Many

Some years ago, Al Gore made an incredible gaffe that--in addition to being painfully stupid--was also telling. He declared that our motto "E Pluribus Unum" means "out of one, many" when, in fact, it means just the opposite. Of course, his "translation" more aptly captures the essence of contemporary liberalism, which, it now seems redundant to qualify with the adjective "radical." Out of one, many . . . many lifestyles, many choices, many avenues left open for our ever curious exploration. Who can say what liberty is? Thus, as authorities in Texas have operated on their good instincts to remove 400 children from the compound of this depraved polygamous "family," the question remains: "How do we justify it?"

For now, they’re hanging on to the tenuous argument that it is "child abuse" and trying to carry this line of reasoning as far as it is able still to go, given our weakening posture on most sexual crimes. But Rich Lowry points out that one wife in the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sect made the (sadly) reasonable point that their convoluted DNA was, ". . . just like in any society in America . . . A mother might have been in two or three relationships, and a child may be confused about what name to give." She’s got, at least, a half point. No one threatens to take the children of a serial polygamist away or acts to condemn these people for their abusive behavior. Of course, such parents don’t usually force their children into pre-pubescent (and plural) "marriages" . . . but, as we know, in many cases as the cycle of teen sexuality and pregnancy continues, there is no "forcing" necessary.

Eleven years ago, the story of Elizabeth Joseph came onto the scene. Joseph was invited to speak at a conference of the Utah NOW chapter. And why not? She was a busy career woman; working as an instructor of law at a local community college and as a radio news and public affairs director for two local stations. Joseph was also one of eight (!?) women "married" to one Alex Joseph. I wrote about her story at the time and about NOW’s, very logical embrace of polygamy as the ultimate feminist lifestyle. As Joseph argued, with eight wives in the house, she never had to worry about her husband having clean underwear while she went about "maximizing her feminist potential" and her children never saw the inside of a daycare. Even though I had interviewed several of the Utah NOW conference organizers and chapter leaders, they were very embarrassed when the story broke. They could not deny the argument that Ms. Joseph was making about feminism and polygamy (particularly when they acknowledged their support for lesbian marriages) . . . yet something in them still screamed "No!" They knew that embracing polygamy also meant embracing an old form of tyranny and brutality and a fundamental inequality between spouses--something we should be beyond at this point . . . but to say this would mean accepting that there are limits imposed by our natures and the laws governing our natures. Unfortunately for them, to acknowledge the "no" screaming inside of them would have meant also saying "no" to many of their liberal pre-conceptions. It was a sad spectacle as they were left a babbling mass of incoherence on the pages of the Washington Times. But I predicted then that as the interest groups supporting the "rights" of "gay marriage" and single mothers continued to garner strength in America, we would, eventually, come around full circle. We would be faced with the stark choice between liberty and barbarism. The question is, do we still recognize barbarism when it’s biting us in the rear?

Tony Snow to CNN

It seems that Tony Snow is going back to CNN as a "conservative commentator" starting this Monday. He is our Annual Dinner speaker this year, on May 29th. It is a fundraiser so if you come it will cost you, but it will be very good for us and our students. This is the 23rd year of the event (the first was with President Reagan) and it is always a fine evening, with about 600 people. Join us if you can.

The big sort of?

Alan Ehrenhalt, author of two very good books, reviews The Big Sort, which disucces how "diversity" might be driving us into relatively homogeneous enclaves. Ehrenhalt is semi-persuaded that we’re inclined to choose to live close to people more or less like ourselves politically. The book looks interesting enough to assign in a class this fall.

My question: is the sorting driven by politics or is it a product of considerations like "family-friendliness," income, and education? If, for example, I have a growing family and either can’t afford private schools or have to choose between carrying a mortgage burden or a tuition burden, I might sort myself into a suburb or exurb. If I don’t have kids or if I can cover tuition and a big mortgage payment, I have the wherewithal to live in an "interesting" urban or suburban neighborhood. It’s obviously more complicated than this, but, once again, I’m busy.

Understanding the psychographics

on which women would be interested in joining the Marine Corps. The most notable thing about the article (aside from the fact that Code Pink has to be given two paragraphs) is the impression that the Marines have a problem recruiting. I thought that they were doing better than the other services.


The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows Clinton leading Obama, 51-44%, while the latest Suffolk University Poll has her ahead 52-42%; also note that in this poll "20 percent of these likely Democratic voters said they would vote for John McCain in November if their Democratic choice does not win their party’s nomination."

The director of the poll (do note the name), David Paleologos, had this to say:

"Hillary Clinton’s projected win in Pennsylvania poses some serious problems for the Democratic Party at this point. First, it continues a bitter battle between the Democratic combatants; second, with 20 percent of core Democratic supporters fleeing to McCain, electability in November becomes a quantifiable problem; and third, it begs the question of who in the Democratic Party will become the ultimate peacemaker?"

My guess is that if Clinton actually wins Pennsylvania by 10 points or more, she will call it a major victory and say she defied augury despite the fact that everyone said she would win. She will assert this as proof that she can win in November (and Obama cannot) so she has an obligation to push on and nothing can stop her from going all the way to the convention. And the real agony for her party will start here. And I like this phrase from Drudge: "Controlled excitement is building inside of Clinton’s inner circle as closely guarded internal polling shows the former first lady with an 11-point lead in Pennsylvania!"


Baseball Still a Growing Industry

Speaking of hormones and drugs . . . this article from Forbes shows that despite the negative publicity coming from high-profile big-leaguers "juicing up" and kangaroo courts in Congressional hearings, baseball continues to grow and generate huge profits for the franchises in the process. George Steinbrenner paid $10 million for the New York Yankees in 1973. Today the franchise is worth more than $1.3 billion . . . with a "b." Not a bad little turn around on his investment, is it?

The times may change, but the fundamentals of good baseball are still key to making profits. This is especially true in the smaller markets, like Cleveland: ". . . the blueprint for how to operate a franchise in a small market is the Cleveland Indians, who have shown that a team can win on and off the field if they invest wisely in player development and have good chemistry on the diamond. In 2006, the Indians won only 78 games. Last season, not only did the Tribe eliminate the Yankees in the playoffs but they generated $29 million in operating income, third-most in the American League."

Categories > Race

Hormones and the economy

A recent study measuring young Wall Street traders’ hormone levels as they brokered high-stakes deals: "the researchers showed that they tended to make more money on days when their testosterone levels were high. That suggests that the hormone makes them more likely to take profitable risks, but also that it may play a role in pumping up economic bubbles." And then there is the cortisol, which tends to make traders more cautious, helping to puncture speculative bubbles. So what’s the solution to this determinism? Take pills? The fellow conducting the study said this: "Banks and the financial system generally may be more stable if they had a greater diversity of endocrine profiles." Wall Street should hire more women and older men.

Just Say Noesis

Richard Dawkins had a silly op-ed in the Los Angeles Times a couple of days ago. A sample:

. To deserve the name of God, a being would have to have designed more than just a jumbo jet or even a starship. He would have to have designed the universe. And therein lies a fundamental contradiction. Entities capable of designing anything, whether they be human engineers or interstellar aliens, must be complex -- and therefore, statistically improbable. And statistically improbable things don’t just happen spontaneously by chance without an explanation trail.
In essence, he’s making the classic modern argument against God and relevation: it’s unlikely to have happened, particularly if we find it so hard to detect in the ordinary course of things. To be sure "Intelligent Design" theory, as I understand it, tries to do the opposite: by showing how unlikely it is that there is order in nature, it suggests that nature must have been designed by God. Once again, the argument from probability is, well, problematic.

More interesting, perhaps, is the challenge of skepticism. Dawkins does not seem open to questioning the foundations of the science which he claims to champion. That’s why he believe it is certain that "statistically improbable things don’t just happen spontaneously by chance without an explanation trail." But why is that the case? Only after one accepts certain premises is that conclusion certain. And if the presumptions of modern science are themselves less than perfectly certain, then Dawkins’ science cannot refute the possibility of revelation.

One man’s anti-terrorism funding . . .

Glen Reynolds points us to this story showing how "anti-terrorism" funds distributed by the federal government to states and localities are used to fund regular police work.

Even though Memphis hasn’t suffered a terrorist attack, the city is using federal grants to fight crime, which might lead to the discovery of a terrorist suspect. Other cities are using federal money with similar programs.

How is this underlying logic any different from the run-of-the-mill interstate commerce interpretation from Washington? Remember Wickard v. Filburn? If a man growing wheat for his own use on his own land may be regulated by the federal government under the interstate commerce clause (because, by growing his own wheat, the farmer was diminishing the national market by a very small fraction), then any money sent by the federal government to any police department may constitute anti-terrorism funding. Such is the logic of unlimited government.


Just In Time for Earth Day

Earth Day (also Lenin's birthday--coincidence???) is Tuesday, and you may have noticed a little bit of attention in the news media on global warming and all things green. Just in time, I've done a 7-minute video update to my film from last year, An Inconvenient Truth--or Convenient Fiction?, that answers the all important question: Which shrank most last fall--the arctic ice cap, or my waistline? (Hint: I've got some calorie offsets I'm willing to sell to Al Gore.)

Categories > Environment

Afghan Commandos

This Washington Post article on the emergence of Afghan Commandos is good. While the details are very interesting, here is the crux: "The creation of a 4,000-strong Afghan commando force marks a major evolution for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. After small teams of Green Berets spearheaded the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, they took the lead in combat, with the disparate Afghan militia forces they trained and paid playing a supporting role. Today, by contrast, the Special Forces advisers are putting the Afghan commandos in the lead -- coaching a self-reliant force that U.S. commanders say has emerged as a key tool against insurgents."

Kipling and civilization

This is a fine essay by Roger Kimball in the latest New Criterion on Rudyard Kipling’s "memorable speech" (Auden’s definition of poetry). Kimball reminds us of many his memorable lines, I only need to focus on this: "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." Kimball’s last paragraph, albeit more prosaic than I would have, is worth quoting:

"The key word is ’civilization.’ Kipling was above all the laureate not of Empire, but of civilization, especially civilization under siege. Henry James once sniffed that there was only one strain absent in Kipling: that of ’the civilized man.’ It’s a frequent refrain. But in a deeper sense, Kipling was about almost nothing else—not the civilization of elegant drawing rooms, but something more primeval and without which those drawing rooms would soon be smashed and occupied by weeds. Kipling, Evelyn Waugh wrote toward the end of his life, ’believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defenses fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.’ Kipling endeavored to man those defenses partly through his political oratory, but more importantly through a literary corpus that taught the explicit lessons and the implicit rhythms of emotional continence and restraint."

Oh Obama, Now Don’t you Lie to Me . . .

Senator Obama reminds us of the old joke: "How can you tell when a politician is lying?" (Hat tip, David Freddoso).

And Obama keeps saying that he’s tired of sound bite politics and "gotcha games." Chutzpah, thy name is Obama.

A Human Person, Actually

Here’s my appreciation of Robby George’s powerful defense of the embryo as a being with rights.

Thinking About the "American Way of War"

The current issue of National Review
(May 5) carries my review of a very important book by Brian Linn, a historian at Texas A&M, which looks how the United States Army has envisioned war since the beginning of the Republic. An expanded version of the review appears on the Ashbrook site here.

Brian takes issue with the idea that "ways of warfare" arise primarily from the experience of war itself, the view of the late Russell Wiegley in his influential The American Way of War. Instead, Brian argues, the concepts of war that have shaped the American military experience are less the result of actual combat than of ideas that have arisen during long periods of peace. Thus when it comes to the way Americans have thought about war, "military intellectuals" such as Joseph Totten, Emory Upton, and Donn Starry have played a more important role in establishing an American way of war than practitioners such as Grant or MacArthur. He shows that it is the latter group that has been responsible for defending their services’ martial identity, identifying their missions, determining professional standards, and creating distinct ways of war. The current debates about what kind of military we need follow the patterns that have gone before.

I was happy to review the book because I will have the pleasure of teaching a course on the "American Way of War" with Brian for the Ashbrook Master of American History and Government during the last week in June. Our syllabus is here.

The course is an overview of US military history with a focus on how the nation thinks about, prepares for, and conducts warfare. As such it examines the interaction of the military, cultural, social, material, institutional, and international factors that have shaped the "American way of war." The course will address several main questions: 1) How has the American form of government shaped the way the United States fights its wars? 2) How have those responsible for the actual conduct of war, especially the military profession, thought about war as a phenomenon? 3) Has the intersection of these two questions produces a uniquely "American Way of War?"

If Brian’s book is any indication, it should be fun.

The U.S. V. Carter?

Former President Carter is at it again. He’s meeting with leaders across the Middle East, and trying to shape policy.

If memory serves, the Logan Act is still on the books:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

To be sure, the act has not been enforced since 1803. Henry Adams made a mildly tongue in cheek reference to it in his History of the United States. Adams noted that in 1803 the law, passed in 1799, "still stood on the statute book (as it did in 1889 when Adams published his chef d’oeuvre.

Even so, the principle is important. In a constitutional republic such as our’s, the federal government is the sole rightful authority in foreign affairs.

Several remarkable statements

For a variety of reasons, I’m just now getting around to reading and noting the public exchange between President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, both of whom insist upon the catholicity of "American" principles.

Here’s a snippet from President Bush:

Here in America you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation’s independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the "laws of nature, and of nature’s God." We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.


In our nation, faith and reason coexist in harmony.


In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved"...and your message that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."

In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this "dictatorship of relativism," and embrace a culture of justice and truth.

And here’s Pope Benedict XVI:

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God.

The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time, too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideas and aspirations.


Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.

In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.

Only in America....

I can’t resist also noting a more "parochial" statement, to Catholic educators, which I will not quote, but which will repay a close and careful reading.

Also noteworthy is this statement, which reminds us that pluralism isn’t a prelude to a war of all against all only if there is a genuine subject that calls for reasonable conversation.

The Real First Thanksgiving . . .

I have recently found myself reading Jerome Reich’s very good, but also rather expensive, Colonial America textbook.

Anyway, here’s an amusing incident from Plymouth, not long after the Pilgrims landed: "An English-speaking native American named Samoset walked into Plymouth and casually asked for beer." Who knew?

I Knew It . . .

No comment necessary.

Pitchforks and Torches

Apparently the Chinese aren’t reacting at all well to Western expressions of human rights concerns in these months before the Beijing Olympics.

Demonstrations in Europe that disrupted the international Olympic torch relay fanned the flames: The torch is seen here as a symbol of the summer Olympic Games, which are a source of intense national pride.

And did you know that the modern torch relay owes it origins not to the Greeks, but to the Nazis?

Book Swapping

I once knew a professor who used to make the case (only half joking, I think) that it was permissible to steal books. He used a convoluted argument (borrowed and bastardized from Aristotle) about how the rightful owner of a thing is the person who will use it best. But we modern souls can now look to technology for our salvation. Because of this website it’s no longer necessary to teeter on the brink of this temptation. Paperback Swap allows members (and for now, membership is free) to post books with which they are willing to part and receive--also for free--books they wish to read. The only catch is that you have to pay for postage . . . something like $2 per book. So, there is no catch. You don’t pay postage for the books you get, however. Instead, you pay postage for the books you send. When you send a book, you earn a credit. You get two credits just for joining. One credit=one book. Audio books require two credits. There are over 2 million books already posted on the site. I encourage all NLT readers to join.

The Greatest Play in Baseball

Thanks to Mickey Craig for sending along this fabulous video showing the "greatest play" in Major League Baseball history. In it, Rick Monday is seen rescuing an American flag from a couple of guys who crashed the field with the intention of burning it. He is greeted by wild applause and a spontaneous outburst of "God Bless America."

Clinton losing ground

This Los Angeles Times Poll shows Clinton losing ground in Pennsylvania, where she is up by only five points, and losing by five points in Indiana. And this poll shows this: "She has lost trust among voters, a majority of whom now view her as dishonest." In May of ’06 52% viewed her as honest and trustworthy, but now it is down to 39%. "Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy." The argument I made to some folks yesterday, most were Democrats, that Obama’s comments in San Francisco is going to hurt him among small town voters because he will be seen as an Adlai Stevenson-like egghead, wasn’t well received. There is an amazing and deep animus against Clinton and it is based on the fact that she has not gained people’s trust. Or, whatever trust she had, has been lost. The Bosnia issue was revealing, according to these folks. An elitist is one thing, but a habitual liar is another, that is very serious, said one. Will Clinton stay in the race if she wins Pennsylvania by less than double digits? It is interesting that those who claim to know Democratic operatives and officials maintain that she will stay in until the end; that no poor showing, no pressure, will be sufficient to push her out before the convention.

Education’s End

R.R. Reno offers a solid review of an impassioned and interesting (but, when it comes to religion, ultimately flawed) book.

Gerson on Obama

A characteristically nice turn of phrase:

Looking back over recent months, there is a common thread in Obama’s response to both the Wright revelations and his "bitter" gaffe. In his Philadelphia speech on race, Obama talked of "the anger and the bitterness" of Wright’s oppressed generation. He referred to "a similar anger" existing within "the white community" that politicians have routinely exploited on issues such as crime and welfare. America, in this view, is beset by anxiety and fear and resentment and racial stalemate, which can be overcome by Obama’s broad understanding and audacious hope.


Obama’s political approach is wearing poorly. Obamaism seems to consist of the belief that the candidate transcends the understandable but confused anger of black and white Americans. And so Obamaism requires an unfavorable comparison of the American people to Obama himself.

Don’t know much about...anything other than gaming systems?

Mark Bauerlein throws some numbers about remediation at us. What percentage of high school graduates can make sense of them?

New Generation of Action Hero is . . . a Girly Man?

This story notes the passing of the torch in Hollywood from manly action stars like Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson to guys like . . . Ryan Phillippe(?). According to actor turned "director" (and one time John Kerry devotee) Ben Affleck, "Heroes today more reflect the real world. They don’t single-handedly bring down a building full of bad guys. They’re real people with real issues, like juggling a career and home life or working on their romance." In other words, they’re women. H/T: Libertas.

The Gay Divorcée

It’s one thing for a gay couple not to be able to get married. But, what’s even worse, according to some gay couples who have moved away from the state where their unions were "celebrated," is that now they can’t seem to get divorced. If a state does not permit same-sex marriage, then it cannot grant a divorce for a marriage it does not recognize. Couples who have moved away from the states where they celebrated their nuptials find that they need to return--in some cases for at least a year--in order to celebrate their termination. Accordingly, some lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation permitting "gay divorce," even if the state does not otherwise permit gay marriage. Critics charge that this is just a back door entry point for gay marriage legislation . . . um . . . well, you know what I mean.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Here’s my analysis of our manly scientists.

Dreams from Obama’s Father Surface

Politico reports that a long lost article authored by Barack Obama’s father in 1965 for the obscure, East Africa Journal has emerged. In the article, it is reported that Obama Sr. argued for a moderate version of socialism to ease the transition to African independence. The article can be read here. What any of this has to do with Barack Obama and his politics is left to speculation. He has made no comment on the article, though Politico did make a request of the campaign for a comment. I’m not sure that it is fair to pin the views of an absent father onto his son or to suggest as some bloggers have that this paper is a missing link in understanding the development of Barack Obama’s political thought. That may be making too much out of it. Still, it is not uninteresting--particularly when put into the context of his subsequent actions and stated opinions--to note the ways in which there may be similarities between father and son.

UPDATE: Ben Boychuk has some interesting thoughts on this over at RedBlueAmerica.

Compassion Forum again

MOJ’s Greg Sisk offers his "outsider’s" (read: Republican) impressions of Sunday’s event. His conclusion: HRC’s approach to religion is more spiritual and less instrumental than Obama’s. In his view, she gets something about religious faith that Obama doesn’t. Whether that impression is colored by Obama’s unfortunate comments about "clinging" is unclear, but I think that everything that he has said about his faith journey indicates that his approach is, in a way, postmillenial.

While I’m at it, let me call your attention to Peter Wehner’s dissection of the "off the record" Obama:

Increasingly, Barack Obama appears to be the Candidate of Illusion. He presents himself as post-racial — which is harder to accept than it once was, given his intimate, longtime relationship with a pastor and church that harbor deep and obvious racial anger toward whites. Obama presents himself as post-partisan — even though in his time in the Senate he has done nothing to bridge the partisan divide, which explains why he has been endorsed by the rabidly partisan Obama presents himself as post-ideological — even though he was named the Senate’s most liberal member in 2007 by the respected National Journal. Obama is a public critic of free trade — yet his chief economic adviser is quoted by a Canadian official as saying that Obama’s position on NAFTA is politically motivated and insincere. Obama speaks about the importance of religious faith in his life and the life of the nation — yet when speaking to a group of rich liberals, he implicitly denigrates people of faith, pairing them with people who have “antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and who harbor “anti-immigrant sentiment[s].” He paints religious believers as folks clinging to crutches to better deal with their desperate lives — only to insist last night that his words were actually a tribute to people of religious faith. So sayeth Barack Obama, “healer of broken souls.”

The Obama Saga, Chapter ??

Blogger/law professor Stephen Bainbridge offers a useful roundup of acute criticisms of Obama’s proto-Marxism.

This is SO Wrong

I think this very nearly constitutes a human rights violation: The Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir sing "Sweet Home Alabama."

The Lincoln Shrine

As chance would have it and af

An Elitist Victim

In a letter addressed to potential donors for Barack Obama’s campaign for President, campaign manager David Plouffe, takes advantage of the recent verbal flop of his candidate. Plouffe asks donors to consider that the real "elitists" are Clinton and McCain because their dollar support is coming from PACs and special interests whereas Obama’s funding is coming from the little people . . . in increments as little as $5. "There’s nothing elitist about a movement of more than a million people standing up for a different kind of politics," says Plouffe. Well, to be fair, no one said that the broad base of Obama’s support was elitist. They’ve said that Obama himself is the elitist. Perhaps all those $5 donors may reconsider their support in light of his regard for them.

Not satisfied with this lame rebuttal, Plouffe goes on to assert that Obama is not an elitist because, "[h]e was raised by a single mother with help from his grandparents." Now I have a question. Why is it that liberals only view single motherhood as problematic and disadvantageous when one of their candidates can "boast" of being victimized by it? Of course, Obama would certainly answer (and no doubt answer beautifully) that he was not "victimized" by the fact that he was raised by a single mother. But here again, his own words (in Dreams From My Father among other places) would belie him. Indeed, if we believe his words, it seems that his whole life story has been one big existential crisis confronting his attempt to overcome his feelings of abandonment at the hands of his father and his confusion with respect to the meaning of race when it comes to his mother. But Barack Obama is a clever man. He’s aware of the special status victims can be accorded in certain circles. And he’s done a fairly decent job (until now) of sticking close to those circles.

The problem for him now is that he’s had to step away from those circles. In stepping away, he’s also stepped in it. He dared to trade on that victim status and he’s questioned the decision of people (who probably have a better claim to it) not to so trade. So in a certain sense, Obama is right to suggest that people who "cling" to their guns and their God are a bit backward. After all, they don’t realize how powerful one can become when he whines about being a victim. What’s wrong with these people, anyway? They have dared to put their trust in something higher than government . . . God and liberty? Those fools!

Morning Music

Am I the only one who thinks that classical music stations ought to know better than to play Pictures at an Exhibition when people are just waking up in the morning? (Update: typo fixed).

Freedom for me, but not for thee

These folks are after John Yoo’s head--well, at least his tenured position at the Berkeley law school. Some are comparing him to Ward Churchill, which strikes me as ridiculous.

To their credit, there are folks on the left, including Christopher Edley, the Berkeley dean, and Brian Leiter (certainly not someone to suffer conservatives gladly), who are defending Yoo’s academic freedom.

Democratic candidates and religion

Last night, there was a "Compa

Republicans, Black Voters, and the Definition of Insanity

The old cliché about insanity is that it can be recognized in those who continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting a different result. If that’s indeed the case, then Thomas Sowell makes a very good case for the insanity of the Republican Party. In electoral politics, nothing could be more clear than the fact that a 90% lock on black votes for the Democrat Party is just about the largest stumbling block to GOP success. As Sowell points out, even a 10% gain for the GOP among black voters would be devastating to the Democrats. A good number of Republicans refuse to acknowledge this because they think courting that vote means giving ground on principles. It’s likely that they think this because most Republicans who have had sense enough to attempt to make inroads with black voters have, in fact, worked to make such a pathetic bargain. But Sowell quite rightly and quite manfully makes the case that this is not only insane (Democrats, by definition, will always be better Democrats!) but it is also condescending, off-putting, and weaselly. Do Republicans really imagine that the "black leadership" and representatives of so-called civil rights groups represent the whole universe of opinion among black voters? Sowell says it better than I can and he is absolutely right. It is time for Republicans to make an honest case to black voters and stop looking like they are ashamed of their principles. They are either defensible or they’re not. That cannot change with the winds or with the audience.

The Chuck Stops Here

Over at Contentions, Terry Teachout notes a post-modern assault on the hamburger.

He quotes Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History:

Even before the hamburger became a universal signifier of imperialism abroad and unwholesomeness at home, it had a special semiotic power—a quality not shared even by other great American sandwiches like the hot dog, the patty melt, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the po’boy, or even such totemic standards as fried chicken and apple pie. At the end of the day, nothing says America like a hamburger… Is it a sizzling disc of goodness, served in a roadside restaurant dense with local lore, or the grim end product of a secret, sinister empire of tormented animals and unspeakable slaughtering practices? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?

Something to chew on, I suppose.

How to Get Kids to Vote Republican, Part II

In response to Peter Lawler’s post above, I don’t think it’s anything new that young people tend to be less socially conservative than older people. What would be new is if there were evidence to suggest that they will remain so as they age and begin to accept more responsibilities (jobs, families, taxes). If that evidence exists, I have not seen it.

I think Peter is right to suggest that McCain has an advantage with (most) young people in that he does not seem to be overtly religious or conservative merely because of his relative Christianity. You don’t have to be in his club, in other words, to get what he’s saying. I have often thought that what really offends young people about the overtly religious is less their reliance on or belief in God and more the appearance of "clubiness" and exclusivity—the exasperation that comes through in too many of their arguments with the uninitiated. You need patience and good humor to persuade young people—unless, like Obama—you’re just a demagogue. McCain has demonstrated quite a bit of patience (how long has he been working at trying to become President?) but it remains to be seen whether he will have either the good humor or the strength of the arguments to back him up. I think he could get enough of the youth vote to make a difference if he worked for it. And I also think it is an important and worthwhile effort. But it won’t be easy. He will NOT get any traction if he tries to out-cool Obama, for example. Young people hate phonies when it’s obvious that they are phony. That’s probably why they don’t like Hillary.

Also, I’m too lazy to look it up right now but I came across an article earlier in the week (and I heard Dennis Prager talking about it too) that said Obama’s youth voters are having an effect on older voters. In other words, THEY are persuading their parents and older associates to switch over to Obama and away from Hillary. If that’s true, it’s very important. And, of course, it says a lot about the generation that calls itself our "elders" these days. They’re listening to their kids? I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. Why not?!… they try to dress like their kids, be their "friends" and act like them in most other respects. Voting for Obama is "hip." And there’s nothing more important for many people nowadays than to be thought to be "hip."

Perhaps the real hope for the GOP (and this brings with it a whole other set of problems) is that a good number of young people will begin to rebel against this generation of "elders" and develop contempt for the baby boomers. That is likely to happen, it seems to me, when the young people realize that their paychecks are dwindling because of massive government spending on behalf aging boomers. This will cause them to search for answers that Obama and his ilk cannot provide. I expect a real backlash to come about in another 10 to 15 years. This will not, of course, be an entirely good development. I’m glad I won’t yet be old (or, at least, not too old) when it comes. It will be a very good thing, for example, if we can do serious work now on life issues (and in the clever way that Peter suggests).

How to Get Kids to Vote Republican, Part I

David Frum observes that the Republicans have lost the youth vote and offers suggestions for getting it back.

There’s no use denying the facts, and they will become much more pronouced in the upcoming election. Obama really will get more young people to the polls, and he is being nominated by the young. McCain is old and being nominated by the old.

According to Frum, social conservatism is hurting Republicans among the young. Here I think the facts are more ambiguous than he says. Young people today are slighty more secular, much more accepting of homosexuality (including gay marriage), and somewhat less judgmental about unmarried women having children.

On the other hand, there are a lot of enthusiastic young evangelicals and "neo-orthodox" believers. Young religious Americans tend to be more serious or "conservative" theologically than their parents. There’s also a real rebellion against the embrace of unbounded sexual permissiveness of the Nineties. Most of all, young people are increasingly pro-life. So Frum does well to say that Republicans should campaign against Roe, while making it clear that the point of reversing Roe is to return real choice to the American people—acting through the states—about abortion.

A fair-and-balanced view of McCain and the youth vote: It’s probably an advantage that he’s manly and honorable. It may be an advantage in some ways that he doesn’t seem to be religiously conservative or even Christian. But he doesn’t appeal to those among the young who are animated by moral and "life" concerns, and so they may well remain unmobilized. Campaigning in a pointed and aggressive way against Roe is unlikely to be a centerpiece of McCain’s campaign. So the young most likely to vote this time are those attracted to the cool and charming appeal to (generational) change of Barack. Insofar as the young have become the most libertarian Americans, it’s going to be tough for McCain to win them over.

But the big concern may not be McCain’s strengths and weaknesses. Republicans in general seem old and incompetent, to some extent victims of their own successes and chained to their obvious failures. The talent pool really hasn’t been refreshed much on our team since 1994. Obama is something NEW, or at least seems like he is.

I may be overplaying this problem. Old people get to vote too, our society is rapidly aging, religiously observant Americans are having a disproportionate number of the children, and the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the fastest growing religions in the country. Our future may well be a lot less secularist than Frum thinks.

McCain Shouldn’t Pick Condi

…says Jay Cost, or for that matter anyone who’s worked for President Bush, for VP. Nor should McCain pick any of his rivals for the nomination. The Republican talent pool hasn’t been refreshed since 1994, and so almost all the other options seem old and lame. Senior citizen McCain certainly needs someone young and vigorous. Why doesn’t he look to Louisiana…?

The High Cost of Raising Baby

Pamela Paul is a genius, as far as I’m concerned. Her article in the Washington Post takes on the two most common negative assertions people make today regarding people who have more than two children. Today it is assumed that parents of large broods are either a) irresponsible or b) showing off. Paul demonstrates, quite effectively I’d say, that people making these assertions suffer from flawed assumptions concerning the real needs of children.

Paul is the author of the newly released, Parenting, Inc., which is a look into the ways in which we have allowed ourselves to be deluded about what it takes to raise happy, intelligent, and good children. It’s not about the "stuff" or even the money that it takes to buy the "stuff"—and we all know that on some level. And yet, because there’s probably nothing about which we all have more neuroses or insecurities than our parenting abilities, we’re constantly on the lookout for things to massage that anxiety. Today we tend to fill that need with stuff instead of good sense or the assurances of an older generation. "If I buy the right stroller, my child will develop the proper posture and, therefore, he will grow up happy, healthy and successful!" "If I make my children watch Baby Einstein, they’ll grow up to be intelligent!" So people really think you can’t raise more than two children because it’s so difficult to check off all of these boxes. I think, they’re also jealous of people who don’t really seem to worry about the boxes. It makes them feel better to suggest that parents of more than two children are irresponsible. But when it turns out that kids in large families are turning out fine, then these folks comfort themselves with the thought that such families are rich. Of course, they are. But perhaps they’re not rich in the way their jealous critics suggest.


The title of this New York Times article, "Kosovo’s Actions Hearten Hungarian Enclave," give the point away. The Szeklers (Szekely, in Hungarian) are a minority group in Romania looking for more independence, if not outright independence. This is one reason why Romania has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, and is another example of thinking with your blood (paraphrasing Bismarck) and the "right" of the self-determination of "peoples." J.J. Rousseau, Hegel, and W. Wilson are amused by it all, but John Locke is not.

Olympic Political Struggle

The odyssey of the Olympic torch toward Beijing is shaping up as the unanticipated big political story of the year, with even the French contemplating a boycott of the opening ceremonies. Check out this passage from a CNN report on the difficulties of the torch’s passage through Paris:

Paris police have conceived a security plan to keep the torch in a safe "bubble," during its 17-mile (28 km) journey, with a multi-layered protective force to surround the torch as it moves along the route. French torchbearers will be encircled by several hundred officers, some in riot police vehicles and on motorcycles, others on rollerblades and on foot. Chinese torch escorts will immediately surround the torchbearer, with Paris police on rollerblades moving around them. French firefighters in jogging shoes will encircle the officers on rollerblades while motorcycle police will form the outer layer of security.

Things could get interesting in Beijing this summer. My guess is at least one winning athlete will unfurl a "Free Tibet" banner during a medal awards ceremony, and there will be tug-of-wars between Chinese authorities and international media when the Chinese abruptly cut off the satellite connection.

Safe, Quasi-Legal, and Common?

This article on abortion politics in Spain and Italy in the Los Angeles Times notes that the anti-abortion movement is growing in Southern Europe, spurred on by the Catholic Church.

When it came to power four years ago, Spain’s socialist government made liberal social reform a hallmark of its administration and promised legislation to expand access to abortion.

But by the time it ran for reelection last month, it had dropped abortion from its platform as Spanish bishops all but directed citizens to vote against candidates who didn’t oppose it.

In the campaign for Italian elections next Sunday, abortion has emerged unexpectedly as a major issue.

An interesting development.

In passing, the article also reminds us that the U.S. has the most liberal (if that’s the right word for it) set of laws regarding abortion in the West:

Thirty years ago, Italy legalized abortion-on-demand for pregnancies up to 12 weeks, and up to 24 weeks when there are abnormalities in the fetus or the health of the woman is in danger.

Spain legalized abortion in 1985; women can terminate a pregnancy up to 12 weeks in case of rape, 22 weeks if the fetus is malformed and at any time if a doctor certifies grave risk to the woman’s physical or psychological health.

The next sentence is interesting: "The vast majority of abortions in Spain have been performed under this last category, and critics allege that the provision is abused."

The psychological health exemption is, by its nature, problematic. The problem might be that psychology, in these matters in particular, is rather far from an exact science. In principle, it is not unreasonable to argue that abortion might be the least bad option if bringing the child to term would likely cause serious physical harm to the mother. The same argument, again in principle, would apply to psychological health. The trouble is that it is rather easier for doctors to recognize the former case than the latter case. Is modern psychology really so good that it can predict how a mother will react to having a baby, even while the baby is still in utero? I have serious doubts.

I’ll close with an idea, or perhaps a question. As I understand things, our Supreme Court requires that the psychological health exemption be part of our laws with regard to late-term abortion. Might it be possible for States or Congress to make a finding about what kind of psychological danger a psychiatrist must think likely before a late-term abortion may go forward?

Jerry Pournelle

I have noticed over the past few weeks and months that Glenn Reynolds has mentioned the science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle more often. That may have to do with the fact that Jerry has been ill, I don’t know. But I am reminded to also bring him to your attention, since I have known Jerry for almost forty years.

This is his main site. Pournelle is the author of dozens of books, essays, etc. If you haven’t read anything from him, you might want to start with something straightforward, a sort of coming-of-age story, Higher Education. It is about a high school student who is trained, then becomes a secret agent, sent back to earth to set right the corrupt school system. Or, one of his first bestsellers, The Mote in God’s Eye. It is about the Second Empire of Man, in the year 3016, and the first contact with non-humans, or Moties. It is a terrific story—many serious folks think it is the best portrayal of aliens ever written—and easy to tell that Pournelle is a well educated man who knows something about politics. Note the allusions to Thucydides throughout. Jerry comments on the death of William Buckley and notes that it was due to Buckley that he started reading Russell Kirk, as I have noted to Jerry, it was due to Buckley that I started reading Jaffa. Pournelle was a professor of political science for decades, gave up tenure over thirty years just to write and make money. He has done both.

Of Rockstars, Drop-Outs, and Leaving Kids Behind

Ben Boychuk at RedBlueAmerica writes with insight about a plethora of education problems—all of which are made worse by virtue of federal intervention and, Boychuk argues, the agendas dominating teacher’s unions. Particularly galling is the anointing of "rockstar" level superintendents with exorbitant salaries, budgets and perks in some of the country’s worst school districts. Of course, the market (such as it has been manipulated by federal intervention, regulation and tax dollars) dictates that "good" people won’t do this job without such accoutrement. They’re asked to come in and perform the duties of a Messiah, after all. Messiahs cost money and—apparently—lots of it. It’s a real question, however, whether these Messiahs have to answer to any reliable authority for their savior activity. The staggering dropout rates in many of their districts probably suffice for an answer to that question.

Obama’s Surge

The most recent studies show that Obama has caught up in Pennsylvania. His brilliant strategy was to play possum and let Hillary’s lead widen as far as possible and only then begin his counterattack. That means even a respectable defeat will seem like a huge comeback victory. This campaign, to repeat and repeat, has been over for awhile, but it’s good to remember the strategery of Obama continues to be pretty formidable.

Waiting for Gore

Dick Morris writes about whether Al Gore is waiting silently on the sidelines to be a compromise Democratic nominee in the event of a Hillary-Obama deadlock heading into Denver, or whether he might instead be holding back to end the contest by intervening along with other party leaders with the Superfriends, or Superdelegates (or whatever these supes are in the Democratic party), presumably in favor of Obama since Gore really really doesn’t like Hillary (though Morris isn’t so sure).

My own speculation is that Gore doesn’t really want to run again. I think, just from his waistline, that he is enjoying private life too much, and this is doubly so for Tipper, whose noticeable weight gain during the 2000 campaign was a sure sign of her discomfort with presidential campaigning. Besides, as you may have heard, Gore these days has A Cause (g----- w------) that is his sole preoccupation, and one that, we are told, he regrets not having emphasized in the 2000 campaign (a fact for which the rest of us are grateful).

But suppose he does become the nominee, and decides to make g----- w------ the centerpiece of his campaign? Surveys and focus groups I have seen show that the public is not at all behind higher energy prices, de facto rationing, international giveaways, and other measures that the Goreacle insists we must have to solve the global climate crisis. If Gore really does run as the save-us-from-global-warming candidate, my guess is he will lose another election that ought to be a layup for the Democratic Party.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force celebrates it’s 90th birthday. See these good pictures of the London fly-over. More here about Spitfires and blue-eyed boys. Churchill, August 20, 1940: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

The Shape of a McCain-Obama Campaign

Peter Wehner thinks that John McCain should take the ideological fight to Barack Obama, who—his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding—is a conventional liberal through and through. But is this still a center-right country, as Wehner contends? And can McCain effectively articulate a conservative "political philosophy," as Wehner would like him to do?

If the country still is center-right, then McCain’s connection with Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina shouldn’t hurt him. The presence of the former close to McCain ought to help the old warrior with the Republican base. And the presence of the latter ought to assure everyone that McCain does get the world of high-tech business.

On social issues, Michael Gerson reminds us of Obama’s down-the-line support for abortion, up to and including his most recent infelicitous formulation. But will Obama be able to talk his way around this record by taking Gerson’s advice—"safe, legal, and rare" 2.0?

The Error of Big Government

Charles Kesler has a fascinating essay in the latest issue of Imprimis.

In brief, Kesler reminds us that we need to distinguish between limited (or constitutional) government and small government on one hand, and expansive government and unlimited (or unconstitutional) government on the other.

Limited government can be distinguished from small government. The two concepts are easily confused because they usually overlap. We are in the habit of invoking, for example, the percentage of Gross Domestic Product that is consumed by government as a sort of criterion. If that percentage goes up, we become alarmed for our liberties. If it goes down, we breathe a sigh of relief. And there is something to this: It is illuminating, for instance, that in 1930, before the New Deal, federal spending was 3.4 percent of GDP, whereas today it’s about seven times that. But there are other instances, perhaps more instances, where that figure can be misleading. At the height of World War Two, for example, the federal government spent 43.6 percent of GDP. But was this big government in the pejorative sense?

The problem with our government is not simply its size, but the kinds of things it does. In addition, Kesler reminds us that "the state" is only our enemy in the peculiar German sense of der Stadt.

The Progressives believed that freedom did not come from nature or God, but instead is a product of the state and is realized only in the modern state. Far from being the people’s servant and, therefore, a possible threat to freedom—because servants can be unfaithful—the state is the full ethical expression of a people. The state is the people and the people are the state. This strange use of the term represents the Progressive attempt to translate the German concept of der Staat into American politics. America did not have a state theory of this sort until the Progressive era. Conservative and most libertarian anti-statism arose in opposition to this innovation; but too often, in recent years, hostility to der Staat has been confused with opposition to government per se.

Read the whole thing.

The Dandy

My good friend and author of The Suit is richly profiled and extensively interviewed in the NEH magazine, Humanities.

It is a doubly pleasing interview because Bruce Cole, the NEH director, knows his stuff. If you have not yet read The Suit this interview will whet your appetite. If you have read already read the book, this interview is like the movie with outtakes and a "Making of…" sequence. Enjoy.

Paybacks are Hell

…particularly when you’re running a losing campaign and you can’t afford to pay your small-time sub-contractors. The news that Hillary was not paying the health insurance premiums of her campaign workers rightly stuck out like a sore thumb yesterday, given her sanctimonious views on health care benefits. But the first story, which recounts the ways in which her campaign is stiffing small businesses all over the country—including a couple of event organizers in Youngstown, Ohio—hit closer to home for me. One of the employees from one of these stiffed companies had this to say:

"We worked very hard to put together these events on a moment’s notice and do absolutely everything to a ’t’ to make it look perfect on television for her and for her campaign," said the employee. "Sen. Clinton talks about helping working families, people in unions and small businesses. But when it comes down to actually doing something that shows that she can back up her words with action, she fails."

I remember that feeling. It was one of the many small lessons I learned along the way as a kid that made me skeptical of Democrats and their big talk of concern for the little guy. In 1984, one of the first jobs I had for pay was to assemble a huge pile of Styrofoam visors (yes, they probably contained CFCs) for the primary campaign of John Glenn. My mother and I sat in our basement for days putting little plastic balls into little plastic tubes and tying them off to create the backing of these hats. My father—even though he was voting for Reagan—was quite pleased to get the account. For our family at the time, it was a big account and a big deal. Dad—who explained that he was a good Republican—paid me to do this work, but it cost him. Like the Youngstown company in this story, he got stiffed. And we ended up with a pile of ridiculous Styrofoam hats in our basement. I believe we still have some of them somewhere. Anyone want a hat?