Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

From the Alpha to the Omega

That many of us favor a liberal arts education should be clear to any browser of these pages. It therefore should not surprise that we would favor the study of Ancient Greek, even if we got to the study of it late, in my case in graduate school. I took an intensive Greek class one summer, worked like a dog on it--between reading Churchill, Lincoln, Shakespeare, and some basketball--but managed to flunk the final exam anyway (a translation of a page from Plato’s the trees right but failed to note the forest). The point is this: I knew the study of the thing is not useful (I also studied French, German, and other modern versions of logos), but thought it a good and beautiful thing anyway. I was right.

There has, for some four years now, been a push by the students at Ashland University to get the University to offer it again (as it did until thirty years ago). Yes, I said the students. These noble fellows, through their representative institution called the Student Senate, voted unanimously for at least three years running to request the faculty to re-institute the offering of Ancient Greek (and Latin). While the noble President and the Provost have argued in favor of the thing, the Spanish Department (I must say for reasons not so noble) has urged--and so far succeeded--and argued against it. The students have even conducted a 24 hour sit-in (the first here in decades), thinking that those faculty not being open to logos might be shamed into it. So far they are losing, but the polemos has not yet ended, so some are just learning the alphabet
on their own.

I’m now thinking that a more practical argument should have been used in favor of Ancient Greek. Just fifteen minutes ago I happened to see on CBS evening news--it was an accident that I watched it, never normally do--that the father (Stanley Johnson) of the recently elected Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) said that his son’s election was due entirely to his son’s classical education. After all, he said, "If you can master Ancient Greek, you can master anything." Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Kalos.

Rawls vs. Nozick

... is the choice that many professors of philosophy would stick us with. Shallow, abstract egalitarianism vs. shallow (well not as shallow), abstract libertarianism--some choice! Here’s the right choice, according to David Schaefer: Don’t bother with either of them! Neither talks about "human nature," by which David means real people and real human problems. When Berry students go to graduate school, they sometimes write me complaining: "Why didn’t you tell us about Rawls?" My only response: "I didn’t have the heart." My only question to David: If Rawls is shallow, boring, and not a very good writer, why have you written so many pages on him?

Intra-Democratic Partisanship and the Press

One fringe benefit of the long, drawn-out fight for the Democratic nomination is that it is forcing the press corps to describe the connection between the Democratic party and the media establishment, as the partisans of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama each try to undermine the credibility of other’s friends in the press.

Hence we have stories appearing like the one on the first page of today’s New York Times about the feud between the anchors of Sunday talkshows on NBC and ABC, Tim Russert and George Stephanopolous. When was the last time that the Times reminded its readers that both men were Democratic party operatives before moving to TV?

The Russert-Stephanopoulos duel presents an intriguing rivalry, with parallel paths to the top of Sunday television. Both went from politics, where they were aides to Democratic luminaries, to the pinnacle of broadcast news, as hosts of venerated public affairs programs.

. . .There is a lot of disagreement in the land about who’s been fair to whom,” said Dee Dee Myers, White House press secretary early in the Clinton administration. “So you’ll have Clinton people watching to see if she’s being treated fairly and Obama people watching to see if he’s being treated fairly. And neither side will feel like they’ve been treated fairly, no matter how fair those interviews turn out to be.”

Ms. Myers is one of many Washington insiders who straddle the media and government worlds. She worked with Mr. Stephanopoulos at the White House and has been a regular guest of Mr. Russert on “Meet the Press.”

. . .Schooled in politics by former bosses like Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, both New York Democrats, Mr. Russert took a Rose Garden approach to this article and declined to comment.

When the Liberal-Democratic press opposes Republicans and Conservatives, it is in their interest to deny the Liberalism of the press corps. But when two Liberals are fighting, each side wants to expose the other’s partisans. May the chaos continue.

Noonan’s embrace of bitterness

Peggy Noonan thinks that the bitterness conjured by Rev. Wright is unserious, a kind of entertainment, sort of like contemporary Irish music that rails against the British. Perhaps. But not too long ago some Irish-Americans were giving money to the IRA, which wasn’t using it to start book clubs.

Of course it’s true that our particular identities are bound up with our old grievances. If I have to choose between a particularity that conjures up anger based upon painful memories and a universality that takes nothing other than current enjoyment "seriously," I’ll choose the former. But among the other things we shouldn’t forget are the costs and consequences associated with those grievances, not to mention the reason we’d like to see accompanying them.

New Mayor of London

An odd and colorful character named Boris Johnson has been elected the mayor of London, the first Conservative ever elected to the post. More: "In the local elections, Labour lost more than 300 councillors and slumped to a humiliating third place behind the Liberal Democrats in the share of the vote – a full 20 points behind Mr Cameron’s Conservatives."

Oh Give me a Cave!

Ben Boychuk is on a roll this week. Over at RedBlueAmerica he brings our attention to this "new" idea for men: man caves or "Mantuaries." Never mind that "mantuary" sounds more like mortuary than sactuary . . . Ben’s laughing at the notion that people today seem to find something new in it. As he says, back in his day (Ben’s under 40 btw) men used to call these rooms . . . hold on now, what was it . . . oh, yes . . . "dens" or "basements." At my house, we call it a "garage" and it’s possible probable that I like its existence even better than my better half likes it. Of course, there’s a clinical psychologist weighing in for good measure. It really is likely that, in the last generation or so, we have made ourselves so willfully stupid about the nature of the differences between men and women and the relationships between them that we actually will have to reinvent the wheel. Funny thing . . . it turns out still to be round.

Religion and homosexuality on campus

A couple of years ago, some Georgia Tech students filed suit against the trade school--er, I mean great institution of higher learning--on North Avenue on a number of grounds. Well, a federal judge has issued what looks like his final ruling in this case. The two big findings deal with Tech’s "Safe Space" program (regarding GBLT students) and its administration of its student activities fee. The manual for the former contains a number of passages that appear to criticize religious groups that regard homosexuality as a sin. Turns out that that violates the First Amendment. Good for the judge, bad for Tech.

The administration of the student activities fee poses more complicated problems, partly because whoever the legally responsible parties are, the plaintiffs didn’t, in this case, sue them. The judge does give lots of free legal advice (yes, it’s all dicta, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong) to the folks at Tech (some of whom appear rather clueless when it comes to First Amendment speech and religion issues).

The bottom line: to the degree that this particular skirmish in the culture war implicates religious questions, the university as a public institution can’t take sides. Some people seem to think that this decision squelches debate, but there remain plenty of opportunities for GLBT students and supporters to promote their point of view. The only thing they can’t do is call in Big Brother to criticize their opponents on religious grounds.


...researchers have produced an ongoing study that shows they like a lot. "White," apparently, means completely unethnic. Despite my obvious pastiness, I’m not as white as I thought. Nonetheless, I’m as white as they come when it comes to #1 (coffee) and #57 (JUNO). The deconstruction of JUNO give by the analyst has caused me to reflect more deeply on the issue of whether the filmmakers successfully pandered to my inner whiteness.

Labour loses in England and Wales

The Labour Party has suffered its worst losses in local elections in 40 years. PM Brown is not happy.

Edwards should have stayed in race

Joe Trippi, John Edwards’ campaign manager, now says he regrets not telling Edwards to stay in the race:

"I didn’t tell him what I should have told him: That I had this feeling that if he stayed in the race he would win 300 or so delegates by Super Tuesday and have maybe a one-in-five chance of forcing a brokered convention. That there was a path ahead that would be extremely painful, but could very well put him and his causes at the top of the Democratic agenda. And that in politics anything can happen -- even the possibility that in an open convention with multiple ballots an embattled and exhausted party would turn to him as their nominee. I should have closed my eyes to the pain I saw around me on the campaign bus, including my own. I should have told him emphatically that he should stay in. My regret that I did not do so -- that I let John Edwards down -- grows with every day that the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continues."

Bill Moyers, Visionary and Martyr

Time magazine’s Joe Klein doesn’t devote much time to admiring conservatives, so it’s especially significant when he nails someone on the Left. His latest column is ostensibly about Jeremiah Wright, but its most interesting passages fillet Bill Moyers, “who seems to be spending the rest of his life over-atoning for his service as Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam spokesman . . .”

Klein sees the Jeremiah Wright controversy as “this year’s edition of a problem that has hurt the Democratic Party since the Vietnam era” – the Left’s fluency when talking about America’s deficiencies combined with its aphasia about America’s virtues. Moyers, for example, found Wright too complacently patriotic in their PBS interview. When the preacher noted that Americans have the freedom to make the kind of controversial political statements he favors, Moyers corrected him: “Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you’ve said . . . in this country.” This, Klein says, is the “sort of thinking that helped make the Republicans the dominant party of the past 40 years.”

Moyers has spent four decades since leaving the Johnson administration fearlessly speaking truth to power. He single-handedly saved the nation from a junta, for example, when he warned America from the PBS studios on Election Night 2004 that “if Kerry were to win this in a — in a tight race, I think there’d be an effort to mount a coup, quite frankly. . . . I mean that the right wing is not going to accept it.”

For confronting the powerful and insidious right-wing conspiracy, Moyers has found himself all but crucified. His enemies have hounded him relentlessly, preventing him from exposing the ugly truth about their sinister plans by making him publisher of Newsday, and then a commentator on CBS and NBC television. His internal exile has also included a taxpayer supported platform on public television, and the presidency of a foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. In the latter capacity he helped steer – from a family fortune built on the depredations of General Motors and IBM – nearly $11 million in 2006 to truth-telling allies. These included The American Prospect and Texas Observer magazines, and “Democracy Now,” which is the radio equivalent of “Bill Moyers Journal,” except that Amy Goodman doesn’t have Moyers’ madcap sense of humor. While he was at it, he helped steer $232,993 to himself that year to cover salary, benefits and expenses.

Perhaps one of the investigative journalists subsidized by the Schumann Center will untangle how the right-wing conspiracy can be powerful enough to stage a coup but too ineffectual to pull the plug on Moyers’ pontifications. The appalling truth could turn out to be that the better-acquainted Americans become with Moyerism, the more favorably disposed they become to the conservative alternative.

McCain and health care

Andy Busch writes a terrific piece both on McCain’s health care proposal and how the country ought to deliberate about this subject that is so prone to mischief to our ourselves, our values, and our institutions. Please read it.


Courtesy of Breitbart, an assertion from a union leader that Hillary is the gal because she’s got . . . um . . . well, "testicular fortitude." But don’t worry, according to this report, she’s got a softer set of assets as well.

Yes, this is funny. But can our politics really get any more decrepit? Wait . . . don’t answer that . . . I haven’t forgotten about Bill and his boxers (much as I wish I could).

McCain’s Campaign going pretty well, actually. He’s getting his health care plan out there with enough effectiveness that NPR is caricaturing it. The point is being made that his reform is actually more fundamental that Obama’s in a decisive respect: He wants to maximize consumer choice by detaching insurance from employment. Not only that, the honorable man is showing himself to be too classy to exploit Barack’s recent troubles. Why not let the Clintons do the heavy lifting here? And there’s no reason he should treat Obama as the presumptive nominee at this point. All in all, Mac’s hope for victory rests on being a plausible alternative to a highly ideological and too inexperienced candidate. He’s doing well in being that so far.

More Wright and Obama

This NYT story surely doesn’t make either man look good. Obama comes across as much too calculating in all his moves, which ends up giving some credence to Rev. Wright’s claim that he’s "just" a politician doing what a politician has to do.

There’s also some polling evidence of a bleeding Kansan.

Nice guys don’t get into Princeton?

So argues this Princeton alumna and current Yale 1L. Is it nice to describe your classmates as not nice? (For the record, there’s a nice young woman from my church who’ll be entering Yale this Fall. I hope she can stay that way.)

Stated a bit more modestly, her larger point is that there’s a tension between achievement (as we define it) and what Hobbes would call complaisance. Our meritocratic college admissions and career advancement processes reward the former but don’t really take the latter into account. And there’s apparently nothing in high-flying college life to encourage the latter.

By contrast, I’ve encountered lots of nice college students, some at places I’ve visited in recent weeks, some at places where friends teach, and some at my own institution. In some cases (I know I’m using "some" too much), these nice kids are pretty doggone smart and might even be described as high achievers. But, so far as I can tell, they’re not ambitious self-promoters. Might it be because they recognize their "giftedness" as actually a gift from someone? That gives me a bit of hope for the young woman (Yale College, Class of 2012) from my church.


This seems important. U.S. war planes killed an Islamist rebel said to be al Qaeda’s leader in


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.