Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama’s Real Clinton Problem

Peter Wehner weighs in on the many ways in which Barack Obama no longer looks as fresh as the image he has painted for the young folks. Old style politics, thy name is Barack?

John Updike and American art

John Updike gave the 37th Jefferson Lecture last night, to read it click on "lecture," and to listen to the very good interview with NEH Chairman Bruce Cole click on "Interview." Note that the whole thing is wrapped up around the question of what is American about American art, and the new NEH project "Picturing America," also found on the site.

Friday Musings on the "Family Friendly" Toilet

A first grade field trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific yesterday occasioned me to stand in line with a couple of six year-olds to allow them to make use of the "family friendly" toilet facilities on premises. These "gender-neutral" (meaning they’re open to both men and women) public restrooms rate very high on my short list of things for which the term "gender neutral" adds to the benefit of mankind. Mothers of sons and fathers of daughters know exactly what I mean. There comes a point at which the dragging of the offspring into the restroom of the opposite gender is no longer, well . . . shall we say, prudent? And yet you can’t just send them off into the "God-knows-what" oblivion that one who watches too much local media is bound to believe represents every public restroom in Los Angeles. Sanity tells me that I fret too much. But one never knows, however, and there’s no reasoning with a mother’s fears. So I say God Bless the "gender-neutral, family friendly" toilet!

After this long segue, let me make a short point. In line I am behind a father and his young daughter. As we are waiting our turn, the door to the restroom opens up and out comes another father with his young (3 year-old, I would guess) daughter held aloft with her pants and her undies down all the way around her ankles. Because I’m a mom, however, and never shocked by much of what happens vis a vis children and toilets, it did not occur to me to be surprised or to ask the fellow why he did not pull up her pants. I simply assumed that there had been an "accident" and he was setting about remedying the situation as best a poor father might be expected to do it. So I politely looked away. However, my son, his friend, and the other father in line immediately began shouting to the unsuspecting man about what he was doing. "Hey, buddy!" the other father said to the man with the unwittingly exposed little girl, "I think you forgot a step!" Sure enough, that’s exactly what had happened. The grateful father then assisted the even more grateful little girl and all was right with their world. But it strikes me . . . perhaps this little vignette offers some insights into the natural limits of "gender-neutrality."

The Dumbest Generation reviewed

Our friend Jon Schaff does the honors.

Neuhaus on An Evangelical Manifesto

Richard John Neuhaus offers a foretaste of a longer treatment of this manifesto, promised for FT. His abbreviated bottom line is this:

I have no doubt that some who signed the statement simply wanted to affirm the important truth that evangelical Christianity is defined by the lordship of Christ and not by political partisanship. Issuing what is inevitably perceived as a politically partisan manifesto is an ill-chosen means for achieving that purpose. Only the naive or disingenuous among the signers will express surprise that the media depicted the manifesto as an election-year effort to drive a wedge between conservatives and what is portrayed as a more authentic evangelicalism. Whatever the good intentions of some signers, the reporters got the story right.

The fact that Jim Wallis is among the signatories is a dead giveaway.

Update: Stanley Carlson-Thies reminds us that there are some distinctive elements of the evangelical witness that shouldn’t be let behind, so to speak.

Anger and Chicago Politics

I’ve been meaning to get to this for several days but life got in the way, so pardon the delay . . . It seems Barack Obama’s defense of his wife on Good Morning America is not the first notable expression of Obama’s anger. To be clear, I am not necessarily critical of Obama for his anger or for his expression of it in either situation. In the case of defending his wife, I think it was probably both genuine and tactical. So, therefore, it was brilliant. I do not doubt that he loves his wife and that it is painful for him to see her roughly handled. Critics of the Obamas rightly charge that bowing to Obama’s anger by giving Michelle a pass is letting her "have it both ways." It is, of course. And I see no reason to lay off of her when she so readily opens herself up to attack. There is some evidence that the critique of Michelle works and that people do not like her. Fine. But Barack Obama, however protective he may be of his wife, does not really expect that his anger will cause conservatives to lay off of her. What he means to achieve with this expression of anger is to diffuse the effect such criticism of his wife will have. His romantic chivalry (however ironic it is given the nature of the women it is meant to impress) is sure to have the desired effect in the quarters of those ladies-in-waiting who pretend to be above such displays.

But this altercation with fellow state senator, Rickey Hendon, is much more interesting. Again, it is not Obama’s anger that fascinates me. It’s likely, from the description of events Jim Geraghty provides, that Hendon brought the fight on himself. But it’s just as likely that Obama was displaying himself to be duplicitous and, possibly, even weasely in the duplicity. In other words, it’s likely that Hendon was the more manly of the two and the more righteous in his indignation. Obama said he’d vote with Hendon but his "proxy" hit the wrong button? Did that proxy cast the wrong vote on purpose or was it really an accident? Experts will disagree. And what are we to make of this from Hendon, "I have been advised to leave Barack alone and that is what I am going to do. . . .I am going to let things stay in the past. It happened. That’s all I can say. It happened."

Anger is always more impressive (and dangerous) when there is muscle behind it. Apparently, Hendon has discovered that there is some behind Obama’s . . . even if it’s not exactly Obama’s muscle.

Fred speaks, er, writes

Fred Thompson argues that rumors of the death of conservatism are greatly exaggerated.

I’m not sure that I would agree with him in characterizing all the accomplishments he points to as "conservative" accomplishments, but the most problematical part of his piece is this:

[A] lot of the issues that litter the political battlefield today put conservatives on the defensive. What are we going to do to fix the economy, the housing market, health-care costs and education? Some conservatives try to avoid philosophical confrontation with liberals, often urging solutions that would expand the government while rationalizing that the expansion would be at a slightly slower rate.

This strategy simply has not worked. Conservatives should stay true to their principles and remember:

- Congress cannot repeal the laws of economics. There are no short-term fixes without longer term consequences.

- In a free and dynamic country with social mobility, there will be great opportunity but also economic disparity, especially if the country has liberal immigration policies and a high divorce rate.

- An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.

- Free markets, not an expanding and more powerful government, are the solution to today’s problems. Many of these problems, such as health-care costs, energy dependency and the subprime mortgage crisis, were caused in large part by government policies.

"Conservative" policies work particularly well when there’s a healthy civil society, when, in other words, there isn’t a high divorce rate and there aren’t lots of families on the road to worldly perdition (not to speak of the hereafter). Certain things that pass in America for conservative contribute to these problems.

I’m not arguing that the answer is big government, surely not big government of the sort promoted by Senators Obama and Clinton. But if we take our current social conditions for granted, a simple emphasis on the market will surely make them worse.

Update: Our friend RC2 offers a gloss on Thompson that’s better than what he wrote.


The McCain-Obama race aside, we tend to think that the older are wiser, even if this understanding of wisdom is a bit more prosaic then, say, that of Aristotle or Hegel.

Deneen on Supreme irony

Patrick Deneen nails the Lockian (or rather even more abstract) liberalism inherent in the California Supreme Court decision. There’s lots to criticize in it, and he makes a very good start.

Sen. Jim Webb

If you thought that Sen. James Webb (D, VA) had a chance to be Obama’s running mate, this short interview on affirmative action (while he’s pushing his new book) will prove you wrong. Unless, of course, he’s really calling for an affirmative action program for poor whites. You can also click on the video and see it.

The decline and fall of conservatism

I remember working on Capitol Hill in the 1970s (not for long: I was just an intern)and coming to the conclusion that liberals were really out of gas intellectually. This author suggests that conservatives are now the ones running on empty. And he even quotes an NLT fave:

Yuval Levin, a former Bush White House official, who is now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, agrees with Gingrich’s diagnosis. “There’s an intellectual fatigue, even if it hasn’t yet been made clear by defeat at the polls,” he said. “The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it.”

I have to confess that, if this is the best conservatives have, we’re in trouble, deep, deep trouble.

The Game

The upcoming Stanley Cup Finals is perfectly timed to Pat Garrity’s review of Ken Dryden’s The Game. Dryden recounts "a week during the 1978-1979 hockey season. Dryden used that otherwise unremarkable week as a means to reflect memorably on the life and times of a professional athlete, in what is perhaps the best first-hand account ever written." No ghost writer, by the way, he wrote it himself. Pat writes a very fine review of one of the great books on sports, not merely on hockey, but The Game. Dryden was a great goalie, perhaps the best ever, a genuine star. Like Jim Brown, or Sandy Koufax, Garrity writes,

"Dryden likewise left hockey at the peak of his career, after only eight seasons (including his first abbreviated season, when he won the Most Valuable Player award for Stanley Cup playoffs). The season described in The Game would be his last. He did not write the book until four years later, after rummaging through notes he had jotted down on the back of envelopes and hotel stationary over the years. Dryden focused his narrative on this particular week because it involved a critical regular season game against Montreal’s emerging rival, the New York Islanders, but also because it was about this time that he made his decision to retire. He explained that he wrote the book not in order to understand why he retired at the peak of his career, but quite the opposite: to understand why he played professional hockey as long as he did. Dryden said he originally signed a pro contract with the idea of earning enough money to put himself through law school. He had no idea that he would become as good as he did but that was not why he played. In the end, he decided, he stayed because he loved ’the game,’ not the sport, the money, or the fame."

Read the rest of the review. It is good, really good.

Today’s Big Issues

1. McCain’s decision to meet with Crist, Romney, and Jindal as potential running makes is encouraging. There are reasons why Crist would be a disaster from the point of view of social conservatives, but, considering the role he played in Mac’s key Florida victory, he doubtless deserves the meeting. The real and tough choice, I think, is between Mitt and Bobby.

2. I, for one, am thrilled with Big David’s victory over Little David on American Idol. That’s not because the American people overruled the snotty expert Simon. Simon is in many ways a wise musical man. Anyone whose signature song is IMAGINE doesn’t deserved to be idolized by our people. And, as Carl has explained, America needs a rocker with a really great voice. I’m writing to you from Provo Utah, and so I’m surrounded by people who disagree with me on this. And I must add that both Davids seem like very admirable, hard working, talented, and highly imaginative guys.

Get Wired!

Wired magazine offers a list of environmental heresies. (Hint: One of them is nuclear power.) Get used to this; I believe there is going to be a lot of rethinking going on as the current green bubble fades like the housing bubble and the internet bubble.

HRC’s religious outreach

Jacques Berlinerblau performs an autopsy on the corpse of HRC’s campaign, finding a healthy faith and values outreach effort.

He thinks that Obama’s success among frequent churchgoers bodes well for him and ill for McCain in the fall. I suspect that the frequent churchgoers Berlinerblau sees are African-American. I further suspect that Obama will continue to do poorly among Catholics and relatively poorly among Jews in the fall. Somehow I don’t think that his approach to foreign policy will win him many friends among the friends of Israel.

Beauty and Policy

Two beautiful policy wonks are getting married, one a former Ashbrook Scholar. Amusing to reflect on the wooing in the settings described, never mind long runs together in preparation for the Marine Corps marathon. I wish them one feast, one house, one mutual happiness. Oh yes, and one policy.

If you can’t stand the heat . . .

. . . get back in the kitchen.

I find Barack Obama’s anger at criticism of his wife to be charming, and entirely appropriate. But that’s the rub. I also tend to support traditional roles for men and women.

Had any other close supporter, associate, doner, or friend of Obama’s said the very same things that Mrs. Obama said, would those comments not be entirely appropriate grounds for criticism?

In short, we finds ourselves in an interesting situation, culturally speaking. If a wife is an equal partner with her husband in all respects, and if there are no pre-set roles for men and women, then she is simply a free, adult individual. Hence criticism of her opinions, is entirely appropriate. Only when women are home-makers, and not professionals with a stong interest in politics does the older model make sense. In fact, the two ideas go together. But it still, somehow, rubs us the wrong way when people criticize the candidate’s wife.

That reaction, of course, is probably due to our instinctive respect for a more traditional understanding of marriage--the very thing that liberals tend to oppose as passe and anachronistic.

In principle, what is wrong with criticizing the ideas (as opposed to the person) of someone who is now a public figure, and who is very close to the person who will probably be the next President? Is the wife of the candidate to be the one person who can hit the campaign trail, but not be criticized for what she says?

In practice, at least for now, that may very well be the case. After all, even if Mr. Obama is, in fact, a supporter of sexual equality (and it might be that here his instincts trump his ideology), it is useful to him to portray his opponants as mean-spirited people who attacked his poor, defenseless, wife. And why does the reaction resonate? Might it have something to do with the nature of men and women and their relationships?

Real Reform

David Brooks talks up Yuval’s Burkean McCain, the one who doesn’t denigrate government but wants to make it less decrepit and less driven by entrenched interests. His first challenge to Obama should be: Why did you vote for that shameful Farm Bill?

Orbis’ new editor

I had a brief conversation with Mac Owens about becoming editor of Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs. This is a new, and added, responsibility to an otherwise already very busy (and worthy) man. Good luck, Mac.

Will HDTV Defeat McCain? making him look even older than he really is. Meanwhile, high-definition Obama looks even more marvelous. Well, here are two facts: Our society is rapidly aging, and we’re seemingly more repulsed than ever by the way old people actually look. Maybe Mac can (implicitly) campaign against our vain, uncourageous, superficial youth culture by proudly distinguishing himself from those who attempt various extreme make-overs not to look their age or hide the inevitable ravages of time. This might not work: I’ve been noticing that old ladies really like the way Barack looks, and there is, unfortunately, nothing wrong with that. Or it might work: Is he too pretty (or unrugged--even JFK looked rugged by comparison) to be president? (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Heroes! We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Heroes!

Okay now, here’s a quiz. Identify the following individuals: 1) Lt. William Calley; 2) Lt. John Bobo; 3) Lynndie England; and 4) Paul Ray Smith. I am guessing that individuals 1 and 3 are better known than 2 and 4. To learn the answers to the quiz and why 1 and 3 are better known than 2 and 4, look here.

In this piece, I argue that Americans have forgotten how to honor its heroes. I trace the problem to Vietnam. Although Americans fought bravely there, the press, if not the American people, began to treat those who fought in Vietnam as either moral monsters, victims, or both. The dysfunctional Vietnam vet became a staple of popular culture.

The conventional wisdom concerning Vietnam has been absorbed by today’s press, even by those too young to remember our Southeast Asia misadventure. The result is that, despite the mantra of "support the troops," there is a troubling predisposition to believe the worst about those who are willing to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

My piece, republished here from the current issue of The Weekly Standard is a review essay of three books about the soldiers and Marines who are fighting the war. As Bing West wrote in his riveting book about Falluja, No True Glory, stories of soldierly courage deserve "to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die."

It’s Time to Re-Engineer America’s Credentials-Industrial Complex

These days of May and June will find the 2,427 institutions in America that confer bachelor’s degrees holding their commencement exercises. We call the sheepskins handed out “credentials” because employers, graduate schools, parents and the graduates themselves are supposed to give them credence, to believe and trust that they correctly vouch for the recipient’s educational attainments.

Is this belief well-founded? Inside Higher Ed reports that Steven Aird, a biology professor at Norfolk State University, is now unemployed because he didn’t give out enough passing grades. The administration has a “clear expectation” that 70% of students should pass every course – even though other faculty members tell IHE that they could easily flunk a majority of the students in many courses just by adhering to the explicit rule that a student absent for more than one-fifth of class sessions may receive a failing grade on that basis alone. How much faith should we place in the credentials awarded by an institution that extends the social-promotion principle from grades 13 through 16?

“Professor X,” who remains anonymous to avoid joining Dr. Aird in the unemployment line, writes in the current Atlantic Monthly that his own teaching experience argues that our post-secondary institutions are enrolling many people who are simply “unfit for college,” because they “lack the most basic skills” and are “in some cases barely literate.”

Some might say that it is unfair to generalize from the stories of Aird and X. Aird taught at a historically black university. “We are a university of opportunity,” according to the official spokeswoman for Norfolk State, “so we take students who are underprepared, but we have a history of whipping them into shape.” X, meanwhile, teaches part-time at “colleges of last resort” – a small private college and a community college, each a place many of its students just “landed in.”

It’s hardly reassuring, however, to look at a much more representative institution, the University of Arizona. It was portrayed in the New York Times three years ago by John Merrow of the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching. Arizona is representative in the sense that more than 5 million American undergraduates go to universities with at least 15,000 students; with 37,000, U of A is one of the biggest.

Unless it’s also one of the worst, however, there must be lots of colleges that people respect, but where it is possible to get a bachelor’s degree without learning anything in particular. Merrow interviewed several Arizona undergraduates, including a 22-year-old majoring in Inebriation. He “stopped going to most of his classes after sophomore year and drank excessively four nights a week.” Despite rarely spending more than one hour per night on all his studies, the young man made the dean’s list. Such students, one educator tells Merrow, are “maze smart.” That is, “they have figured out what they have to do to get through: buy the book, find out what’s going to be on the exam and stay invisible.”

The dean of students admitted to Merrow that it is indeed possible to get through Arizona with such utter disdain for scholarship. “We have a lot of students whose motivation for coming here is to get a good job,” she said. “They think, ‘How do I get the grades?’ instead of trying to learn.” While the student in question may have been contemptuous of the educational opportunities he was squandering, he did appreciate the social ones: “These are the years that I’m not going to have back. And I don’t want to be 30, 50, looking back and wishing I’d partied then because I can’t do it now.” Three years out of college, he appears to have gotten a good job, his sole motivation for letting academic distractions interrupt his extended Mardi Gras. The young man is a senior associate in the southern California office of a commercial real estate services firm. He brightly assures visitors to his page on the corporate website that he “firmly believes that it’s not what you know, but who [sic] you know.”

What national purpose is furthered by encouraging such young people to waste four years of their lives in college? Colleges are glad to have more paying customers, of course, but the social and economic premise of the increased demand for credit hours and college degrees is dubious. “There is a sense that the American workforce needs to be more professional at every level,” according to Prof. X. “Many jobs that never before required college now call for at least some post-secondary course work. . . . There is a sense that our bank tellers should be college educated, and so should our medical-billing techs, and our child-welfare officers, and our sheriffs and federal marshals. We want the police officer who stops the car with the broken taillight to have a nodding acquaintance with great literature.”

The contempt for learning that results from forcing “Hamlet” on a captive audience leads to wider and more pervasive cynicism. One college president spoke to Merrow of the “mutual nonaggression pact,” in which “the professor goes into class and doesn’t ask much of students, who in return don’t ask much of the professor. The professor gives out reasonably high grades as a way of camouflaging that this bargain has been struck, his evaluations will be satisfactory, and students don’t complain about grades or about whether they’ve learned much.”

Even at very high levels of the credentials-industrial complex there’s good reason to regard the central activity as sorting rather than educating. In a Wall Street Journal article from 1995 the dean of USC’s business school laments, “We’re not exactly an employment agency, but it comes pretty close.” The recruiters from the big corporations that seek to hire MBA’s from the most prestigious business schools agree that the schools “sift through potential recruits more efficiently” than the companies can. The general manager of executive development at Microsoft says, in effect, we don’t hire people from Wharton and Stanford to avail ourselves of the wonderful, profitable things they learned in the classroom. “In fact, we usually have to unlearn them of some of the things they pick up in those programs.” The rationale, instead, is that anyone bright and motivated enough to get into and through a highly selective school is bright and motivated enough to be a good hire. The crucial service the business schools render to the corporations – and the students – is in the admissions office, not the classroom.

We might borrow some B-school jargon to recommend Wick Sloane’s idea that it is time to make post-secondary education in America “scalable.” In the same way that the iPod made it possible to unbundle the music business, so that customers can buy just the one song they want without having to pay for 11 more they don’t on an LP or CD, it’s time, he says, to disaggregate “the four-year, 36-course structure” that defines the bachelor’s degree. We should, in other words, stop forcing future police officers, commercial real estate brokers and investment bankers to pay for and sit through courses they correctly regard as nothing more than items in the artificial and indefensible obstacle course America has built between them and their career goals.

The problem is ultimately political, not educational. There is an inherent tension in the idea of universal higher education. As we approach universality, the reality of the higher gets lower and lower. We can imagine, as a thought experiment, an America where everybody over 26 has a post-graduate degree, and everybody younger is on the road to one. But some of those MBA’s and JD’s will still wind up working the cash register at Starbucks. “America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track,” according to Professor X. “We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options.” But we do our country and individual citizens no good if the American Dream becomes the American Fantasy. “Everyone wants to triumph. But not everyone can — in fact, most can’t. If they could, it wouldn’t be any kind of a triumph at all.”

The McCainiacs Guide to GOP Exceptionalism

Bill Kristol writes a provocative column today suggesting that McCain may be the last best hope of the GOP in the fall. In particular, he cites three events from the last week--Obama’s huge loss in WVa, the gay-marriage ruling from the California Supreme Court, and the speech from Bush in Jerusalem that Obama took way too personally--that should do much to improve McCain’s chances in the fall. Yet for all this sound evidence and analysis, his column does not appear to offer much by way of hope (if I may be forgiven for using that most overused word from this election cycle) for the down-ticket.

In this, he may be right from the point of view of mere observation and reporting. But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the damage done to the Republican brand is too far gone to expect "McCain exceptionalism." Let’s suppose for a moment that this is true and despite Obama’s clear weaknesses, McCain--by virtue of the fact that he’s got an (R) after his name--is already paddling upstream against a swift current. Then what? Will it be enough to show that he is "a different kind of Republican?"

I don’t think so. I begin to think that McCain is going to have to begin to make a case not only for himself but also for the GOP in general--certainly if he means to have a successful presidency but perhaps, also, if he means to have any presidency at all. What would this look like? For one thing, it will mean explaining, rather than simply asserting, some of the fundamental principles of the GOP. It means an implicit criticism of those Republicans in our immediate past who could not or who would not do the same. It would also mean anticipating, understanding and answering the prejudices of those who think they do not like the GOP.

But there’s something more. It is also going to mean that McCain will need to highlight the general problems with Democrats. After all, Democrats only poll higher in terms of their favorable ratings by way of comparison with the Republicans. And Republicans, at least in part, poll poorly because of the ways they have disaffected their base. Congress as a whole, however, polls very, very low. I am not sure if it’s still the case, but it was true at one point that Congress had poorer numbers even than President Bush. Some have suggested that this may be because people forget that Democrats are in charge there (of course, they should be reminded) . . . but whatever the explanation, there’s an opening for McCain. By attacking the "do-nothing" pathetic and Democrat Congress of this session he can acknowledge the political frustrations of the electorate, delight his conservative base, and point the way forward to a better, chastened, and invigorated Republican majority. He may not get it--at least not right away. But he has the potential to set something into motion. He should not forget that he’s running for "President" not "Emperor." He’s going to need friends once he gets there.

Kids Today and the Market

Michael Malone has an interesting op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Malone describes cybespace as our next frontier and argues that it is making the rising generation more individualistic than their parents. This statistic stood out, in particular:

Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job. Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine. Tellingly, 18 to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35 to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend to start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

Here we find hope for liberty in America’s future. Now if only we could get our political class and universities to support entrepreneurship rather than collectivism. . . .

So When Does Larry Summers Get His Job Back?

My AEI colleague Charles Murray has been predicting for a while now that within a decade, fundamental gender differences will become so obvious that it will look foolish to deny them. Today in the Boston Globe comes a bit of evidence that he’s going to be proved right--a survey of studies showing women, in general, are less interested in science than men. So much for discrimination as the reason for so few women in science.

Perhaps the most significant sentence in the story is this: "In her controversial new book, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap, Susan Pinker gathers data from the journal Science and a variety of sources that show that in countries where women have the most freedom to choose their careers, the gender divide is the most pronounced." This isn’t going to go down well in Harvard yard.

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

Reason and Love

Here’s Father Schall on the latest contribution to Rat Choice.

Yuval on McCain’s Need for Vision

Mac managed to get nominated without a vision. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need one to win in November. "Duty, honor, ability" is a slogan for losers--like Bob Dole or even John Kerry. Mac needs to show he’s guided by more than a nonpartisan honor code. He needs a vision for conservative reform that’s all about leaner, smarter regulation, including a consumer-oriented, unbureaucratic fix for our obviously messed up health care system. We’re getting back to prudence here; an alliance of Mac and, say, Yuval (and Bobby Jindal!) might convince Americans to vote for the man who is too honorable to speak in airy abstractions but will get down to work to get government working again. Yuval’s not the first to notice that Mac at his best is a Burkean conservative--that is, a results- oriented reformer.

While We Still Have Her to Kick Around

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is more than $20 million in debt, and Slate’s “Hillary Deathwatch” rates her chance to win the Democratic nomination at 1.7%. According to David Letterman, her campaign has become America’s most expensive fantasy camp.

The what-went-wrong stories are already appearing. The most noted, and best reported, is Michelle Cottle’s in The New Republic. She got “more than a dozen” Clinton campaign staffers to offer, anonymously, their post-mortems. None of them will startle anyone who reads the papers. My favorite, because it betrays the disorienting effects of working 90-hour weeks in a campaign’s echo chamber, is, “I don’t think anybody in America doesn’t think she can do the job. What they’re dying for is to know a little bit more about her.” It turned out that lots of Americans, including millions of Democrats and independents, had grave doubts as to whether Hillary can do the job, and were hoping desperately to avoid learning even one more thing about her.

Some Democrats, eager for the loser of their contest to go away quickly and quietly and not complicate the winner’s task in the general election, are partial to the most forgiving explanation of the final result. It holds that the only thing that really “went wrong” was that Hillary happened to run in a year when she faced a political phenomenon. According to Michael Tomasky, the only way a “relative unknown” like Barack Obama wrests a presidential nomination from the most famous woman in America is that he “wows people. He strikes an emotional chord that the better-known quantity, with all her formidable advantages and skills, just couldn’t strike with as many folks.” Had Hillary run the same campaign against the field from four years earlier, according to this theory, she would have steamrolled John Kerry and Howard Dean, and everyone would be writing stories about the strategic brilliance of Mark Penn, the managerial talents of Patti Solis Doyle, and the devastating cable TV charm of Terry McAuliffe and Lanny Davis.

The problem with this theory is that it’s too soon to tell whether Hillary Clinton was a good candidate who lost to an excellent one, or a lousy candidate who lost to a decent one. Barack Obama will have to win in November, to give the generous assessment traction. And even then . . . Jimmy Carter was a relative unknown who (barely) won a general election when the Republican opposition was battered. He then spent the next four years as president, and the subsequent 28 as an ex-president, diminishing the political reputation he established in 1976. No one would think to offer a kind word today for Morris Udall or Scoop Jackson by saying, “After all, he did lose to Jimmy Carter.”

Knowing only what we can know today, the fact that Hillary Clinton, with all her advantages, couldn’t beat an opponent who was a state senator as recently as 2004, then won a U.S. Senate seat only when his Democratic and Republican opponents’ campaigns self-destructed – a guy who, as the GOP consultant Alex Castellanos says, “just paid off his college loans a couple of years ago” – argues just as easily that she lost the 2008 nomination as that he won it. The eventual story may be, not that it was her bad luck to run against Obama, but his good luck to run against Hillary.

Sign Up at We Get It

For evangelically inclined NLT readers, wander over to We-Get-It.Org and consider signing their online petition that attempts to balance sense against nonsense/hysteria on climate change.

There’s No Appeasing Some People

So let’s see: President Bush quotes a clueless Republican senator (isolationist William Borah) in 1939 saying if he’d only been able to talk with Hitler all this unpleasantness could have been avoided, and somehow this is interpreted as an attack on Obama and Democrats. My, what a hair trigger we’re on.

Now I can understand that Democrats think they responded too weakly to previous Republican criticisms they didn’t understand (Dukakis and the Pledge, Kerry and the Swift boats, Gore and his lack of truthiness, etc) and so are on DefCon 1 against the slightest slight. But this seems like an unforced error on Obama’s part (not his first, of course). How much more clever it would have been for Obama to say, "Of course the President is right, so why does he go on appeasing the Saudi’s?, etc."

And I can understand some of the parsing of "appeasement." It is one thing to talk with some odious person; appeasement, strictly speaking, is giving them something under threat. Sure enough, Churchill himself defended appeasement at other times.

So in contemplating whether Obama lacks prudence in saying he’d meet with Ahmadinawhackjob without preconditions, it is worth recalling Churchill’s meditation about how the Munich crisis should be understood from The Gathering Storm:

It may be well here to set down some principles of morals and action which may be a guide in the future. No case of this kind can be judged apart from its circumstances. [Me: This is more or less what McCain said about contact with Iran in the now-controversial Rubin interview.] The facts may be unknown at the time, and estimates of them must be largely guesswork, colored by the general feelings and aims of whomever is trying to pronounce. . .

There is, however, one helpful guide, namely, for a nation to keep its word and to act in accordance with its treaty obligations to allies. This guide is called honor. . . Here, however, the moment came when Honor pointed the path of Duty, and when also the right judgment of the facts at that time could have reinforced its dictates.

Things will really get interesting and hot if McCain suggests that the problem with Obama is not that he is an appeaser, but that he might be dishonorable in his statecraft..

UPDATE: Turns out Jay Leno saw the matter as I did. From the Tonight Show, as reported in the NY Times today:

Huge political fireworks today after President Bush went to Israel and he talked about American politicians who might want to talk to Hamas or other leaders. Politicians who would sit down and appease terrorists. He said he would not do it. He would not put up with it. He would never talk to terrorists. And then he flew to Saudi Arabia to spend a couple of days with the Saudi royal family.

Obama could have swatted the ball out of the park if he’d said something like this instead of whining about having been attacked.

Idle Question of the Day

Writing today in the Washington Post, Dick Morris suggests that McCain attack Obama for Obama’s "slavish devotion to the teacher’s unions."

Uh-oh. Do you really think anyone can get away with using "slavish" and "Obama" in the same sentence without provoking the indignation that, you know, you’re tacitly appealling to something. . . beginning with, I don’t know,. . . maybe. . . the "R"-word?