Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The WASHINGTON POST on Obama’s Eccentric Strategic Vision

Here’s a summary of that fair-and-balanced paper’s skewering of Barack’s strategery: Are you nuts? Iraq’s no distraction! Any idiot can see it’s much more important than Afghanistan!

More Wisdom from Free Frank

You have to check Frank out this morning.

He explains, as he does in the thread below, that Maliki is making Obama better, more flexible and prudent when it comes to a deadline for withdrawal. This will help America and Iraq win the war, and Barack win the election. And the Democratic activists won’t be able to do anything about it. Let me repeat: Obama isn’t going to defeat himself. Maliki, of course, wouldn’t be where he is if he weren’t quite an able Machiavellian.

And Frank contributes to BATMAN STUDIES by offering the interpretation that the new Caped Crusader IS George W. Bush. He’s displaying the president’s fortitude and courage in defense of freedom. Wayne and Bush are above not only money but honor. They’re willing to be mistaken for vigilantes to protect political freedom against terrorists. They’re so heroic that they don’t need to be recognized as heroes.

More Batman Studies

I have to say that I’m stunned by the astuteness and moral depth of the political analyses of the new movie by Clint and Ralph below. And so I interrupt that thread with very great hesitation. But I have to post another political philosophical approach to THE DARK NIGHT by Dr. Schaff of South Dakota. (Scroll down to July 18.) In his view, good is at least as interesting as evil in this film: Bruce Wayne (Batman) and DA Dent respond with prudence and integrity to tough political dilemmas, and the seriousness of their choices, as well as their searching inquiry into their own motives, trump any deficiency (such as excessive earnestness) in their dialogue. The film, in Jon’s view, also makes it quite clear that evil is really evil; the Joker is too cruel and sadistic really to be funny. So when the audience laughs, it is in error.
The Joker, Jon adds, is a Nietzschean; he’s a anti-bourgeois and anti-moral man of action for deep theoretical reasons. And he certainly shows that if you have the "why" (even if the why is chaotic) you can get by with almost any "how." The best class of criminals don’t care about money, the Joker says. The film displays at least two kinds of men who aren’t moved at all by money. I’ve been led to see they’re both very interesting and worthy of a second viewing--despite its excessive length and some boring action scenes. (Is it true that only the woman--the girl friend of both the good guys--isn’t very interesting?)

Question for Discussion

Mickey Kaus has been making a big deal of the National Enquirer’s story about John Edwards’ infidelities. The folks at the Corner (and here) are tut-tuting.

Question: Is public shaming an improper penalty for adultery? Part b. What impact might the changing legal status of adultery have on the answer to that question both as a practical matter and as a question of public morality?

How many electoral votes does Germany have?

Surveying the coverage of Barack Obama’s speech in Germany, it appears that the politician in him took over completely, causing him to forget which nation he is campaigning to be president of. His implied criticisms of the United States and his talk about being a world citizen made him sound like he was trying to win the German vote by running against the United States.

It worked, too. He has the German vote locked up!

But the speech bolsters the view that despite his disavowal of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he really does share, to a degree that matters, Wright’s poisoned view of the United States. Not that this should be a surprise. Many liberals tend toward Wright’s views to one degree or another, and to one degree or another, they think the United States deserves to be humbled. This is why liberal American presidential candidates such as Kerry and Obama are so popular in Europe, because Europe also wants to see the United States humbled.

Frank Warner on Opie Obama

Frank explains why Obama’s Germany speech seemed underwhelming: He "still looks like a kid trying out for a leading man’s role...[H]e was reciting Sheriff Andy Taylor’s lines but looking more like Opie."


Here’s a thoughtful appreciation of the new BATMAN movie. As I said before, I don’t really think the dialogue does justice to the action. But I completely agree that Ledger’s is the "utterly definitive" Joker--the man with a deep insight into who people really are and who unreservedly embraces madness for what it is. Although, as a whole, not as impressive as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this movie does better in capturing the pyschology of big-time evildoing. It also acknowledges the possibility of being incorruptibly good, while making being incorrigibly bad seem a lot more interesting and fun. Compared to the Joker, Batman is boring, although the behavior of neither of them can be reduced to the impersonal necessity that governs the rest of nature.

Krauthammer on Obama and Maliki

Maliki’s virtual endorsement has made it more likely that Obama will win the election. So Barack owes him. That means President Obama is likely not to ask much from Iraq. It’s possible that the surge’s success has made Maliki way overconfident about being able to go it alone now, and Charles seems somewhat bitter about his ingratitude. I think there’s more room than Charles thinks for McCain to use these facts to his advantage, although not simply by urging Obama, the American people, and the Iraqis themselves to be more grateful for the surge. And I have to add, at the urging of several threaders, that, although it makes good sense that Obama would get a bump from "winning the Iraq primary," there’s no evidence of it yet.

Questions for the Day

In his speech today in Berlin, Senator Obama said (according to Politico):

“People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment. This is our time,” he declared, offering himself “not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen, a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”


"We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye towards the future, with resolve in our heart, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”

1. What does it mean to be a "citizen of the world"? Is citizenship by nature particular or can it be universal?

2. Is the desire to "remake the world" misanthropic, or, perhaps we should only ask if it tends toward misanthropy. Does it imply dislike for what human beings are, even if it does so in the name of charity?

Bob Novak’s Campaign Judgments

Bob says that Obama’s overseas tour has been "an unqualified success." It has "increased Republican defeatism" and "Democratic triumphalism." Obama now looks "experienced and effective," McCain "constricted and wooden." I would go further: McCain increasingly looks out-of-the-loop when it comes to American foreign policy, world leaders, and such. I say this not as a defeatist or fatalist, but only to wonder when a really effective McCain campaign might begin.

Bob adds that McCain’s teases about naming his running mate this weekend are lame attempts to steal Barack’s thunder. And it looks to him like it’ll be Romney (but not this weekend), because of the help he gives the ticket in Michigan. My first comment might concern how things are going in the other 49 states.

Pervasively sectarian pervasively unconstitutional?

An appellate decision written by First Amendment superstar Michael McConnell has rejected Colorado’s use of the hoary old--so 70s--"pervasively sectarian" language to deny students attending Colorado Christian University access to state aid.

You can read a story about the decision here and more here. I’ll have more to say when I’ve had a chance to read the opinion.

"Honor" Killings in America

This New York Post article recounts a case in Georgia where the father of a 25 year-old woman, who told him she wanted out of her unhappy (and arranged) marriage, then strangled his daughter to death with a bungee cord. The author of the article wonders why--apart from the fact that the woman was not an attractive blonde--the story is not getting wall-to-wall coverage on the networks that ordinarily cover sensational crimes. In the end, she concludes, it comes down to the fact that this case (and a growing list of others like it) demands that we pass judgment on the faith and the culture of people who live this way. It demands that we do an uncomfortable thing and call for the assimilation of both male and female Muslim immigrants. The author also wonders why American feminists seem to be silent on these matters but, then, it was only a rhetorical question. Of course the answer is that they are too busy worrying about the waistline measurements on Barbie dolls to be concerned with things like strangulation, stabbing, and other forms of murdering young women who dare to be free.

Religious change in America

Way back in February, I appeared on Radio Free Acton talking about Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. While it was fresh in my mind, I also wrote something about it, which appears here.

A New Kind of Summer Vacation

Early this week I had a the opportunity to get away for an afternoon, so I drove up to visit with old friends in Ashland (including grad school friends now teaching in the MAHG program) and to do a little work for the Ashbrook Center. I knew things were going to be busy there because the Master’s in American Government and History program is in full operation this week and next. Still, I only had a vague idea of why everyone would be so busy. I guess I underestimated how serious and impressive the program actually is. This is probably because I recall working as an intern at the Ashbrook Center in the summer of 1991 when the first incarnation of this program, the "Constitutional Government in America Institute" for high school teachers was underway. We brought in 30 teachers who spent two weeks in seminars with great professors and a pretty serious reading list. I thought we worked as hard as anyone might during that summer and the one following it and that we had done some real good for the cause of improving the quality of high school history instruction. That program was nice . . . but it’s nothing compared to this.

Back then, our primary goal was to get teachers to look beyond the textbooks and incorporate original documents in their teaching of the Constitution, the convention and the Founding in general.

Today with the MAHG, these teachers (some 400 already) are getting an education that rivals and, frankly--to my mind, at least--it surpasses anything that one might get at most serious graduate schools. This is because in addition to the excellent faculty at Ashland, the MAHG program gets to draw upon some of the best faculty from around the country. These professors are experts in the subjects they teach, and the camaraderie the program inspires is remarkable. Meeting in the summer as they do, they complete a semester’s work in a week’s time. They’re in class virtually all day and engaged in conversation, writing and studying all night. But the most remarkable thing about the program is the students who attend--coming from all over the country. Many have given up summer vacations to be here and most have no regrets about it. Indeed, now that the program is beginning to produce its first graduates, the biggest lament I heard (repeated more than once) was that they didn’t want it to end. Who can blame them? You’d be hard-pressed to buy a vacation this interesting.

More McCain VP Pick Gossip

Mac may have given "a serious hint" that it’s going to be Pawlenty.

Maliki and Obama

The remarkably fair-and-balanced WAHINGTON POST has published a good article by Max Boot explaining why we should be skeptical of the Iraqi chief executive’s apparent endorsement of the Obama withdrawal timetable. Maliki surely isn’t wrong to believe that it’s prudent to curry favor with the guy with good odds of becoming our next commander-in-chief. And I can’t help but think he’s really helped Barack: He’s helped to create the impression that our withdrawal would not be, as it was in Vietnam, a dishonorable abandonment of our ally. It would be what the sovereign nation really wants. McCain’s challenge in dispelling this impression is pretty formidable.

Accreditation, assessment, and the liberal arts

I have served on accreditation teams for the standard regional accreditors and for the American Academy for Liberal Education. I’ve worked in various capacities on self-study committees in preparation for accreditation visits. Suffice it to say, I know a little about the accreditation business.

I was relieved to learn that Margaret Spellings (whose tenure will--thankfully--end soon) has extended AALE’s recognition for three (as opposed to the standard five) years.

I can say with some confidence that the colleges with which I have dealt as a representative of AALE are performing marvelously with respect to the concerns Spellings cites, at least as well as those who deal with regional accreditors.

I can also say that we still have to pay attention to the difference between busy work and assessment that actually helps colleges improve what they’re doing. I’m not certain that Spellings knows the difference.

Calling Obama’s Bluff

Shelby Steele offers some interesting thoughts on the distinction between Barack Obama’s cultural cache and his political message. Steele argues that Obama’s promise of absolution for white guilt and relief of black anger explains most of his appeal. It’s not a terrible thing that people want to move beyond the sledgehammer racial politics of Jesse Jackson and say "enough already." Much evil might have been avoided had this desire manifested itself sooner. But Jesse Jackson’s got a legitimate gripe with Mr. Obama because of the way that Obama has played this hand. The irony is that white guilt has to be alive and well for Obama’s promise to assuage it to be appealing. If we were really past the "Age of Jackson" then Obama would be forced to talk more openly about the mess that is his political thinking. He’d be forced to answer questions very similar to those John Kerry had to answer in 2004. Instead he is fawned over and celebrated as a healer . . . because, clearly, something in America needs healing. Just ask Obama. So now the election appears to be about cultural appeal. And there is no contest between him and John McCain when it comes to cultural appeal. Trouble is that there’s also no contest (and this time the difference is not in Obama’s favor) when it comes to experience and political understanding. When it comes to the real work of politics, Obama comes up a little short.

Jesse may not think that his protege has the testicular fortitude necessary for a full-on political charge exploiting white guilt--he may seem to be giving up the leverage he needs to secure victories. But sometimes the student can be wiser than the professor and a much more astute practicioner of his teachings. Obama has observed the small-time jackpots Jackson has greedily called his own and he is not impressed. Perhaps Obama can get a bigger jackpot if he uses this trump card more sparingly. It’s straight out of Machiavelli. But this means that he can no more disavow Jackson’s politics than he can the Rev. Wright. Obama learned to play the game better than the Clintons because he could play it better than the Jacksons and the Wrights of this world. If McCain wants to get in this game he needs to call Obama’s bluff and force him to show the cards in his political hand.

Nudge: The Government as Jewish Mother

I was in Philadelphia last weekend, and happened to catch this article about Cass Sunstein’s new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness:

So what is a nudge? The book’s path to explaining that simple term passes through some clunkier ones: behavioral economics, choice architecture and (deep breath) libertarian paternalism. Behavioral economics, which Thaler helped shape, hinges on the belated (for the dismal science) recognition that human beings often resemble Homer Simpson more than they do Mr. Spock.

Psychologists have shown that we humans harbor many quirks that don’t resemble the hyperrational Economic Man of free-market theory. We’re experts at inertia (those lingering magazine subscriptions). We’re overconfident, sure that we invest our money better than the average bear, that our marriages (unlike half of everyone else’s) won’t end in divorce. We’re impulsive, suggestible, and slaves to peer pressure.

So, the authors argue, "choice architecture" - the way choices are presented and explained - inevitably sways the decisions we make. Given that, they say, shouldn’t government and institutions set up choices to nudge people toward the most beneficial decision?

That’s an improvement upon the simple support for entitlement, as it is a step toward the "tough love" approach to hand-outs. On the other hand, I suspect that Sunstein et al. don’t apply the same principle to the government itself. (And when hand-outs go to most of the country in one way or another, it can be hard to reconcile with basic liberty). Should we not apply the same principle to the atministrative state? What is checks and balances if not a means of structuring incentives? Unfortunately, modern regularory bureaucracy tends to collapse executive, legislative, and judicial power in one place.

Republicans and religious voters

I offer a slightly more fully worked out version of this post in this little essay that the good people at AmSpec agreed to post.

Overrated and Underrated Movies

...according to Mr. Evangelical Outpost.
Here are the films that Joe regards as underrated that I think deserve high praise:

The new Batman movie is way overrated, by the way. That doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty darn good. It tries to be a philosophic and edifying defense of nobility and goodness against the nihilistic, chance-and-necessity NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. It also defends the philosophic thought that telling the truth just isn’t the way to go in the world of decent people who cry out to be deluded. But the dialogue, by aiming too high, is often just wooden and corny, and the genre is, for the most part, not transcended. But Ledger as a brilliant psychopathic nihilist (the Joker) transcends his dialogue through being always witty, eery, and endlessly engaging or sort of charming. (He should get a posthumous Oscar--actually he almost certainly will.) The revenge of the Joker and jokers everywhere is a glimpse into an authentic heart of darkness. To show my vulgarity, let me add that I was always looking forward more to STEP BROTHERS, another joint venture of Will Farrell and John C. Reilly.

Polling constitutionalism

This poll suggests, among other things, that we have our work cut out for us. While I’m not quite sure what people were thinking when they answered in this way, 52% agreed that "[i]n making decisions, the Supreme Court should consider changing times and current realities in applying the principles of the Constitution." Only 40% averred that "the Supreme Court should only consider the original intentions of the authors of the Constitution." Why, then, do we need a legislature?

Other interesting/disturbing findings include these:

*57% of respondents think abortion should be legal in most or all cases (a result that has remained stable over the past few years).

*Roughly equal proportions of respondents support same-sex marriage, civil unions, or no recognition. Asked simply if they favor or oppose same-sex marriage, opponents lead 55-36, but 40% of the opponents could live with (so to speak) civil unions, if state courts permitted them to occupy this middle ground.

*Roughly similar proportions oppose requiring a state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state (50-44) and a law in their state banning same-sex marriage (49-45). Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be "personal." People are "pro-choice" here, not fully realizing that being pro-choice is the same as favoring same-sex marriage.

*A small majority favors some sort of faith-based initiative, while a much larger majority doesn’t think that religious organizations that accept government money "should be able to discriminate in favor of hiring people of their own faith." One wonders if the answers would be different if the question were different. How would you answer this: "Do you think that religious organizations that accept federal money should have the same hiring rights as other religious groups?" Or this: "Do you think that religious groups that accept federal money ought to be able to hire only those who support their mission, just as other recipients of federal money can?"

*By a 43-39 margin, respondents disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is doing its job. By a 42-33 margin, respondents think the Court is moving in the wrong direction. The Court’s positive rating has dropped almost 20% in little more than a year. The right direction/wrong direction numbers have flipped in a little less than a year. This suggests that those who think that judicial nominations are an issue that cuts in favor of John McCain might be mistaken, although independents are evenly split (41-41) on the first question and very narrowly take the wrong direction side on the second one.

For me, the bottom line is this: on many of the matters treated in this poll, people are relying on the haziest of impressions, largely formed by media coveerage. Getting their attention and changing their minds is extremely hard work. But there’s no better time than during a presidential campaign to try to do it.

Hat tip: MOJ’s Rob Vischer.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

More on Populism

Some populism is good--Bryan was more right than Darrow. It’s the populists that know what’s wrong with Darwinism--its denial of personal dignity or significance and its encouragement of eugenics. And the people, by opposing themselves to the interests, remind us that people are more than beings with interests. It’s also good to be reminded that too many of our policies are basically socialism for the rich, and that wages have dropped in relation to productivity. The case against judicial activism and especially against ROE is basically populist. The religious right--or real religion in general--is a true populist reaction against the elitist atheism or indifferentism. The Republican party has fourished for a generation on the basis of a populist reaction against the elitist liberationism of the Sixties. When the Republicans become too libertarian--or show contempt for the moral concerns or understandable anxieties of ordinary people, they lose. It’s not surprising that the WALL STREET JOURNAL doesn’t have a proper appreciation of the virtues of populism.

Here are the worst things about populism: racism, prohibitionism, and no faith in what’s true about "trickle-down economics."

With unions, public and private pensions, our health care system all collapsing under pressures for productivity in our globalizing economy, I would say that, on balance, the populists are losing today. The average guy is more on his own than ever. And, to repeat myself, it’s just not true that we’re slouching toward soft despotism.

Are We All Populists Now?

In his book, Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’ Rourke has a chapter called "The Whiffle Life"--no matter what we do, we can often save ourselves from the consequences of our actions. In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, the influential financial writer, Jim Grant has a fine essay arguing that the recent bailouts of Bear Stearn’s creditors (though not Bear itself) and of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suggest that that attitude has hit our financial markets. Why? Because the Populists won the 20th century:

Wall Street is off the political agenda in 2008 for reasons we may only guess about. Possibly, in this time of widespread public participation in the stock market, "Wall Street" is really "Main Street." Or maybe Wall Street, its old self, owns both major political parties and their candidates. Or, possibly, the $4.50 gasoline price has absorbed every available erg of populist anger, or -- yet another possibility -- today’s financial failures are too complex to stick in everyman’s craw.

I have another theory, and that is that the old populists actually won. This is their financial system. They had demanded paper money, federally insured bank deposits and a heavy governmental hand in the distribution of credit, and now they have them. The Populist Party might have lost the elections in the hard times of the 1890s. But it won the future.

Read the whole thing.

A Great Big Head for Politics

Joan Vennochi writes with flair about Obama’s super-sized ego in today’s Boston Globe. Vennochi notes that Obama’s recent exploits have made McCain look ever so humble . . . so maybe he does have some special powers after all!