Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

My travel plans

While Lawler has the cushy job in southern California, I’ll be working for the Man in Nicaragua this coming Tuesday through Friday.

NLT readers from (way) south of the border can look for me in the lobby bar of this hotel, late at night, to be sure.

Darwinian Larry Compares Obama and Lincoln

Arnhart’s thoughts are informed and serious, and I invite you to judge them for yourself. He’s surely right that Obama understands himself to share Lincoln’s great ambition, as well as his skepticism about some--if not all--of the tenets of Christianity. Larry leaves us with the thought that if Obama really does share at least some of Lincoln’s greatness, we should be worried. Presidential greatness, in Larry’s view, can’t help but subvert republican government.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking at POMONA COLLEGE on "Autonomy, Productivity, and Our Biotechnological Future" on Monday, December 1 at 7 p.m in the Rose Hills Theatre. To get psyched for the lecture,
you might want to read this article I wrote on technology for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CONSERVATISM a number of years ago.

India News

Lengthy analysis of the grim news out of India in Bill Roggio’s Long War Journal.

Religion and politics in American history

Subscribers to The Weekly Standard can read my review of Religion in American Politics: A Short History here.

A "Black Friday" Reflection on Two Thanksgiving Messages

Couldn’t help but notice a big difference between our president’s Thanksgiving message and our president-elect’s Thanksgiving message. There is no mistaking to Whom President Bush expresses gratitude for "all that we have been given, the freedoms we enjoy, and the loved ones who enrich our lives." They come "not from the hand of man but from Almighty God." Unclear what to make of Obama’s recurring de-emphasis upon God and Providence. I recall Obama’s Victory speech, where he bowdlerizes Martin Luther King’s "arc of the moral universe" quote, turning a clear reference to God’s moral ordering of the universe into a praise of human beings bending that arc themselves!

To be sure, a belief in a personal God who takes interest in His creation should not lead folks to sit on their hands and trust the Creator to do everything for them: this disrespects God’s will that those made in His image put head, heart, and hand to the work to which He calls them. Nevertheless, Obama’s reticence to ask humbly for God’s blessing upon the United States, coupled with his call for unity by Americans to "make a new beginning for our nation," suggests that he believes that what makes America great is that individuals can do whatever they put their minds to, and not so much that what they put their minds to should be informed by the fixed and eternal truths discerned in the created order. The fact that our president-elect chose to make no reference to God whatsoever, while placing himself squarely in the middle of a Thanksgiving Address (to wit, "why I’m committed to forging a new beginning from the moment I take office"), is strikingly at odds with an address that traditionally highlights our national humility before our Maker.

It’s this latter approach to celebrating Thanksgiving that has always struck me as a fitting complement to our July 4th celebration of the nation’s Independence Day. By celebrating our independence from England (July 4th) and dependence upon God (Thanksgiving Day), whose aid our greatest statesmen have always solicited and acknowledged, Americans call to mind great truths of human existence that can keep us on the straight and narrow path as a self-governing people. May God bless President-elect Obama with a better understanding of Lincoln’s greatness, a deeper insight into the principles of the American regime, and a more profound sense of the glory of the great Father of us all. For these things, may we all be truly grateful.

The Georgia Senate race again

In a quickie op-ed, I argue that President-elect Obama really wants incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss to win next Tuesday’s run-off in Georgia.

My conclusion:

I’ve almost convinced myself that President-elect Obama shouldn’t campaign on behalf of Jim Martin, if he knows what’s good for himself and his administration. Indeed, if he could, he should film a commercial for Saxby Chambliss, the last barrier between him and an agenda driven by the demands of congressional Democrats.

And, tempted as I might be to vote for Jim Martin to bring out the worst in the Democratic Party, I’m going to support my new president and put country above party by marking my ballot for Saxby Chambliss.

If you want to see the tortured chain of reasoning that led me to this conclusion, read, as they say, the whole thing.

Giving Thanks

This is a fine example of the meaning of Thanksgiving from a citizen.

A Modern Plymouth Rock Pilgrimage

John G. West describes his disappointments and final vindication in his family trip to Plymouth Rock, as he defies revisionist history of the Pilgrims’ achievements. If you liked Andy Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln, including his discovery that Lincoln’s boyhood logcabin home was fake ("symbolic," a park ranger corrects him), you will enjoy West’s enlightening account of the importance of the Pilgrims to America.


Three data points to ponder:

1. If I recall correctly, roughly ten years ago President Clinton and our European allies had to work very hard behind the scenes to prevent a full scale war between Pakistan and India from breaking out.

2. A few months after 9/11, I recall seeing a startling international poll of attitudes toward the aggressive U.S. position in Afghanistan and elsewhere. As you might imagine, continental European opinion was fairly bad; Britain was decent, Israel was quite strong (something like 88 percent expressed support/agreement with the U.S.), and the next highest level of support came from--India. No real mystery why.

3. I know from some sources in the region that Indian military officers have been relentless since 9/11 in telling our diplomats and military attaches that Pakistan is a big part of the problem, why don’t you let us have a go at Pakistan, we’re ready when you are, etc.

Afghanistan may be the least of Obama’s problems when he arrives at the White House in two months.

Hard Times and Self Reliance

Michelle Malkin on how to handle adversity:

Jen wrote me a letter this week about her own plight and triumph over adversity:

"I am writing to you to share my story of how one can survive hard times and land solidly on one’s feet . . . So here goes: My husband had an auto accident on Jan. 1, 2005, and our lives and finances changed dramatically. Our income was cut in half, as he has permanent injuries and went from being a field officer to a desk job in a less fast-paced career." . . .

"We sold our lovely home, bought a rundown, fixer-up place and converted it into a farm that could provide garden vegetables to can and an area to have some animals to provide eggs, chickens, ducks, turkey, geese, sheep and goats. . . . Freecycle and Craigslist turned out to be wonderful assets, as most of our animals came for free or for barter - and the children and I mucked out stalls on a ranch for sheep." . . .

"It also has been wonderful to know that we live in a nation that affords us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves from suburbanites to a country-dwelling farm family. I am ashamed to see the American spirit that made our nation so great now turned into nothing."

The Virtue of Gratitude

Ivan the K explains with eloquence why Thanksgiving is one way we have to keep Locke in his Locke box.

Minnesota nice?

John Fund takes a look at the jockeying over the Minnesota Senate race recount, speculating that "Minnesota nice" will be replaced in January by "Washington mean." I’m hoping that next Tuesday’s Georgia vote will lower the stakes just a tad in Minnesota.

Same As The Old Boss?

So, many Progressives leftists are disappointed--some bitterly--that Obama seems to be establishing the Clinton third term with his Cabinet and staff picks. The Nation’s Chris Hayes, for example:

Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one. Remember this is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don’t just mean in that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left. There’s tons of things the left is right about that aren’t even close to mainstream (taking a hatchet to the national security state and ending the prison industrial complex to name just two), but hopefully we’re moving there.
And yet, no one who comes from the part of American political and intellectual life that has given birth to all of these ideas is anywhere to be found within miles of the Obama cabinet thus far. WTF?

Ideologues are always disappointed to see how government actually works. (They should see sausage made sometime--Ed. Yeah, I know; look how they freaked when Our Sarah stood near a turkey killing machine last week.) Anyway, this got me to reminiscing about the Reagan transition, where similar complaints were heard from Movement Conservatives. From chapter 1 of my next Reagan book:

Human Events newspaper—one of Reagan’s favorite periodicals— wrote that “less than three weeks after the election, the euphoria in the conservative community is already dissipating somewhat. . . [C]onservatives have a right to feel somewhat distraught.” Direct mail wizard Richard Viguerie complained to the Washington Post that “the names we’re seeing now do make us nervous. It looks like it might be old home week for the Nixon-Ford administration.” Columnist Kevin Phillips echoed Viguerie: “The President-elect seems to be leaning to a cabinet full of the same proven don’t-rock-the-vote experts who bored the nation to death during the Gerald Ford Administration.” James Reston noted in the New York Times: “It is a paradox that those who were most determined to elect Mr. Reagan now seem more worried about what he will do as President than those who opposed him.”

Oh. and happy Thanksgiving everybody. I am, as usual, going to rotisserie a headless 18 lb turkey on my Weber Performer grill.

Giving Credit Where Credit’s Not Due

John Judas on the financial crisis.

This Gates Swings Both Ways?

Regarding the Gates appointment/retention:

Unlike the stubborn W, Obama recognizes necessity and deals with it. Like Bush’s prudent policy on stem cells, Obama accepts the Iraq damage that has been done and wants to move on, taking Republicans (and Hillary Dems) with him. Republicans must now defend the Obama foreign policy, at least in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Whether Gates will keep some of his key people, especially some who go back to Rumsfeld, is yet to be determined.)

The retention gives Obama more room for maneuver on the financial crisis. As I have noted before on this blogsite, there are multiple Obamas--the pragmatist, the radical community organizer, the dreamy post-modern rhetor, and cunning tactician. He hasn’t showed all sides yet.

It’s certainly possible that he is in fact clueless; that he is assembling a cabinet like some kid who collects baseball cards and builds imaginary teams; that he has a bodyguard of experts who surround a naked emperor. Of course that’s what a person without any experience would do. But I prefer to see a clever Prince behind these maneuverings.

Consider Us Gratified

Obama’s decision to keep Gates on, combined with his other national security appointments, is change that conservative bloggers can believe in. How is Gates a change? It’s something new that a president stick with his predecessor’s guy in defense. Lieberman, who’s been treated with impressively calcualated maganimity, is gushing (not in this linked article) that Obama has been about perfect so far. I wouldn’t go that far, but I have to admit I would go pretty far.

Let’s Thank the Puritans on Thanksgiving

That’s MY controversial suggestion. They didn’t give us everything, but they did give us something, as Tocqueville and Marilynne Robinson remember.

Giving thanks in trying times

This year’s Presidential Proclamation of Thanksgiving makes no mention of our current economic circumstances, which distinguishes it from its Depression-era counterparts. Consider this from Herbert Hoover in 1930:

Now, therefore, I, Herbert Hoover, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Thursday, November 27, 1930, as a National Day of Thanksgiving, and do enjoin the people of the United States so to observe it, calling upon them to remember that many of our people are in need and suffering from causes beyond their control, and suggesting that a proper celebration of the day should include that we make sure that every person in the community, young and old, shall have cause to give thanks for our institutions and for the neighborly sentiment of our people.

Or this, a year later:

The measure of passing adversity which has come upon us should deepen the spiritual life of the people, quicken their sympathies and spirit of sacrifice for others, and strengthen their courage. Many of our neighbors are in need from causes beyond their control and the compassion over this winter that they too may have full cause to participate in this day of gratitude to the Almighty.

"Got hope?" was already a theme in FDR’s proclamations, as in this from 1933:

May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; for a clearer knowledge by all nations that we seek no conquests and ask only honorable engagements by all peoples to respect the lands and rights of their neighbors; for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind.

Or this, from 1934:

During the past year we have been given courage and fortitude to meet the problems which have confronted us in our national life. Our sense of social justice has deepened. We have been given vision to make new provisions for human welfare and happiness, and in a spirit of mutual helpfulness we have cooperated to translate vision into reality.
More greatly have we turned our hearts and minds to things spiritual. We can truly say, "What profiteth it a nation if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul."
With gratitude in our hearts for what has already been achieved, may we, with the help of God, dedicate ourselves anew to work for the betterment of mankind.

I doubt that President Obama’s proclamations will share the robust sense of American exceptionalism evident in those of his predecessor, but I have no doubt that they will offer something of his "Social Gospel."

I have to confess to not having been overly impressed by the GWB proclamations, this one included. In past years, I’ve written on this subject here, here, and here.

Danielle Allen 2.0--The Polis or the Party?

Princeton professor Danielle Allen—see Peter Schramm’s post below--fears that the Founders’ achievement can more readily be overthrown today than at any time in our history: majority faction, Madison’s great enemy in Federalist 10, is more readily attainable now than before, with the Internet “enabling much more effective factional organization than the Founders could have imagined.” But the Internet makes possible the contrary possibility, a kind of best regime. We need to appreciate Allen’s point by noting her reliance on Madison that underlies her speculation about the Internet. Her bold proposal suggests restoring features of the ancient polis and thus give logos, reasoned speech, a greater force in politics than has ever existed.

Even before the Internet a factionalized Congress was behaving in the way Allen fears. Congress has rejected its primary Madisonian role as reconciler (and therefore destroyer) of factions and instead becomes the conduit for each faction getting its own way. If former Speaker Gingrich had been smarter, this is what he would have made his primary object of reform. But he and his predecessors merely attempted to game this system and use it to extend their own majority while using pro-Founding and anti-faction rhetoric. The scheme worked remarkably well for three elections but stalled in 2006 and crashed in 2008.

With Obama’s success in using the Internet (one she contributed to, it should be added), Allen would like “to remake the tools of factional organization as instruments of broad, cross-partisan and respectful public engagement.” However, “the Obama team’s digital network could well become nothing more than an outsized, 21st-century version of a ward machine. If it can be done, it could restore a richer experience of citizenship."

But “ward machine” and patriotic citizen politics are not incompatible (see Plunkitt of Tammany Hall). Whether “team” Obama acts to link both aims is an open question. Like the Republicans in Congress they may well decide to run up the score against hapless Republicans by using their expanded power, thus confirming Madison in his fears.

As many of us who have taught before the Internet age have noted, students today may read a lot of news, but it is news they choose, thus building their own caves around them rather than acquiring means of recognizing their caves for what they are. Human ingenuity turns out to be the basis of a profounder human bondage. Instead of the best of the polis we get a smothering soft despotism, which may be the prelude to a harsher one.

Should Bush resign?

This Sunday I had CNN on (circa Noon) and there were a few talking heads that included Tom Friedman (NY Times). I distinctly heard Friedman say that--because of the "economic crisis" and the so-called "power vacuum"--President Bush should just resign immediately so Mr. Obama could become president asap. The other interlocutors didn�t say anything on this, so I thought maybe I didn�t hear it correctly. Later that day I confirmed it. Well, it turns out that Chris Mathews said the same thing. I�m not impressed.

The Ascent of Money

Niall Ferguson has a new book out, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, and he discusses some themes raised by it here. Example:

"How are the developing countries going to fare given the current economic conditions?

Niall Ferguson: Not well. Despite being "Made in America" this crisis has the potential to hurt countries like Pakistan more than America itself. Unfairly, the U.S. continues to be regarded as a "safe haven" for investors, which is why the dollar has rallied in recent months. Meanwhile, economic trouble tends to lead to political instability in emerging markets, which scares investors off."


Georgia Senate race

I plan on voting early tomorrow as I will be out of the country next week. This article offers a survey of Georgia's electoral landscape. Yes, a run-off would generally favor a Republican. Yes, Sen. Chambliss is ahead in the polls (though they are probably meaningless in a low-turnout run-off). Yes, Sen. Chambliss can outspend Jim Martin, his fraternity brother challenger. And yes, the Obama organization isn't likely to be quite as effective without the President-elect at the top of the ticket. (Of course, in a low-turnout election, it doesn't have to be.)

The article partially answers my question regarding why we haven't had a visit from the President-elect. It's not that he doesn't love us or love Jim Martin, but he doesn't want to risk a very high-profile (and reasonably predictable) defeat before his Inauguration. If Jim Martin loses, it's his personal loss. If Martin loses after an Obama visit, we could ask what happened to the Obama electoral magic.

But there's another possible explanation as well, one that's just a little Barackiavellian. If the Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, then the President has less leverage to move them away from their preferred position. If he "needs" a Republican vote or two (Sens. Snowe and Collins come to mind almost immediately), then he can press for the kind of compromise he wants. If the Senate leadership has less power, he has more. Whether he realizes it or not, he doesn't really want Jim Martin to win in Georgia.

Categories > Elections

Danielle Allen

Danielle Allen has a thought regarding the political (not only partisan) use of the internet. I would like more clarity on this, if any one can supply it, I would be delighted. Last three paragraphs:

"Now, however, we are at a turning point. We’ve finally reached something of a left-right equilibrium in the dramatic restructuring of the public sphere that has been underway for the past decade. Against this background, on Nov. 4 the Obama campaign sent an e-mail to supporters from the president-elect signaling aspirations to convert the campaign’s success with social networking technologies into a tool not merely for winning but for good governance.

Such a conversion would require transcending the factional patterns that currently define Internet-based political communication. It would demand a category shift: to remake the tools of factional organization as instruments of broad, cross-partisan and respectful public engagement.

Can this be done? If not, the Obama team’s digital network could well become nothing more than an outsized, 21st-century version of a ward machine. If it can be done, it could restore a richer experience of citizenship."

Is SecState Hillary Unconstitutional?

Now here’s an interesting question: The "emoluments" clause of Article I of the Constitution would seem to prohibit the appointment of Hillary Clinton to Obama’s cabinet because she is a sitting senator. Eugene Volokh explains.

Yes, it has been done before (Lloyd Bentsen under Clinton, William Saxbe under Ford), but it was probably unconstitutional then as now. Could this all be a ruse by Obama to flatter Hillary before having, reluctantly, to deny her the job?

Are We Ready for an EMP Attack?

In today’s Wall Street Journal Brian Kennedy walks through the one of the most (if not the most) significant strategic threat against the United States in the coming years and what we’re NOT doing to protect ourselves against it.   

The Bush legacy

A colleague called attention to this ante-post-mortem of the Bush presidency, which does a pretty good--one might even say "fair and balanced"--job surveying the terrain. But my colleague added this in a letter to the editor of the National Post:

Dear Mr. Libin,

I found your article, "Bush Legacy Remains to be Written," in today’s National Post to be very thought-provoking as it provides a number of helpful guideposts against which history is likely to measure the legacy of President Bush.

I’d like to offer an additional thought on this matter. I have come to the conclusion that many years from now, when history looks back at the Bush presidency, issues that now seem monumental, such as the war in Iraq and the economy will not play nearly as large a role in history’s judgment as we now think. Rather, if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, a prospect which is becoming increasingly likely, I believe that in the final analysis President Bush will be judged primarily on his failure to prevent this. The world has yet to fully comprehend the nightmare which will unfold the day that Iran first detonates a nuclear weapon. Bush himself has likened the current time to 1938 and has squarely placed himself in the dock of history by noting that if we don’t act to prevent this development, then history will judge us in the same way that we currently judge Chamberlain and Europe for their failure to act when action was still possible. It appears that Bush is prepared to leave office with the almost certain knowledge that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. It is for this reason, and not Iraq, the economy, Katrina, or the whole host of other current hot-button issues, that President Bush will likely go down in history as not just a failed President, but as one who, with full knowledge of the consequences of his inaction, allowed the unthinkable to happen.

He’s got a point.

The Nanny State

A progress report. Conservatives just now are busy fighting each other over how to move forward. Suggesting that government should trust we citizens with the management of our own affairs, might be a fruitful direction. A query: has anyone made a list of things that are illegal to do in one’s own home?

The Current Mess

What caused it? Human nature, in business and politics, says John Steele Gordon in the latest issue of Commentary. When a particular way of doing business dies, politicins often make it worse by trying to save it, after being lobbied by businesses. And when a need is being underserved, politicians often push things in an unfruitful direction, often with the best of intentions.