Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Contemporary Dialogue

..."invented" by one James Ceaser is a deep and witty contribution to the cutting edge conversation that may or may not make possible postmodern conservatism.

Rush Limbaugh and Clarence Thomas at the Hillsdale College Churchill Dinner

Despite a cold, Rush was his typically charming self. The core of his remarks were Platonic: He defined Reaganism, against its critics, as the belief that Americans can be the best. This means Americans should be free--and not a libertarian freedom but one that has excellence as its goal.

Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn introduced Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to a large Washington, DC crowd at the Mayflower Hotel. Justice Thomas, who was last year’s speaker, gave the toast to Sir Winston. Dr. Arnn aptly described Justice Thomas as "the greatest living American."

Americans’ duty, as self-governing democrats, is to recognize greatness and choose it for themselves and their nation. The liberal education that an institution such as Hillsdale provides is an essential part of that moral and political goal.


This author explains why black voters were so overwhelmingly for that proposition in California. They are predominately women, religiously observant and morally conservative, very concerned about strengthening marriage as an institution, and very suspicious of interracial marriage. The argument the author gives that, he thinks, might incline those voters to accept same-sex marriage is pretty tortured and unconvincing, although it is based on genuinely troubling statistics. He acknowledges, in effect, that the "civil rights" argument so attractive to sophisticated whites can’t be made to appeal to them at all. These women, it seems to me, might be future Republicans, with the right kind of statesmanship. (Thanks to John Seery for calling this very interesting analysis to my attention.)

Our Domination Continues

We’re not entering the post-America era, after all. Why? Openenss, flexibility, dynamism, and demography.

Obama as the New Cicero

That’s what a classical expert claims, and not without evidence. To think I thought McCain was the real Stoic in the campaign.

Canada’s political crisis

Our old friend John von Heyking offers a lucid explanation of attempts to address a political impasse precipitated by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s perhaps ill-advised attempt to cut off public electoral subsidies to rival political parties. Rather than adopt American-style political fund-raising, the three opposition parties--with nothing in common except an inability to raise money according to Canada’s rules--have entered into a political marriage of convenience to bring Harper down. Von Heyking explains why they’re unlikely to succeed and how John Locke helps us understand why.   

The Death of Risk

Daniel Henninger writes today about the lessons one might garner from a fresh look at the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner and why, right now--as events conspire to make people less and less willing to countenance risk--is a very good time to take up such a study and such a conversation. Without expecting to embrace everything in the thesis, I agree that it’s not a bad place to begin a conversation. Besides, walking around reading Turner will make all the right people mad at me.

More on the Capitol Visitor Center

Matt Spalding has visited the said Center and is appalled by what it does to the Constitution: "This exhibit is Congress’ temple to liberals’ ’living Constitution,’ the eternal font of lawmakers’ evolving mandate to achieve the nation’s ideals. There are no fixed meanings in their version, only open-ended ’aspirations.’ The Constitution is an empty vessel, to be adapted to the times, as required to bring change. It means nothing - or anything."   

Chambliss reelected

Greetings from San Marcos, Nicaragua!

I learn from a quick glance at the headlines that Saxby Chambliss was reelected to the Senate, handily defeating his Democratic challenger Jim Martin by a 57-43 margin. An even more cursory glance at the vote totals tells me two things. First, this was a relatively high turnout run-off, with around half as many voting as did on November 4th. Second, African-Americans were more likely to stay home this time. The vote drop-off in Fulton and Dekalb Counties (both majority African-American) was much more pronounced on the Martin than on the Chambliss side.

None of this surprises me, but it does suggest that Obama’s November 4th victory was perhaps more singular than some might want to believe.

P.S., for those concerned with my personal safety here in Central America, the greatest threat I have thus far encountered is the excellent beef at the restaurant last night.

Senator Jeb Bush?

Now that Florida Mel Martinez has announced his retirement, it is reported that Jeb Bush is considering a run. I bet he will run.

Capitol Visitor Center

Philip Kennicott, the architecture critic for the WaPo, is very critical of the just-opened Capitol Visitor Center. He explains that there is no such thing as an underground building, and the Center is "a perfect exemplar of bureaucratically conceived and executed architecture." He thinks it’s awful. His last paragraph:

"But, despite years of delay, you can’t help but think that a grand and essential building was changed too quickly, too radically, without sufficient thought and planning, and with little real understanding of how much was at stake. The loss is enormous. Who knows whether the United States will ever again be rich enough, or smart enough, to undo the damage."    

How the Washington Post Rots Your Mind: Reason 67,510,982

Paragraph two of an article on the
Pentagon transition
, "Gates’s Top Deputies May Leave":

"Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Gates’s right-hand man in running the Pentagon day to day, is widely expected to leave his post, said the [defense and transition] officials, one of whom noted that England’s speechwriter is reportedly taking another job."

Admittedly, my knowing the gorgeous tall blonde West Point grad in question moved me to note the WaPo understanding that Deputy Secretaries necessarily follow in their speechwriters’ steps. Such strained tea-leaf reading exemplifies how the mainstream media misses the point, time after time.

The Commando-Style Push for Gay Marriage

Jonah Goldberg writes a nicely crafted article in today’s Los Angeles Times denouncing the thuggish and storm-trooper-style tactics of the proponents of gay-marriage. The attacks on the Mormon church, especially, draw out his ire. He concludes with this: "My own view is that gay marriage is likely inevitable, and won’t be nearly the disaster many of my fellow conservatives fear it will be. But the scorched-earth campaign to victory pushed by gay-marriage advocates may well be disastrous, and "liberals" should be ashamed for countenancing it."

Speaking Over Their Heads

Scott Johnson at Powerline brings our attention to a very thoughtful post by William Katz of Urgent Agenda about the role that popular culture and Hollywood played in the 2008 election. As Katz notes, this discussion is a perennial in American politics and, until now, it has almost always concluded with conservatives kicking back, looking self-satisfied, and pronouncing that celebrity endorsements and Hollywood political activism don’t really amount to much in terms of electoral outcomes. Some low-hanging and gullible fruits may easily be snatched by the clever machinations of entertainment industry wannabe pols, but the American people en masse are not so soft-headed as to traipse after any old celebrity of a pied piper just because she’s got a TV gig. After this election, however, there’s not as much self-satisfaction on the right as there has been up till now. Why? The names of two gals might have something to do with it: Oprah and Tina Fey.

Of course . . . Oprah is not just any celebrity. She’s a virtual religion for a good number of American women. And Saturday Night Live, if not Tina Fey, has taken on mythical and historic proportions in the popular imagination. Every other week gives us another airing of an anniversary episode or a "Best Of" compilation--as though it were some sort of pious and somber history and civics lesson about our important entertainment past. Indeed, it’s probably safe to bet that a good number of our fellow citizens recall their recent American history through the lens of SNL more readily than they do from any personal reflections. Don’t remember Gerald Ford? I bet you DO remember seeing Chevy Chase’s impersonation of him always falling down and bumbling through life. And so it is likely to be for Sarah Palin--unless she can quickly overcome it.

Anyone hoping to make a serious argument against the idea that Oprah and Fey had a powerful (and, I’d add, ominous) impact on public opinion in this election needs to go back and reflect some more on Katz’s observations. Katz argues further that the influence of popular culture on our politics is not likely to be an epiphenomenon. It seems to represent something of a dramatic shift even as it has been a long time in coming--a slowly growing iceberg that has just now hit our ship. I’m not sure what accounts for this (the rising importance of youth culture, social networking via the internet, the death of newspapers, entertaining ourselves to death, etc.?) and I’m not sure that this is really as sudden a shift as it seems to feel. But one has to admit that was a vast difference in the impact of, say, Ben Affleck and Bruce Springsteen’s endorsements of John Kerry and the impact of the full-court-press of Oprah and Fey. Forget the same league. This is not even the same sport, as kids say.

In the future, conservatives who wish to overcome this phenomenon (however new or old it may be) will have to do two things: First and foremost among them will be to quit whining about the bias of popular culture. They’re all liberals and they don’t like you? Waaah. No kidding!? Get over it. Second, they need to move beyond it. Doing this may involve adopting some of the methods and tools of this culture . . . but it needn’t mean resorting to impersonating them or, especially, not courting its favor. Conservatives should remember why it was that a certain actor/president and hero of theirs was able to overcome the massive bias against him. Even though he was one of Hollywood’s own, Reagan did not expect or need their love to be successful in politics. He turned the dynamic on its head by speaking over the heads of those in entertainment who could never be expected to endorse him and going instead directly to the American people who always had. He did not wait for the media to come to him and carry his water; he carried it himself and he did it so well that he made them come and see (and broadcast) what all the fuss was about.

He also did not get sucked into a media vortex by dancing to their tunes or appearing obsequious with his hat in his hands begging for popular adulation. He was manly in the face of their criticism without bothering to be contemptuous of them. Was he then engaged in a kind of political stage act? Maybe you could say so. I prefer to see it as character. But part of that "act" (if you want to call it that) or character was never to say or do anything that might be taken as contempt for the American people who, after all, he sought to lead. Why would anyone seek to be President of a people for whom he has contempt? People are right not to trust such a politician and Reagan was right never to exhibit such feelings--even if he sometimes (like most of us) had them. He did not criticize the people for their appreciation of a popular culture that did not appreciate him. But neither did he bow to it. He, like Lincoln before him, found a way to appeal to the better angels of their nature. And by speaking directly to what was best in them he was able to speak directly about what is best about America and, one hopes, he inspired us to live up to it. In this he sought to be imitated, not merely to imitate as a mere actor does.

Conservative candidates (and the voters who select them) would do well in future elections to remember that Obama’s victory reflects more the perception that he was able to imitate their modern hero than the reality that Obama was merely able to finagle the enthusiastic approval of a celebrity culture which only hoped he could do it. It’s fine to note the possible vacuity of this hope, but one has to be careful about how it is done. And, anyway, it appears that Obama’s ambition stretches beyond mere imitation too. Whining about it for the next four years surely won’t cut it. In politics, perception is always--like it or not--the more important reality.


Christopher Hitchens is thoughtful on the horror of it all, and is irritated by the re-naming of Bombay. And then ask yourself: How do you battle Indian commandos for 50 hours without sleep?

Montgomery McFate and HTS

McFate has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the meeting of the Southwestern Anthropological Association. This invitation has become interesting to some because she is "an architect of and senior social scientist for the Human Terrain System, an initiative that embeds social scientists with U.S. Army units in Afghanistan and Iraq to help them better understand local cultures and populations," and the invitation seems to be an honor.

The Best and the Brightest II

Joseph Epstein on our elites:

after teaching at a university for 30 years, I have come to distrust the type I think of as "the good student"--that is, the student who sails through school and is easily admitted into the top colleges and professional schools. The good student is the kid who works hard in high school, piles up lots of activities, and scores high on his SATs, and for his efforts gets into one of the 20 or so schools in the country that ring the gong of success. While there he gets a preponderance of A’s. This allows him to move on to the next good, or even slightly better, graduate, business, or professional school, where he will get more A’s still, and move onward and ever upward. His perfect résumé in hand, he runs only one risk--that of catching cold from the draft created by all the doors opening for him wherever he goes, as he piles up scads of money, honors, and finally ends up being offered a job at a high level of government. . . .

I did my teaching at Northwestern University, where most of the students had what I came to regard as "the habits of achievement." They did the reading, most of them could write a respectable paper, many of them talked decently in response to my questions. They made it difficult for me to give them less than a B for the course. But the only students who genuinely interested me went beyond being good students to become passionate ones. Their minds, I could tell, were engaged upon more than merely getting another high grade. The number of such students was remarkably small; if I had to pin it down, I should say they comprised well under 3 percent, and not all of them received A’s from me.

Meanwhile our good student, resembling no one so much as that Italian character in Catch-22 who claimed to have flourished under the fascists, then flourished under the Communists, and was confident he would also flourish under the Americans, treks on his merry way. From Yale to Harvard Law School, or Harvard to Yale Law School, or to one of the highly regarded (and content empty) business schools, he goes, as the Victorians had it, from strength to strength.

Epstein reminds me of David Brooks’ Organization Kid, except Epstein is more skeptical than Brooks about the merits of this meritocracy.

NLT on the Road

Geez, it seems like most of the NLT team is on the road right now. I’m presently in Munich, Germany, as a guest of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, studying German energy and climate policy for whatever lessons it may have for the U.S. At least I get a visit to BMW headquarters. I’m hoping for some test drives.