Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Happy New Year!

Well, it’s about impossible to write deep thoughts about the American significance of New Year, as you can about Thanksgiving and Christmas and even Festivus. New Year’s Day is surely the anticlimatic end of the Holiday Season. And only the most traditional of Christians (who can wait until Epiphany--January 6) can avoid, at least without guilt, the tedious task of putting away all the tangible reminders of Christmas cheer.

Here are the cautious and often witty predictions for 2009 from the NATIONAL REVIEW people, including our own Steve Hayward.

Among the predictions: Obams will disappoint the Greens, the gays (well, he already has), the feminists (because the Freedom of Choice Act will not become law), and even the early-education activists (who’ll think their scheme is underfunded).

If he also disappoints those who hope for a quick, new, and improved New Deal, Steve predicts, the stock market may well surge well before year’s end. If it does, I’m getting the heck out for good (so that I might retire in my lifetime).

If Obama manages to do all this disappointing, he’ll probably be our most popular president ever. The disappointed, of course, have nowhere to go but him, and everyone else will be surprised and reassured by his cold-hearted prudence.


Joseph Tartakovsky reviews Adam Kirsch’s new biography of Benjamin Disraeli that focuses on his "imagination of Jewishness." And Tartakovsky thinks that Kirsch’s "analysis of the novels in unraveling the author’s mind is superior to that of Robert Blake’s Disraeli (1966), recognized as the standard one-volume life."

The Sins of the Fathers . . .

At the coffee shop this morning I was sitting next to a few people having an interesting discussion about Bernard Madoff. In particular, the question was how he ought to be punished. One suggested that he, his children, and his grandchildren ought to go to jail. Another pointed out that his grandchildren are not guilty of anything. (Madoff claims his children are also innocent, but Madoff is an admitted crook and liar). The intersting question is whether the fear that one’s children and grandchildren may be punished for one’s crimes would have an impact on behavior. I am not advocating it, but am simply suggesting it’s an interesting question for students of human behavior to contemplate. Were I a multicultural guy, I might be tempted to suggest that such a notion of justice is legitimate in some cultures. After all, who am I to judge?

Is Bill Kristol Smoking Something With Barack?

In his NY Times column Bill fantasizes: "Those of us who dislike finger-wagging nanny-state-nagging liberalism relish the prospect of President Barack Obama sneaking a cigarette on the second floor of the White House while rereading Harry V. Jaffa’s great work on Lincoln, “’Crisis of the House Divided’....” "[R]e-reading"!? Bill goes on to other fantasies, almost nearly fantastic.

My added fantasy is renowned anti-smoker Harry Jaffa coming on the scene and snatching the cigarette away, lecturing the 44th president, reminding him Lincoln abstained from both drink and the weed.

The Crisis of the New Order, III

How regulation hurts U.S. infrastructure. Even the Brookings Institute sees the problem:

One of the biggest killers of all is that states insist on allocating federal transportation funds through a politically devised formula. The result? Smooth, well-paved rural highways and worn-out urban roadways that are paved with a layer of asphalt too thin to withstand heavy use and are therefore in need of excessive, costly maintenance. . . .

It takes the nation’s busiest airports decades and billions of dollars to build new runways, for example, because of onerous regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Davis-Bacon mandates, which effectively require that "prevailing" union wages (often much higher than the actually prevailing market wage) be paid to workers on any construction project receiving federal funds, also drive up the costs of roads and other federal transport projects. The Federal Transit Act also makes it extremely expensive to lay off transit employees.

Sam Huntington, Scholar and Gentleman

As Steve’s post below reports, Sam Huntington died over the weekend. I wrote a short tribute to Sam, which appears today at NRO. As I say in the piece, a scholar who achieves renown in one area of his area of study is considered to be a success. Sam did it in three areas of political science: civil-military relations, democratic theory, and international relations.

I happen to believe that The Soldier and the State is Sam’s most influential work. But that is probably because civil-military relations is an area of particular interest to me.

Sam was not just a remarkable scholar. He also produced excellent students, e.g. Eliot Cohen and Steve Rosen. He will be missed.

NY Senate

If we want political life to be entertaining for the next four years, forget naming Caroline Kennedy to the NY Senate, to replace Mrs. Clinton. Name Bill Clinton instead!

Wish I’d Thought of This

The 12 Days of Global Warming, starring Al Gore.

And that’s the way it was . . .

Dave Barry’s year in review.

Sam Huntington, RIP

Sam Huntington was the kind of old-style liberal realist one hopes has influence with the Obamanauts. His passing last week is occasion to revisit Robert Kaplan’s terrific synopsis of Huntington’s work that appeared several years ago in The Atlantic. RIP.

Chesterton as Anti-Progressive

To Peter’s notice immediately below of RJ Pestritto’s most welcome demolition of Theodore Roosevelt as conservative hero,let me add one contemporary non-Progressive alternative: G.K. Chesterton, also celebrated in today’s Wall Street Journal. We (or at least I) usually think of Chesterton as a writer of the ’20s, but his novel The Man Who Was Thursday was published in 1908, as was his theological classic Orthodoxy. Chesterton’s later (1922) What I Saw in America features a non-Progressive interpretation of the Declaration of Independence that inspires.

For Chesterton aficionados, try James V. Schall’s study of Chesterton.

A Unique National Figure

Michael Barone thinks there’s a lot of evidence Obama is a lot like Eisenhower. He has and will continue to hold himself aloof from his fellow Democrats to sustain his huge and fairly transpartisan popularity. Obama is obviously not THAT much like an old war hero who really had no clear history with either of the two parties and could easily have won the nomination of either party. Still, he does seem to be astute enough to see that the president can be more effective if he seems to be a lot more than a party leader.

Teddy Roosevelt and Booker Washington

R.J. Pestritto reminds us that TR was the first progressive, what that really means, and what a serious break from the Founder’s view of limited government that was (and is).

This reminds me of a consequential event: Teddy Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House in December (26th, I think) of 1901 (TR had been consulting him on dispensation of patronage in the south as soon as he became president, which, until then, Mark Hanna had controlled). Even though Washington had been to the White House, he knew that no black man had ever dined there (and he must have remembered the harsh criticism President Cleveland got when he hosted Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii at the White House in 1895). Although concerned about how this could be viewed, he did not think he had a right to refuse in part because this represented a "recognition of the race." He had dinner with the President and his wife Edith, three of his sons, and his seventeen-year-old daughter Alice. Within forty-eight hours a kind of hysteria overtook white southerners at such a display of "social equality." TR was condemned and it was said that he would lose all political support and authority in the south. Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina said that TR’s entertaining that man, "will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again."

This example of "social equality" marked both the peak and the beginning of the end of Booker Washington’s authority and power over race matters in the country.

A few years later Washington was on a trip to Gainsville, Florida, when the train stopped in a village where a local white farmer asked to meet Washington. As they shook hands the farmer said: "You are the greatest man in the country!" Washington replied that surely the greatest man in the country was the president, to which the white farmer answered: "Huh! Roosevelt! I used to think that Roosevelt was a great man until he ate dinner with you. That settled him for me."

Culture Wars

There’s now a web-based version of MY entry in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CONSERVATISM on "Culture Wars." Somebody needs to update it to include, for example, the recent election. Obama is the most culturally leftist president we’ve ever had, but he didn’t really campaign and sent various signals that he doesn’t intend to govern that much as a culture warrior.

Death of a City

Detroit: Can it be saved? Matt Labash gives a tour of the wreckage. Time to send in the Marines? Long essay, but worth the reading.

Baghdad Al?

I’ve argued for a long while, to gasps of outrage and disbelief, that President Al Gore would have invaded Iraq, too, had the chads swung the other way in Florida 2000. This new study agrees.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you peace and joy this Christmas season!

This is what my wife will be singing in our church’s Christmas Eve service this evening.

Attention Deficit Disorder

After a particularly depressing bout of end-of-semester grading, I was, er. "inspired" to write this piece.

Ivan the K had related thoughts a couple of months ago.

A Real Christmas Message

...I received on a REAL (if e-) Christmas card

Lovely, Glorious, Beautiful Christmas

1. It’s true enough that one reason Obama is no Lincoln, at least yet, is that, at this point, he’s all talk. But geez, he’s not even president yet. My own view is that these times, as tough as they are in some ways, probably don’t call for a Lincoln anyway. So I’m not going to speculate on how Lincolnesque Barack really is.

2. So I’d probably do well to say something about Christmas. But that’s a divider--not a uniter--topic. Not everyone is a Christian. Some Christians--like our founding Puritans--believed Christmas--especially it’s timing--is basically pagan, and they’re not totally wrong. Not all Christians believe that God became man to die for our sins, and so they tend to say Christmas is about generic views of hope and joy and peace, while discourging real thought about what or whom to hope for.

3. So we’ve had, for a while, the Holiday Season, during which we say "Happy Holidays." We unite on Thanksgiving and New Years, and then agree to disagree on what holidays there are (and what their point is) in between.

4. If we were really Christians, we’d start to figure out that we should do more, if not all, of our religious carol singing and such between Christmas and Epiphany--the Twelve Days of Christmas. We shouldn’t, for example, "Go tell it on the Mountain" until Jesus Christ is actually born. Songs about sleighs, winter wonderlands, Santa, being white, being blue, and so forth are, of course, welcome any time during the season. My reform would make the Christmas season a lot less long, while not completely scuttling the amorphous Holiday Season. Not only that, restoring the custom of a present for each of Christmas’s 12 days would surely stimulate the economy.

5. My title, of course, is from the classic uniter--not a divider--Christmas movie "A Christmas Story," which is a wholly secular tale about an utterly unreligious but quite unelitist family in a seemingly unreligious, proto-rust belt town. As the president-elect would explain to us, when such ordinary folks don’t focus on God, they turn their attention to guns. That’s why Ralphie is so obsessed he’s willing to risk shooting his eye out to get the Red Ryder rifle. "Every kid, at the back of his mind, vaguely but insistently believes that he will be struck blind before his 21st birthday. And then they’ll be sorry."

A Toast

Ulysses S. Grant was a dedicated consumer of the this wholly American product. And so am I. Cheers on my 62nd birthday and Merry Christmas to y’all!

Obama will use Lincoln Bible

Mr. Obama has decided to use the Bible Lincoln used when he first took the oath.

"Deep Throat" and the Crisis of Journalism

This piece from Stratfor on the death of "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame is a little repetitive but it does a nice job of showing how the Watergate affair has been misunderstood and, more importantly, how it set the stage for the kind of "death by leak" journalism that prevails today. Here’s an excerpt:

The Felt experience is part of an ongoing story in which journalists’ guarantees of anonymity to sources allow leakers to control the news process. Protecting Deep Throat’s identity kept us from understanding the full dynamic of Watergate. We did not know that Deep Throat was running the FBI, we did not know the FBI was conducting surveillance on the White House, and we did not know that the Watergate scandal emerged not by dint of enterprising journalism, but because Felt had selected Woodward and Bernstein as his vehicle to bring Nixon down. And we did not know that the editor of The Washington Post allowed this to happen. We had a profoundly defective picture of the situation, as defective as the idea that Bob Woodward looks like Robert Redford.


Bear Market

Russia orders 70 new nclear missles. Meanwhile the US is the only major power that lacks a " a nuclear weapons modernization program and the ability to build new nuclear warheads." As a result "the aging U.S. nuclear force is becoming less reliable every year."

Lincoln, Obama, and Bush

There is a great deal of nonsense out there suggesting that Barack Obama is the second coming of Abraham Lincoln. Tom Krannawitter slapped the comparison down not too long ago in the Washington Times. I add my own thoughts on the topic in The Daily Standard, wherein I suggest that when it comes to action, as opposed to rhetoric, the real comparison between Lincoln and a contemporary political leader is between the sixteenth president and George W. Bush.

"Lincoln’s rhetoric was important in drawing a line concerning the rightness or wrongness of slavery and in stressing the importance of preventing the extension of the institution into the Federal territories. It was also important during the war in linking the sacrifices of the soldiers to the survival of republican government. But his actions were important as well. Without the steps he took to win the war, Lincoln’s rhetoric would have been hollow."

BTW, the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) will be publishing my study of Lincoln as war president early next year, just in time for the Lincoln bicentennial.

America’s New Norm

The first page of today’s New York Times describes Columbia, SC as "an ideal listening post. According to a range of indicators assembled by Moody’s — from job growth to change in household worth — this metropolitan area came closer than any other to being a microcosm of the nation over the last decade." What makes it typical?

The Carolinas may conjure thoughts of textile mills and tobacco fields, but Columbia has a diverse economy. The state is a major employer. So is the university, along with hospitals and banks. The Fort Jackson Army base employs 9,200 people. United Parcel Service has a regional hub here. Michelin operates a tire factory next door in Lexington County. The Computer Science Corporation develops software north of the city.

If that’s the mix that makes Columbia typical, it raises an interesting question about the current economic difficulties. The votaries of President Obama suggest that the troubles are primarily in the private sector. There was speculative excess and a lack of regulation that led to the crisis, and to a middle-class squeeze that has lasted several years. But what if part of the problem is that the public sector, and the service sector has grown too big to be supported by the rest of the economy? Note that only Michelin and the software company actually made something. And what if it is regulations in the use of land, in employment, in how to minimized the impact on the environment that, as much as anything, has caused America’s industrial and agricultural base to shrink?

Given the options, it is prudent to give Obama’s view a try. From his perspective, the problem is that the economic model America has developed since the 1980s is no longer functioning. But what if the problem is that the model we’ve had since the 1930s is the problem? After all, viewed from the perspective of the US as it appeared in 1929, in terms of regulatory bureaucracy, labor law, environmental law, the size of our manufacturing and agricultural sectors, etc., rather than from the perspective of those who wish for ever more laws and regulations, the changes Reagan made were minor. If the problem is that in the US to a certain degree, and in Europe to a greater degree, the modern social welfare state is not viable in the long term, it will be even harder to get out of the current mess than many suggest.

Mosquito blood

Police in Finland "believe they have caught a car thief from a DNA sample taken from a mosquito they noticed inside an abandoned vehicle.

Finding the car in Seinaejoki, north of Helsinki, police saw that the mosquito had recently sucked blood and decided to send the insect for analysis.

The DNA found from laboratory tests matched a man on the police register." I dunno.

The Power of the Press

Speaking of Press bias, my favorite example of the power of the press is the "Crime Wave" chapter from the Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Read the whole thing. It’s only a short seven pages in the original.

The media and politics

In talking about the media and politics, two questions come up all the time. Is the media biased? If so, is the bias influential, does it change the way people think? The November 1 issue of The Economist, to which I cannot link, reported on some recent economic research that bears on these questions.

If you start from the assumption that readers and listeners like to have their beliefs confirmed, as two economists did, you end up with the conclusion that the media slant their reporting right and left in order to increase market share. Two other economists, according to The Economist, have recently added evidence to support this conclusion. They measured political slant by indexing key phrases (“estate tax” vs “death tax”) used in Congressional debates and their frequency in the media and correlated this with readership bias as determined by voting patterns in media markets and contributions to Democratic or Republican organizations.

The economists concluded that “newspapers tended, on average, to locate themselves neither to the right nor to the left of the level of slant that [the economists] reckon would maximise their profits. And for good commercial reasons: their model showed that even a minor deviation from this “ideal” level of slant would hurt profits through a sizeable loss of circulation.”

This economic analysis adds to the evidence that, stated simply, the media does not influence public opinion as much as it reacts to it (to make money) and that public opinion or at least the terms of our political discourse are set by opinion makers, in this case, congressmen and senators.

Sobering Thoughts From Mark Helprin

The novelist (A Soldier of the Great War and, most recently,Freddy and Fredericka) and Claremont Institute Senior Fellow denounces Bush’s foreign policy record and fears the worst from Obama, in yesterday’s
Wall Street Journal

A sample:

The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war -- although not the war we have waged -- could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter....

The pity is that the war could have been successful and this equilibrium sustained had we struck immediately, preserving the link with September 11th; had we disciplined our objective to forcing upon regimes that nurture terrorism the choice of routing it out with their ruthless secret services or suffering the destruction of the means to power for which they live; had we husbanded our forces in the highly developed military areas of northern Saudi Arabia after deposing Saddam Hussein, where as a fleet in being they would suffer no casualties and remain at the ready to reach Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh in three days; and had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today’s progressives apologize to the world for America’s treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.

The Man Behind the "Ponzi Scheme"

This portrait is for our Julie. It seems the original Ponzi gave not just the shirt but the skin off his back for his bride-to-be. He evidently began his financing scheme quite legitimately....

The Astute Obama

I’ve pretty much decided not to praise or blame the new president until he actually becomes the new president. But I have to save his skill is revealed in the wholly symbolic Rick Warren thing. The only job the megapastor has been given is praying once! Of course Obama can’t side with those who believe that those who have religious objections to same-sex marriage have no place in respectable American political life. That would include, of course, casting out a majority of his black supporters. Obama himself has said--and perhaps sincerely--that he himself has such religious reservations. Arousing the anger, in a very predictable way, of gay-rights activists to make that point to mainstream America--including basically sympathetic evangelicals suspicious of his cultural agenda--is all gain, no loss. Meanwhile, Obama will do nothing to stop the Court from, soon enough, proclaiming a right to same-sex marriage, and he’ll say, at that point, that we gotta respect the Court. Remember that both Warren and Obama are proud of being uniters, not dividers.

Gay Marriage, a Question

I have been listening to two lawyers debate gay marriage, particularly the litigation over Prop 8, on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. The heart of the the argument for the repeal, and hence for constitutionally requiring gay marriage in California, is that gays are a "suspect class." Like blacks in America, they have been mistreated, and therefore the Court ought to take particular steps to ensure equal rights, even against the will of the majority.

But that raises an interesting question. The argument presumes that homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships in all respects, except for the object of attraction, just as blacks are the same as whites in all respects except for skin color/ African heritage. But is that true? Are the two groups completely analogous? The whole point of the anti-racial discrimination campaign is that race is a fiction that has no real basis in reality. That’s not the premise of the gay rights community.

If, as gay marriage proponents contend, homosexuality is largely biological, why is it not possible that the kind of relationship homosexuals want is different from that which heterosexuals want? And if that is true, isn’t it possibe that a law designed for the one might not suit the other. As far as I can tell, science has yet to come up with a solid answer to that question of whether the difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is nothing more than a difference of objects of attraction. Anecdotes cut both ways, and human history has no experience with the experiment of treating both kinds of relationships the same way. It is an interesting experiment that we are starting.

Gaze Into Obama’s Soul

They were expecting Rev. Wright to deliver the inaugural invocation? Joe K is correct about the politics here: With Rick Warren, Obama will project a veneer of cultural conservatism, but a "compassionate" cultural conservatism that will be open to cultural radicalism.

In the meantime, Obama nominates leftist Member of Congress Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor, a third-rate pick for this second-rank Cabinet post. This allows me to note one of the best books on Washington politics ever is by Solis’s Clinton Cabinet predecessor, Robert Reich, Locked in the Cabinet --available used for the price of 1 cent (plus s&h). Its description of the chaos of presidential transitions makes it a must-read for those insights alone. His confrontations with union bosses are painful and hilarious.

By the way, anyone keeping an eye on the number of Catholics Obama has picked for positions, starting with Biden?

Rick Warren and Barack Obama

I’ve finally dug myself out from under a massive pile of bluebooks and final papers, the inspiration for a Culture11 piece that should appear shortly. I’ve got one more pressing task, with a deadline tomorrow, but I couldn’t resist commenting on the news that Barack Obama has asked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Inauguration. Our friend Jordan J. Ballor summarizes the reaction, especially from the secular (and gay) Left, which is none to happy about the attention being given to a vocal opponent of Proposition 8.

I have three quick thoughts, beginning with an obvious one: Rick Warren couldn’t turn down the invitation.

If they’re political, as they doubtless are, Obama’s motives for issuing the invitation are twofold. One is not to repeat the "gays in the military" mistake that Bill Clinton made early in his first term. He’s signaling to this staunch Democratic constituency that they need him more than he needs them. A smart political move; it’s not like they’re going to run to the GOP. And there’s plenty of time to make nice before he has to raise money from them again (not to mention the fact that now’s not a good time to be raising money anyway).

Second, Obama is making a symbolic appeal to evangelicals. They’ve often had to be satisfied with symbolism from Republicans. Perhaps, he’s thinking, he can satisfy them in a similar way, using "respect" and lip service to peel a few more folks away from the GOP, some of whose members would like to see them gone anyway.

I may have some more thoughts on this later, but I must return to my more pressing task.

A Classic for the Season

"You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch," now playing on yourtube.

More on Civil-Military Relations

My friend David Tucker claims that I did not address his points regarding Shinseki and Rumsfeld. The real problem is that we just don’t agree. My purpose is not to defend Rumsfeld. As I said, he made plenty of mistakes. But the fact is—and this is where David and I seem to disagree most—no one did better than he when it came to predicting what would transpire in Iraq.

Did Rumsfeld foresee the insurgency and the shift from conventional to guerilla war? No, but neither did his critics in the uniformed services. Tom Ricks observed four years ago in the Washington Post that Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq, placed the blame squarely on the Army. Ricks wrote:

Many in the Army have blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon civilians for the unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq, but [Army Major Isaiah Wilson] reserves his toughest criticism for Army commanders who, he concludes, failed to grasp the strategic situation in Iraq and so not did not plan properly for victory. He concludes that those who planned the war suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt."
Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year. "Plainly stated, the ’western coalition’ failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness," he asserts.
"Reluctance in even defining the situation… is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence (sic) on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people’s war, even when they were fighting it," he comments.

Wilson’s observations were forcefully seconded not too long by an Army lieutenant colonel, Paul Yingling, who blasted Army leadership for not preparing for small wars in the pages of Armed Forces Journal.

Rumsfeld was also famously charged with shortchanging the troops in Iraq by failing to provide them with the necessary equipment, e.g. armored "humvees." But a review of Army budget submissions makes it clear that its priority, as is usually the case with the uniformed services, was to acquire "big ticket" items. It was only after the insurgency and the IED threat became apparent that the Army began to push for supplemental spending to "up-armor" the utility vehicles.

As I observed in an earlier post, while it is true that Rumsfeld downplayed the need to prepare for post-conflict stability operations, it is also the case that in doing so he was merely ratifying the preferences of the uniformed military. When it comes to post-conflict stability operations, the real villain is the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, a set of principles long internalized by the US military that emphasizes the requirement for an “exit strategy.” But if generals are thinking about an exit strategy they are not thinking about “war termination”—how to convert military success into political success. This cultural aversion to conducting stability operations is reflected by the fact that operational planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom took 18 months while planning for postwar stabilization began half-heartedly only a couple of months before the invasion.

David asks why the military shouldn’t be expected to “push back” against plans they oppose. They should, but within the proper context. I really object to the sentiment expressed in this comment on an earlier post.

Why should generals or anyone in uniform, who are in a sense super-citizens, be subject to more restrictions on their civil right to speak and publish than are regular, secure citizens like Bob Woodward or Victor Davis Hanson or the barber down the street? I am not talking about UCMJ Article 88 infractions here, only opinions about policy.

Why should not the highest military officers -- possessing education and war experience far superior to Bush and most Americans -- get to say so vigorously (if not necessarily on page 1 of the Washington Post)?

The answer is that such practices would completely undermine civilian control of the military and drag the uniformed military into partisan politics. The exemplars of respect for civilian control of the military are Washington and Marshall. Both understood the dangers of what this writer is proposing. And as I argued earlier, it presupposes that the military is always right about even purely military issues. The historical record makes clear that they are not.

Under the American system of civilian control, the uniformed military advises the civilian authorities but has no right to insist that its views be adopted. Of course, uniformed officers have an obligation to stand up to civilian leaders if they think a policy is flawed. They must convey their concerns to civilian policymakers forcefully and truthfully. If they believe the door is closed to them at the Pentagon or the White House, they also have access to Congress. But the American tradition of civil-military relations requires that they not engage in public debate over matters of foreign policy, including the decision to go to war. Moreover, once a policy decision is made, soldiers are obligated to carry it out to the best of their ability, whether their advice is heeded or not.

I am concerned about the state of US civil-military relations. They have been out of balance for a while. In part this reflects the sort of “renegotiation” of the civil-military bargain that occurs periodically in the Republic. But as I argued in this Wall Street Journal piece, things might be more serious than we imagine.

And this applies to the media as well. As I see it, they have contributed to poor civil-military relations out of Bush derangement syndrome. People who in the past would never have thought to say a good word about the military now routinely bash Bush for not listening to his much smarter military guys.

The Media

In response to Steve’s comment below: As far as I know, Braestrup’s account is entirely accurate. Press reporting on Tet was inaccurate, wildly so in some instances. Again, as far as I can tell, press reporting on Iraq has been more accurate than it was during Tet. It is also the case that the media has biases. My favorite example of this is the story that ran in the New York Times in the early 1980s at the height of the controversy over the role of the Russians and Warsaw pact countries in supporting international terrorism. A PLO member connected to terrorism was assassinated in Warsaw and the Times reported that Poland was known to be a favorite vacation spot for Palestinians.

But the key point is not the accuracy of press reporting or media bias. The key point is that the media does not lead public opinion. The media actually follow what key opinion leaders say. If there is unanimity among these leaders, then there is no controversy and no press feeding frenzy, no destruction of the administration’s policies.

Some post-9/11 examples: A Pentagon agency was going to fund something called Total Information Awareness that was going to collect and analyze lots of information on Americans. Various public policy organizations and Senators and Congressman objected. The escalating controversy and media frenzy forced the Bush administration to give up on the project.

The press reported (from leaked information?) that the military was increasing its role in the collection of human intelligence and was beginning to do some things that had been traditionally reserved for the CIA. The press smelled a scandal involving unauthorized activities, rogue agencies, violations of law, etc. Following the first reports in the Washington Post, the Post and other media followed up. They interviewed Democratic Senators on the intelligence committee. The Senators all agreed that they had voted for the change and that it was a good one. The media frenzy died.

Following hurricane Katrina, President Bush mentioned the possibility that the military should take over domestic disaster relief. When the media checked with various authorities, most importantly elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels, they found out that this idea was controversial. The story didn’t die, although the proposal did.

These examples are mine but the explanation for how the media works (which I have greatly simplified) is from a variety of different academic studies on the media, public opinion and politics. As far as I can tell, it is accurate. It means that the media and their prejudices do have influence but are much less powerful in forming public opinion and affecting public policies than is often assumed. What the academic work shows is that Presidents have significant advantages and more power than the media with regard to shaping public opinion. That’s why I don’t think the media or media bias is the problem.

Really Big Shows

James Ceaser is amazed by how BIG everything is getting, bigger than ever before. That might not be all bad, but it’s scary, if you think about it. It’s a sign of our aging and generally unerotic society that it takes so much to stimulate us these days.

Re: Civilian-Military Relations

I’ve decided to abuse my privilege as a keeper of the NLT posting codes to bump a comment of mine on David Tucker to the main thread, because I think Mac and David have started an important discussion:

David, David, David (as they used to say on Saturday Night Live):

I’ve largely come around to your point of view on the imprudence of the Iraq War and other aspects of the GWOT, as you know, but I think you go to far here in suggesting that the climate of elite media opinion is not a significant factor in government decision-making. Maybe I am taking your post too far (please amend and correct if I am); to be sure, a determined and confident government would rebuff the media (as Reagan did to some extent in the 1980s). But to depreciate the role of the media in the course of Vietnam seems too far to me. Case in point: Peter Braestrup’s book on media coverage of Tet. Do you think he was fundamentally wrong? I have been saying for a while now that Braestrup’s case study can be re-written for Iraq. Let us continue this debate. Mac?

Civil-Military Relations

Although he mentions me at the beginning of it, little or nothing in Mac’s long post below addresses the comments I made on his original post, except what appears to be his grudging acknowledgement that Rumsfeld’s judgment was perhaps not perfect.

Having reached agreement on that point, there are lots of things that could be said in response to Mac’s long post. Here are two. 1) If good civil-military relations in a democracy mean that ultimately civilian preferences prevail, it does not follow that the military should not push back, as Mac put it, against civilians or that civilians should not "interfere" in military matters. 2) Regardless of how we apportion responsibility among civilians and the military for what has happened after 9/11, the media was not the problem. Nor was it the problem in Vietnam. That the media was and is the problem is a point of view that surfaces repeatedly in this blog (e.g. see the comments to Mac’s long post). I think both Mac and I agree that this is not the case. The problem is decisionmaking within the government.

Headlines We Never Thought We’d See

In today’s Wall Street Journal (p. A13) a real man-bites-dog story:

"France Credits Deregulation for Cushioning Its Economy"

The lede: "PARIS—France, long a champion of a heavy government hand in its economy, credits recent deregulation for its ability to grow in the third quarter while other economies shrank." Memo to Washington: Even the French get it, so shut up about "deregulation" being the cause of our current slump.

What next? Maybe the headline: "France Hails Jerry Lewis as Comic Genius."

Oh, wait. . .

Belt Tightening in New York

By now, many of our readers may have seen an article about the all the new fees and other taxes that New York’s governor is asking for in order to balance the state budges. I was struck by this bit: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the budget cuts would deprive the city of about $1 billion, potentially forcing him to order layoffs beyond the 500 he has already announced." New York City has roughly 250,000 employees. Are there really no more than 500 jobs to cut?

Gen. Shinseki, the Silence of the Generals, and the State of US Civil-Military Relations

My last post on Gen. Shinseki stirred things up. That’s good and I have a few more things to say. In response to David Tucker, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, arguing that Rumsfeld’s judgment was on the mark. He certainly got a lot of things wrong. But contrary to the accepted--and incorrect--narrative, the uniformed military got them wrong as well.

Despite its prominence later, the real issue concerning what went wrong in Iraq was not the number of troops for the invasion, but what they would be doing later. Here the Army was as wrong as the civilians. Both Rumsfeld and the uniformed military had imbibed the Weinberger Doctrine, which teaches, among other points, that one of the first things the military shoudlbe doing is developing an "exit strategy." But if you are doing this, you are not thinking about "war termination," i.e. how to translate military success into a good peace. That’s why post-war planning for Iraq was almsot non-existent, and to the extent is was done at all, it focused on humanitarian operations and not counterinsurgency.

Humanitarian operations and counterinsurgency both require more troops than were initially committed. But the two are different and require different approaches. The fact is that the Army decided in the 1970s that the best way to ensure that it would never again get bogged down in anything like Vietnam was simply not to prepare for small wars. Thus the Army was not prepared for the insurgency that emerged in 2003-2004. It was not only Rumsfeld who outlawed the term "insrugency." Sanchez did as well. As I argued in the Wall Street Journal in September of 2007, the Army has never been comfortable with counterninsurgecny, but you don’t always get to fight the war you want to fight.

At this point it might be useful to remember that Turkey would not permit the US to launch an attack by the 4th Armored Division from the north. Such a strike could very well have changed the dynamics of the Sunni Triangle, where the insurgency first materialized. But we’ll never know.

Here are some observations from a forthcoming AEI article of mine that get to some of the point others made re Vietnam etc.

Criticism of Rumsfeld by uniformed officers is predicated on two questionable assumptions. The first is soldiers have the right to a voice in making policy regarding the use of the military instrument, that indeed they have the right to INSIST that their views be adopted. Exacerbating the woeful consequences of this assumption is a misreading of the very important book by my friend, H. R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. The subject of Dereliction of Duty is the failure of the Joint Chiefs to challenge Defense Secretary Robert McNamara adequately during the Vietnam War. Many serving officers believe the book effectively makes the case that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have more openly voiced their opposition to the Johnson administration’s strategy of gradualism, and then resigned rather than carry out the policy.

But the book says no such thing. While McMaster convincingly argues that the chiefs failed to present their views frankly and forcefully to their civilian superiors, including members of Congress when asked for their views, he neither says nor implies that the chiefs should have obstructed President Lyndon Johnson’s orders and policies by leaks, public statements, or by resignation.

This serious misreading of Dereliction of Duty has dangerously reinforced the increasingly widespread belief among officers that they should be advocates of particular policies rather than simply serving in their traditional advisory role. For instance, a survey of officer and civilian attitudes and opinions undertaken by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies in 1998-99 discovered that "many officers believe that they have the duty to force their own views on civilian decision makers when the United States is contemplating committing American forces abroad." When "asked whether military leaders should be neutral, advise, advocate, or insist on having their way in the decision process" to use military force, 50 percent or more of the up-and-coming active-duty officers answered "insist," on the following issues: "setting rules of engagement, ensuring that clear political and military goals exist, developing an ’exit strategy,’" and "deciding what kinds of military units will be used to accomplish all tasks." In the context of the questionnaire, "insist" definitely implied that officers should try to compel acceptance of the military’s recommendations.

This assumption is questionable at best and is at odds with the principles and practice of American civil-military relations. In the American system, the uniformed military does not possess a veto over policy. Indeed, civilians even have the authority to make decisions in what would seem to be the realm of purely military affairs. Eliot Cohen has shown that successful wartime presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt "interfered" extensively with military operations—often driving their generals to distraction.

The second assumption is that the judgment and expertise of soldiers is inherently superior to that of civilians even when it comes to military affairs and that in time of war, the latter should defer to the former. But the fact is that when it comes to military affairs, soldiers are not necessarily more prescient than civilian policy makers. This is confirmed by the historical record. Abraham Lincoln constantly prodded George McClellan to take the offensive in Virginia in 1862. McClellan just as constantly whined about insufficient forces. Despite the image of civil-military comity during World War II, there were many differences between Franklin Roosevelt and his military advisers. George Marshall, the greatest soldier-statesman since Washington, opposed arms shipments to Great Britain in 1940 and argued for a cross-channel invasion before the United States was ready. History has vindicated Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Similarly, many observers, especially uniformed observers, have been inclined to blame the U.S. defeat in Vietnam on the civilians. But the U.S. operational approach in Vietnam was the creature of the uniformed military. The conventional wisdom today is that the operational strategy of General William Westmoreland emphasizing attrition of the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces in a "war of the big battalions"—sweeps through remote jungle areas in an effort to fix and destroy the enemy with superior fire power—was counterproductive. By the time Westmoreland’s successor could adopt a more fruitful approach, it was too late.

During the planning for Operation Desert Storm in late 1990 and early 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. Central Command presented a plan calling for a frontal assault against Iraqi positions in southern Kuwait followed by a drive toward Kuwait City. The problem was that this plan was unlikely to achieve the foremost military objective of the ground war: the destruction of the three divisions of Saddam’s Republican Guard. The civilian leadership rejected the early war plan presented by CENTCOM and ordered a return to the drawing board. The revised plan was far more imaginative and effective.

The public acrimony that has characterized so much of post-9/11 civil-military relations is a particular manifestation of the idea that the uniformed military should “push back” against civilian leaders when the former disagree with the policies of the latter. But this is a dangerous idea that is at odds with the theory, if not always the practice, of the U.S. civil-military tradition.

If the shoe fits . . .

James Taranto considers the Iraqi shoe-throwing episode in its proper context by comparing it to a similar exhibition offered by a flea-bittenhippie student in 2005 at a debate between Howard Dean and Richard Perle at Oregon’s Pacific University. Engaging in a bit of comparative anthropological analysis, Taranto notes the similarities in rich intellectual penetration, manly eloquence, and (of course) athleticism in these two examples of high political expression and concludes that American university culture is, essentially, of a piece with this deepest expression of Arab political culture.

Meanwhile, Jonah posts a link to the response his readers think Bush ought to have had to the episode. Who throws a shoe, indeed?!

And Yet More on Gen. Shinseki

My two earlier posts on Gen. Shinseki elicited comments from David Tucker and Joseph Kippenberg (the Elder). This piece by Larry Di Rita does a pretty good job of addressing the points both gentlemen made.

Di Rita makes the case more strongly than I did that if Gen. Shinseki objected to the war plan for Iraq, he didn’t say so when offered the opportunity to demur.

I can tell from the the dearth of comments on this topic that this stuff is boring to most NLT readers. But the fact is that the Shinseki episode and the recent Woodward book say a great deal about the sad state of US civil-military relations.

Now if I were to say something about LINCOLN or the Civil War, well then I would get an earful, no?

Rat Choice Theory: Once Again, It’s Magnificently Right

According to our pope, moral criticism in the absence of the technical knowledge of markets isn’t morality, it’s moralizing. But the truth is that market-based thinking isn’t enough to sustain markets, and so morality is part of the true science of politics and economics. That’s why Ratzinger makes more astute predictions than either our economists or our political scientists. (Thanks to Rob Jeffrey.)

Bobby Jindall

Newsweek thinks that Jindall may become GOP’s Obama (whatever that means, but there is plenty of room for re-creation and re-invention). Still, worth reading.

The Health of the State

As our health care system grows increasingly nationalized, either through direct government management, or through back-door government-imposed regulation, is it any surprise that we are starting to face a shortage of doctors? Whenever students tell me that they are interested in medical school, I suggest to them to think twice about it. Why spend seven or more grueling years of training for a job that does not pay all that much, relatively speaking? More and more, it seems, our young men and women are figuring that out on their own.

And then there’s this item. New York, it seems, wants to place a special tax on non-diet soda. Why do that? Because the state is on the tab for so much health care, obesity costs money. The logic, however, extends well beyond fatty foods. The logic of government run, (or sponsored or mandated) health-care the logic of government regulating our lives in great detail, in order to minimize the likelihood that we will impost additional costs on the system. Why stop with soda. What about fois gras (is this a class thing?). Etc.

In the Jewish tradition, the law told us what to eat and when to eat it, and other things much more personal. Nowadays, the law is starting to do something similar. The difference is that purpose of the law in Jewish tradtion was to promote holy living. Nowadays, we are starting to get similar regulations, in the name of physical health. But is physical health the greatest good? If so, what separates men from beasts?

Not So Extinct

This article about the discovery in Thailand over the last decade of more than 1000 new species of life--including some that scientists had believed to be extinct for over 11 million years--is more up Steve Hayward’s ally for commentary than mine. But even without his expert testimony, it is interesting (and humbling) to note how much we really don’t know about this planet . . . even when we think we do.

Is The Honeymoon Over Already?

What’s this? Liberal historians such as Sean Wilenz and Eric Foner deprecating Obama’s comparisons to Lincoln? (Now they tell us--Ed.) As the Politico reporters sum it up: "That kind of preening highlights a risk that many presidents have encountered as they gaze in history’s mirror. . . if the self-comparisons go too far they can come off as vanity or self-aggrandizement."

In related news, as I was predicting around the office at AEI last week, the Green Left doesn’t like Obama’s pick to head the EPA. More to say in due course about the huge infighting Obama is guaranteeing for himself with his hybrid picks for so many different energy-enviro slots.

Was HELLER Judicial Activism?

Conservative experts Wilkinson and Posner say it was. Wilkinson, in fact, says it looks a lot like ROE. Did Scalia deviate from his pretty consistent ethic of judicial restraint here? My own view (and I’m willing to be convinced otherwise) is that Wilkinson’s noteworthy article is full of exaggerations, but his big point might actually be right.

Conservatism Rightly Understood?

Here’s the web version of a chapter I wrote in honor of the conservative political theorist George Carey.

"We’ve completed our mission"

I think inviting the Tuskegee Airmen and the Little Rock Nine to the inaugural ceremonies is good, just, and deeply moving.

Obama as Transformer

Charles Krauthammer, unfortunately, is probably right about the opportunity Mr. Obama has: "Obama was quite serious when he said he was going to change the world. And now he has a national crisis, a personal mandate, a pliant Congress, a desperate public -- and, at his disposal, the greatest pot of money in galactic history." Krauthammer calls the opportunity Obama has in front of him "the community organizer’s ultimate dream." It will make the New Deal look like pre-school.  


Edward Rothstein uses the modest collection of thirty images at the National Portrait Gallery--especially the two white plaster masks--to reflect a bit on Lincoln (mentioning a number of new books along the way). Not perfect--and there is always Obama in the background--but not awful either. There will be much more such from every quarter, of course, leading up to February 12th. 

Princeton would rather settle than go to trial

Princeton Settles: "Ending a long legal battle over how closely a university must adhere to the terms of a gift, Princeton has reached a settlement with heirs to the A.&P. grocery fortune, allowing it to keep the bulk of a fund worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Princeton loses, in other words.

Higher Ed problems

Eric Gibson thinks that private colleges have it "better than the actual welfare state." 

The Crisis of the New Order II

Mickey Kaus on the Wagner Act and the plight of America’s car makers.

The Rise of Washington

Two of the five wealthiest neighborhoods in the U.S. are DC suburbs.

Contempt for Democracy

What does President Bush’s decision to use money allocated to stabilize our financial system to bail out the car makers have in common with last year’s decision by California’s Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage? Both show contempt for the democratic process. In the former case, the President is asserting authority in domestic policy immediately after the House and Senate failed to do what he wanted. In the latter case, it is the Judicial branch of a state overturning a law passed overwhelmingly by the people. It is significant that both these examples are in domestic policy. Going back to President Washington, we have recognized that the President’s powers to act in foreign affairs are much greater than his powers to act in domestic policy.

The story of the 20th Century, from the Progressive era, is the story of the creation of an administrative state that takes legislation much less seriously than had been the case. A good case in point is that if President Bush goes ahead and uses the TARP funds for the car makers, he will probably be acting within the law. Why? Congress seldom writes laws these days. Instead it allocates swathes of power to the executive branch and executive agencies. One our legislators ceased to care about writing the laws under which we live, contempt for the democratic process naturally followed in the other branches. In that sense, I suspect, our new lawyer-President will resemble our current MBA President.

Postmodernism Rightly Understood and Higher Education

Here’s MY message to the GREAT BOOKS people about great books.

The More Things "Change" . . .

. . . the more they stay the same. And in this article Froma Harrop reminds us of the powerful truth behind this cliché--especially as it is applied to corrupt Democrats. Forget Chicago machine politics and the inevitable corruption of big government stemming from the stubborn fact of an unchanging human nature. Forget the "new" New Deal and the tired slogan of "Change"--whether it’s the kind you can believe in or the kind you can only hope to believe in. Forget even the homey appeals to Lincolnian rhetoric emanating from the lips of yet another favorite son of the good state of Illinois. That’s all pussyfooting around the question of real power. Let’s just get down to brass tacks here and go straight to hereditary succession. O.K., it’s not exactly hereditary monarchy . . . but where the Kennedys and New York senate seats are concerned I guess it’s close enough. And just for good measure, we get a nice dousing of Hillary’s salt on top. Froma Harrop and other sensible Democrats are not amused, but we will have to wait and see if it matters.

It all rather makes one nostalgic for the quaintness and tackiness and good ’ole boy flavor that represented the Arkansas crew. Rotten as all of that was in its way, it was still--nevertheless--somehow more authentically "of the people" whereas all of this stuff rather smacks of being "over the people." I hope the young who put their "hope" in this "change" are watching.

Beyond Monism and Dualism

That’s the place Arnhart is aiming for with his Darwinian conservatism. And he criticizes his postmodern conservative and Straussian critics for implicitly assuming the truth of the dualistic distinction between nature and history. I think that criticism really is true of Bloom, who seems to write as if history has come to an end and we’ve returned to the asocial state of nature of Rousseau (which is not even an accurate description of what we gregarious animals are like by nature). But because I think genuine postmodernism is realism, I think that truth about who we are really is beyond monism and dualism in some sense, and I’m for a comprehensive but not homogeneous science of nature. But I have to add that the actual Darwin seems to dogmatically deny its possibility.

Why I Love the News

Because it is such a cheap source of reliable entertainment. I know I have quoted Chris Buckley on this point before, but satire is impossible these days because you have to compete with the newspapers, and the newspapers are winning.

So I saw this story in the Washington Post this morning about how the usual goo-goo groups (Consumers Union, etc) object to school bus radio because--gasp--our tender kids will be exposed to ads, even though to any common sense observer (as the story explains) the bus radio programming is an excellent calming device for the Lord-of-the-Flies culture of most school buses. But this is the sentence that had me spitting out my coffee amidst a hail of uncontrollable guffawing:

Consumers Union, the National PTA and other groups oppose exposing students to commercial radio on the bus, time they might otherwise pass in quiet reflection or conversing with friends.

Right: In the absence of bus radio, the kids will be reflecting on Cartesian dualism; little Johnnie will be comparing Lucy in the next row to Athena, while Philip in the back row will be quietly reciting a Shakespeare sonnet.

Meanwhile, in other news you can use, KFC is going to introduce grilled chicken. Who says America doesn’t innovate any more?

Further Observations About Gen. Shinseki

I received a number of e-mails in response to my piece about Gen. Eric Shinseki earlier this week. The article focused on how the announcement of his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs had become the occasion for the media to trot out old falsehoods about the Bush administration and the Iraq War. As a result, I left out some important things about Shinseki.

First of all, I believe that General Shinseki is a good and honorable man. I think that his nomination to head the Department of Veterans Affairs is a good thing. He was badly wounded during the Vietnam War and was one of only a handful of veterans of that war to remain on active duty after losing part of a limb.

Second, given the tenor of the times, General Shinseki is to be commended for not taking his disagreements with Donald Rumsfeld (which predated the Iraq War) public, in violation of the tradition of American civil-military relations, as so many other general officers have done. Unlike Gen. Rick Sanchez, he has not written a CYA book, nor has he given his story to Bob Woodward, as Gen. George Casey did.

Upon his retirement from the Army in June 2003, Shinseki did write Secretary Rumsfeld a private letter in which he stated:

I feel duty bound to provide you with some of my closing thoughts . . . . While our disagreements have been well-chronicled, and sometimes exaggerated, these professional disagreements were never personal, never disrespectful, and never challenged the foundational principle of civilian control of the military in our form of government. . . .

Nonetheless, he gave it to the secretary with both barrels:

I am greatly concerned that OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] processes have often become ad hoc and long established conventional processes are atrophying. Specifically, there are areas that need your attention as the ad hoc processes often do not adequately consider professional military judgment and advice. . . . Second, there is a lack of strategic review to frame our day-to-day issues . . . . Third, there has been a lack of explicit discussion on risk in most decisions. . . . Finally, I find it unhelpful to participate in senior level decision-making meetings without structured agendas, objectives, pending decisions and other traditional means of time management.

In keeping his disagreements with Secretary Rumsfeld private, General Shinseki followed in the steps of Rear Adm. James O. Richardson, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in 1940. When President Franklin Roosevelt decided to attempt to deter Japanese expansionism by moving the U.S. Pacific Fleet from California to Pearl Harbor during the summer of that year, Richardson objected, arguing that basing the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii was provocative and could precipitate a war with Japan. The president fired him and replaced him with Rear Adm. Husband E. Kimmel. As Adm. Harold Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations, wrote to Kimmel after the affair, "This, of course, is White House prerogative and responsibility, and believe me, it is used these days." To his credit Richardson kept his objections to FDR’s decision private and went quietly into retirement.

Illinois Corruption note

I am starting to pay more sober attention to the Illinois corruption issue. How long can I keep laughing? The conversation on CNN last night went something like this among the pro-Obama talking heads: While the president-elect needs a do over on some of his comments (or non-comments) regarding Illinois corruption, all the Blago revelations don’t need to have a negative effect on the future president. After all, both Axelrod and Emanuel have "fallen on their swords," according to CNN, but Rep. Jesse Jackson is holding out his sword while looking for someone (other than his tough-guy self) to fall on it. Yet, Mr. Obama hasn’t said enough on the issue, even CNN admitted. On the other hand, one wag asserted, Truman was a "great president" and look at the corrupt political machine he crawled out of. I sat up for that one. You can hear the wagons circling. I am guessing that some overnight deep thinking will have persuaded the president-elect to give another great speech (see his talk on the Rev. Wright), perhaps at today’s press conference, in which he will throw not only Blago under the bus, but the whole "culture of corruption" in his state, and thereby start taking credit for the inevitable attempt clean-up. It may work. Worth watching and listening to because this will be the first time--coming a little sooner than his folks thought probable--he will be talking to a skeptical and semi-antagonistic press corps. The folks at Politico
have Seven Questions for Mr. Obama, while John Fund has some observations about how quiet Obama was during the campaign about Chicago-Illinois corruption. I like this line from Fund: "What remains to be seen is whether this episode will put an end to what Chicago Tribune political columnist John Kass calls the national media’s ’almost willful’ fantasy that Mr. Obama and Chicago’s political culture have little to do with each other. Mr. Kass notes that the media devoted a lot more time and energy to investigating the inner workings of Sarah Palin’s Wasilla, Alaska, than it has looking at Mr. Obama’s Chicago connections." Ouch.

Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?

That, at least, is what angry feminists demand. But Lauren Hall, a genuine bioconservative, explains that it’s precisely because women can be rational animals just like men that they often choose for the natural satisfactions of being a woman. Because there’s plenty good about a being an animal who chooses, there’s plenty of reason to choose to be more than merely autonomous and productive or ghostly.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for November

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Randall Gray

Greg Watson

Roger J. Buffington

Amy Hamilton

Matthew Peralta

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter December’s drawing.

Clever Left, Insipid Right

A sampling of some recent insights show how far the right needs to go before it can handle the Obama challenge.

From Mark Rudd, radical student leader in the ’60s:

This [Obama]is no stupid guy...Had any of the stupid Republicans read his books, they never could have said, ‘We don’t know who this guy is.’ You know every thought he’s ever had.

(H/T Powerline)

The Nation’s
Katha Pollit
blasts Ayers’ mendacious whitewashing of his violent radicalism.

Against Obama’s clever politics the right poses constitutional principles--e.g., our friend Scott Johnson on "limited government," versus Bill Kristol, who sees the severe limitations of "limited government" rhetoric. Note that the Federalist Society has had remarkable success in influencing judicial appointments and promoting debate, but its rhetoric--"original understanding" or "original intent"--lacks, quite intentionally, any partisan political force.

Consider the use that Obama’s lower-level appointees will make of huge federal budgets. Take this agency within HHS as one example; note all the money going to private groups.

The right needs a combination of politics and principle to meet the Obama challenge. Conservatives can’t count on Obama doing himself in.

Blago’s Blunders

Roger and I were driving back from DC today (actually he was driving, I was smoking Jose Martis) when we heard about Governor Rod Blagojevich’s crimes. We had fun with it, just a good old-fashioned belly laugh. And this fine paragraph from Jonah Goldberg at The Corner captures my sentiments exactly and explains why we laughed. Jonah calls it "The Blithesome Banality of Blago’s Blunders":

"The word ’evil’ has been used twice today in the Corner to describe Blago’s crimes. I’m not really disputing the use of the word. But that’s not really the word that comes to my mind. Evil is too dark, too serious, too smart for what we’re talking about. I agree with Kathryn that there’s something almost wholesome or nostalgic about Blogo’s criminal misdeeds. He wasn’t found opening an umbrella in parts of his anatomy for money on the internet, or giving cash to terrorists who were going to have Santas wear suicide-padding at department stores around the country. He didn’t check interns for a hernia without permission or spy for the Norks. He’s just a crook. A good, old-fashioned, crook. I know I’m supposed to be outraged, and in a certain sense I am. If he’s guilty of all that’s alleged, I hope they throw him in the stoney lonesome until the Chicago Cubs win the World Series or 2025, whichever comes second. But in another sense, this is just plain enjoyable. It’s like when you watch "Cops" and the idiot burglar tries to hide beside a tree in the dark, even though he’s wearing light-up sneakers. It’s like when Dan Rather dares the world to prove he’s a clueless ass-clown. It’s just good stuff. There’s no tragedy here. No wasted potential. No undeserving victims. No profound and complicated symbolic issues (I somewhat doubt the Serbian-American lobby is going to cry racism). This is the sort of criminality we want the Feds to find, particularly in Chicago. Everyone gets what they deserve — at least so far — and all of the guilty parties are all the more deserving of punishment because they don’t quite understand what the big deal is. I love it."

Speed vs. Change We Can Really Believe in

David Brooks is surely right that Obama’s stimulus package is not oriented around thoughtful planning to support the new (for example, exurban) modes of community being chosen by Americans. And he’s also right that’s what wrong with our schools won’t be solved by even more new computers. But I feel Barack’s pain here: His goal is quick stimulation, which is incompatible with careful planning. The problem is that the result will be that there won’t be money, soon enough, for what we really need.

The Use and Abuse of Gen. Eric Shinseki

Over the weekend, President-elect Barack Obama announced the appointment of former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I think the appointment is a good one and I believe that Gen. Shinseki is a good and honorable man.

However, his appointment has provided an occasion for the media to trot out some old falsehoods about the Bush administration and the Iraq War. Among these is the claim that Gen. Shinseki’s testimony before the SASC, during which he called for a bigger ground force than the one that went in to Iraq, cost him his job. This is simply not true as I have written here.

The fact is that neither Don Rumsfeld nor the Army leadership predicted the emergence of an insurgency in Iraq. As I argue in the piece, Shinseki’s figures were based on an analysis that had nothing to do with what transpired in Iraq.

Locke and Canada revisited

When I lived in Toronto, there was spirited debate over the role played by classical liberalism (represented by John locke) in Canada’s founding. Our friend John von Heyking, in a sequel to his first column, effectively uses Locke’s theory of prerogative to explain and defend the action of Canada’s Governor-General in proroguing Parliament at the behest of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At issue, von Heyking argues, is the problematical place of a "separatist" (or is it "sovereigntist"?) Quebec in a Canada constituted by an essentially Lockean social contract.

December 7th

I’m in Washington and it’s cold and clear. I have been reading Robert J. Norrell’s Up From History: A Life of Booker T. Washington (which is to be published in January) with a review in mind, then stepped out for a coffee and a Jose Marti Dominican. The half-dozen huddled in the cold were talking about Pearl and the Day of Infamy. Here is FDR’s speech to Congress on the 8th.

Louisiana’s 2nd Cong District

Anh "Joseph" Cao (R) has defeated William Jefferson. "With the upset victory, Anh "Joseph" Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats."


Climate Change: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

So I'm back from Germany, having spent a useful week touring alternative energy projects (including the fusion reactor project of the Max Planck Institute, still decades away from working as hoped), and talking with various German officials and unofficials about climate and energy policy. Everyone is Obama-crazy in Germany, naturally; every shopkeeper, beer-hoister, and pretzel-monger wanted to give a shout out to the New Messiah.

Had one good meeting with a provincial environment minister--a very impressive young lady who should go far in German national politics if she wants to, in the CDU (the right-leaning party, such as it is there). After having my fill of nothing but climate issues, I decided to ask, since her department dealt with the environment as a whole and not just climate, what other environmental issues in Germany she thought were important.

"Well, we are doing a lot of work on flooding--flooding brought on by climate change." So you really can't change the subject after all.

Me: "What else? Forests? Toxic waste? Traditional air pollution?"

The minister: "Noise pollution. About 50 percent of our citizens say they are concerned about noise pollution." (And the other 50 percent are presumably listening to their iPods?--Ed. That's exactly what I said.)

Seems to me that when a rich country is worried about noise pollution, their major environmental problems are solved.

Categories > Environment

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.