Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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