Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Knippenberg and Lawler (among others) in print

Happy New Year everyone!

I just received my brand spanking new issue of THE CITY, which has articles by Lawler and Knippenberg reflecting on "where we go from here" after November 4th. Too bad they’re not yet online, but subscriptions to the print journal are free.

There are some other first-rate pieces in the issue as well, among them a plea from Ryan T. Anderson for evangelicals to use the language and/or categories of natural law and Matthew Lee Anderson’s perspicacious analysis of the wayward non-partisanship of young evangelicals.

Two Cheers for Constitutional Conservatism

The ever-insightful Peter Berkowitz concludes his defense of constitutional conservatism:

If they honor the imperatives of a constitutional conservatism, both social conservatives and libertarian conservatives will have to bite their fair share of bullets as they translate these goals into concrete policy. They will, though, have a big advantage: Moderation is not only a conservative virtue, but the governing virtue of a constitutional conservatism.

I await the "expanded version" of this op-ed to appear in Policy Review but would propose that such a fusionist interpretation of the Constitution rests on its suffusion by the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution’s "[m]oderation is ... a conservative virtue" through the extremism of the Declaration of Independence. Conservatives who have denigrated the Declaration--and they span the gamit from Bork to Kirk--undermine the cause of constitutionalism, its prudence together with its economic, defense, and moral blessings.

NASA -- DOD Collaboration?

"President-elect Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China."  

Statistic du Jour

Via George Will: "over the next two decades the average American household’s health-care spending, including the portion of its taxes that pays for Medicare and Medicaid, will go from 23 percent to 41 percent of average household income."

Bailout Nation

David Ignatius asks "what if the bailout policy "works," and prevents the deep global depression that many analysts had feared? In recent days, even super-bear Nouriel Roubini has seemed hopeful that the worst outcomes can be avoided. What would be the lessons of such a "near-miss" world? The first precept would be that bad behavior brings a rescue."

But haven’t we already gone rather far down that path. What are entitlements if not grants that help people from both their own mistakes and from the unavoidable tragedies of life? I am not saying that’s all bad, but I am saying that a government that grows accustomed to helping individual voters when life happens will tend to be the kind of government that will try to rescue corporations (classically regarded as artificial persons, created by law) when they are suffering. Can the welfare state be restricted to individuals and not include corporations? Do we have an example of it doing so for any length of time in any country? The character of the laws shapes the character of a people, both inside and outside of government. The more people who get hand-outs, it seems, the more likely it is that big corporations will get them too. Over time, history seems to suggest that’s the case.

We could make a similar point about the constitution and the bailout. Congress has grown accustomed to writing vague plenary grants to administrative agencies, as opposed to clear law. In that sense, the bailout is another continuation of a trend.

The bailout idea is hardly new. It is the central organizing principle of government in an age of entitlement.

The Great Tax Swap

Charles Krauthammer says the time is right to raise the gas tax and reduce the payroll tax to produce a revenue neutral result. Gas prices are low, and so the pain felt would be minimal. Obama could produce real change in the direction of reducing our demand for foreign oil and increased fuel efficiency without cumbersome and probably counterproductive new regulations.

Happy New Year. . .

. . . from the beach in California. Maybe I’ll post some photos on my Facebook page later, or you can take my word for it that it is sunny and warm here.

Meanwhile, the headline of the day comes from Nature magazine: "Experts Still Needed." Indeed, what would we do without them?

Best Things about the Holidays In CA

60 degrees F. and picking oranges and tangerines on Christmas . . . nature’s own Christmas ornaments--priceless. True . . . it was raining and the in-laws were complaining . . . yet it still beats the snow in Ohio. Celebrating a New York New Year’s Eve at 9 pm. with the Voegeli clan and getting home before 10:15 with kids in bed before 11--priceless. True . . . the champagne was gone and we had to endure the sight of Bill and Hillary "dancing" in Times Square. But the liquor store is still open . . . and Michelle and Barack--though equally liberal--are at least less puke inducing. Happy New Year all!

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.