Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Inaugural Prayers: From Pluralistic to Protestant

In the WSJ Steven Waldman observes that presidential inaugural prayers used to be ecumenical (e.g., Truman used a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, and a rabbi) but now all 12 prayers since 1989 will have been delivered by Protestants. This tendency, he argues, compromises the ceremony.

But Waldman, a leading historian of religion and politics, undermines his credibility by asserting that presidentially mandated sectarian prayers are a great infringement on the First Amendment. Yet the First Amendment restricts only Congress’s legislative powers—do read the text!--not the President’s authority. Thus George Washington proclaimed (with Congress) a day of Thanksgiving.

The founding generation was honoring the intent of a document that concludes itself “done in Year of our Lord” 1787 and of Independence the twelfth. Presidents have the duty, as Waldman implicitly recognizes, of prudently bringing together the abiding sacred with the changing secular realms. That is in fact what our Constitution and Declaration challenge Americans to do.

Perfect Storm in the Baltics?

This is worth noting: Baltic Riots have broken out, in Latvia and Lithuania (but not Estonia!). Anders Aslund, a moderate analyst, is quoted in the NYTimes story: "I think this is just the beginning. We should expect this to happen in many places." He expects "massive blowups" in Russia and Ukraine and Tajikistan. 

E Pluribus Unum?

Walter McDougall and James Ceasar (an interesting combination) write an op-ed decrying the weakening our national identity and call "upon our nation’s new leadership in the White House and in Congress to take actions that can strengthen our national unity and national purpose." A good idea. Our new president’s inaugural address might be a good place to start.

Poe at 200

John J. Miller on Edgard Allan Poe; he was born on Jan 19th. He mentions that a woman said this of Poe when he was in his twenties: "He was not well balanced; he had too much brain. . . . He said often that there was a mystery hanging over him he never could fathom." Probably true. No matter. While I don’t want to show enthusiasm for Poe, I will say that when I was in my teens and started playing with the language as American, I tasted his words and rolled them around my mouth, and liked the taste, and had an awkward time with the first Lenore I met.

Chesley Sullenberger and the Relationship between Love and Excellence

Just heard the wife of the heroic pilot of US Air flight 1549 reflecting on her husband’s achievement. She noted that Sullenberger always had "a deep love" and appreciation for the "art" of the aircraft. And as reports continue to pour in noting the details of his resume and accomplishments, there is much to testify to the veracity of his wife’s statement. In other words, this is a man who utterly loves and is a master of the thing that he does. There may have been some element of luck involved in that incident yesterday . . . but for my part, I think the luck was in the fact that he happened to be flying the plane.

A Poet Reflects on Inaugural Poems

I don’t know the poet David Yezzi, but I really liked his comments about the forthcoming inaugural poem in last Friday’s (1/9/09) Wall St. Journal. "Bards at the Inaugural Gates." A sample: "Could such a historic occasion give rise to historic poetry? It hasn’t yet. This may be because the public voice has never been the long suit of American poetry, despite its roots in Whitman, who had a way of addressing the whole nation, if not all of mankind... When poetry gets pressed into political service what gets lost most often is the poetry... Poems create this condition with the stories they tell, but more importantly in the way they tell them. Great poems find an expression for experiences and emotions that we would not have words for otherwise. In so doing, they give us those emotions and the experiences fully for the first time. The stumbling block for most political poetry is narrowness. As soon as poetry espouses an interest group, it ceases to speak to the widest audience and fails in its bid for universality.

Take a look, and if someone knows his poetry, give us an appraisal.

Eric Foner on Lincoln

The premier historian of the Reconstruction era, Eric Foner, has penned a splendid ode to "Our Lincoln" in the January issue of The Nation.    

Abortion and the states

David Forte reviews Paul Benjamin Linton’s book, Abortion Under State Constitutions: A State-by-State Analysis and finds it worthy of our attention. David writes that Linton "has provided the definitive answer to the oft-asked question, what happens if Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) are overruled? The breadth and depth of his effort is arresting."  

General Victor Krulak, RIP

Victor "Brute" Kulak was a legendary Marine. I got to know him when I edited Strategc Review from 1990 to 1997. He died on Decenber 29 at the age of 95. I have a tribute to him here.

For all of us who love and admire the New York Times, the Gray Lady lived up to her reputation for journalistic excellence when it ran an obituary for Gen. Krulak on January 5th. It was not half bad, except that the photo accompanying the obit was of...Charles Krulak, Brute’s son, who is still very much alive. Chuck was the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps. You can see the crack editorial reasoning of the folks at the NYT. After all, how many Krulaks could there possibly be?

The New Deal and Unemployment

Almost as interesting as this graph from the Heritage Foundation showing that the New Deal did not work in solving the unemployment problems of the Depression, are the arguments now employed by leftist groups against it. They’re mad that Heritage didn’t include government "make work" jobs as employment--even though the government never included those numbers when they counted them back in the day. So, like Burger King, Heritage let them have it their way. The result was the same. But I still don’t think those guys will eat their hamburger.

If the BCS Computer System Had Decided World War II. . .

. . . then Germany would have won. Can we please either have a real playoff system, or go back to the old conference bowl game system? I rather liked the old Rose Bowl matchup of the Pac 10 versus the Big 10.

Some Shrum from Frum

In response to this piece from Robert Shrum, David Frum here agrees that the coming wilderness years for Republicans cannot be a replay of the wilderness of 1993. Then, an eager and over-confident young Democrat was ascending to the nation’s highest office already tainted by scandal, with only 43% of the nation’s support, and working against an opposition poised to reunite (despite Perot) in response. Bill Clinton had genuine political savvy but he lacked self-control--and not just in in his private life. His lack of personal prudence was but a metaphor for his larger and ever-grasping public persona. True, he succeeded in holding on to office; but he also succeeding in uniting his opposition with his rash approach to the office in that first year, in losing majorities for his party in 1994, and in sacrificing the good of that party to his own political fortunes. Though Republicans could never quite turn the horse around, they did not come out too sore from the long eight-year ride.

Frum does not think the ride of 2009 is going to be anywhere near as smooth. Like Shrum, he thinks that Republicans seeking solace from the memories of the early 90s should be wary of such simple comparisons. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. And, though it is odd to think of the 1992-93 GOP as united and firm of purpose--for we’re talking of the aftermath of the H.W. Bush "read my lips" years and the immediate aftermath of the Perot revolt--Frum insists that compared to today, those were halcyon days in the GOP.

Still, it’s certain that Robert Shrum does not offer Republicans his advice in order to help them advance their future political prospects. His objective is to make Republicans believe that they court political disaster (and will deserve it) if they dare to oppose Barack Obama’s agenda. He is poised, once again, to admire the "Maverickiness" of a John McCain (or at least claim to) now that he believes McCain’s bucking will be in designed for the purpose of clearing the saddle of conservatives.

Frum’s response is to concede the point that the political winds have changed and that mindless opposition to Obama proceeding according to the notion that this is nothing but a replay of the 90s is suicide. Frum makes an observation that is uncomfortable both for the likes of Shrum and for the likes of certain hard-headed conservatives: this is not a parliamentary form of government. It’s not the case that Republicans elected to high national office are simply "out of power." They can, do and will have some real impact on the legislation that affects Americans and it is, therefore, their duty to do what they can to make that legislation the best it can be for America. There are political reasons for prudence, to be sure, but there are also constitutional ones. And these reasons, happily, assure that while Republicans cannot ignore Democrats--neither can the Dems ignore the GOP.

But Frum is even more explicit. He argues that Shrum’s advice to Republicans amounts to suggesting that Republicans "play dead" and he wonders whether Obama is likely be the guy to deliver Shrum and liberals like him into the vast and sunny promised land of their dreams. In the end, Frum rates Obama’s political prudence higher than Shrum does and concludes that this is unlikely. But, if Shrum is right and the Obama Administration is as recklessly ambitious as Shrum would have it, then Frum is concludes that Republicans had better "risk being rolled over rather than play[ing] dead."


A work of art, sited prominently in the headquarters of the EU Council in Brussels, designed to demolish national stereotypes by mocking them, has caused diplomatic outrage. You can see the lovely thing here.

Why We Love Maggie, Reason 12,896

Claire Berlinski’s wonderful book, "There Is No Alternative": Why Margaret Thatcher Matters includes this little gem:

When PM Thatcher told the Marxist leader of the Congo that "I hate Communists," the translator rendered it thus: "Prime Minister Thatcher says that she has never been wholly supportive of the ideas of Karl Marx."

Back to the Future?

National Review’s Byron York offers some useful reflections on the intraparty debate going on the GOP right now in "Same Old Party: Tranquility in the Ranks" in the latest issue of World Affairs (unfortunately only the abstract is available online to non-subscribers).

On the surface, Byron notes that the fault line between neoconservatives and other varieties seems not to be opening up as many have predicted (and hoped for). By Byron wonders whether the seeming reluctance to think more openly and critically about the Iraq War is a good thing.

I detect another subtext in his article that he may not have intended. Byron notes that on the campaign trail last year, most rank-and-file Republicans (and some candidates, especially Huckabee) were distinctly uninterested in foreign affairs. Is this simply a function of war weariness over Iraq, or might it be a sign that a large part of the Republican base is reverting slowly back to its isolationism of the pre-Cold War era? It used to be in the late years of the Cold War that it was liberals and Democrats who were uninterested or unserious about foreign affairs. Is the shoe now on the other foot?

Back in 1985 John P. Roche wrote (in my mind) one of the most memorable features in NR’s history lamenting the decline of liberal internationalism. It would be a pity if someone a few years hence has to write the companion feature on the decline of conservative internationalism.

(Cross-posted at The Corner.)

An inter-cultural problem

A man in California, now in the Monterey jail, sold his daughter--his fourteen year-old daughter--for $16,000, 160 cases of beer, 100 cases of soda, 50 cases of Gatorade, two cases of wine, and six cases of meat. All those involved in the case are from the western Mexican state of Oaxaca, the police chief said. In the Oaxacan community, such an agreement is "normal and honorable," he said. "In California, it’s against the law." The police are trying to be culturally sensitive, in this Steinbeck-like story.

Neither Fearing Death Nor Refusing to Live

Brooks on Neuhaus on speaking frankly on and living well with death.


Senator Voinovich

Senator George Voinovich has decided not to run for re-election. Although I have disagreed with him from time to time, I have always thought him to be both smart and full of integrity. Folks are already lining up to replace him, including former Congressmen Rob Portman, who, it so happens is speaking at the Ashbrook Center today. If you are in the area, come by, if you have four-wheel drive!
Categories > Elections

Lecture v. Thinking

A front page NY Times article explains that at M.I.T. "The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent."

A prof said this: "Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV...likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it." Replace "doing science" with "thinking" and you have a good classroom, in any field.