Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mark Steyn nonsense

Mark Steyn read this article in The Economist and then had this amusing reaction to it.

Brown gave Gilbert’s bio of Churchill to Obama

I mentioned that President Obama gave the Churchill bust back to the Brits. And others noted that when PM Brown came to the White House he got some DVD’s from Obama, while Brown gave some rather thoughtful gifts, including an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. It was said that the unique present delighted Mr Obama because oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved to make a desk that has sat in the Oval Office in the White House since 1880. Mr. Brown also handed over a framed commission for HMS Resolute.

And then the story notes, almost in passing, that Brown also gave Obama "a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert." Other stories on the exchange of gifts didn’t mention this, as best as I recollect. The story does not say if President Obama was delighted with this gift.

Worse than Moral Abdication

That’s how Charles Krauthammer described the new "policy" revealed in our president’s recent stem cell speech. Charles, remember, is not religious, and he disagreed with President Bush on where the "moral line" should be drawn on this issue. But Obama replaces Bush’s decision with no moral line at all. Now we’re completely in the hands of "the integrity of science," and Charles reminds us that such scientific freedom hasn’t worked out so well in the past. He also reminds us that Bush’s famous stem cell speech was much more measured, more mindful of the real scientific evidence, and in every way many pay grades above Obama’s.

Lack of Activity--from Me, and from Cyclones

Well, in my case, it’s lack of NLT blogging activity, although there’s been plenty of "activity," more broadly speaking. My wife and I returned a few weeks ago from China, where we adopted a baby girl. Anyone interested in seeing photos or videos, both of our Stanzi and of our trip to China in general, should go here.

Now for the political part. A meteorologist at Florida State notes that the apocalyptic predictions of cyclones and hurricanes in recent years--allegedly tied to global warming--have failed to materialize. Indeed, "Tropical cyclone (TC) activity worldwide has completely and utterly collapsed during the past 2 to 3 years with TC energy levels sinking to levels not seen since the late 1970s." The reason? "During the past 2 years +, the Earth’s climate has cooled under the effects of a dramatic La Nina episode."


The Obama administration has renamed enemy combatants something else. I sense something of the many levels of meaning in this, and was ready to pontificate on it when I noticed a couple of other things having to do with words: There was a U.S.-Chinese naval standoff; and the US was interested in retooling US-Pakistani relationship; and then I noticed that Russia weighs bases in Cuba and Venezuela, but then a Russian general clarified and said while it is possible to have a base in Cuba, not so in Venezuela because their constitution prohibited establishment of military bases of foreign states on Venezuelan territory and described the Russian possible use of the facility there as "we land, we complete the flight, we take off." Good, I thought, that clarifies things.

English likes to take words it likes from any language and use it, sometimes changing their meanings. We get many words from Spanish, of course. Never mind place names like Los Angeles and California, Montana and Colorado. Other personal favorites are hombre and tobacco and cigar. Another is embargo. Lasso. Renegade. Cockroach. Vamoose. Buckaroo. Desperado. Hemingway introduced the Spanish phrase, hora de la verdad as "moment of truth" in Death in the Afternoon when he was bemoaning how base and decadent bullfighting had become. Not like the old days.

I was reading a simple volume called Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends when I came across this surprising explanation, put forward as a persistent legend, of the origin of the word "gringo". I like it, so I pass it along, trying to keep a good myth alive. In the Mexican-American War soldiers (many Irish and Scot) liked to sing Robert Burns’ Green grow the rashes, O (written) and sung and spoken. And as the Mexican soldiers heard this, they made "green grow" into "gringo."

Charles Murray’s "Aristotelianism": American Exceptionalism

At AEI the noted social scientist views America in terms of the best practical political order--in other words, like the ancient political philosopher Aristotle. Murray may need more work on teleology and natural law. Excerpts:

American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I’m thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. That’s quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America--by and large, Americans celebrate others’ success instead of resenting it. That’s just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism--the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close....

The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.

Paglia on Obama and lessons from the Illiad, Limbaugh, Pope Leo X

The always delightful Camille Paglia--a thoughtful and independent-minded supporter of Barack Obama--thinks Obama needs to do some deep soul-searching. She’s inclined still to give him too much credit and blame his missteps on stupid advisers, but with great lines like this: "The orchestrated attack on radio host Rush Limbaugh, which has made the White House look like an oafish bunch of drunken frat boys," who cares? But what I especially liked about this article was its closing paragraph. It’s too good for me to attempt a clumsy summary, so here’s the whole thing:

President Obama should yank the reins and get his staff’s noses out of slash-and-burn petty politics. His own dignity and prestige are on the line. If he wants a second term, he needs to project a calmer perspective about the eternal reality of vociferous opposition, which is built into our democratic system. Right now, the White House is starting to look like Raphael’s scathing portrait of a pampered, passive Pope Leo X and his materialistic cardinals -- one of the first examples of an artist sending a secret, sardonic message to posterity. Do those shifty, beady-eyed guys needing a shave remind you of anyone? Yes, it’s bare-knuckles Chicago pugilism, transplanted to Washington. The charitably well-meaning but hopelessly extravagant Leo X, by the way, managed to mishandle the birth of the Protestant Reformation, which permanently split Christianity.

Ponnuru on Limbaugh, Reformers and Traditional Conservatism

Ramesh Ponnuru writes the most measured and sensible piece I’ve yet seen on the whole ridiculous dust-up within conservative circles over Rush Limbaugh. So many of the tragic and self-destructive problems on our side of the aisle (the other side suffers from this also but that is their problem and it’s not in my interest to point it out to them) seem to stem from frustration born of the inability to persuade. And yet there is no acceptable alternative to persuasion and also no shortcut to it. It’s fair to say that perfect persuasion almost never happens and it’s also fair to say that there is no formula for persuasion that works in all cases. One really cannot make another person’s mind exactly as his own or change it exactly as he would have it change. And yet, for all our talk about the stupidity of Utopian notions, isn’t there just a bit of Utopian frustration bubbling under the surface of this . . . what to call it? I’m tempted to call it a contest having to do with what goes on at a urinal. But, as I said, Ramesh Ponnuru is measured and sensible and, because he says all of this with more class than I have said it, he’s either less irritated than I am or he’s a better master of his irritation. Whatever the cause of it, it is well done. Do read it.   

Stephen A. Obama?

Over on the main Ashbrook site, I wonder whether the real Illinois precursor to our current president isn’t actually Stephen A. Douglas.

Have a Smoke, Barack!

Even Bill Galston thinks Obama is doing too much too soon--and not just because he’s fretting about what Obama is doing to his and the Democrats’ future political prospects. Although for reasons other than the ones most commonly cited here, Galston also worries that Obama’s efforts could hurt the nation’s economic situation and suggests that Obama may, in fact, be more like Carter than either Reagan or FDR. An interesting read.  

Sunday Morning Rituals: Church or Soccer?

Mary Beth Hicks writes an interesting column today for the Washington Times in which she speculates that one cause of the waning interest of Americans for religious affiliation and, perhaps, also for simple morality may be the rise of Sunday morning youth sports and sales at department stores. I know about the sales because we often hit them after mass (and I see nothing wrong with that) . . . but I confess to being a bit stunned to hear about sports. I’ve had my kids participate in any number of sports and activities (and I’m a big fan of them when they are conducted in the proper spirit) but I’ve never heard of or experienced anything scheduled for a Sunday morning. To this day I know that in one particular suburb of Cleveland, there is a law against scheduling any youth activities on Sundays. There, it is so strict that the town even shuts down the public pool on Sundays. I know this because my sister complains loudly about this last thing--mainly because it means that her husband almost never gets to spend time at the pool with their children. But, much as she and her husband enjoy youth sports, I doubt even they would be thrilled by the prospect of a Sunday morning game or, worse, practice. Is this really something that is becoming a wide-spread menace? I could see some validity to Hicks’ point if it were, but I’m skeptical. I can’t imagine that even Atheists want to get out of bed early on a Sunday just to go to a kids soccer game. But then again, maybe it’s an east coast thing . . . in which case, I wouldn’t understand. I’m still trying to understand the appeal of soccer, after all . . . thank God my kids like baseball.

Another Good Lincoln Story . . .

. . . has emerged in the news. This one concerns his pocketwatch and an internal engraving added by an enthusiastic supporter at a watch shop who was reacting to the rebel attack on Ft. Sumter in the only way he could--given that the rest of his shop (in a divided Washington, D.C.) were Confederate sympathizers. The story of this engraving has circulated for years but was only confirmed yesterday as curators at the Smithsonian pried open the watch to investigate. Thanks to Craig Scanlon for pointing me toward this fascinating story.

Save those dates

On Monday, March 30th, I’ll be hosting a little confab on "liberal education and republican self-government" at Oglethorpe University. Our keynoter will be our old friend Patrick Deneen. Other well-known participants include Mark Bauerlein (author, most recently, of The Dumbest Generation) and Judd Owen, both of Emory University.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, our friends at Mercer University will be hosting a conference featuring John Danford and Michael Zuckert as keynoters. I’m in my usual subaltern position as a panelist.

On April 16-19, my favorite professional organization, the Association for Core Texts and Courses, will be holding its annual meeting in Memphis. I’ll be there saying something or the other about something or the other.

Finally, on April 23rd, Lawler’s crowd at Berry will be hosting an event keynoted by James W. Ceaser. I will of course be present as a kibitzer. You’ll have to ask him for the details, as I couldn’t find anything on the Berry website.


Liberal Education at Liberty University

Creationism misses both the beauty and the truth of the account of creation in Genesis. (See Leon Kass.) But this account of a field trip by Liberty University students to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum illustrates how rigorous attention to science and biblical faith can complement each other. Such students would appear to have a far better understanding of science (not to mention respect for faith) than those in higher education generally. Concluding the field trip at the Jefferson Memorial--Jefferson, that notorious religious skeptic--is the crowning touch.
Categories > Education

Great Moments in Political History

You can’t make this stuff up. (H/T Drudge).

Not Your Momma’s "Cheerleading"

An amusing video clip from ABC News shows how the American sport of obsession with cheerleading is invading China. One old Chinese gentleman objects to this latest form of American cultural imperialism, saying he prefers something more Chinese to this glizty, gyrating, parade of nubile young things shakin’ what their momma’s gave ’em. This old cheerleader was also unimpressed . . . but I didn’t know that I was hankering for something more Chinese. I just thought I was missing what we used to call . . . well . . . cheerleading!

Last Photo of Lincoln Ever Taken . . .

. . . is found by Ulysses S. Grant’s great-great-grandson. Good story!   

Politics Mediates Science: We Believe in Politics

And we don’t mean political science.
Yuval Levin

My own simplistic analogy: Imagine scientists who invent a flame-retardant suit. To test it, they grab ten people off the street, strip them naked, force them into the suits, and then into fires of varying degrees. The results are recorded and observed. The data would have scientific use but would plainly have been obtained through monstrous methods. Of course "we believe in science" (as though scientific truth were a matter of human will)--it’s the scientists who need controlling. And every society has controlled its scientists through moral teaching and ultimately through the laws. To do otherwise is to submit to the tyranny of science. Such reasoning is not beyond anyone’s "pay grade." The Bush Administration had one way of respecting science, and the Obama Administration is showing its nihilism in the way it is abdicating public responsibility in favor of the will of scientists.

It was rumored that Yuval was a runner-up to Bill Kristol as a regular New York Times columnist. With Bill’s leaving, I hope he captures the prize this time.

See of course Joe K’s post below .

Have We Fork-gotten?

Dr. Pat Deneen explains the connection between our recent tailspin and the decline of our use of the most civilized utensil. Pat has done well, in all seriousness, in following Leon Kass in reflecting deeply on the connections between how we eat and who we are. We Americans, in our love of fast food, have invented and embraced many ways of getting around the fork, and so of dispensing with the leisurely family meal. It is somewhat repulsive to observe a generation unschooled in the ways of the fork. But that doesn’t mean, it seems to me, that we’re more casual about the eating of meat or inching closer to cannibalism. Big slabs of meat--such as those served in steakhouses--can’t be eaten without forks and have fallen out of fashion. It also might be that finger food is especially conducive to conversation, and our bigger problem, as Susan McWiliams has explained, is a new preference for the narcissistic beverage bottled water over the more convivial beer. I might add that I also see a contempt for proper form in people who use a fork inappropriately--for example, for eating fried chicken, ribs, pizza, or doughnuts.

The Folly of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act

I have been following with some interest the efforts of Senator Jim DeMint to make the public more aware of the massive defects inherent in the CPSIA of the last year. This act was passed in a mad rush to stem the ominous tide of (mostly Chinese) lead in cheap children’s toys and products and, also, an additive to plastics that makes them pliable. DeMint has noted that the wholesale regulations have long-ranging consequences that no one foresaw and have hit small time mom and pop businesses (not to mention resale businesses like charity thrift shops) especially hard. They require expensive and extensive testing of so many products geared toward children and provide for an outright ban on the sale of some products (like children’s ATVs) that have a high lead content in parts that would never be ingested by any semi-sentient child. (In the case of the ATVs the lead is in the battery pack . . . and may I just say that if you’re kid is sucking on the battery pack of his motorbike, lead is probably not the most important concern on your plate . . . ) Hugh Hewitt is doing an excellent job of following this story, interviewing knowledgeable sources, and considering the economic and liberty implications of the legislation.


Science, ethics, and majoritarianism

I read with some interest President Obama's prepared remarks regarding his reversal of the Bush Administration's stem cell research policy.

Aside from the transparent preening about "restoring scientific integrity to government decision making," there's this very interesting and revealing bit:

Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans - from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs - have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.

That is a conclusion with which I agree. That is why I am signing this Executive Order, and why I hope Congress will act on a bi-partisan basis to provide further support for this research.

With respect to science and the ethical dilemmas we might confront, what matters most of all is what the majority thinks. And how do we discern what the majority thinks? Surely the election wasn't fought on this issue, so there's no "mandate" for this. (Is there a mandate for anything other than not being George W. Bush?) And while opinion polls might--in a way that is both too casual and too easily manipulated--take the public's temperature on an issue, I would be loathe to affirm that any matter of genuine high principle should be concluded by referring to the wishes of the majority. On this matter Barack Obama seems closer to Stephen F. Douglas than to Abraham Lincoln.

The President is right about one thing. He recognizes that he is "advancing the cause of science," which he professes to recognize might reveal to us some "inconvenient truths" (to borrow a phrase from some obscure former politico). Is "the cause of science" always consistent with our moral and religious principles? This language at least leaves open the possibility that it is not:

[P]romoting science isn't just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

The agenda of science is supposed to trump any merely political agenda, even one presumably endorsed by a "majority." But what if the "political agenda" is based upon high principles, and the "truths" we discover are inconsistent with those principles? At the moment, President Obama seems to have one sticking point--reproductive cloning. But what if a majority of people decided that that would be just fine with them? (I'm sure some clever pollster could construct a question in a way that yields a majority in favor of reproductive cloning.) And what if some scientist--those Olympians beyond all merely democratic or republican questioning--promised a cure of some awful disease, if only we let him wander beyond the currently acceptable ethical limits? How much would we give to prolong our lives or the lives of loved ones?

Will President Obama have us choose the scientific way or the majoritarian way, if the two should happen to conflict? If you take him seriously here--a great risk, I know, but it's also, as we're learning, a great risk not to take him seriously--then I'd have to say that he'd go with science. After all, what we're talking about, he says, is "the progress of all humanity," which is no small consideration. This, he implies, is even endorsed by religion. We can avoid a "false choice" between "sound science and moral values" if only we interpret the principal goals of religion in terms of "car[ing] for each other and work[ing] to ease human suffering." If the goal of religion is, as that great political scientist Francis Bacon would have it, the "relief of man's estate," then President Obama is a Baconian "Christian." But I was persuaded a long time ago by a very fine Bacon scholar (no member of the religious right, he) that Bacon was well aware of the moral ambiguity and extraordinary heterodoxy of the project he was pursuing.

One wishes that our faux thoughtful and respectful President actually did take seriously the issues he so cavalierly and magisterially addresses.

Rick Garnett has some of the same reservations I have, and Yuval Levin demonstrates how political Obama's approach is.

Categories > Bioethics

Yuval Has Become MSM!

Here are his NEWSWEEK thoughts on the Republicans’ road back. There’s no substitute for genine prudence, and it might be that the party is, for now, short on the statesmanship required to apply enduring principles to new and somewhat unprecedented circumstances. But the Yuval-Jindal combination might be our best hope.

Missile Defense

Rep. Eric Cantor and Senator John Kyl are not encouraged by the Obama Administration’s promises to seek cuts to our missile defense.

On Athens and America, Knowledge and Decisions

Not a small subject, but Danielle Allen grapples with it in a review of Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens . An interesting, complicated, and useful essay. I wonder if the book is as good.   

Facebook attacked

Matt Labash writes a good essay on Facebook, friendship, his wife, and boredom, and maybe even why a bad memory is better than a perfect one.  

Shakespeare portrait unveiled

Thought to be the only portrait made of Shakespeare during his lifetime has been unveiled. Good story. 

Inhuman Reproduction

Jennifer Roback Morse makes the perfectly sensible point that the larger and more devastating tragedy in the Nadya Suleman case is not that she has been irresponsible with other people’s money (that of the taxpayers and of her parents) and not that she is now in a the hard situation of trying to raise 14 children by herself. The real horror is in the way she got to where she is today and the attitudes our society has fostered about children and fathers that permitted it. Roback Morse shows that the view that one has a "right" to have children treats children as if they were a commodity rather than as persons with rights and obligations of their own. Artificial reproductive technology and the legal structure supporting it, untethered as they are to any kind of human good, turns fathers into "legal strangers" to their children--and all in the name of the "rights" of the mother. Of course, fathers in this situation may not particularly desire any other rights obligations with respect to their children . . . but that might also be said for many a father who sired his children in--uhhh, shall we say the more "traditional" way? It is at least interesting that fathers are so completely cut off from their rights and obligations as parents when they sire children in this most determined and purposeful way but can be held legally bound when children are the result of an "oopsie."

Yuval on How Obama is Addressing the Economic Crisis

To look at his budget, we’d have to say he’s IGNORING it. The ideological expansion of government it promotes--through, for example, effectively nationalizing health care--is unaffordable (and counter-stimulative) in times such as our ours (LBJ was expanding government in the midst of prosperity--and saying that an affluent people could afford to do more). Meanwhile, the president is just not addressing the bad debt that has turned so many of our financial institutions into dead banks walking.

The Inalienable Right to Same-Sex Marriage?

Steve Chapman has a sensible analysis of the current dispute in California. Can a high court of a state use "inalienable rights" as a way of declaring part of a state constitution unconstitutional, as the attorney general of that great state (Jerry Brown) claims? Chapman’s democratic view is that the war over marriage in California and throughout our country should be political, not judicial. Advocates of same-sex marriage want to short-circuit the democratic process, even though the trend of public opinion is clearly on their side. Chapman reports that the California court is not, for now, likely to accept the invitation to declare the constitution unconstitutional.

Anyone reflecting on what’s going on in California can’t help but think that our national high court might soon be tempted--based on what’s actually said in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS--to use "inalienable rights" (as embodied in the Constitution through the word "liberty" [which has become equivalent to autonomy] in the Fourteenth Amendment) to declare a right to same-sex marriage. And of course the Supreme Court can, it seems, declare parts of states constitutions unconstitutional with that amendment in mind. The possibility of that new birth of freedom, of course, excites libertarian judicial scholars such as Randy Barnett--who of course rightly discerned the radical implications of the Court’s opinion on LAWRENCE. Surely that’s not the "natural rights jurisprudence" that we believe in(?), if we do believe in it (which, for Scalia reasons, I tend not to in most cases).

This is an issue that America needs to be discussing now.