Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

New Foundation

This New York Times article floats the idea that Obama (and/or his people) might want "new foundation" as his brand. This, might be perfect, given that his ideas seem so radical even to those who see themselves as New Dealers, for example (Great Society, or New Frontier are not even terms worth noting).

Obama, of course, never simply ignores the imperfect Founders’ foundation of the country, although the imperfections in it need not be stressed by him, that only a transvaluation of values (as Stanley Greenberg implies in the NYT piece) will do. What seems obvious to me is that the word "values" is used much more frequently--and more precisely--than in any other previous administration, and that the words "change" and the words "yes we can" and "audacity" are logically connected to what will become the "true genius of the American people." I remind you of Charles Kesler’s fine piece on Obama back in January.

The problem with Cheney et al.

The problem with Cheney is not that he is talking, it is what he is saying. The argument that torture saved lives is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny. Enhanced interrogation techniques might have made people say things they would not have otherwise said and that may have saved lives but how many people were inspired to attack Americans because of these techniques, Guantanamo, etc? The net count is what is important and when liberal democratic countries use torture or enhanced interrogation techniques and excessive force to counter terrorists or insurgents (e.g., Great Britain in Northern Ireland and France in Algeria), the liberal democracies either lose or suffer years of conflict and numerous casualties as a result. Every time torture has been used, the defense has been that it saved lives. In the short run maybe.

But let’s say that Cheney’s rhetoric works and people buy the short-term argument. The bigger problem is that Cheney’s rhetoric represents a misunderstanding of the kind of fight we are in. Force or killing won’t bring us victory. That’s the wrong strategy. Cheney like a lot of others does not seem to understand this. Ralph Peters published another blood and guts and no brains article on Afghanistan and Pakistan the other day. His solution is to kill more people more quickly, which is what he hopes the new commander in Afghanistan will do. The Wall Street journal praised the appointment of the new commander too, referring to his two “successes,” killing Zarqawi and capturing Saddam. Neither of these “successes” brought us any closer to our objectives in Iraq.

Until Republicans and conservatives give up their knee-jerk emphasis on force, in so far as fighting terrorism and insurgency are concerned, it is probably better to have Democrats in charge. Their prejudice against force is probably better suited to the terrorism problem we face.

Excerpts from Obama’s Notre Dame Address

Excerpts from an advance draft of Obama’s Notre Dame remarks:

This day reminds us about the basic meaning of Catholic.E Catholic with a small cEmeans broad, inclusive, universal. So it means above all generosity of spirit, warmth, and welcome. And that’s what you stand for. You are more catholic now than ever.

We see it in your campus. Notre Dame now contains women as well as men. People of all faiths, whose ancestors came from all over the world. This is the sort of campus where my mother and father could have met, romanced and married.

Notre Dame today is not exactly what we saw in that wonderful old movie, Knute Rockne: All American. We see in that classic film Notre Dame’s struggle for equal recognition with other schools. It is a moving story about Catholics becoming equal in an unequal society. It is an immigrant’s storyE

When I was in high school, the football teams I would root for would be the ones with black quarterbacks. One of the charms of the Knute Rockne movie for me was the black quarterback in Knute’s first sandlot scrimmage.

Nation-wide, all of this diversity leads up to this amazing situation: a black guy with a name weirder than Knute Rockne gets elected President. This is the only country in the world where this could happen. And it happened because, with all our wonderful diversity, we share a common faithE

America is more than having common enemies. As Lincoln implored the South, in his First Inaugural: “We must not be enemies, we must be friends.E Yet it is not enough for Americans to cease hating each other or even just competing with each otherE

What is at the heart of Catholic higher education, what is at the heart of America, is the chance to be better Americans in a more generous America. A black kid has no need to look for the team with the black quarterbackE

We can agree on this, even as some of us obviously don’t agree on others. We differ in our religious convictions, for example. You might be cradle Catholics; I came to my faith fairly late in my life. Yet we have had presidents of all sorts of religious convictions and they have managed to be presidents of all the people. What we can all have in common is something people of all faiths and even those without faith can share in, and that is hopeE

I was raised by a mother in a family that was not in any conventional sense religious. But they were all deeply spiritual people.

When I was conceived, my father and mother were not married. As you may know, he was a graduate student from Kenya, she an undergraduate of 17. They were not religious people, in any ordinary sense. In such instances abortion would be advised and taken as the easy choice. You might even know of people who faced such circumstances.

So I am thankful, and I have prayed every day of my life, once I learned the power of prayer, that my mother did not take the easy choice. She had the right to abort me, but, thank God, she did not exercise it. Because she had hope. She did not make her choice out of religious conviction but because she had hope.

And isn’t that the meaning of your school motto: Vita, Dulcedo, Spes; Life, Sweetness, Hope.

That’s how she lived her all too brief life: with sweetness and hope, and she gave to her son the audacity to hope great things for my life. She inspires me still to live my life in the hope of bringing sweetness to many others, for whom life has lost savorE

As Pope Benedict the 16th said in his encyclical on Hope: “In hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to usE Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present”….

Faith, hope, and love—these are the values we live by, the values that make us live and sacrifice. They make us strive beyond mere lifeE

You know well this date: November 26, 1842. In that same month and year that Fr. Sorin founded Notre Dame, Abe Lincoln married his wife.

Think about the hopes that young couple must have had. (The more I read about that marriage, the more I’m glad I’m married to Michelle.) Consider all the good Lincoln did this nation. It would not have been possible without that hope.

Abraham Lincoln gave hope for a new birth of freedom that brought us out of the Civil WarE

Confronted by the challenge of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt gave hope to a demoralized nationE

Confronted by malaise and drift, the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, gave hope to a nation buffeted by domestic and foreign perils.

So let us give our future mothers, fathers, citizens, and people of the world hope that their lives will be sweet ones. Hope in the goodness of life. Hope that His justice and mercy will prevail, the whole wide world aroundE

Classic Kindle

I recently got a Kindle. For my purposes, the best feature of it is that one can download many of the classics that Liberty Fund makes available as an e-book PDF, and convert them to the Kindle. I now have The Federalist on mine. Now if I can just figure out the clipboard feature, I can do real work on it.

P.S. Unfortunately, Kindle can’t seem to convert PDFs downloaded from JSTOR. They are still working with the different PDF formats, apparently.

Star Trek Conservatives?

In light of the new Star Trek movie, I thought post the following two lists:

1. James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, and William T. Riker.

2. Russell Kirk, Max Picard, and William H. Riker.


Advice Sought

We’re putting together a SIXTH EDITION of AMERICAN POLITICAL RHETORIC, which is a collection of classic American political writing for use in American government courses. The rationale or rationalization for a new edition is UPDATING. So do any of you have any suggestions about to include from the last five or six years or so? PLUS we’d like to add a section of EUROPEAN (or, better, FOREIGN) relatively friendly critics of our country--such as Tocqueville, (maybe) Bryce, Solzhenitsyn, Bruckberger, Chesterton, and Havel. Any other ideas--perhaps something from Churchill or De Gaulle or some non-European? Let me know on the thread or through [email protected]. Thanks, as always.

More Americans Now Pro-Life Than Pro-Choice

...according to Gallup.
And by a comfortable margin. There’s been a significant shift over the last year. Movement has occurred among moderates, conservatives, men, and the young. Whether this new climate of opinion benefits the Republicans depends, of course, on leadership. Obama’s Court nomination will give our guys another chance to explain what ROE etc. actually say and why they were wrongly decided. The truth is they haven’t been so good at that so far. It also presents another chance to explain why if Republicanism becomes libertarianism or even Specterism it will not only lose its soul, but lose elections. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Pelosi vs CIA

Things are heating up, and perhaps not the way some intended. Even Dan Balz understands that Speaker Pelosi has raised the stakes, and may regret it. Charles Krauthammer (a two minute video) is more straightforward. Worth watching.

Hayward on the environment

Steve Hayward on the environment. He says perfectly sensible things, of course, but, darn it, you have to see him in order to hear him! Oh well, it may be worth it. And it is better than seeing Al Gore talk.

Where Does AP find its Writers?

I’m sorry. I can’t help but laugh at this story from the AP. I’m not laughing at the substance of it . . . two idiots taking a leak inside of Old Faithful could only be funny if you’ve never actually been to Yellowstone. So I don’t even have comic sympathy for them . . . theirs is the kind of environmental crime I’m wholeheartedly in favor of punishing. Though we could talk about ways to improve their management through competition and some serious (though regulated) privatization, I love the National Parks. We visited Yellowstone last summer and I was genuinely horrified at the stupidity that led people over the years to throw things into the geysers and pools and diminish their beauty.

Still, when I first read of the exploits of the guys discussed in the story above I knew they were idiots but it didn’t occur to me that an idiot of that sort was automatically a contender for the Darwin award. Even so, the AP saw a need to remove all doubt by including this helpful little line: "The geyser was not erupting at the time."

Last Essay on Civil War Campaign

Ben has just posted my last essay on Civil War campaigns here. It covers Sherman’s march to the sea and then through the Carolinas and Hood’s counteroffensive into Tennessee.

Princeton Protest

I have spent a lot of time with our students over the last month, over exams, theses defenses, and watching them speak at public events and meetings. Rather impressive. Not exactly the indifferent children of the earth, as the Poet might say. Then I spot these Princeton students, brought to my attention by Maggie Gallagher. Oh well, back to reading The Elementary Particles.


Methinks They All Doth Protest Too Much . . . About Cheney

And Victor Davis Hanson appears to agree. The uproar on the left over his recent interviews is a tell, in my view. People on our side seem to forget (though the smart ones on the the left seem to remember) how admired Cheney was in the 2000 campaign and even--to some extent--in the 2004 campaign. Before the sustained and wild attacks from the left that (largely because they went unanswered) gained some wider acceptance in the popular imagination, people considered that Dick Cheney was a straight-shooter--even when they disagreed with him. He was described as bringing "gravitas" to the ticket and was considered a kind of "grown-up" presence in a (then-young) Bush administration. Now that the real responsibility for helping to maintain American security is off of his shoulders, he is free to speak for himself and to answer the wild attacks. It appears that he means to do it. As Hanson wisely notes at the end of his comments: watch how they distance themselves from Pelosi. In that there is another big tell.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Secular-Socialist Societies Suck Out Your Soul

Dennis Prager writes another compelling essay today arguing that the secular socialism of most European nations is responsible, not only for the much discussed declining church attendance, birth rates and economies of Europe; it is also responsible for the general lack of creative vitality coming from Europe. Outside of politics (and other vulgar arts like entertainment) who are the great European minds or souls? What developments in literature, art, medicine, technology are emerging from Europe? If one can stretch his mind enough to name a few, this only heightens the point. Just a few generations ago, most--if not all--masters of the worlds of music, literature, science, philosophy, and other arts hailed from Europe. But, as Prager argues:
What has happened is that Europe, with a few exceptions, has lost its creativity, intellectual excitement, industrial innovation, and risk taking. Europe's creative energy has been sapped. There are many lovely Europeans; but there aren't many creative, dynamic, or entrepreneurial ones.

The issues that preoccupy most Europeans are overwhelmingly material ones: How many hours per week will I have to work? How much annual vacation time will I have? How many social benefits can I preserve (or increase)? How can my country avoid fighting against anyone or for anyone?

The intellectual war against perceived "bourgeois conformity" in Christianity and the perceived "materialist ethic" of capitalism appears now in the afterglow to have produced, what? I guess the answer is, not much. But the irony may be that the thing it has been particularly good at producing is another (and a much less interesting) kind of materialism and conformity. If there is no God to discover (or to defy) then where does one find the creative impulse within himself necessary to mount the effort for great things? Why bother to do anything other than simply exist . . . and, indeed, why bother with that except that it would require too much effort to cease existing? If history can be our guide, I suppose there will be other societies--those with more zeal animating their spirits--and they will be happy to step in the breach. And if European secular-socialists cannot then manage to see a quantitative and a qualitative difference between the zeal of that society and the zeal that once animated their ancestors, they are quite likely to discover a whole new kind of life-sucking conformity.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Thoughts on the American Master

Ceaser, made famous by the legendary "Andrew," tells us about his ten minutes alone with Hopper's NIGHTHAWKS. For a fine reproduction of this (literally) wonderful painting, you can buy a copy of the cover of my HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA for a very low price. A lot of words will be thrown in for free.

Political Philosophy

Is Tocqueville a Metaphysical or Darwinian Conservative?

Or, in other words, does Tocqueville understand religion to be more than merely civil theology? Not surprisingly, Larry and I disagree.


Lazy Journalists Flunk Again

One cannot help but be amused by this story about a 22 year-old student in Dublin who fooled the world's media outlets by posting a phony quote on Wikipedia allegedly from a recently deceased French composer. Although Wikipedia passed the test with flying colors--removing the unattributed quote within hours of its posting--lazy journalists from around the world re-printed the manufactured quote verbatim and with flourish. Only the UK's Guardian has bothered to retract it with a heartfelt apology for their sloppy work. Many papers continue to print it. The quote was lovely and, in a Thucydidean way, I suppose it ought to have been authentic. But the fact that it was not exposes a starker and more important (if not deeper) truth than any artistic truth can hope to demonstrate: one can't trust today's journalists in the way that most folks are still, unfortunately, inclined to do. Yes, we do need them. But the fact remains that one has to learn to think and investigate things for himself. Are we teaching students today with all the world's information seemingly at his fingertips to do this? Or have we become increasingly lazy as things appear to have become easier to research? Shane Fitzgerald seems to have learned this lesson thoroughly and he seems determined to teach it to the world. Good for him.
Categories > Journalism

Political Parties

Meghan McCain and Republican Rebranding

Here's what the Republicans need, some say, a young and beautiful female McCain. It may be true enough that a conservative majority coalition has to include young people who are for limited government, concerned with body image, pro-life, "pro-sex," and okay with gay marriage. Someone might even add that dad and daughter never really disagreed on any of these issues. But the fact remains that a lot is lost in the generational transition.
Categories > Political Parties



I am not surprised by the moves that Ford is making. Good for them. Two people I talked to in the last few days have bought new Ford's; they have never owned Fords in their lives, they said. But since Ford is not taking govt money, they wanted to show their support. I'm not surprised and this goodwill will continue and Ford will recover and thrive.
Categories > Economy


New General for Afghanistan

Here is the Washington Post story on the firing of Gen. McKiernan. He is replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This is the New York Times story on the same. As far as I can tell, this seems reasonable. Clearly, a crisis point has been reached in Afghanistan/Pakistan and a risk-averse all-too-conventional-thinking general is not who I would want in charge. I would want someone who is both aggressive and prudent, and quiet; and who is fully trusted by his men, especially on the most sensitive missions. Here is a brief Time mag profile of the new man in charge. Also related , is this long Dexter Filkins review of Ricks' The Gamble.
Categories > Military

Shameless Self-Promotion

Now Showing on NRO-TV

Me, talking about the environment. Enjoy!


The End of the Civil War in Virginia

The penultimate essay in my Civil War campaigns series has now been posted here. It covers the siege of Petersburg, operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and the race west after Richmond and Petersburg fell.

The final essay covers Sherman's march to the sea after Atlanta, Hood's failed attempt to get Sherman to follow him west after Atlanta by threatening Nashville, and Sherman's final campaign in the Carolinas.

Categories > History


A Consistent Ethic of Judicial Restraint?

According to Dionne, the proper battle that should animate the next Court confirmation process is the danger of right-wing judicial activism. I agree that some of our libertarian friends have pushed for the Court to do too much, but to say the least that danger is fading now. I can even agree that declaring the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional seems like judicial activism. But shouldn't we challenge E.J. to add that left-wing judicial activism (which we, beginning with ROE, have discussed on NLT often) is at least at bad, and the new danger is it will now get much worse?
Categories > Courts

Political Philosophy

Blogito, Ergo Sum

That's the title of Jim Ceaser's triumphant return to the world of postmodern, yet conservative, blogging.

Pop Culture

Happy Mother's Day?

Some people think this is funny. The German word for it is ordinaer.
Categories > Pop Culture


Pelosi got the brief on harsh interrogations

Behind a log-in barrier, the Congressional Quarterly reports that "CIA records provided to Congress by the nation's spy chief contradict House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that she was never briefed on the use of harsh interrogation methods."
Categories > Politics


Will a Friend of Justice Clarence Thomas Join the Court?

The WaPo article says much more about Justice Thomas than it does about Obama's possible nominee, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. Thomas has played a low-key role in helping black judicial nominees, including Democrats.

Other facts about her: She is an army brat, attended Cornell and Emory law, with an LL.M from UVA, appointed by Zell Miller, and is married to a former Deputy Mayor of NY, under Ed Koch.

For pros and cons on other possibilities, note this Jan Crawford Greenburg co-authored piece. From all of this, Gov. Granholm looks more likely, at least on paper. Or is there no such thing as too many Chicagoans?

Categories > Courts