Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

PJ O’Rourke on the Death of the Detroit Automobile

Our changes in auto preferences reflect a more utilitarian, less romantic American soul--an analysis worthy of Tocqueville.


Give Me Whiskey or . . .

Ben Boychuk writes elegantly about the despotic impulses that so often characterize the environmentally earnest--to say nothing of the insincere advocates of their earnestness who see in it an opening for grabbing more taxes. Nancy Pelosi's recent comments in China, where she announced that: "Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility," are discussed. Also discussed is a recent exchange between our own Steve Hayward and David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith of the University of Adelaide in the most recent issue of The Claremont Review of Books.

But what may be most troubling, perhaps, to a good number of our readers is a trend developing in Merry Olde England. There, Britons are counseled by the the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, David Kennedy, that they need to change their diets in order to effectively combat carbon emissions. This is not, as you might suspect, an exhortation to eliminate the eating of beans so much as it is an effort to eliminate the production of foods and agricultural products that are deemed to produce too many greenhouse gases. Sheep are one of the culprits (along with cows) . . . but beware. Beer and Whiskey are also in the mix. Ben wonders whether there will also be a coming Whiskey Rebellion . . . If so, I think Washington would support this one!

Categories > Environment

"Mean Shoots"

My AEI colleague, the shrewd and usually prescient economist John Makin, takes aim at the happy talk that the economy is turning around ("green shoots" of spring, says Ben Bernanke) in his monthly Economic Outlook. There are some sobering indicators that we have a lot of rough weather still to get through. Samples:

During the forty years from 1967 to 2007, there were only four individual quarters during which current dollar retail receipts fell at more than a 5 percent annualized rate. Each of these episodes was isolated--five to ten years apart. Through the first quarter of 2009, there have been three consecutive quarters when retail receipts fell at more than a 5 percent annual rate, and the April retail sales data suggest that we are on track for a fourth consecutive quarter of extraordinarily weak retail spending. This makes year-on-year changes in retail spending by far the worst on record. . .

During the first quarter of 2009, year-over-year nominal GDP growth, a measure of the total dollar value of U.S. output, turned negative for the first time since 1957. Without a substantial recovery in growth during the second half of the year, year-over-year nominal GDP growth will remain negative, at least for the next several quarters. In that environment, a realistic estimate for earnings of the S&P 500 companies (based on conventional methods employed by equity analysts) would be about $40 a share, which, at a normal fifteen to seventeen index-earnings multiple, would produce an S&P 500 Index range of 600 to 680, as opposed to the mid-May figure of about 900. . . U.S. capacity utilization dropped to 69.1 percent in April--the lowest reading in the fifty-year history of the series.

Batten down the hatches, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

CIA and the language problem

This WaPo article in some ways is shocking, but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg. Another story on the theme.

Sonia’s Song?

"America," from West Side Story. Would Judge Sotomayor have empathy for an assertion that the New York Jets football team has a racist name? They’re obviously named after the white gang in West Side Story, not the aircraft.

Here’s video from the 1961 movie. The Judge, like Obama, seems to be singing the boys’ parts, not Rita Moreno and the girls’ parts.

Taliban, neo-Taliban, and ISI

Bahukutumbi Raman, a retired officer in the Indian intelligence service, asks: Why did the Taliban attack the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)? It gets complicated, doesn’t it? Also see this from the BBC.

Technology and our times

Is it worth pointing out that modern birth control is, in part, beneath the rise of both gay marriage and our current troubles with government debt? By separating marriage and having children, technology, as a practical matter, reduces the link that always existed between marriage and family. And by making it possible/easier to have fewer children, it also makes Social Security, Medicare, and the other retirement plans more like ponzi schemes.

Lincoln’s Public Philosophy

I just ordered this by Eric C. Sands, betting it will be worth the exorbitant price.

Multiple Empathies

That, according to David Brooks, is what good judges have. It’s no big news that calling judging dispassionate is too simple a view of the matter. But surely judicial review depends on a view of the Constitution that not merely a bundle of emotional perspectives. And in any case, reason must have a big role in determining what justice is in any particular case, in determining, for example, whether to what extent it’s really true that people act freely and responsibly and can be held accountable.

Mundanity word, although maybe not really a word. This budding expert thinks it’s one quality Sotomayor shares with Souter. She certainly doesn’t promise to be a lion, a firebrand, a liberal Scalia. So liberal activists have reason to be disappointed by the appointment. It might reflect the president’s conviction--reflected in his biography--that social change we can believe in shouldn’t be pursued through the courts. It might also reflect complacency, of course, with what the Courts have already done.

Good Books are Back

David Clemens teaches at a community college, and he may be a bit overly excited, yet an article in favor of great books in the The Chronicle that uses phrases like the "sclerotic academy" and "Old ideas become stale--perennial questions do not" means something. And suggesting things like a "certificate" in great books is not so silly in an academy that gives degrees is fashion design, hospitality, gerontology, etc. Do students like "perennial questions"? Or do they like the latest academic fad? They get quickly bored by the latter, while they fall in love--and stay in love--with the perennial questions, the great conversations, the great books. At a time when the higher education bubble may be bursting, maybe folks should start talking about giving people their money’s worth. I think students (and parents) are ready for it. A friend who comments on NLT (Tony Williams) recently said he was "swept away by Xenophon’s Persian Expedition." That’s what happens to all of us students when something fine is placed in front of us. You should see our freshmen getting swept up by Xenophon’s "Education of Cyrus" and the perennial questions raised by it. It’s a sight to behold, human souls enlivened. What is that worth?

Kass the Dissenting Scientist

But his is not exactly a Socratic turn.


There’s some evidence that those are the two bottom lines to Sotomayor’s understanding of judging. Properly understood, such "legal realism"--in my view--should generate humble restraint. If you don’t really KNOW what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do much. The other view, of course, is that if there are no REAL (or "objective") limits to what you might do, you should get real active in the service of your emotional attachment to your perspective. I agree with those who say that the Republicans lack the warrant and the votes to stop the confirmation, and so they should use this opportunity to develop their own, more popular (if properly articulated) view of judicial restraint--based on the proposition that the Constitution really is LAW that stands independently of anything judges feel they can make.

Men and Women

Men In Power!

This piece from today's Chicago Tribune dovetails nicely with my post the other day about the declining numbers and achievements of men at colleges and universities. In response to this problem, a student at the University of Chicago did exactly what members of his generation have been taught to do in response to any social "problem." He started an advocacy group and became a kind of "community organizer." Unfortunately for him, he is not finding that the action is garnering to himself the kind of kudos other student group leaders have been pleased to accept. His group, "Men in Power" began as a kind of tongue-in-cheek satire but provoked such a response that it now presents itself as a serious operation. The response from women's and minority groups has been exactly what one might expect but, unfortunately for them, they find themselves tongue-tied when asked to present a coherent and logical objection to the group. This is because there isn't one that does not also render the existence of these other identity-based interest groups suspect.

While I certainly sympathize with the problems "Men in Power" was created to address and while the group at least had the good sense to recruit some female members, I agree that there could be problems with a group like this. There would also be a problem with a "White Student Union" . . . but there is no problem with it (other than potential numbers) that is not also true of minority based groups. There are always problems and one ought to be suspicious of any group based on "identity" as a motivation and justification for seeking power. Enough of the victim card, already. If we're all victims, it doesn't mean anything anyway. Start a group called "Individuals Striving to be Worthy of Power" and you'll have me at GO.

Categories > Men and Women


One of the advantages of my Kindle is that Matthew Crawford’s book (published today) appeared on my Kindle this morning! So I am reading it. So far, terrific. I should also mention a few other things I am reading: David Hinton’s anthology of Chinese poetry. I am told that the translations are superb, and certainly his brief introduction is. A taste: In addressing the empty grammar and pictographic nature of the language, Hinton says poetry "is nothing less than a sacred medium". The word for poetry (shih) is made up of elements of "spoken word" and "temple". He describes how shih is written so that sound is coming out of the mouth is portrayed on the left, and on the right (meaning temple) a hand is portrayed touching a seedling sprouting from the ground. Hence: "words spoken at the earth altar." Not bad. The other book I’m reading is more prosaic, but fun (for prose): Andrew Wheatcroft’s he Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe. This Scotsman says that in doing research for the book over many years he discovered what the Hungarians mean by the old Latin tag Hungariam non est vita, si est vita non est ita (there is no life outside of Hungary, and if there is, it’s not life)....and now you stop wondering why Chinese poetry seems difficult for the barbarians.


Ralph Rossum compares Sotomayer with Souter: They’re both liberals, so what’s the big difference? She is younger by 16 years, and much more aggressive. But I think the real ideological disposition regarding race and ethnicity, as Stuart Taylor and George Will note, should be the major public issue discussed. Of course, it will not be a disqualifying issue, but that’s not the point. What the GOP should do is to use the identity politics issue to draw her out, or even better, her supporters (including Obama), and make a powerful and useful political argument against that position. That, combined with how the public will perceive the government takeover of GM, could become major campaign issues. Not only are the Democrats vulnerable on both, but even middlin’ Republicans ought to be able to make arguments on these two matters.

Principled Opposition

As it seems terribly unlikely that Republicans will block President’s Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, would it make more sense for Republicans to focus on their principles, rather than the nominee?

Might it be wise to articulate and defend the conviction that the Senate ought, as a rule, to approve the President’s pick. Following up such comments, they could note the relatie confirmation numbers of Republican and Democratic nominees, and perhaps stress how terrible it was how Democrats treated Miguel Estrada, among others, and point to the extremism of Democratic tactics in recent years.

Beyond that, they could say, more in sorrow than anger, that they regret that President Obama seems to have nominated someone who will do nothing to overturn Kelo, or to protect the right of the people to make law on such important issues as marriage and abortion, etc. Kelo is not popular, even with liberals. Similarly, the vast majority of Americans would like to be able to regulate abortion much more than the Court now allows. There are many such cases that would be worth highlighting. In short, focus upon what the Court does, and how it should do it, rather than on the person involved.

But Enough About Me . . . What do YOU think of ME?

We all know people to whom that old joke can apply. And such people are amusing, entertaining, and sometimes even thoughtful or great teachers. But Bill Kristol rightly asks whether that quality of always being "self-referential" ought to be indulged in a President.

Obama is certainly not the first modern president to be overly-impressed with himself and his "journey." Bill Clinton famously peppered his speeches with a plethora of "me"s and "I"s--but his stories about himself were so self-serving (and sometimes, clearly, invented) that people tended to be more amused than moved by him. He could work a room like nobody’s business if it were filled with folks inclined to be unreflective . . . but after awhile, even the dullest wit had to concede that his stories had begun to grow stale and to fill the air with the powerful odor of BS. He now stands as a kind of cartoon monument to himself. Clinton always had ready acolytes who would rush to his defense, of course. But the more intelligent among them always knew what they were about and, in their better moments, exhibited some shame in it. They were selling out for the sake of their favored policy prescriptions and they were willing to deal with a minor little devil like Clinton for the sake of something they regarded as higher than themselves. What were a few sacrificial little interns and "trailer park" women to that? What of it if the guy liked to talk about himself and, in so doing, sent a spark of thrill up the legs of TV talking heads? It was part of the game of selling their wares and, for awhile, it seemed to work.

But Barack Obama is a different sort of narcissist. He isn’t of that cheap "trailer park" variety--the kind who gets so swept up in trying to please an adoring public that he tries to become the guy he’s invented . . . Barack Obama is much more clever. He is the thinking man’s narcissist--and he would much rather have you become the kind of public that he thinks he deserves than to bend himself to suit you. Obama can weave a tale so lofty that a mere recounting of his mother waking him up early as a child seems the whispering of prophecy from an angel at dawn near the shoulder of a future American redeemer. The personal relationship he describes himself as having with the Constitution and American principles seems to speak less of their greatness than of his potential. They are great, it seems, mainly because of what they have meant to him and what they have allowed him to become. It all begs the question, "What if he had failed?" Would their majesty have been diminished in that failure or would he, Barack Obama, have been the sole proprietor of it? As Kristol notes, he seems to imagine that he infuses the office of the presidency with some special power of bargaining and, even, rationality that the office itself cannot hope to possess. The power of the presidency does not seem to be vested in him--at least by his lights--but, rather, it exists because of him.

Whether sophisticated or bumbling and comedic, this level of self-regard when exhibited in the presidency is something that should not escape notice. It may be that the sophisticated version will be able to carry on unnoticed for a longer time and with less obvious tragic consequences. But pride really does seem to "goeth" before a fall. The tragedy of Bill Clinton--though suffered for a time by the nation--has receded comfortably into a kind of tragi-comedy and the effects it produced are felt most keenly, I think, by those who most deserve them. In Barack Obama’s case, if tragedy follows on the heels of this pride, I think it may be a deeper and more engaging kind of tragedy for the nation as a whole. For it is we who are bending toward his story and not his story that is bending toward us.

Who is a Man?

Here’s MY first in a series of reflections on the eduction of Leon Kass.

Justice Sotomayor?

Here’s the WaPo story. Beyond the fact that she’s a Yankees fan (reason enough to oppose her in my books), there’s the fact that she participated at the appellate level in the Ricci case.

For instant reactions, go to NR’s Bench Memos. I’m going to try to find some time to read some of her appellate opinions.

Does Obama Means to Succeed Where FDR Failed?

And if he does, will history be as kind to him as it has been to FDR? The question is prompted by Charles Kesler’s fine (and short) essay introducing the new issue of The Claremont Review of Books. In it, Kesler notes that:

FDR wanted to save capitalism from itself, and he exploited so masterfully all the ambiguities in that objective that thoughtful people can be found, even today, who think he succeeded. They tend to forget that he changed not only capitalism but constitutionalism, and the latter unambiguously for the worse. They tend to overlook, too, that the relatively benign reform era they like to celebrate, the New Deal of public works projects and Social Security, is the New Deal stripped of its more corporatist, or to put it less kindly, fascist elements like the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was the unreformed Supreme Court’s "horse-and-buggy" constitutionalism that saved the country from that ugly experiment, and thus allowed future generations to praise FDR’s moderation. (emphasis added)
In other words, FDR’s failures may have just as much to do with perceived success as do his outright victories. Had it not been for the effective buggy whip of the Supreme Court, the "New Deal" might be viewed today with much less rosy goggles. Will Obama’s new Supreme Court pick help in the short run and hurt him in the long run? Or are there enough "horse-and-buggy" constitutionalists left on today’s somewhat reformed Supreme Court to keep Obama in check?

Men and Women

Men and Boys in Today's University

This story from Inside Higher Ed reports on a conference held recently at the University of Pennsylvania--ostensibly for the purpose of addressing the question of decreasing male enrollment and achievement in higher education. It is a perfect example of what happens when otherwise intelligent human beings operate on ideological assumptions and to the exclusion of evidence that confirms older notions about human nature that they wish to keep discredited.

The trend has been noted for years and it is now impossible to deny the vast and growing gap between male and female achievement in higher education. Even professors who have been more inclined to emphasize the inequities for women have had admit the problem. What may be worse, however, is the vast over-representation of men among campus judicial offenders. I have no statistics suggesting that male offenders have not always outnumbered female offenders (and I doubt that one could find them if he tried) but the story seems to suggest an uptick in the number and intensity of the crimes. There seems to be more violence and, of course, more crimes of a sexual nature. Recognizing facts is one thing, however. Understanding reality is always another.

Predictably, this conference trotted out the usual refrains that now seem to me to represent something more of a "stereotype" than the old stereotypes used to do. Two "studies" (described as "qualitative") formed the basis of much of the discussion at this conference and most of the substance of this article. In these studies, men at public university on the east coast and men at a private university on the west coast were asked a series of questions about their feelings on being a man. As one of the researchers put it, "The men in both studies really described external pressures to perform hegemonic masculinity." In English, this means that these boys are finding it difficult to be both manly men and succeed in an academic environment. But instead of questioning whether these young men are getting any guidance about how to do that--whether there is anything about the college experience of today that gives positive outlet to a manly instinct--these geniuses are suggesting that what these guys need is more "women's studies" courses! They need to find ever more and clever ways to pound square pegs into round holes? Does it ever occur to university types that the the bad behavior and underachievement we're seeing on campus after campus across the country may be, precisely, in reaction to (largely successful) attempts to make college life less "manly" or masculine? Does it ever occur to any of them that all of their efforts to take aggression and competition out of the academic and extracurricular activities on campus have only succeeded in making them unattractive to a good number of students who ought to be among our best and brightest? So as colleges and universities have softened things, they have not (as they had hoped) succeeded in softening or rooting out these manly men. They have only succeeded in pushing them away and giving them an excuse to ignore alleged "authority" and wreak havoc in a completely undirected and unintelligent ways. Would it not have been wiser to have come to grips with the nature of these exuberant young men, accepted it, and allowed them productive outlets? But that would have required their professors (many of whom have a notable lack of thumos at their core) to admit the fact (and the salutary necessity) of it in others.

Categories > Men and Women

America’s Peronist Moment?

A note from an astute NLT reader: "Incidentally, the thought occurred to me recently that our current situation economically may be our Peronist moment. In other words, in the midst of an economic setback, the U.S. will now apply policies that will permanently shift the country leftward in a way that will ensure continued insolvency for as far as the eye can see. We are zigging at precisely the moment when we need to be zagging; piling on debt when we should be paying down. Of course, it’s never wise to bet against America; on the other hand, there’s nothing chiseled in stone which says America must always surge ever-upward economically."


New York Times reports that Sotomayor will be announced at 10:15 am as President Obama’s nominee to fill Justice Souter’s seat for next on the Supreme Court. Discuss. . .

Night at the Museum and Spongebob

Compare the box office hit depicting a battle of the Smithsonian with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington--Lincoln is the hero in both movies, aided by a tough woman.

And if you have a child who is obsessed with Spongebob, try this James Parker piece from The Atlantic. All three of these artistic creations proclaim the virtue of innocence, which requires serious protections.

Memorial Day

It seems to work out perfectly from year to year that over the Memorial Day weekend I can just ride and ride. Everything falls into place, the freedom and the soft weather, the smell of the flowers, the small flags in cemeteries (and other odd things), the easy moving people, who, if willing to talk, will only do so quietly. I’m in and out of small towns and smaller cemeteries. People are getting together, in public places and even in parades or at their homes, but somehow all is quiet, I never see any rowdies making fools of themselves. Maybe all this has to do with the reason for the holiday and its history maybe its just the knowledge and sense that we are remembering those men who die in battle, die too young, die before they should. A reflective and quiet and sacred day, filled with gratitude.

Muslim and American

From a Pew Charitable Trust poll 2007:

When asked about how they think of their personal identity, only about a quarter (28%) of all Muslim Americans say they identify themselves first as an American rather than as a Muslim. This number is strikingly similar to the percentage of white evangelicals (28%) and black Protestants (33%) who say they think of themselves first as American and only secondarily as Christian. In fact, a higher percentage of evangelicals (62%) and black Protestants (55%) identify themselves first by their faith than do Muslims (47%). (About one-fifth of Muslim Americans – 18% – say they think of themselves as both American and Muslim.)

Good Work

I’m on my bike the last two days and today and tomorrow riding to the borders of Ohio, thinking about lives worth choosing, reading my Kindle and smoking when I stop, hoping that I don’t have to make any repairs, but envying those who can. Here is Matthew B. Crawford in today’s NYT Magazine praising such work.