Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Voegeli on conservatism

Our friend Bill Voegeli has a brilliant piece in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

His survey of what the friends and enemies of conservatism have to say about its way forward is a must-read.    

How to Get Raped by an Ideology

Andy McCarthy points to a story of a left-wing journalist who went to conduct sympathetic interviews with some Taliban thugs who had just killed 10 French troops in Afghanistan, was (predictably) raped for 6 days, and now is blaming the Dutch and Belgian governments for the incident because they refused to pay the $2 million dollar ransom. After all, those Taliban dudes may have raped her . . . but they did it with respect. I guess this is the left-wing’s answer to "blaming the victim."

Sometimes the Truth is Caked in Humor and Absurdity

I can’t stop laughing about this post from Rich Lowry over at the corner. Apparently the folks over at the Huffington Post were perplexed by a National Review cover depicting Sonia Sotomayor as Buddha--complete with the caption: "The Wise Latina." The genius over there at HuffPo, viewing the world through the same broken prism of identity politics that seems to be the rage among today’s hip Supreme Court nominees writes: "It seems that the National Review has confused their ethnic stereotypes, or their religions, or maybe they just wanted some sort of two-fer, because their ’Wise Latina’ cover story presents Sotomayor as an Asian, in some sort of Buddhist pose." In noting HP’s apparent ignorance of Buddha’s association with wisdom, Lowry wonder’s, "Can they really be this clueless?" To which I say, in remembrance of David Carradine, "Ahhh, grasshopper. Yes. They can."

Obama Partisan Non-Partisanship

Lost in the Sotomayor and Middle East news is this display of political skills in two nominations of Republicans for Administration posts, Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Secretary of the Army. Congressman Paul McHugh, ranking GOP member on Armed Services, may well have lost his NY seat to reapportionment anyway.
A surprise and more clever choice for the NEH is former liberal GOP congressman Jim Leach, given the pool of liberal academics at Obama’s disposal. But again it shows his political cunning, marginalizing the remainder of the Republican Party.

A look at Administration economic policies makes it difficult to swallow the moderate, pragmatic image he wishes to project, but he is certainly trying.

Stuart Taylor on Sotomayor and Judicial Activism

Here’s a very judicious analysis of the ambivalence of judicial activism when it comes to affirmative action. Most Americans, unlike Sotomayor, thank all race-based legal preferences are unjust. But most elected officials don’t oppose them for fear of being branded racist. Most bureaucrats--governmental, educational, and corporate--actually like them. So the only effective curb on their excessive used of them has been the courts--really, the Supreme Court. The Court, in such cases, might be accused of judicial activism, insofar as it is using questionable constitutional interpretations to thwart the will of elected officials. But that judicial activism, sometimes at least, is populist or backed up by public opinion. So the Democratic claim of judicial activism against this conservative, individualistic impulse of the Court, if understood be the people, might actually make the Court--when led by "Republican justices"--more popular. I have to admit that cases like GRUTTER are just about impossible to integrate into my theory of the consistent defense of judicial restraint.

I notice that Sotomayor has talked a lot about the narrowness of not regarding DIVERSITY as a legal category. Maybe the Republicans should try to educate Americans about the injustice the Court has defended or, better, created of having the educational goal of classroom diversity trump normal considerations of racial justice and considering people as individuals before the law. You don’t have to believe that all affirmative action or race conscious policies are unconstitutional to see that only possible constitutional justification for them is remedying the effects of past discrimination or past injustice. Here, the dissent of Thomas in GRUTTER is the primer.

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for May

Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Doug LaGrange

Brian Bishop

Joe Winbigler

Robert Belshaw

Rachel Stern

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn’t win this month, enter June’s drawing.

The Nuances of Class, and the Obama Coalition

Andrew Stuttaford has some interesting speculations about the impact of class and the passions on contemporary politics. A little data:

At first glance therefore it makes little sense that 49 percent of those from households making more than $100,000 a year (26 percent of the electorate) opted for the Democrat, up from 41 percent in 2004, as did 52 percent of those raking in over $200,000 (6 percent of voters), up from 35 percent last go round. . . .

Mark Penn notes "While there has been some inflation over the past 12 years, the exit poll demographics show that the fastest growing group of voters . . . has been those making over $100,000 a year. . . .In 1996, only 9 percent of the electorate said their family income was that high .  .  . [By 2008] it had grown to 26 percent." . . .

2004, 20 percent of "Lower Richistanis," those 7.5 million households (the number would be lower now, but it then would have constituted roughly 6-7 percent of the U.S. total) struggling along on a net worth of $1 million to $10 million, spent more than they earned."

And some analysys:
In a shrewd article written for Politico shortly after the election, Clinton adviser Mark Penn tried to pin down who exactly these higher echelon Obama voters were ("professional," corporate rather than small business, highly educated, and so on). Possibly uncomfortable with acknowledging anything so allegedly un-American as class yet politically very comfortable with this obvious class’s obvious electoral clout, he eulogized its supposedly shared characteristics: teamwork, pragmatism, collective action, trust in government intervention, a preference for the scientific over the faith-based, and a belief in the "interconnectedness of the world." We could doubtless add an appreciation of NPR and a fondness for a bracing decaf venti latte to the list, and as we did so we would try hard to forget this disquieting passage from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: "The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians." . . .

See how the emergence of a mass class of super-rich could fuel growing resentment both within its ranks and, by extension, without. By "without," I refer not to the genuinely poor, who have, sadly, had time to become accustomed to almost immeasurably worse levels of deprivation, but to the not-quite-so-rich eyeing their neighbors’ new Lexus and simmering, snarling, and borrowing to keep up. The story of rising inequality in America is a familiar one: What’s not so well known is that the divide has grown sharpest at the top. Frank reports that the average income for the top 1 percent of income earners grew 57 percent between 1990 and 2004, but that of the top 0.1 percent raced ahead by 85 percent, a trend that will have accelerated until 2008 and found echoes further down the economic hierarchy. . . .

Barack Obama, a politician who has explicitly and implicitly promised the managers, the scribblers, the professors, and the now-eclipsed gentry that he would finish what the market collapse had begun. He’d put those Wall Street nouveaux back in their place. Higher taxes will claw at what’s left of their fortunes and, no less crucially, their prospects. What taxes don’t accomplish, new regulation (some of which even makes some sense) and the direct stake the government has now taken in so much of the economy will. Better still are all the respectably lucrative, respectably respectable jobs that it will take to run, or bypass, this new order. . . .

The notion that some of the very richest Americans (not all, of course) support the Democrats should no longer be seen as a novelty. . . . The shrewdest or most cynical amongst them will have realized [that]. . . The onslaughts on Lower Richistan and on Wall Street will make it more difficult for others to join them at mammon’s pinnacle.

Brain Teaser

Which decision did the president make more quickly?

a) the choice of his first Supreme Court nominee.

b) the choice of the Obama family dog.

"Obama is making us stupid"--Say what?

Today’s Washington Post has a curious pairing of stories on pages A2 and A3. The news story on page 3, "Groups on Left Are Suddenly on Top", reports on the salad days for left-leaning organizations like John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. But Dana Milbank’s story on page 2, "Liberals May Be Looking for a Take-Back", surveys the mounting disappointment that Obama is moderating so many positions (Afghanistan, military commissions, saying "no" to single payer health care, etc). It includes this gem from Nutty Naomi Klein: "Obama is making us stupid. . . Love can make you stupid." (But wasn’t Klein already there before this?--Ed. Yes, yes, I know, but you have to take your irony where you can get it.)

Then there’s this in The Politico: "Gay Groups Grow Inpatient with Obama."


AND his something similar to a Socratic turn are described by ME. If you scroll down, you can see Ceaser getting way existential when it comes to Shakespeare in Staunton, VA, as well as Hancock blowing the whistle on Charles Taylor’s needlessly huge book.

Dioinne Says Rush and Newt Are Winning!

Well, not in the obvious sense. Neither of those old and unpopular guys would have a chancehin heck in an election with our very personally popular president (who, as we can see for hours on NBC, is a handsome, young, classy guy with a smart and pretty wife and a playful yet obedient dog). They’re defining the AGENDA, marginalizing all "progressive" opinion and personalities to the left of the president. The result is that people think it’s respectable to worry that the president might tilt toward Peronism, and it’s already clear that we’re not going to get to benefit from fully nationalized or Canadian health care. Even the fawning mainstream media, E.J. complains, has bought into the subtle conservative bias. Someone might add, though, that this configuration of forces might actually benefit the president, who probably feels good government these days is more endangered from leftist Congressional imprudence than the spectre of Limbaugh or Gingrich sweeping him away. So I’m happy to acknowledge gratefully that Rush and Newt are serving the cause of as good a government as we can get these days, which is not the same as saying that they’re paving the way for a return to Republican dominance.

Sonia Sotomayor Is No Frank Easterbrook

In light of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in NRA v. City of Chicago, holding that Supreme Court precedent binds the court to hold that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, it is useful to note a key distinction between that case and Sotomayor’s in Maloney v. Cuomo. Notably, in Maloney, Sotomayor joined an opinion finding that New York’s weapons law did not “interfere[] with a fundamental right.” (She had expressed similar views pre-Heller, when she joined an unpublished opinion stating that “the right to possess a gun is clearly not a fundamental right.”) As such, Sotomayor has the distinction of having voted with the only court of appeals decision to so denigrate Second Amendment rights after Heller. The Ninth Circuit in Nordyke v. King found that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition, and the Seventh Circuit in NRA, applying what Eugene Volokh ably dissects as undue judicial restraint, did not speak to the question.

Sotomayor’s defenders will gleefully cite to the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in NRA to cast her decision refusing to apply the Second Amendment to the states as a restrained decision. But her glib assertion that Second Amendment rights are not fundamental undermines this claim, and puts her well outside the judicial mainstream. The lack of any support for the statement regrettably tracks her similarly glib decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, the New Haven firefighters case currently pending before the Supreme Court, in which Clinton-appointee Judge Cabranes chided her panel for failing to even address the constitutional questions. There, as here, her defenders have made the thin assertion of restraint. There, as here, her grossly adequate treatment of claims makes clear that she was seeking to impose her own policy preferences under the pretext of restraint.

Furthermore, unlike Easterbrook, who may well have ruled contrary to his own personal policy preferences, Sotomayor’s ruling seems to have reinforced them. The question for those reading her Second Amendment case to divine whether she was actually acting with “restraint” or giving short-shrift to claims she disfavored is this: do you honestly believe that Sotomayor would have adhered to old, dismissed, and distinguishable precedent (i.e., precedent interpreting a different clause in the Constitution (Privileges and Immunities) than the claim (selective incorporation through the Due Process clause) raised before her), if the case involved something that evoked her “empathy,” like a question of race or gender? Her own statement that judges are not able to put aside their biases in most cases (and suggesting that it might be a disservice to the country for her to do so) would seem to answer that question.

Legal academics have great fun discussing the doctrine of incorporation—the process by which selective rights in the Bill of Rights are made applicable to the states. But Judge Sotomayor’s opinion reveals little about her views on this doctrine, while suggesting a hostility to and willingness to be dismissive of Second Amendment rights.

Cross-posted at Bench Memos on NRO.

Gloomy Sunday

I came across one of the most miserably sad tunes ever devised by the mind of any poet attempting to give word and sound to sorrow. It made an hour into ten. Here are the original words to the song (in Hungarian and English), and then here is the Americanized version (different words, plus an ending that changes the gloom to but a dream; how un-Hungarian). Now for the singing of it. Here is the second version (the one used by Billie Holiday, Elvis Costello, et al); I�ll use the Sarah McLachlan version. For the first (see the English translation for the "original words")--in Hungarian I�ll use Poka Angela

(in Hungarian last names are first). Listen and let this grief speak. Here is the Kronos instrumental version.


I do enjoy playing with my Kindle. It is useful. I have some hundreds of great and good books on it and will never be without a book or my subscriptions (at least for four days, when the battery runs out, then I need to plug it in) because it fits in a coat pocket and is always with me. Not only is it useful, but it also gives the impression that I am reading a book (and not a computer screen), so I don’t dislike touching and holding it. This adds to the pleasure, because it resembles a book. Of course, I do love books, including touching and smelling them, because they are beautiful things in their entirety--somehow--and as we know beauty prompts something in us, and this helps in having a good conversation with the book. So you read and touch and smell a book in places like these, places meant to enhance contemplation, and your mind can’t imagine building such monuments to Kindles. If Kindles have beauty what kind of beauty would enhance it?

A Nice Justice Thomas Story

. . . makes the news today. Good to see a report about him in the media (finally) that doesn’t show any compulsion to throw darts . . .

Hummer to China

Darn it.

Research and Insights from a Leading American University

Imagine that you are a guy living in a hut in Africa or in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan or in a jungle in some part of South America. Your contact with the outside world is minimal, but you are not dead to the lessons you can glean from the world that is available to you for observation. By chance, you happen upon an American on tour in your country. You engage this American in conversation about his occupation and he explains to you that he works for a major state university conducting scientific research. Impressed, you ask the American to explain the nature of his research. How would you react then, when you come to understand that this guy gets paid to investigate earthshattering discoveries like this? Might you not wonder what this American bozo knows about the world that you had not been able to discover by living a life of relative isolation in a hut? You discover that the American has learned how to pull a good scam; that’s what he knows that you don’t. You’re likely to conclude that his ability to scam is the reason that the American is on holiday traipsing about your country and you’re in a hut.

So at what point do bleeding taxpayers and parents forking over exorbitant tuition begin to ask the same questions? If that first story is not enough to inspire the questioning, then take a gander at the other two items from that newsletter: if you’re out of work it’s a good idea to ask your friends if they know about jobs and if you want to change jobs, you should have a plan. This kind of exhaustive research and draining of the mental energies demands a sabbatical, I think--a permanent one.


An interesting article in the New York Times from last Friday about trends among "Mommybloggers" caught my eye this morning. It raises the now familiar question of whether today’s notions about parenting have become a kind of "over-parenting" and also wonders whether the shrinking economy will force parents into something that more resembles sanity. I smile at the thought. It is impossible to be a mother today and not find yourself occasionally annoyed (o.k., I’d use a different word in conversation with my closest mommy friends . . . but this is a family blog) by the sort of mothers who--while certainly meaning well--have elevated their craft into a kind of sick obsession. One wants to be careful, however, about criticizing this sort of woman, first because such criticism can easily degenerate into simple meanness but more because sensible people realize that this kind of "helicopter" parenting--or whatever you want to call it--likely came about as a kind of reaction (and then, overreaction) to an even more disgusting kind of "hands-off" parenting where the rules were too lax, the supervision was minimal to neglectful and children were encouraged to do whatever they feel (so long as what they felt like doing did not involve any inconvenience to Mom or Dad). But this article from the NYT, while it made me smile to think of a backlash against the backlash, also gave me reason to shake my head and scream, "NO!" Here’s why:

But in the past few months, a second wave has taken hold — writers are moving past merely venting and are trying to gather the like-minded into a new movement. Carl Honoré is one. He calls it “slow parenting” — no more rushing around physically and metaphorically, no more racing kids from soccer to Suzuki. Lenore Skenazy is another. She calls it “free-range parenting,” a return to the days when childhood was not ruled by the fear (overblown, she says, with statistics to prove it) that children would be maimed, kidnapped or killed if they did something as simple as riding their bikes alone to the park.
Can we stop with the "movements" already? Is every parent today really so insecure in themselves that they need to have the backing of a movement and a blog to work it out for themselves? The problem with movements is exactly the same thing that I find when I get caught up in conversations with other mothers at the park or in the school parking lot. It im-personalizes the conversation to an unworkable point. You forget you’re dealing with actual and complex souls that don’t really belong to you. It makes you obsessive and crazy! It really is possible to over-think a thing and completely lose all sense of proportion, never mind your sense of humor! Life has always been imperfect in one way or another. Life with children is imperfection on steroids. The reason the "Mommy Wars" are so stinkin’ annoying, is that every Mommy in them--whether she means well and is sane in the beginning or not--becomes, over time, a self-appointed and self-righteous expert talking in a general way about specifics situations with which she has no familiarity or realistic capacity to understand.

Here’s the deal: when you have kids, YOU have to raise them. Some people are going to do a better job than you do. Plenty will do worse. Mothers need to put their big girl pants on, look around, learn what they can, avoid getting over-wrought in discussions of "parenting" and do the best job they can manage with the information and the capacities that they have. That’s all any kid needs or has a right to expect. Children are not made of steel, but neither are they made of glass. They are precious, yes, but they are not our possessions.

A friend of mine recently told me about another friend of hers who had lost a child in a tragic accident. She said that the family is coping with the loss by remembering to consider that the child "was not theirs" in the first place. They were blessed by this child’s presence in their lives for a short time, she noted, but they felt lucky to have had him at all rather than cheated by his being taken away. They focused on gratitude for his life instead of anger, sadness and regret at his death. I admit that this is probably more than I could muster in that situation . . . but how can one not admire it? Since hearing about it, I have tried remember it--not so much as a guide to understanding the proper way to react to death (God forbid a thousand times!) as it is a good general guide for understanding how to approach life with your children. There is only so much you can do or expect as a parent. Ultimately, you are talking about another soul--not an extension of your own. The only formula is that there isn’t one.

Government Motors

The whole government bail-out/ownership smells, always has. This is especially true with GM. The best short piece I’ve seen on the issue is by

David Brooks in today’s NYT.

IPhones and attendance

The days of skipping class at one a Japanese university may be over: "At least that’s the hope of administrators at Aoyama Gakuin University, in Tokyo, whose School of Social Informatics will give Apple’s iPhone 3G to 550 of its students as a way to track attendance with the phone’s global-positioning system." Silly, isn’t it.

A bad argument against bad arguments against same-sex marriage

I received an email touting this piece that works hard to demolish straw men. Jon Chait simply assumes that choice is always good, but gives no consideration to what might happen if we, in effect, apotheosize choice, thereby, among other things, utterly severing the connection between adult self-fulfillment and childrearing. If it’s all about choice, why can’t I choose a plurality of mates, without any regard for the welfare of the children who may happen to be associated with the arrangement.

Yes, marriage isn’t just about children and childrearing, but our understanding of it--however badly articulated by some proponents--naturally begins there. Chait’s, er, argument is so focused on the fulfillment of individuals who seem selfish or self-centered by definition (they’re choosers, not bearers of responsibility) that he can’t see the force of that point of departure. He diminishes our responsibility for the sake of our freedom.

To be sure, the proponents of same-sex marriage aren’t alone in making this argument and they’re just following in the footsteps of other "possessive individualists." The real argument isn’t about same-sex marriage, it’s about what it means to be a responsible member of a community, about whether our burdens must be accepted or are only legitimate if they’re freely chosen.

Three Commentaires of the Day

All are worth reading in full. Here’s a sample. Robert Reich on the GM Bailout:

The only practical purpose I can imagine for the bail-out is to slow the decline of GM to create enough time for its workers, suppliers, dealers and communities to adjust to its eventual demise. Yet if this is the goal, surely there are better ways to allocate $60bn than to buy GM? The funds would be better spent helping the Midwest diversify away from cars. Cash could be used to retrain car workers, giving them extended unemployment insurance as they retrain.

But US politicians dare not talk openly about industrial adjustment because the public does not want to hear about it. A strong constituency wants to preserve jobs and communities as they are, regardless of the public cost. Another equally powerful group wants to let markets work their will, regardless of the short-term social costs. Polls show most Americans are against bailing out GM, but if their own jobs were at stake I am sure they would have a different view.

Megan McArdle writes a couple of very provocative posts on anti-abortion extremism and what to do about it. I hesitate to select from the, because I will take away the nuance, but I will do so, in order, I hope, to spur people to read them in full:

I think the analogy to slavery is important, for two reasons. First of all, it was the last time we had an extended, society-wide debate about personhood. And second of all, as now, there were structural political reasons that it was much harder--nearly impossible--to change slavery through the existing political process. . . . .

And if I look at my own reasoning, well, frankly, it’s not even reasoning. I’ve never sat down and thought, "how do I know that Africans are human beings?" I know. And I’m enough of a Chestertonian to be okay with that way of knowing. But presumably if I’d been raised in 1840 Alabama, I’d know just as certainly that they weren’t.

That post builds upon

this post:

We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders--had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions. In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. Moreover, that law had been ruled outside the normal political process by the Supreme Court. If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? To shrug? Is that what you think of ordinary Germans who ignored Nazi crimes? Is it really much of an excuse to say that, well, most of your neighbors didn’t seem to mind, so you concluded it must be all right? We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.

As I say, I think their moral intuition is incorrect. The fact that conception and birth are the easiest bright lines to draw does not make either of them the correct one. Tiller’s killer is a murderer, and whether or not he deserves the lengthy jail sentence he will get, society needs him in jail for its own protection.

And John Hasnas on the seen, the unseen and emphathy:

One can have compassion for workers who lose their jobs when a plant closes. They can be seen. One cannot have compassion for unknown persons in other industries who do not receive job offers when a compassionate government subsidizes an unprofitable plant. The potential employees not hired are unseen.

One can empathize with innocent children born with birth defects. Such children and the adversity they face can be seen. One cannot empathize with as-yet-unborn children in rural communities who may not have access to pediatricians if a judicial decision based on compassion raises the cost of medical malpractice insurance. These children are unseen.

ME on Dr. Pat Deneen, Marriage, and Our Place in the South


Ivy League Culture

As Harvard Alum Conan O’Brien takes over the reigns at the "Tonight Show," it is worth asking what, if anything, it says about our culture. For years, Johnny Carson ruled the roost, and brought his midwestern sensibility to the show. If Wikipedia is correct, O’Brien, by contrast, went to Harvard, and is the son of a Professor at Harvard Medical School. Might that change reflect a larger change both in Hollywood and at Harvard?

In Other News . . . Bankruptcy!

For readers who need a break from the Supreme Court nominations battle, I suggest the cheery interlude of bankruptcy law. GM’s bankruptcy raises numerous legal and policy issues, particularly if the government seeks to displace creditors or to minimize the reorganizing cuts necessary for GM to reemerge as a profitable company. For a detailed analysis, I recommend Andrew Grossman’s thoughtful testimony before the House Judiciary Committee assessing Chrysler’s bankruptcy, and looking ahead to GM’s bankruptcy. He examines how the Obama administration’s attempts to circumvent bankruptcy law’s priority scheme in order to benefit cronies like the UAW undermines the rule of law, and makes clear that more, deeper cuts are necessary to make government motors a profitable company once again.

In other bankruptcy-related news, I wrote a piece for WLF last month examining the risk of increased forum shopping which could occur as bankruptcy filings increase. Whether this will pose a serious threat to the rule of law may well turn on the Marshall v. Marshall, the Ninth Circuit’s remand of the infamous Anna Nicole bankruptcy case which was decided by the Supreme Court in 2006. Like Bleak House, all of the original litigants in the case are now deceased, but the litigation lives on. If the Ninth Circuit were to permit Anna Nicole Smith’s estate to use the bankruptcy courts to re-litigate claims she lost in state courts, and thereby to get millions of dollars from her late husband’s estate contrary to his estate plan, then look for an explosion of bankruptcy filings, made by those seeking to use bankruptcy courts to achieve ends other than relief from debts.

Cross-posted on
Bench Memos.

How to Go on Offense

Over at National Review Online, I have an article up this morning suggesting the concrete program the Tea Party movement should adopt if it wants to have a serious political impact. In one sentence, I argue that the Tea Parties should champion what I call "Reagan’s Unfinished Agenda" as a way of going on offense against Obama, and getting out of the defensive crouch which is the dominant posture of the Right at the moment.

While I’m at it, and on a related subject, volume 1 of The Age of Reagan comes out in paperback next week, a prelude to the August launch of the second and final volume. Get your pre-orders in now!

Garry Wills on Skip Gates’s Lincoln

Gotta hand it to Garry Wills. A while back his book on the Gettysburg Address achieved that glorious two-fer we academic nine-to-fivers can only pine for: best-seller status and a major award (the Pulitzer). Now, when it comes to reviewing Henry Louis Gates’s edited collection, Lincoln on Race and Slavery, with a lengthy and flawed introduction by the non-Lincoln expert Gates, the New York Review of Books taps Wills to review Gates’s book in the bicentennial year of Lincoln’s birth.

The title of the review, "Lincoln’s Black History," says all one needs to know of the portrait of the Great Emancipator rendered by Wills. Toni Morrison can rest easy; it’s not one that touts Lincoln as the first black president. His “black” history, with “black” connoting a pejorative (I’m surprised the Review let that pass), is Lincoln’s views and policies regarding blacks in America, which were racist in some form or fashion. How seriously can one take an analysis of Lincoln on race and slavery when Wills gives the last word on Lincoln to his nemesis, an unabashed white supremacist, Stephen A. Douglas?!

Wills agrees with Douglas against Lincoln in his interpretation of what the Founders meant by equality in the Declaration of Independence. Not to worry, though, as Wills assures us that Lincoln’s “bad history” at least promoted a myth that helped Americans produce “good politics.” In short, we all now think the Declaration’s statement that “all men are created equal” really means all people, black and white, male and female—even though the Founders, as Douglas correctly taught us, never meant this. Wills calls Lincoln’s misinterpretation of the Declaration “one of those creative misreadings” that ultimately did us “the favor of fruitfully being wrong.”

Trying to keep this short, let me just say that Wills divides his account of Lincoln’s black history into three categories: slavery, black inferiority, and colonization. These are not bad, but the devil is definitely in Wills’s details, for he quotes Lincoln (and his critics) selectively, and unfairly presents Lincoln’s controversial statements without sufficient context. In some cases, he omits remarks by Lincoln that would lead to opposite conclusions about his view of slavery and blacks.

To cite just one example, he says that Lincoln “did not show a personal revulsion at slavery” right after noting an 1855 letter from Joshua Speed, at the time his closest friend and a slaveholding Kentuckian. The fact that Wills is aware of this letter from Speed suggests Wills is quite aware of Lincoln’s letter to Speed, wherein Lincoln does show a personal revulsion of slavery: “I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet.” Lincoln goes on to say that recalling a shackled group of slaves he saw on a trip down South “was a continued torment to me” and “continually exercises the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.”

Other statements could be cited to support this sentiment of Lincoln’s.

Lincoln’s views of slavery, black Americans, and colonization all deserve greater attention, but neither Wills nor Gates (who also produced a flawed documentary, “Looking for Lincoln,” which aired on PBS in February 2009) shines the proper light on America’s “peculiar institution” or Lincoln’s approach to eliminating it. They have now helped produce a Lincoln for the 21st century that mangles both Lincoln’s legacy and that of the Founders. This makes the public more susceptible to the opinion that what is good in Lincoln had less to do with the United States of America at her birth and more with the notion of an evolving standard of right. Lincoln as a Progressive. Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and their presidential protégé Barack Obama couldn’t be more pleased.

Courtship in the 18th Century

From Mary Beth Norton’s Liberty’s Daughters, a young lady’s lament: "The only Beau within my reach is the serene Hugh of Huntingdon, and I am sure he is what the Philosophers have so long been in search of, a percfect Vaccuum."

"Into the Storm"

The HBO production, "Into the Storm" tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern. Brendan Gleeson plays Churchill.

"Following the Allies’ success, Britain went to the polls in 1945 to decide their post-war prime minister and ruling party, taking over a week to tally all the votes. Incumbent Prime Minister Churchill went on holiday to France with his wife and daughter to anxiously await the results. Using those 10 days as a framework for the story, INTO THE STORM follows Churchill as he awaits his fate, reminiscing about the war years and how he guided his beleaguered nation through that difficult and challenging time."

Omissions, exaggerations and misstatements

This article claims to illustrate “omissions, exaggerations and misstatements” in former VP Cheney’s recent speech. Frank Rich in a recent column argued that one purpose of Cheney’s recent public statements was to create the possibility of an “I told you so” moment. This is a risk that Obama is running. He should probably be pointing out that even during the Bush administration, even with all the extraordinary measures it was taking, the consensus view was that it was only a matter of time before another attack happened.

Shock-and-Awe Statism

Lots of Republicans are barking up the wrong trees. The truth is that Obama’s foreign policy is as good as a Democrat’s is going to be, and what’s going on the ground seems, for the most part, pretty competent.

The Court appointment just isn’t that important. I’m all for Republicans articulating the basic differences in constitutional interpretation and all that. But social reform, in the president’s view, isn’t going to come from judges overflowing with empathy. When the Court errs on "identity politics," after all, it does so by not declaring unconstitutional excesses originating from the more political parts of government. It, by itself, is not going to be going rogue in that area. And, of course, any Democratic appointee is not going to be about the business of revisiting ROE or going after the initiatives described below.

So all honor to George Will and especially Gov. Mitch Daniels for highlighting the fact that this is an especially unfortunate time for expanding the entitlement mentality. Policies of questionable constitutionality and, more importantly, undeniable stupidity are being adopted quickly and somewhat thoughtlessly. It’s not government’s job, for example, to seduce people into buying cars that are somewhat more fuel efficient but significantly less safe.


Robert Alt has a good piece in U.S. News on whether she can be impartial in judging, whether she can be a judge. He has also done a few interviews (CNN and Fox Business, on the right). While I don�t think her view that race and ethnicity may lead to "basic differences in logic and reasoning," will necessarily be enough to stop her confirmation, it will lead to a good conversation that could have lasting influence; and doubts will be sown. Even the front page Washington Post article admits the looming problem, as revealed by her summary order in Ricci v. DeStefano, and in which there is no constitutional basis for the decision. And then what if the Supreme Court overturnes it, with a constitutional argument? What then? The heart of her views on race and ethnicity and whether she thinks justice is possible will be very public, and not only on the Judiciary Committee. There is an outside chance...