Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Meaning of the Fourth?

Here’s one reason why I have scaled back my subscription to our local newspaper.

The column is incoherent on so many levels it’s not funny.

Take this bit:

However, freedom is a lot more complicated than getting to do what you want and say what you want. If that’s all there was to it, freedom would be a lot more rampant around the world.

Freedom is hard because it’s really about letting the other guy do what he wants and say what he wants, even if you don’t much like it and think he’s wrong. That’s the tricky part, the part that other cultures, and even some people here at home, sometimes can’t swallow.

Freedom has been reduced to mutual toleration, hardly an exhaustive account of what’s required to live in freedom. What, for example, about the necessity for sacrifice, risking one’s life for the sake of one’s liberty?

And then there’s this:

Freedom takes a certain amount of trust in your fellow man, which can be hard to come by in places like Iran. It also requires a humility about the limits of your own wisdom and a faith that in an open marketplace of ideas, the truth eventually will reveal itself.

Not surprisingly, those who claim to already know the truth don’t cotton much to freedom. From their point of view, there’s no need for debate and discussion to determine the best path; that path already has been chosen, usually by them. Nor is there any need to allow questions or challenge. Free speech just confuses the issue unnecessarily.

So I wonder how he feels about the "self-evident truths" articulated in the Declaration? Should we doubt those? Or are those truths that "revealed themselves" in the "open marketplace of ideas"? What happens when the "open marketplace" "reveals" truths?

It’s hard to get any guidance here.

But he does tell us this:

The primary insight of the Founding Fathers was to invest that wisdom in the people instead. It was a revolutionary concept 223 years ago, and it remains a threatening concept to many today. The wisdom of the people can at times be a wisdom reached slowly and slowly expressed; it can be a fragile wisdom, a wobbly wisdom that veers at times into foolishness before righting itself.

But over the long run, it is a true and legitimate wisdom, and we can take justified pride that for more than two centuries we have let that wisdom guide us.

"A mob of Socrateses is still a mob." Was he thining of that? Or perhaps he was thinking of the way in which Stephen A. Douglas trusted in the wisdom of the people against those conversation-stopping absolutes to which Abraham Lincoln adhered?

But ait, there’s more:

It all began, of course, with the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it stated.

Americans take justifiable pride in the way those words have echoed around the world and have been cited by freedom movements everywhere. But I worry that sometimes we try to take too much ownership for what is in fact a universal yearning. To the degree we link being pro-freedom to pro-American, we can undercut the cause we champion.

So there are absolutes? And they’re universal?

But of course they only mean letting everyone do what they please. They don’t have consequences for self-government or regimes.

I give up.

Happy Fourth!

Barack Obama’s "Post-American" Presidency

John Bolton offers an overview of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy steps and missteps.

Required reading on Independence Day.

Palin P.S.

An occasionally savvy friend remarked to me a couple weeks ago that Palin’s path to political success (especially with women, who turned against her last fall in the polls) would come through being the Lifetime Channel candidate, with a feisty wronged-woman comeback story. Didn’t think she’d start down that path so soon and in so dramatic a fashion.


I offer my thoughts on Palin’s amazing and inscrutable decision over at the Corner, here, and here.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in Ashland tomorrow.

Sitting Bull, Shotguns, and Roxane

Steven Pressfield now has a blog, only a week old, devoted to Afghanistan. You might read this Marine from the bottom up. And if you haven’t read his Gates of Fire, or his other books, you should.  

Battle of the Lincoln Books

Never a fan of Sean Wilentz, I do concede his lengthy New Republic
review essay
nicely skewers some inflated conventional scholarship (and even mentions the omission of Harry Jaffa ["one of Lincoln’s more provocative conservative admirers"] from Harold Holzer’s anthology). But Wilentz omits the indispensable work of Allen Guelzo and has no use himself for Jaffa. Wilentz’s major charge is that the current crop of Lincoln books are not written by historians but rather from writers who have produced a "literary Lincoln." And in doing so the new Lincoln scholars do not acknowledge Lincoln’s vocation as politician.

Wilentz’s own conventionality is seen in his admiration for David Donald’s biography. It is precisely the genius of Guelzo and Jaffa that they are able to see Lincoln’s greatness and thus understand the world about him and the world he tried to bring about. They truly appreciate his political skill because they are aware of the trans-political ends for which statesmanship exists.

Palin’s Boldness

Derided by the conventional wisdom (just see the front pages of any paper) as "bizarre," Governor Palin’s decision to resign is yet another sign of her determination to make herself the most credible challenger to Obama in 2012. Modifying Machiavelli’s advice, she will likely encircle Washington as a prelude to occupying it; one can imagine her rallying the red portions in both red and blue states. As much as I admire her character and cleverness, I hope it will be accompanied by a deeper prudence--the wisdom of serpents accompanying the innocence of doves.

The Surge in Afghanistan

We note on this day that thousands of Marines have deployed on a special mission in Afghanistan; note the purpose and the method in the story and what it may have to do with Bush’s policy shift in Iraq and its (so far) happy outcome. In all fairness, and along with his so-called bipartisanship, it might be good and prudent for President Obama to acknowledge and give credit to Bush. It might also be good to hear from Sen. Harry Reid how it was exactly that we lost the war in Iraq. I look forward to hearing from both men.

Happy Fourth of July

I hope you enjoy the Fourth. Before reading the Declaration of Independence out loud, you might consider re-reading Jefferson’s Rough Draft And then see a couple of good speeches/messages on this day by: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Calvin Coolidge.

The Aftermath of Ricci

It is worth pausing to discuss the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday in Ricci, the New Haven firefighters’ case.

The case arose after New Haven, Connecticut spent over $100,000 developing a promotion exam for lieutenants and captains. They hired an outside firm to do so, and that firm took extensive steps to assure that the test was job related, and to assure that minority experts were overrepresented in the process at every step to assure that the test was not racially slanted. When the test results came out, however, the city determined, after substantial strong-arming by a former fire commissioner who had to step down after saying that new recruits would not be hired because "they just have too many vowels in their name[s]," that an insufficient number of minority candidates would be promoted, so they opted to throw out the test. Frank Ricci was among those who would have been promoted under the test. Ricci suffered from a learning disability, and therefore had to have the study materials read onto tapes for his review. This made his study process longer, and more costly than it was for other test-takers, but he succeeded.

What made this case somewhat peculiar is that the court of appeals panel that heard the case (on which Judge Sotomayor sat) failed to even address the merits of the case, affirming on the basis of the district court opinion. This is ordinarily reserved only for cases that are frivolous, or where the law is so settled that it is not worth the court addressing. The Supreme Court, which hears less than 80 of the 10,000 cases appealed to it every year, disagreed about the importance of the legal issues, and disagreed with the Second Circuit’s conclusion that overt discrimination could be justified in order to address potential disparate impact.

While the decision just addressed the statutory claims, it was nonetheless solid. The court recognized that there was no question but that New Haven discriminated based on race: "The City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white. The question is not whether that conduct was discriminatory but whether the City had a lawful justification for its race-based action." The Supreme Court that mere fear of disparate impact claims, absent substantial basis in evidence, was not a permissible justification.

What then is to be made of the case, and its impact on the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin July 13? Let’s begin with the observation that Judge Sotomayor not only reached the wrong decision in this case, allowing overt racial discrimination in protection of what were essentially soft racial quotas, but she did so in a dismissive one-paragraph opinion which seemed calculated to bury the case from future review. Both her dismissive treatment of important rights in this and a prominent Second Amendment case, and the apparent bias that these cases display will likely be fertile ground for questions in her confirmation hearings.

In response to the Supreme Court’s opinion, defenders of Sotomayor have attempted to paint her opinion as one showing that she is not an activist. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "Some of the very concerns that members of the Senate have expressed about judicial activism seem to be, at the very least, upside down in this case. Her ruling on the Second Circuit denotes that she’s a follower of precedent[.]"

The only problem is that it’s just not true. But you don’t need to take our word for it. Clinton appointee to the Second Circuit, Judge José Cabranes, expressed his deep concerns about the dismissive approach utilized by Sotomayor and her colleagues in this case. Far from following precedent, Cabranes, in stating why he thought the full Second Circuit should have reviewed the Sotomayor panel’s decision, stated that "[t]he questions raised in this appeal ... are indisputably complex and far from well-settled." (emphasis added). He noted that the case raised issues of "first impression"--that is, questions never decided before by the Second Circuit. So much for just following precedent.

Judge Cabranes added that Sotomayor’s panel’s "perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal" and emphasized that in cases "[w]here significant questions of unsettled law are raised on appeal, however, a failure to address those questions--or even recognize their existence--should not be the approved modus operandi of the U.S. Court of Appeals." He concluded with what is perhaps the core of the indictment against Sotomayor’s handling of this case: "this Court has failed to grapple with the questions of exceptional importance raised in this appeal."

Regrettably, Sotomayor has demonstrated a pattern of failing to grapple with questions of exceptional importance. In her opinion in Maloney v. Cuomo, in which she found that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, she tersely declared that a state statute restricting possession of weapons does implicate a fundamental right--the full consideration of which was measured in a handful of words. Like in the firefighters case, she concluded this without even grappling with the arguments–indeed without any explanation whatsoever.

This is all the more troubling because of her statements embracing personal bias. In the very same speech where she issued the well-calculated and well-quoted assertion about the superior judgment of wise Latina women, she questioned whether it is possible for judges to overcome personal sympathies or biases "in all or even in most cases." She even seemed to think that ruling based upon these biases is somehow patriotic: "I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society."

Given these statements embracing bias, and her embarrassingly inadequate judicial treatment of both the firefighters case and the Second Amendment case, Senators taking up her nomination on July 13 will necessarily need to explore whether her short shrift treatment of serious statutory and constitutional issues in these cases is a reflection of her own biases, or whether, on the brighter side, it is simply an indication of incompetent judging.

Pop Culture


The passing of the iconic figure and "heart-throb" of my misspent youth did not affect me in the quite the same way that it seems to have affected American media--so I began to wonder if there was something "off" in me. According to all reports, I'm supposed to feel this tragedy in the depths of my soul. And yet, I don't. Perhaps that's because, to echo Andrew Breitbart who earlier this week filled in for Dennis Miller's radio show, to me Michael Jackson died a long time ago. I think it started with the llama phase, continued because there was nothing "really, really 'bad'(i.e., good)" about Bad, and certainly culminated in the 1993 charges against him. So that's why, until I read this, I did not even really feel any compulsion to think or comment about it and was stupidly surprised by all of the crazed coverage.

But this story about the 13 year-old being forced to trade in his iPod for a Sony Walkman and finding that device somewhere between "quaint" and not "a credible piece of technology" reminded me of Jackson. It seems to me that Jackson is--or rather, he was--something like that that Walkman. He was an innovation that was a real game changer when he emerged, rather like the Walkman, and yet behind the force of his public persona was a kind of feigned or, maybe, a genuine quaintness that made him something beyond a "credible piece of technology." In the end, it is limited and it disappoints. The potential for or the idea of greatness was there, but it could not come from the vessel in which the idea of that greatness dwelt.

The 13 year-old me would have given anything to have had a Walkman with a cassette tape of Thriller. A quarter-century later, I have both a Walkman and an iPod and use them both, primarily, for the even more quaint past-time of reading books. And I'm grateful, too, that if the authors of said books have ever taken up with llamas, pre-pubescent boys, illicit drug activity, or daughters of famous rock stars, I don't have to know anything about it from that source--for, unlike the news media, the iPod won't tell me anything I don't ask it to give me. I suppose there are some vital things missed by our ability to curl up into ourselves and self-program our entertainment and information these days. "Experts" insist that this is so and bemoan our fragmentation for a living. No artist may ever sell as many records (or whatever they call them these days) as Michael Jackson did. This is because we are all so fragmented now and there is a flavor for every taste--nothing drives our collective taste, we're told. The mantra seems to be that the "common experience" we once shared because of our limited choices in media and entertainment is a thing of the past and something not entirely salutary. Perhaps there's something to this.

But then, perhaps there is--or would be--something much more rational about that development if it were a real one. The phenomenon of Michael Jackson was not actually Michael Jackson, after all. And even as we learn the sordid details of his broken life, we look only at shadows . . . and those remain as creepy as shadows usually are. We remain ignorant. And this essential ignorance remains our "common experience" when we go through weeks like this one. How can anyone say that there is no "common experience" looking at weeks like this? There is one. It's just that it's embarrassing. Maybe it always was. Despite our alleged "fragmentation"--very little has actually changed about mass culture. There seems to be no real escape from the MJ mania and no end to the depressing details we are now forced to know about his life. You see . . . you can't even escape it on NLT.

Categories > Pop Culture

The Point of Cap and Trade to ruin the coal industry and cause electricity rates to skyrocket, explains Mr. South Dakota Politics. There needs to be real discussion about whether that pain--very underestimated by the Democratic experts--is worth what is likely a pretty insignificant environmental gain. Mr. SDP also has a couple of excellent posts on the need for similar health care skepticism.

Contra Porchers

It might be that you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately. No, it’s not because i finally got a life. Or even because I refuse to rush to judgment on the true cause of Michael’s death (although it may be prudent not to follow the lead of TV’s Dr. Chopra and remain silent until the toxicology report acutally shows up).

There has been a pro-wrestling kind of war between the postmodern conservatives and the front porch republicans (not Republicans!) on other blogs. I’ve hesitated to call this to your attention, because most NLT readers would surely regard both sides as separately but equally nuts. Still, if you click and do lots of scrolling and some more clicking, you might well be entertained.

TNR’s Tom Goldstein on Justice Thomas

Interesting and perceptive comment from The New Republic’s Tom Goldstein on Justice Thomas:

No other member of the Court is so independent in his thinking. The irony of course is that there remains a public perception, rooted in ignorance, that he is the handmaiden of other conservative Justices, particularly Justice Scalia. I disagree profoundly with Justice Thomas’s views on many questions, but if you believe that Supreme Court decisionmaking should be a contest of ideas rather than power, so that the measure of a Justice’s greatness is his contribution of new and thoughtful perspectives that enlarge the debate, then Justice Thomas is now our greatest Justice.

The Embarrassment of Ricci

Will the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Ricci case have an impact on the Sotomayor nomination? Should it? At the very least, the Court showed contempt for Sotomayor’s ruling:

it was hardly to be expected that the five more conservative justices -- who held that the city had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by refusing to promote the firefighters with the highest scores on a job-related promotional exam because none were black -- would endorse an Obama nominee’s ruling to the contrary.

What’s more striking is that the court was unanimous in rejecting the Sotomayor panel’s specific holding. Her holding was that New Haven’s decision to spurn the test results must be upheld based solely on the fact that highly disproportionate numbers of blacks had done badly on the exam and might file a "disparate-impact" lawsuit -- regardless of whether the exam was valid or the lawsuit could succeed.

Given the large Democratic majority in the Senate, it is rather unlikely that Justice Sotomayor won’t soon appear on the Court. This ruling, however, could make for one or two interesting discussions when she arrives.

Is College Worth It?

Jack Hough makes an argument similar, in some ways to the one that Charles Murray has been making of late. College is no longer a sure economic proposition. That’s a crude way of looking at it, but given the state of things, we should also add that nowadays it often is not, in fact, a sound educational proposition either.

The question we need to ask is not simply whether, from an economic standpoint, whether college is worth the cost. (As a practical matter, that is a genuine question, even if, a true eduction is priceless). The question we need to ask is what can we do to raise the real, as opposed to monetary value of education. As our republic presumes the presence of an informed citizenry, improving the schools is imperative, or we’re sunk.

Who Lincoln Was, according to Sean Wilentz

I haven’t seen the paper version of the July 15th issue of The New Republic but Sean Wilentz’s review essay (of four books) on Lincoln must take up the whole issue (it’s 32 pages as printed version!). I can’t possibly read this tome until later this week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. There might be some soul of goodness in it, we’ll see.