Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Robert McNamara and the Limits of Numbers Crunching

Michael Anton writes a thoughtful and measured piece for The Weekly Standard examining the highly imperfect legacy of Robert McNamara, not only with respect to Vietnam but also with regard to our nuclear posture. Much has been written about McNamara’s legacy in Vietnam, but less has been said about the latter. McNamara was largely responsible for the thinking that led to the concept of "MAD"--mutually assured destruction--and all that it implied. One consequence of MAD, Anton argues, has been an inclination to neglect civil and missile defense--a consequence that Reagan and George W. Bush worked to combat, but one that Obama appears to be content to accept.   

Let them Have Pink Houses . . . (but cut off their wi-fi!)

Ben Boychuk writes a biting post over at Infinite Monkeys today talking about John Mellencamp’s recent pontificating on the First Amendment. It seems that the guy--who, as Ben points out, was happy to be somewhat less than subtle in his criticism of Bush & Co.--is now deeply concerned about the threat to liberty coming from "some guy [who] can sit in his bedroom and be mean" on his computer. Mellencamp "reasons" that the First Amendment was never intended to be an individual right but, rather, it is a "collective" right (expressed only by appointed "spokesmen," . . . you know, leading lights like rock stars) who are "able to collectively speak for a sector of people."

In Mellencamp’s America, the "home of the free" with its little pink houses would be for a freedom of speech that is more a kind of General Will voiced by the anointed tongues of a select group of American royalty. Jack and Diane needn’t trouble their little heads with worrying about the big questions. They can busy themselves with Diane’s Bobbie Brooks slacks till it "hurts so good," make a public spectacle of themselves while they’re at it, call THAT freedom of speech, and content themselves with their imagined moral courage. But if they dare to voice vigorous opposition to something like Cap and Trade and, in the course of that expression, utter an ungracious opinion about the anointed--an opinion that according to Mellencamp qualifies Jack and Diane as "a-holes" THAT will be too much because, "[n]ot being courteous is not really freedom of speech" according to the scholars at the Mellencamp School of the First Amendment.

Of course, I don’t mean to defend incivility. People who are uncivil should be called out and shamed for it whenever possible--primarily because incivility is an impediment to thought. But incivility also should be an expected part of the free exchange of ideas, even if it isn’t one of the most savory parts. It’s true that there are times and places where incivility needn’t be tolerated--i.e., when the expression of it interferes with the freedoms of others to carry on with their lives in freedom. But I tend to think that one of the least disruptive ways for a person to be uncivil is to write something. After all, no one has to read it. I do not tremble for my country when I reflect that there are weird dudes sitting around in their basements and pounding away on their keyboards with the intention of being "mean." I do not even tremble when they are mean to me. I am happy to tolerate a healthy dose of this kind of incivility in exchange for the protection of the individual right to freedom of speech.

Maybe it’s just me . . . but I tend to think that the track record for a-holes with laptops is a lot less horrifying than the track record of self-anointed "spokesmen" who sing the praises of collective rights and the General Will. Of course . . . these days, whether they chose the keyboard or the guitar, the two groups may not be mutually exclusive.


Here’s MY view of one aspect of the new encyclical.

It’s Not Just the Jackson Disco Revival that’s Reminding You of the late 70s

Andrew Busch writes a interesting piece in which he argues that the potential for electoral mischief for President Obama may be coming at him in more than one direction. The first and most obvious source of re-election woe is, of course, the still faltering economy. But, as Busch argues, "the economy will likely recover at least a bit by 2012, even if not by the midterm elections in 2010. The picture is less likely to be unambiguously bad than it is to be mixed." And, in any event, the "blame Bush" phenomenon appears to have a long "half-life" while getting voters to understand the complexity of economic cause and effect and vote accordingly is notoriously and frustratingly difficult. There’s no guarantee that the blame for any future difficulties will fall squarely on the shoulders of Obama. I would add that this is particularly true given the current state of GOP "leadership" on the issue.

But looking back to the Carter years, Busch argues we may see parallels in the coming years:

"It should not be forgotten that it was not the economy alone that made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. Rather, it was the deteriorating economy in combination with a series of foreign mishaps and crises that made the president look weak, naïve, and vacillating."
Busch seems to think that it will be much more difficult for Obama to blame Bush if things turn sour for him on the international stage--and the potential for biting into some lip-pursing pickles is all around Obama at the moment. Read the whole thing for a more thorough discussion of where these pickles might sour according to Busch’s thinking.   

Fans Flock To Mourn California, 1849-2009

This post from the genius Iowahawk about my beloved home state is side-splittingly hilarious. I want to party with this dude:

Longtime California fan club president Iowa said that despite being the constant butt of the Golden State’s insults and jokes, it will remember the late superstar fondly. "Let’s not remember California as a bloated, rotting freakshow corpse hanging above a filthy public pension toilet," it said. "Let’s remember the good times. Like my 6-day bender at the ’91 Rose Bowl. California’s pain is finally over, and I like to think that the whole state is going to a better place," Iowa added. "Just look at all those U-Hauls headed to Oklahoma."

Being Leaderless Is Normal

...explains Pitney, for the party out of power. So Republicans shouldn’t despair at the fact of their temporary impotence. Someone might add, though, that it’s precisely when one party is leaderless that the other one gets a whole lot done.

Susan McWilliams on Place and July 4th

Susan says some smart things about hard it is to be rooted in a particular, local place in America. For us, finding a place, like everything else, takes lots of work. Near the end of the article, though, she talks about July 4th in the bourgeois bohemian town of Claremont, CA. There were lots of activities, she and her husband marched in a parade to save some local field, and they came home all happy to feel like being part of a place. But there’s no mention of marching or celebrating America as a free, independent place. The parade I saw in Cave Spring, GA was all about the flag everywhere and anywhere, as well as about supporting our troops. I could go on to explain how the Cave Spring parade was both more local and more national than anything done in Claremont, but no time... I will say the parade began with a police car blaring the Lee Greenwood classic.

Re-Reading Jane Austen in Tehran

The Acknowledgements to Reading Lolita in Tehran--see
my post
below--yield some worthwhile notes: Author Azar Nafisi thanks "Paul" (no last name) for "introducing me to Persecution and the Art of Writing," Hillel Fradkin, and Bernard Lewis, among others. From the context, we know who Paul is. When Nafisi undergoes Islamic tyranny she becomes a more astute literary analyst and acquires more sober political views. On free American campuses she was a child, in tyrannical Tehran she learned to put away childish things.

It’s Not Democracy vs. Merit Sam Goldman explains. Both Obama and Palin stand for the combination of democracy and meritocracy present in the thought that status in America must be earned. But they differ on what genuine status and class are. While you’re over there at POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE, you might do some scrolling.

Palin and (Economic) Viagra

Actually, two different points:

1. First off, let me apologize for putting Palin and Sanford in the same category. I’m all for her "family values" even now, and I’m somewhat amazed that Sanford is going to survive as governor. The one who should have resigned didn’t and... The Ross D. distinction that Julie discusses below between the meritocratic Obama and the democratic Palin makes no sense to me. They’re both are pretty much self-made; they’re both American meritocratic success stories. Now Palin does stand for balancing ruthlessly meritocratic considerations with love. For example: It’s good that Bristol has the baby, although she will get in the way of her education. But the president, truth to tell, seems like a decent family person too. And both the First Dude and the First Lady have solid records as supportive spouses. It’s also true that Palin stands for people who actually work for a living vs. those who think themselves above that sort of thing because of their privileged Ivy education--and so who confuse (as I do in my own case) playing with words with work. She stands against cultural elitism, but not against competition and success. And she’s certainly no low-tech front porch republican (which is why literary conservatives hate her too).

2. The calls for another stimulus package really do present dilemmas for Democrats. They have to say something like: You haven’t given the first one enough time, but we really, really need another. That sounds like the beginnings of addiction to a stimulating drug to me.

Sowell vs. "Disparate Impact"

Thomas reminds us about that principle’s racist legal history. It’s amazing that the Court almost upheld a policy that had no other justification. There are limits to judicial restraint, and the main point of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to root out racism from our law.


His eminence, Herr Schramm, Direktor of the Ashbrook Center, was upbraiding me in public last night for having become a former fat person. (It’s okay, Peter, I told him; I didn’t do it for virtue or health; I did it to make money selling calorie offsets to Al Gore, who obviously needs them.) But he will be pleased with this takedown of the Body Mass Index (BMI), which I’ve always thought was bogus, too.

Douthat, Palin, and American Meritocracy

In the thread below Steve’s link to the WSJ’s excellent column on the Sarah Palin resignation, Kate--quite rightly--links to another fine column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Douthat argues that--in retrospect--Palin, when asked to run with McCain, should have said "no." I think this is certainly right. And his description of the events that followed because she said "yes" is illuminating and ought to be more chastening than they are likely to be to those who jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon.

But this is democratic politics we’re talking about and there has never been any danger of that exercise turning into something one could describe as "fair" to all participants. Still, one can’t help but be a bit disgusted at the reflection of ourselves that the Palin trashing has given us. Douthat does a pretty fair job of detailing all the ugly threads of bias and unthinking dismissal that it has exposed in our collective "discourse." But I think it is probably fair to conclude that in the future, sane potential politicians (especially female ones with young children still at home) will be (and certainly should be) chastened by what happened to Palin and by the choices she made in light of it.

It is too late for Palin to undo the choices she made and it may be too late for her to change the trajectory of her political career (though, maybe not)--but her story does point to some timeless facts about nature, human nature, and problems of earthly realities that no modern ideology can extinguish. None of this is to suggest that we are forever bound like rocks by these realities or that there is no working around them to make life more satisfactory and fulfilling for all parties. A woman’s nature has competing realities, after all. I would never argue (it would be absurd for me to argue) that women and mothers should not enter into politics--especially in today’s world. But pretending that these essential differences don’t exist or, worse, that they don’t exist "for me" is a dangerous game. The limitations they impose on (or, to be more positive, the possibilities that they suggest for) any particular woman will be as varied as the women themselves. But, again, ignoring these things is just silly.

Douthat’s column is excellent. But I detect in him a little more surprise at how it turned out and an injection of more meaning in it than I have given it or would give it. For example, does this really mean "that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president" might not actually be true? And is there necessarily a distinction between what he calls a meritocratic and that democratic ideal? Note this paragraph:

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

Is any of this really true? One of my biggest problems with the whole Palin phenomenon was the apparent distinction that so many wanted to draw between a populist American hero from the backwoods and the intelligent and reflective Ivy-League sophisticate competing for the affections of the American people. For those looking for a ready-made Hollywood script about American politics, Palin and Obama seemed to play out those roles to a tee. Admittedly, Obama had the added benefit of being able to claim he had a toe in both camps. But so much of what goes on in Hollywood--to say nothing of American history and politics--is not what it seems. In a real democratic meritocracy, the questions before voters would not be "What is your background?" or "What schools did you attend?" or "With what partition of the American electorate do you most identify?" The real questions of merit have to do with how one understands the nature and purpose of the American Republic and one’s ability and fortitude in executing that understanding within the Constitutional limits of the Presidency.

Sadly, we didn’t get to that part of the movie with the cast we had in the last election.

WSJ on Palin

The Wall Street Journal editorial about Palin pretty much nails it.

Two Comments

1. On the Palin resignation: The bottom line is that she was elected to serve a fixed term as governor of Alaska. It can’t be so all about her that she can up and quit as part of some broader personal strategy. That might be understandable if she were leaving politics for good, but nobody believes that. Her situation is being compared to Nixon’s in 1962, but Nixon didn’t have to resign from his constitutional responsibilities to get himself gainfully unemployed (for one thing among many). What’s wrong with these Republican governors? The Democrats are getting too much mileage off the Palin-Sanford all-narcissism-all-the-time ticket. Or, as Steve H suggested, the all-Lifetime (channel) ticket...

2. The most troubling thing in the NYT was an account of the president’s decision--contrary to the advice of the judicious Gates-- not to modernize our nuclear weapons. Doesn’t he know that would make the world safer? As long as those weapons are around, we have to be techno-dominant for everyone’s sake. And it seems pretty obtuse to say that we because we have plenty of those weapons, we never need to upgrade and make more reliable what we have. Those weapons will be around, sad to say, as long as the knowledge of how to build them is with us. It would have been better if they had never been invented, of course, even if they are what kept the Cold War pretty cold.

Reading Jane Austen in Tehran

Iranian writer and literature professor Azar Nafisi describes her life under radical Islam in her 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. For much of the book, which I just completed listening to, I felt a lack of empathy for her silly leftist politics, her majoring in anti-American demonstrations when studying in America, her obsession with minor American leftists—the whole predictable sequence. Why shouldn’t any regime want to protect itself from the dangers such foppery of the intellectual class might breed!

But as conditions for Iranians worsen, and as the Islamic regime imposes ever harsher restrictions on women (the veil is just one of many measures), her portrayal of the revolutionary political significance of Jane Austen (among other western authors) has stunning power, awakening not just our perception of the Iranian regime insanity but as well how we should read Jane Austen. Viewing Austen as a subversive, as a promoter of women’s virtues, does more than steer us away from the Charybdis of her as a supporter of British imperialism. Reading Austen as a forbidden (or at least frowned-upon) pleasure makes the civilizing effect of great literature come alive.

Nafisi’s recounting of Iran’s miseries encourages deeper reflection on how the West might act, as her former colleagues and students protest the tyranny. She is now affiliated with two Washington, DC think-tanks. Here is her website. Perhaps Nafisi might stiffen the resolve of her fellow memoirist in the White House.

Honduran Turns

Two letters
to the WaPo make a strong case for supporting the so-called "coup" in Honduruas, a constitutionally justified measure preventing another Hugo Chavez in the western hemisphere. The writers are a former Honduran ambassador to the U.S. and Honduran native Miguel Estrada, a prominent attorney in Washington, DC. Unlike Obama, Bush would likely have recognized the new government, and not stood by Chavez, etc. See also WheatandWeeds for continuing coverage.

More from the National Health Service

Maggots, anyone?