Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Do as I say, not as I do . . .

Apparently Michael Moore is less of a union man than he claims to be:

The porcine provocateur is promoting his anti-Wall Street jeremiad by giving free tickets to unions, but the American Federation of Teachers has turned them down because Moore didn't hire any members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

And I thought he stayed out of the gym because someone told him it was a sweat shop!

Categories > Economy

Political Philosophy


A good counter to what has been said in recent Comments about Leo Strauss and his view of America can be found in Peter Minowitz's Straussophobia.  Minowitz responds to questions in this recent Harper's on-line interview.  Neocons, fascism, rule of law, etc. all come in for clarification.  As I have in various posts on NLT, I would argue some of these points rather differently, but Peter does restore some reason against wild accusation.

Pop Culture

The House of (Greeting) Cards

In case you missed this, Christine Rosen reviews this memoir of life in the greeting-card writing industry.  The author becomes an atheist and flees to pursue a Ph.D. in literature.  The book would appear to make a great parallel with Matt Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft.
Categories > Pop Culture


Breaking It Down on the Kudlow Report

Went on CNBC's Kudlow Report on short notice last night to discuss Obama's Olympic misadventure in Copenhagen, which is now available online here.
Key thought from me: It was the worst Olympic performance since the Jamaican bobsled team back in the 1980s.
Categories > Politics


Conservatism, Dead or Alive? Or Just Old and Lame?

First off, let me apologize for not blogging lately.  After 1,208 entries, I, as the self-help people say, "felt the need" to pause and reflect.  The Brooks vs. Hayward "dispute" is actually evidence to me that we conservatives all need to do that.

I was ask to serve as a referee:  Who's more right--Brooks or Hayward?  My own view is neither is all that right, but they both make some good points.

I've never liked either Beck or Limbaugh.  But I certainly agree that they both fail more than ever in being stylish or contemporary, which is certainly the job of political entertainers.  They reflect more than cause a conservatism that's grown old and lame.  Their demographic is old and white and male, like Brooks and Hayward and me.  Young conservatives--and there are some--view their shows with contempt.  So I'm not for shutting them down, simply because I'm all for mobilizing those they're capable of mobilizing   But their influence will continue to become increasingly marginal.

In ordinary politics, the Republicans have no leaders because they have no leaders.  Enlightened statesmen, I read somewhere, will not always be at the helm, and they sure as hell aren't now.  One reason, of course, is that two consecutive thumpings meant that virtually no new Republican blood was introduced into Congress.  With a couple of noble exceptions, the Republicans in Congress are or act old and lame

There are, in fact, good conservative intellectuals around; they just aren't writing best sellers or gaining air time.  First among these is probably Yuval Levin, who's quite an original thinker unreducible to an ordinary Straussian or an ordinary Kassian.  And he knows his public policy stuff better than anyone. His journal NATIONAL AFFAIRS shows a lot of promise, although the first issue wasn't off the charts on the freshness-meter.  We have to admit that the "Front Porchers" under the leadership of "Dr. Pat" Deneen have a lot to offer, although no one has mocked their excesses more than ME.  And there's our own Ivan the K and "postmodern conservatives" like him.  Jim Ceaser is far from young and beautiful, but he remains stylish and contemporary.  I could go on.

In general, I wonder whether the Founders=Locke=good and the Progressives=Germans=bad narrative has run its course or needs a lot of supplementing at this point.  A lot of younger conservatives see that part of our problem today is our promiscuous libertinism, and that it might be caused by our inability to keep Locke (or the spirit of calculation, contract, and consent) in a "Locke box."  Increasingly, all of life is being turned over to a self-indulgent view of "autonomy," and that really does erode both a proper understanding of love and a manly spirit of self-government.  I agree with Steve that markets and "liberty" aren't enough, which means we have to engage in a criticism of the "progressivism" that understands being human or being free as an endless movement away from nature toward nothing in particular.  

"Progressivism" isn't an alien to "classical liberalism" as we sometimes want to say, and there is a proto-historicist dimension to Locke (as Michael Zuckert shows). I could go on and probably will later.  But my view is our problem is that our popularizing conservatives, such as Beck, are too infused with the spirit of Tom Paine and not enough with the Tocquevillian moderation of, say, Irving Kristol or Bill Buckley or even "classic" George Will.  Now I already know that someone's going to object against Tocqueville that we don't need the aid from some foreigner who doesn't even understand the Declaration of Independence.  So I'll remind you that so many of the intellectuals Steve and David admire were influenced by Leo Strauss (a German!), who said very little about the Declaration and even about America.
Categories > Politics



Chicago is eliminated on the first ballot.  I said to the Freshmen yesterday that whoever was advising Obama to go to Denmark and plead is an idiot.  I would fire him, if I were Obama.  This is another proof that he is human, fallible, and even foolish.  Not to his advantage, big-time.  Rio de Janeiro will win, of course.
Categories > Politics


Conservatism, Dead or Alive?

I know that David Brooks is a good and thoughtful guy.  I know that he says and writes interesting and mostly true things.  And I know that smart folks should read him.  But, this article--the first thing I read this morning after crawling out of bed--is superficial, and, unfortunately, revealing of a tendency of his to play to the media created myths more than to the reality of things (which is, ironically, what he claims to be not doing).  Whether Beck, Limbaugh, et al, have "real power" or not is the wrong question to ask.  It is in the realm of made up imaginary-media stuff.  It doesn't get to the heart of the matter, having to do with elites and populism, and the decline of the conservative mind, and then, asking whether any of these guys having anything interesting or good to say to our confused body-politic.  He writes: "The Republican Party is unpopular because it's more interested in pleasing Rush's ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer's niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician's coalition-building strategy."  That is not why the party is leaderless.  There would be an easy solution, if that were true.  You get my drift.  And let's not talk about coalition building until we have something to build around; unless, of course, you just want to replicate politics as nothing more the build-on-factionalism of Andy Jackson and his friends, which Brooks seems willing to do.

Steve Hayward, on the other hand, (in Sunady's Washington Post) asks the right question: Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?  Thank God this was the second article I read this morning for saved the rest of an otherwise ill-humored day!  At the risk of oversimplification, I ask you to compare the two pieces, playing with the same or similar theme, and ask yourself which one does it better, and with verve, with insight. Which one leads the reader to a thought or two?  It is in fact Hayward's masterful piece because Steve doesn't confuse the nature of the problem for its symptoms. Elementary, Mr. Brooks.  Hayward: "The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. To the left's belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking 'markets' and 'liberty.'"  A fine piece Mr. Hayward!  Thank you.

Update: I just realized the man himself brought this to your attention.  Sorry.  Should have looked.  No matter.  Great piece that merits serious conversation.

Categories > Politics


Brain Waves

I can see it's going to be a long weekend.  My Washington Post Outlook piece running this Sunday is on the topic, "Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?"  But the Post has put it up early on their website right here, and a few early links to it in the blogosphere have already generated an avalanche of e-mail, some supportive, but many very very angry.  I reply to one particular criticism (my omission of Mark Levin) on The Corner this morning.  Surely more to come.

UPDATE:  I see David Brooks takes up some of the same territory in his NY Times column today.  Oh boy: I think his e-mail will be worse than mine.
Categories > Politics


Capitalist Fool

Poor boy made good, Michael Moore says "capitalism did nothing for me, starting with my first film."  In fact, he says, " I had to pretty much beg, borrow and steal," he said. "The system is not set up to help somebody from the working class make a movie like this and get the truth out there."

Hard work, individual initiative, and compeition, isn't that what capitalism is about? 

Moore's comments remind me of this essay on "Capitalism After the Crisis," by Luigi Zingales, who writes that:

In a recent study, Rafael Di Tella and Robert MacCulloch showed that public support for capitalism in any given country is positively associated with the perception that hard work, not luck, determines success, and is negatively correlated with the perception of corruption. These correlations go a long way toward explaining public support for ​­America's capitalist system. According to one recent study, only 40% of Americans think that luck rather than hard work plays a major role in income differences. Compare that with the 75% of Brazilians who think that income disparities are mostly a matter of luck, or the 66% of Danes and 54% of Germans who do, and you begin to get a sense of why American attitudes toward the free-market system stand out.

Moreover, ZIngales notes that:

When the government is small and relatively weak, the way to make money is to start a successful private-sector business. But the larger the size and scope of government spending, the easier it is to make money by diverting public resources. Starting a business is difficult and involves a lot of risk -- but getting a government favor or contract is easier, and a much safer bet. And so in nations with large and powerful governments, the state tends to find itself at the heart of the economic system, even if that system is relatively capitalist. . . .

The situation is very different in nations that developed capitalist economies after World War II. These countries (in non-Soviet-bloc continental Europe, parts of Asia, and much of Latin America) industrialized under the giant shadow of American power. In this development process, the local elites felt threatened by the prospect of economic colonization by American companies that were far more efficient and better capitalized. To protect themselves, they purposely built a ­non-transparent system in which local connections were important, because this gave them an inherent advantage. These structures have proven resilient in the decades since: Once economic and political systems are built to reward relationships instead of efficiency, it is very difficult to reform them, since the people in power are the ones who would lose most in the change.

Finally, and this is the point that gets us back to Moore:

The United States was able to develop a pro-market agenda distinct from a pro-business agenda because it was largely spared the direct influence of Marxism. It is possible that the type of capitalism the United States developed is the cause, as much as the effect, of the absence of strong Marxist movements in this country. But either way, this distinction from other Western regimes was significant in the development of American attitudes toward economics.

Moore doesn't recognize that distinction between supporting the free market and supporting businesses.  The danger, of course, is that the more government does, the more conncetions, rather than talent, hard work, and intelligence matter.

Categories > Economy


47% Pay no Income Tax

According to this CNN story, "In 2009, roughly 47% of households, or 71 million, will not owe any federal income tax, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Some in that group will even get additional money from the government because they qualify for refundable tax breaks. The ranks of those whose major federal tax burdens net out at zero -- or less -- is on the rise. The center's original 2009 estimate was 38%. That was before enactment in February of the $787 billion economic recovery package, which included a host of new or expanded tax breaks."  Only some of the implications of this are touched on in the story.  Interesting, no?

Categories > Politics


Toward the Health Care Precipice

Andrew Busch makes a powerful argument about why the Democrats insist that passing a health care bill, any bill, is a good thing: They have learned the wrong lesson from 1994.  They continue to think (Bill Clinton is explicit about it) that Democrats were punished in November 1994 by voters who were angered by the failure of Congress to act on a matter of crucial national concern. Liberal voters were dispirited and moderates soured on Clinton's promise of "change." Andy maintains that this is not true.  "The 1994 Clinton health care bill died because it was a bad bill, the public knew it, and Congress knew the public knew it. The same conditions apply today..."  But they don't get it.  Good piece.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Vote Counting in Afghanistan

I thought that the U.S. position on the Afghan elections was a bit harsh (utterly corrupt, the US can't deal with a regime without authority, and this is affecting our lack of interest in sending more troops, etc.).  Sometimes I thought the Obama administration was trying to impose Chicago election practice purity on the Afghans!  This story on Peter Galbraith and his role for the UN, and his dismissal (couldn't happen to a nicer guy) explains some of it. Amusing and amazing how some very important things in the world have to do with one imprudent, low level,  individual.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Success Against al-Qaeda

This Washington Post story is interesting both because of what it says and when it appeared (today).  There is not much meat on the point of the story: "U.S. and international intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorist organization's effectiveness."  Yet, one can't help feeling that the reason it's a story is to support the claim of those who say that improved counterterrorism efforts are proof that no more troops are needed in Afghanistan.  That is, it is a way for Obama to get out of the box he has found himself in: Afghanistan is the necessary (and good war), yet he does not want to send more troops: The Afghan campaign is no longer necessary. This will get rather interesting.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Sarah Palin's book

Last night I noticed that CNN was making fun of Sarah Palin and her book, how quickly she wrote it, she didn't really write it, how absurd it was for her publisher to have a first printing of a million and a half copies, and so on (the book is to be published in November).  Today I noticed that it is already Number Two on Amazon.

Categories > Politics

Health Care

Political Malpractice

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal Philip Howard makes the case for tort reform, and explains why it's not happening:

Eliminating defensive medicine could save upwards of $200 billion in health-care costs annually. .  .

A few thousand trial lawyers are blocking reform that would benefit 300 million Americans.  This it not just your normal special interest politics. It is a scandal--it is as if international-trade policy was being crafted in order to get fees for customs agents. . . .

Trial lawyers also suggest they alone are the bulwark against ineffective care, citing a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine that 'over 98,000 people are killed every year by preventable medical errors.'  But the same study found that distrust of the justice system contributes to these errors by chilling interaction between doctors and patients  Trails lawyers haven't reduced the errors. They've caused the fear.

Howard recommends pilot program to create special medical courts. If they work, they could be expanded.

Categories > Health Care


Who Wants to Live in an Institution?

I have been perusing National Affairs, and am, for the most part, impressed.  (The social science is quite sharp, as are the critiques of modern social science, but the political analysis is more predictable).  Anyway, W. Bradford Wilcox's "The Evolution of Divorce is well done.  He shows how marriage has changed since the introduction of "No fault divorce" in the lat 1960s and early 1970s.  Although the divorce rate has declined, it is still much higher than it used to be.  In addition, for more and more people marriage is now mostly about finding a "soul-mate" rather than about finding some with whom to make a life.  Finally, and most interesting to me just now, is that more an more people are simply not getting married, even though they are having children.

There is a large class divide on this issue: "According to a 2007 Child Trends study, only 7% of mothers with a college degree had a child outside of marriage, compared to more than 50% of mothers who had not gone to college."  Nowadays, a USA Today story notes, nearly 40% of babies born in the US are born outside of wedlock.

Here's my question.  Might something like common law marriage be reintroduced through the back-door by civil suits that develop a customary law regarding the obligations of fathers and mothers for their children, regardless of their official marital status, and/ or governments with an interest in forcing fathers to pay to support the children they helped to create (and perhaps their mothers too)?

You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always returns.

Categories > Politics


Al Gore, Comedian

Over the weekend I was re-reading Al Gore's Earth in the Balance (don't ask), and I came across this passage from Al's fine pen:

In public policy, the trick is to mix intelligence with money; a higher ratio of intelligence is usually efficient and preferable, but all too often the entire apparatus comes to a halt when the mixture is too lean in money.  The real challenge now is to improve our understanding of policy enough to sustain a higher ratio of intelligence to money.

Now that's some of the best comedy writing I've seen in a long time.
Categories > Environment

Literature, Poetry, and Books

On Writing and Speaking

This NYTimes essay offers some thoughtful reflections about the oft noted problem of the disjunction between the ability to write and the ability to speak.  It is very often the case, for example, that wonderful conversationalists and fascinating lecturers are poor to middling writers.  This is usually a startling revelation to new students of the phenomenon (especially if they are writers) because the common sense of the matter suggests that if one can talk with ease it should be little more than simple translation when putting it to paper.  But it is not so.  These writing students often only fully come to appreciate the problem when they try to reverse engineer it.  For the best writers frequently find themselves tongue-tied and are confused when they discover that they cannot deliver a lecture with anything like the grace they have acquired with a pen (or a keyboard) at hand. 

This is not always the case, of course.  There are some particularly gifted human beings who seem to have been born with facility in both modes of intellectual engagement.  Mark Twain, for example, was a lauded lecturer in addition to being a peerless writer . . . though his example seems, really, more a proof of the rule than an exception.  For he suffered when he had to speak and labored at it so that his ability in that line was really more of a testament to his force of character than it was a mark from the gods.  We do not have video tapes from any of his lectures, of course.  Yet, while I certainly would delight in seeing those tapes if we did have them, I cannot imagine that the pleasure they would afford could surpass even the least compelling chapter in Huck Finn.  Books are, after all, permanent friends.  But the "writing" of the best lecturers is often a poor substitute for the real thing.  It beats not having any record at all of their genius.  But it is ever so much better now that we can bottle their talk and give them, too, something of permanence.

Political Philosophy

Yom Kippur Reflection on Leo Strauss

From philosophy professor Hans Jonas's wonderful memoir, an episode about Leo Strauss to ponder: 

On a fall day--it must have been in 1934--we went for a walk in Hyde Park.  We'd walked along in silence for quite a while.  Suddenly he turned to me and said, "I feel terrible."  I said, "Me too."  And why?  It was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and both of us were not in the synagogue but were walking through Hyde Park.  That was telling.  For him much more than for me....  But for Strauss it was a source of torment.  "I've done the equivalent of committing murder or breaking a loyalty oath or a sinning against something."  This "I feel terrible" came straight from his soul. [p. 49]

With more on Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, and intellectual life during Weimar, WW II, and the post-war U.S.

Health Care

Health Care Reform

Sally Pipes gave a lunch talk to about 400 people at our Major Issue Lecture series last Thursday.  It was very good. She really is impressive in the vast reservoir of knowledge she can bring to this conversation.  Good talk.  It was a pleasure to have her here, and the students especially liked her.
Categories > Health Care

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Celebrating Censorship . . . of Parents

Friday's edition of The Wall Street Journal featured a piece from my friend, Mitch Muncy, covering the strange ironies surrounding the American Library Association's celebration of "Banned Books Week."  As Muncy notes, the ALA and its affiliated co-sponsors seem "more interested in confrontation than celebration."  That is to say, there is precious little celebration of banned material . . . probably for the reason that there is precious little material that actually has been banned.  Instead, "Banned Books Week" appears to amount to a screed against the forces of "intolerance" who dare to voice contrary opinions about the fitness of particular books and other reading materials for use by their children

As Muncy argues, "The ALA's members have immeasurably more power than the 'censors' they denounce to decide what books are available in our communities, but this power is so familiar it's invisible. Why do parents' public petitions constitute censorship, while librarians' hidden verdicts do not?"  The answer to this sensible question, clearly, is that the ALA and those with similar sympathies, do not believe that parents are wise enough to know what is best for their own children.  The supposition is that too many parents mean to cloister their children and indoctrinate them in ways of thinking that appear--to members of the ALA, at any rate--to be small-minded, bigoted, and sub-rational.  Once again, the so-called experts and champions of tolerance trump freedom and stifle dissent.  No doubt there are some wildly idiotic parents out there who stubbornly persist in subjecting their children only to one very limited point of view.  But it's also pretty clear from surveying the vast number of manufactured controversies that constitute the substance of "Banned Books Week" that a surprising number of them happen to be ALA members!

The Civil War & Lincoln

Lincoln Conference

I attended (with four Ashbrooks) this very good conference on Lincoln, Lincoln for the Ages, at Washington & Lee University.  It was Lucas Morel's baby, and he did a fine job in both conceiving the thing and administering it.  (Thanks Lucas, for your hospitality.) As you can see from the list of panelists, all the thoughtful scholars were there, and all performed serious.  I hope none of them will be offended, however, if I assert that Justice Clarence Thomas (who gave the keynote address in the packed Lee Chapel) stole the show.  You can listen to it here.  Truth and poetry, call it what you will, but I thought it was one of the finest talks on Lincoln I have ever heard.  Breathtaking in its beauty, pith and purpose.


Second Amendment

Peter Robinson has a conversation (first of five) with Judge Laurence H. Silberman, "the man who saved the Second Amendment."

Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs


In explaining the bad options we have regarding Iran, why sanctions won't work, why attacking the nuclear sites won't work, Eliot Cohen endorses a more radical policy:  "It is, therefore, in the American interest to break with past policy and actively seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Not by invasion, which this administration would not contemplate and could not execute, but through every instrument of U.S. power, soft more than hard. And if, as is most likely, President Obama presides over the emergence of a nuclear Iran, he had best prepare for storms that will make the squawks of protest against his health-care plans look like the merest showers on a sunny day."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Washington Bails Out Detroit

A telling front-page headline (in the dead-tree edition of the WaPo), not about politics, but about the Redskins breaking the Lions' 19-game losing streak:  Obama as America's Jason Campbell.  At a truck stop over the summer I heard a customer shout to the clerk, bill the federal government, I don't have any money.  This and other jokes about death panels, etc. reflect the solidifying of public opinion against Obamaism.
Categories > Sports

Foreign Affairs

German Elections--Eine kleine Erklaerung

Both major parties lost in popular votes, but the Social Democrat virtually collapsed when the seats were distributed.  The somewhat libertarian-like FDP rose, to produce a 70's-like coalition with the Christian Democrats (no, it's not the German version of our religious right; it's hard to make comparisons with the US).  I like this display of the results, and here is another graphic depiction--just click on the tabs in the box on the Bundestagswahl.  Ignorance of German is no problem.  (It's interesting that the more liberal paper emphasizes the popular vote, the more conservative one the number of seats won, the decisive element.)

For an explanation auf englisch try the NY Times.

Each German party has its own color (as each has its particular flag).  Only recently has American politics spoken in terms of a "red" and a "blue" party.  Obama's big selling point was his 2004 convention emphasis on a "red, white, and blue America."  But we reject not only European social policy but its class-based politics as well.  That's the tired politics that put the Social Democrats at their record low level and may bring down our Democrat socialists as well.

UPDATE:  This report notes the fall of the conservative CSU and the rise of the FDP in Bavaria, changing the direction of the governing coalition. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs